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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Who Is Jesus?

A colossal jet circled Victoria Harbor on its final approach to Hong Kong's airport. On board was David Webb, a man on a mission to rescue his wife, Marie. Looking out the window, he saw a crowded and confusing city of wealth and poverty, the old and the new, the East and the West.

Marie had been kidnapped by American espionage agents who wanted to lure David Webb to Hong Kong to use him to capture a mysterious assassin. Webb was clearly the man for the job since he had been trained as an assassin and knew the Far East well. But he would never volunteer to take such an assignment because the American government had betrayed him after he lost his memory on a secret mission.

Because of this, Webb was somewhat mentally unbalanced when he flew into Hong Kong in search of his wife. Looking out the jet's window, he felt a mixture of curiosity and anxiety. There were things he was aware of that he knew but could not specifically remember. For Webb, "the familiar and the unfamiliar were joined, and the result was bewilderment and fear."

David Webb is the hero of Robert Ludlum's book The Bourne Supremacy. Perhaps you know him better by one of his aliases, "Jason Bourne." In recent years, Matt Damon has played the role of Jason Bourne in several hit movies, ranging from The Bourne Identity in 2002 to Jason Bourne in 2016.

A life of uncertainty

This scene from The Bourne Supremacy is a rocky start. With a clouded memory, a man enters a city he knows but doesn't know on an assignment he is trained for but doesn't want, determined only to save the only person in the world he loves. Amid life-or-death decisions, alliances made and broken, twists and turns, and blind alleys, David Webb plays a role in the novel. He trusts his instincts but never knows if he is going in the right direction.

His confusion sounds familiar, doesn't it? Except for the exotic Hong Kong location and top-secret assignment, Webb's uncertain life is much like ours. Like him, we face life-and-death decisions, twists and turns, shifting alliances, and stabs in the dark. Throughout our lives, we start new jobs, relationships, school years, and business ventures without any more certainty than Webb possessed. While we may not share his training or knowledge, we share his anxiety as we begin new stages of our lives.

The Great Question (v. 13).

On the road with his disciples, Jesus comes into the district of Caesarea Philippi and asks them, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They report to him what they hear on the street: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another of the prophets. Then Jesus says, "But who do you say I am?" Simon Peter cuts through all the confusion and says, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Peter trusts his instincts and takes a stab in the dark, a leap of faith motivated by his commitment to Jesus and a prompting by the Holy Spirit. Although he has seen his master's power at work, he does not yet have complete clarity about Jesus. Still, he is willing to stand amid uncertainty and affirm that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah.

In Caesarea Philippi, a city with a confusing mixture of wealth and poverty, old and new, Jewish and Gentile, Peter is brave to take his stand, just as David Webb was in Hong Kong. The place is also known as Paneas because it contains the Cave of Pan, the Greek and Roman god who is half human and half goat. Pan is the god of the wild, and his cave is believed to be the Gate of Hades. This area contains a Canaanite sanctuary to the god Baal, where King Jeroboam led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. So, when Peter takes a stab and says that Jesus is "the Son of the living God," he is saying yes to Jesus and no to Pan, Baal, and all of the other idols of the world.

Rock-solid commitment

Jesus recognizes Peter's commitment and says, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." This is a rich statement, but it becomes even more valuable when we realize it was originally written in Greek and spoken near the Cave of Pan. In Greek, Peter is Petros, and rock is Petra, so Jesus is having a little fun with words here. He is saying: "You are Petros, Peter, and on this petra rock, I will build my church."

Jesus' intentions are clear: The one who has a rock-solid commitment is the one who will be favored by God, and the Church will stand on this confession. "On this rock, I will build my church," says Jesus, "and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." The gates of Hades were right there, in the Cave of Pan at Caesarea Philippi. In this passage, Jesus says the Church has power over Greeks and Romans who worship the underworld gods. He promises that the keys to the kingdom of heaven will not be given to Philip, the son of Herod, who ruled the area in the time of Jesus. The keys will not be given to Tiberius Caesar, whom Philip honored by naming the city Caesarea Philippi. Instead, the keys will be given to Peter and the Christian Church.

Solid foundations for rocky times

We often refer to a rocky start as a shaky and uncertain start. But in this case, Peter's rocky start is the exact opposite: It is grounded in a rock-solid confession of faith. When Peter says, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus responds, "You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church." Peter's commitment to Jesus results in Jesus making a commitment to him. Peter's confession and commitment become the rock of Christ's Church, a solid foundation for rocky times.

We live in rocky times today. Often, we find ourselves caught in many ugly debates. We live in uncertain and confusing times. How do we, as believers, function in this world? We, like David Webb and even more like Peter, stand on a rock-solid commitment. Christ, the Messiah, gives us strength and comfort as we face challenges and experience deep anxiety.

When we commit to Jesus the Messiah, we are given a firm foundation in uncertain times. By saying yes to him, we say no to our era's idols- such as sex, money, and power. By being committed to him, we receive the assurance of his commitment to us. And by receiving him as the Rock of Ages, we are given the gift of his acceptance, forgiveness, and assistance through faith in Jesus' death and resurrection. Our faith is founded on the confession that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who sent Jesus to save mankind through His gracious sacrifice on Calvary's cross. While life and our situations might seem like a rocky start to say that Jesus is our Messiah, there is no better rock to build our lives.

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