I was resting at home, recovering from a viral infection of the inner ear (read: vertigo, vomiting, yucky). I was feeling better and so I caught some TV. There was a rerun of an episode of the Outer Limits (sci-fi series).
The story focused on a mysterious man who had supernatural powers. He could heal people miraculously, bring people back from death, and had intimate knowledge of people’s personal histories, people he had never met before. The army got suspicious and fearful and captured him.
The other main protagonist of the episode was an ambitious TV reporter. As the story unfolded the reporter began to believe that this was a unique person who shouldn’t be imprisoned by the authorities. She helps him escape.
The final scene had the mysterious kind stranger about to return to the skies. The reporter asked the mysterious stranger who he really was. Was he an angel? An alien?
The stranger replied: “I am who you say I am”. Wow! Talk about your postmodern answer! In other words his real identity was unimportant. What was important was that the reporter had had some sort of spiritual experience and was now a better person.
Those of us who are familiar with the New Testament will at once hear the allusions to Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:13-19:
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples. ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'”
So far we are not too removed from the theology of the Outer Limits episode. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t stop here. He goes on to press for the right answer.
“‘But you,’ He asked them, ‘who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!’ And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven.'” HCSB
This is a pivotal account in the gospel of Matthew. In direct contrast to Outer Limits theology, it was vitally important that people understood who Jesus really was. Jesus’ real identity was central to His work.
Only if it was ultra clear to us that Jesus was God’s special Messiah, indeed God Himself, would we be able to understand His ministry.
Immediately after Peter’s correct answer, Jesus goes on to tell them that He would be captured, tortured and killed. But that He would be raised on the third way. (Matthew 16: 21-23)
Many people were captured, tortured and killed in Jesus’ time. But if this indeed was God’s special messiah then His death was not an ordinary death. It would be the death that would conquer death, sin and Satan. It would be the death that brings life to all mankind. If Jesus was God’s promised messiah.
After Peter’s correct answer, Jesus also goes on to tell His disciples that they too would have their own experiences of suffering and persecution (V. 24-28). Indeed He makes it clear that:
“If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.” (V.24-25)
If I am going to put my life on the line, I want to be sure whom I am suffering for. No wishy washy “I am who you say I am” is going to suffice.
I enjoyed the episode of the Outer Limits. (Although I still prefer the original run, which I saw on my black and white TV.) The production was good. The acting acceptable. And the story highlighted the perennial human questions: Why is there suffering and death? Is there really good in the world? Where will I find healing, love and meaning? Is there a saviour?
Although we are living in an information age, when we know so much about so many things, we are still haunted by these fundamental questions. All of us.
And the postmodern world we live in is of course a mixed bag. There are those who still put heir faith in science. They believe science and technology will provide all the answers in the end.
Others are beginning to suspect that science can do a lot. But they will not provide the answers to the ultimate questions. And so they search for answers in their hearts. Or in the heavenlies.
So we live in an age where there is a resurgence of the old religions. And the rise of a profusion of new spiritual masters and gurus. Christian and non Christian alike, we all struggle with the same basic questions:
Where did we come form? Is there real and ultimate meaning in life? Why is humankind in a mess? Why must we die? Is there real hope for the future? Where do I go to find strength to live my life?
I am sorry. “I am who you say I am” just doesn’t cut it. The stakes are too high. I need to know for sure.
And Jesus is clear about who He is.
He says nutty things like: For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27) Further hubris: He was willing to be worshipped by His followers. (Matthew 28:9)
Jesus obviously didn’t go to graduate school. If He did, He would have learnt that we are not supposed to be so certain about ultimate issues. There should be some humble tentativeness in our assertions.
But no. No uncertainty here. Jesus is ultra clear that He is the Messiah sent from God. (Of course it helps that He backs up His unique claims by a unique sign, His resurrection from the dead.)
So Jesus either belongs to a mental hospital. Or He is indeed the one. Sift through the evidence. Make your call. Just remember that Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms who He is.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan