January 14, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 9:18-20 (NRSV)
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
It’s one thing to indulge in conversations about Jesus’s identity. We can spend many hours arguing for this idea or that notion. But there comes a time when we, like the first disciples of Jesus have to confront his question: “But who do you say that I am?” Now our hearts will be exposed, our true convictions made clear. How we answer the question of Jesus makes all the difference in the world.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
I’ve spent a fair amount of my life associated with the academy, whether as a college student, a grad student, or an adjunct professor. Today, of course, I work at Fuller Seminary, where I am responsible for a leadership center. People who hang out in academic institutions love to talk about ideas. They love to argue, debate, and pontificate, often going on for hours.
Folks around a seminary love to talk theology, as you would expect. Whether we’re debating some classical theological concept or considering how the church can be relevant in a pandemic, we relish the chance to wax theological. Sometimes theological argument almost feels like a kind of chess match.
Often our theological conversations are safely theoretical. We talk about ideas while keeping them at arm’s length. We don’t risk putting our hearts out there lest we get too emotional. Vulnerability and theological conversation don’t easily mix.
But sometimes theology goes get personal. That happens when we’re talking about ideas that are matters of the heart as well as the head. Or it happens when someone disrupts the safe theoretical conversation with a personal question, asking us to do more than present our ideas from a safe emotional distance.
We see a stirring example of this in Luke 9:18-20. The conversation began with Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). The disciples answered, “John the Baptist; but others Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen” (Luke 9:19). This answer required knowledge of popular opinions about Jesus and some background in the Hebrew Scriptures, but nothing too personal.
Then Jesus changed the nature of the conversation dramatically. Turning to his disciples, he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20). The Greek original of this passage puts “you” in the emphatic first position. It was as if Jesus was saying, “Okay, enough of this safe theologizing about my identity. You, yes, you, who do you say that I am?” Suddenly everything was very personal. There was no hiding behind the opinions of others. Jesus wanted his disciples to come clean, to say what they believed to be true about him.
Jesus wants the same today. It’s great if you love to bat around theological ideas. It’s wonderful if you are a committed student of Scripture, digging into all of the historical details. But Jesus isn’t interested only in what you know in your head. He wants to know the commitment of your heart. In fact, he wants to claim your heart as his own.
So, as we continue our devotional study in the Gospel of Luke, remember the question that Jesus has for you. Time and again, Jesus will ask, “But who do you say that I am?” Or, perhaps, “You, yes, you, who do you say that I am?” Your answer, your very personal and vulnerable answer, will make all the difference in the world.
If Jesus were to show up where you are right now and ask, “Who do you say that I am?” after recovering from shock, how would you answer?
Do you ever get so wrapped up in thinking or talking about theological ideas that you forget to engage with Jesus?
What helps you to be reminded of who Jesus is?
In prayer, answer Jesus’s question. Tell him who you think he is.
Lord Jesus, help me, I pray, to know you truly and deeply. Help me to say who you are to me. Help me to grow in an ever-deepening relationship with you. Help me to put aside false beliefs and assumptions. Help me to know you in truth, as you have revealed yourself.
All praise be to you, Jesus, the Messiah of God, my Lord, my Savior, my God. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What We Say Is Who We Are
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.