Who do you say that I am?
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Jesus cared about Nicodemus. He conceded to meet with him at night, under the cover and secrecy of darkness, knowing full well that Nicodemus had chosen night to avoid harrasment from his fellow Jewish leaders. Yet Jesus still met with Him, because Jesus doesn't wait for us to become perfect before He'll meet with us. He cares about all men.
Nicodemus was playing it safe, keeping a healthy distance in his commitment to who Jesus was. He spoke from a place of knowledge; of mental assesment of what he saw.
Nicodemus played it safe but got it wrong.
Rabbi (teacher), we know that you come from God as a teacher, for no one can do the signs you do unless God is with him.
Nicodemus claimed to know, but Jesus said he didn't even see. Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus and his friends preferred to keep Jesus on a safe length of leash, by claiming to know who he was and why God had sent Him. Twice Nicodemus calls him a teacher. From the teacher's perspective, Jesus was a teacher.
Yet, he couldn't deny the miraculous that happened at the hand of Jesus. Any reasonable person would see the signs Jesus was doing and would have to admit that God was with him. This couldn't be denied, and Nicodemus and his friends were willing to concede to this. But they were not willing to admit to who He was; they missed who Jesus was. A teacher? Yes, He taught. Even His disciples called Him Rabbi. But when asked who he was, who people said he was, Peter got it right. Humble, impetuous, vulnerable Peter. Peter was vulnerable, willing to let go of control and his own established truth. He came from a vantage point of knowing who he was; a sinful man.
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Prophet, Elijah, Teacher, John the Baptist, all relatively safe answers. But not Messiah. That makes Jesus personal, and divine. The Messiah is the one who comes as a suffering servant to bear our sins and our grief. He is Savior. Admitting He is the Messiah, admits to His divinity and to our need of someone greater than us in our lives. This admission is a confession to our need for forgiveness of sin.
Nicodemus spoke from the safety of knowledge, of mental ascent. We know ... you are from God. Peter spoke from the vulnerable place of need and who he was. "Depart from me for I am a sinful man."
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Both Nicodemus and Peter had seen miracles performed by Jesus, yet each responded differently.
Jesus doesn't need anyone to affirm who he is. "We know who you are, Jesus." doesn't stroke the ego of the Savior. We can't put Jesus into a safe definition; "You are a good teacher, a moral man, quite charismatic". There is really only one truly safe conclusion, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." It must be personal. Jesus did not come from God as a Teacher. He was a teacher, the best, but He came from God as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah, to save us from the ravages of sin and bring us back to God.
It can be easy to place Jesus into the frame of our experience, understanding, or lifestyle. Yet He is beyond that. He is who He said He was, regardless of how we may view him.
The words of C.S. Lewis challenges us in this matter, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."
Jesus said, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." This is who He is and this is what He offers to each of us.