By J.R. Miller
Jesus had led the disciples to a quiet place, away from crowds and excitements. The time had come to declare to them His Messiahship. It was a new epoch in His ministry.
He asked two questions. The first referred to the opinion of the people concerning Him. "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" The disciples told Him that there were different opinions about Him. Some thought He was John the Baptist risen again; others, that He was Elijah returned to earth; still others that He was Jeremiah, or some other one of the old prophets. There still is a wide diversity of opinion among people concerning Jesus. Some think he was only a man, others, that He was a great teacher--but nothing more. Others then think that He was the only-begotten Son of God, Divine as well as human.
Jesus asked another question, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" What other people thought about Him, was not half so important as the opinions the disciples themselves had of Him. We may be able to state what the creeds say about Jesus Christ, and yet never have brought ourselves to answer the more important question, "Who do you say I am?" Some people tell us that it makes very little difference what our beliefs are, even about Christ--that conduct is everything in life. But it is of greatest importance what we think of Christ. If we think of Him as only a man, though the best of men, the wisest of teachers--we may learn much from His words and from His life; but can one who is only a man--be to us all that we need to find in Him to whom we look for salvation? We may change the question a little and ask: "What is Jesus Christ to you? Is He only in your creed, or is He also in your life as your personal Savior, Lord, Friend, and Helper?" This is the question which decides our relation to Christ.
Peter was always the first one to answer Christ's questions. Sometimes he answered rashly and unwisely; this time he answered well. "You are the Christ--the Son of the living God!" It was a noble answer. Jesus was the Messiah promised through the ages, come at length to save His people from their sins. This is the true thought about Christ. God sent Him to earth on an errand of love. He became man, thus drawing close to us. He is also the Son of God, Divine, possessing all power, infinite in His love and grace--able to do for us all that we need, and to lift us up to eternal life and glory. If our belief is like Peter's, and Christ is all to us in our life that we make Him in our creed--we are resting on the Rock!
The true test of every creed, of every system of theology, of every life's hopes, is, "Is Christ in it?" Too many people, however, have Christ only in their creeds, and not in their lives. The true test of every creed, every system of theology, and every life's hopes--is Jesus. If Jesus is not there, there is nothing to give rest, nothing to bring life and salvation.
Peter had made a noble confession, and now Jesus said to him, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church." Peter was the new name which Jesus had given to Simon, when Andrew brought him and introduced him. Jesus saw in Simon the possibilities of a noble future and so He said to him, "You shall be called Peter." The new name was a prophecy of his future. Jesus sees the best that is in people--and inspires them to reach the best. At that time Peter was very far from being a rock, which means stability and strength. But, by and by, he became rocklike--firm and strong, under the training and discipline of his Master. Whatever view we take of the meaning of the Lord's words, it is a great comfort to know that Christ's universal Church is indeed founded upon a rock, an impregnable rock.
As soon as Peter had declared that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus lifted the veil and gave the disciples a glimpse of what Messiahship meant to Him. They were thinking about a worldly Messiah. Jesus swept all this dream away--and told them that, instead of being an earthly conqueror, He was going to die on a cross! That was the way marked out for Him from the beginning--the will of God for Him, God's plan for His life. They were so overwhelmed by His saying that He must be killed--that they had no ear for the bright, joyous word, the note of victory, which came after--that He would rise again the third day. However, Jesus Himself saw through the darkness--to the light that shone beyond. He knew that He must suffer and die--but He knew also that the grave could not hold Him and that He would rise again. It is always in the story of Divine grace as it was with Jesus Christ--the cross is the way to glory. Beyond every dark valley in the Christian's path--is a hilltop bathed in light!
Peter was always making mistakes. Jesus commended his confession. But a little later we again find him speaking rashly and ignorantly. When Jesus had said that His Messiahship meant suffering and death, this impulsive disciple, in his great love for his Master, possibly, too, lifted up by the praise of his confession which the Master had given, sought to interfere. "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!" He would have held his Master back from His cross. But suppose Jesus had listened to love's entreaty that day--and had not gone forward; what would the world have lost? We should never meddle with God's plans, whether for ourselves or others. This is one of the dangers of friendship. A loved one of ours is called to some hard service, to some great self-denial or sacrifice. In our warm-hearted affection, we try to hold our friend back from the costly calling. We may say almost as Peter said, "Never! This shall never happen to you!"
The answer of Jesus to Peter's rash though loving restraint, is full of suggestion. "He turned and said unto Peter; Get behind Me, Satan!" What Peter said had proved a temptation to Jesus, suggesting to Him an easier way in place of the way of the cross. The friends of Paul once tried to keep him from going to Jerusalem when a prophet had foretold that he would be seized and bound there. Paul begged his friends not to weep and break his heart--by urging him not to go on to peril which had been foretold. They were only making it harder for him to do his duty. It is a constant danger of friendship, that we shall try to keep our loved ones from hard tasks to which God is calling them.
Jesus lifted another veil. He told his disciples that not only was the way of the cross God's way for Him--but also that His followers must go by the same way. "If any man will come after Me--he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." We can never follow Christ--and walk only on flowery paths. There is no way to heaven--but the way of self-denial and sacrifice.
We may notice that it is "his" cross, that is, his own cross, which each follower of Christ must take up and bear. Each life has its own burden of duty, of struggle, of self-denial, of responsibility. Each one must take up and carry his own load for himself. Each one must bear his own burden. This is a most solemn truth. No one can choose for us, no one can believe for us, no one can do our duty for us. A thousand people around us may do their own part with beautiful faithfulness--but if we have not done our part--we stand unblessed amid all the multitude of those who have done their part and received their reward.
Our Lord closes with the question no one ever has been able to answer, "What shall it profit a man--if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Even the whole world, with all its wealth and splendor, would give no real benefit to us--if our souls should be lost. We could not buy pardon, peace nor heaven, even with the treasures of the whole earth in our possession. Also, we could not keep the world and carry it with us into the next life--even though we had won it all.
Selfishness is unlovely--but it is worse--it is the way of death. The law of Christ's cross runs through all life. A young girl, beautiful, cultured, honored, with a lovely home and many friends, turned away from ease, refinement, and luxury--and went to teach blacks in the South. She lived among them and gave out her rich young life in efforts to lift them up and save them. "What a waste of a beautiful life!" said her friends. But was it really a waste? No! Losing her life for Christ--she really saved it. If she had held herself back from the duty to which God was calling her--she might have saved her life in a sense, saved her from cost and sacrifice--but she would have lost her life in the higher sense.
The losing of one's soul is an irreparable loss. Whatever we may seem to get in exchange, we get really nothing. For if we gain the whole world, we can keep it but for a little while, and it will have no power to deliver us from death or give us the blessing of eternal life. The world cannot give peace of conscience, or comfort in sorrow. It cannot purchase heaven. All we can do with the world--is to keep it until death comes. We cannot carry any smallest portion of it with us into the eternal world. "How much did he leave?" asked one of his neighbors, referring to a millionaire who had just died. "Every cent!" was the reply. So it is easy to see that there is no profit--but rather a fearful and eternal loss--in gaining even all the world, at the price of one's soul.
Then think for how much smaller a price than this, "the whole world," many people sell their souls! Some do it for an hour's guilty pleasure, some for a political office, some for money, and some for honor which fades in a day. In a newspaper this advertisement appeared: "Wanted--A nice cottage and grounds--in exchange for choice liquors." No doubt many people answered the advertisement. Men are continually giving home and property and peace and love and life--for strong drink. They are selling their souls also in many other ways--for pitiably small trifles!