Vol. 1 - No. 3
by Vaughn D. Shofner
Among the countless prejudices that are capable of disconcerting a person's peace of mind, one of the strongest is that which is produced by the various opinions of mankind. This influence often drives men into skepticism, and this destroys all pleasant thoughts of religion and is most contrary to the design of Christianity.
Against this driving influence Jesus guarded his apostles. Never were the minds of men more divided about any question than that which regarded the person of our Savior at the time. He was considered as a politician, who under the cloak of humility hid the most ambitious designs. Some thought him an emissary of Beelzebub, and others thought him an envoy of God. Even among those who thought of him as being from God there were various opinions about him. The faith of the apostles could be shaken by these divers opinions.
Jesus and his apostles were traveling from Bethany to Caesarea, not to the Caesarea located on the Mediterranean sea, so named by Herod the Great in honor of emperor Augustus; but the one situated at the foot of Mt. Herman, which had been rebuilt and embellished in honor of Tiberius by Philip the Tetrarch, the son of Herod. During this journey Jesus asked his apostles, "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" (Matthew 16:13)
I am persuaded that benevolence directed the actions of our Lord, dictated his language, animated his emotions, and when we are troubled about the motive of any of his behavior, we shall seldom be wrong if we attribute it to benevolence. Jesus did not need to be told the public opinions about himself, for he knew them better than they of whom he inquired. He wanted his apostles to express the l opinions of the people that he might strengthen them against the vitiating influence that such opinions produce.
In the answer by the apostles, they refused to stoop to the defilement and blasphemy which the malignity of the Jews uttered against him, and spoke of the opinions of some who "say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets." (Matthew 16:14)
With what shadow of appearance could it be thought that Jesus was John the Baptist? Well, we all know of the censures of John against the unlawful cohabitation of Herod and Herodias. He told incestuous Herod without equivocating, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip's wife." (Matt. 14:4) Temperamental Herodias could not plead her cause with equity, and she appealed to uncivilized cruelty. Her daughter, Salome, had pleased Herod on the occasion of a feast of the birthday of the king, and he gratified barbaric curiosity and spiteful revenge with the shocking sight of beheading John the Baptist. Traditional opinion among the Jews declared that all the prophets were to be raised from the dead at the coming of the Messiah, and the report was spread that John the Baptist has enjoyed the privilege.
Therefore, some of the Jews believed that Jesus was John risen from the dead. This tradition of the Jews classified "one of the prophets" and Jeremias as prophets who censured without distinction of rank the sins of the Jews, and fell victims of the people's rage against the righteous teaching. Some of the Jews accepted literally the words of Malachi 3:5, "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great day of the Lord," and thought Jesus was the fulfillment. This prophecy was perfectly plain to the apostles of Jesus, for in John the Baptist they understood its accomplishment.
We often express wonder with regard to the Jews of that time. What kind of beings were they who left these momentous questions undetermined, and pursued their daily ways with no explanation of them. Yet, the common indolence shown questions of the same moment today are equally astonishing to the honest students of the New Testament. With the countless opinions of the religious leaders today dictating the beliefs and practices of professed Christianity, we marvel at the kind of god they serve, and just who or what Jesus Christ is to them. By their fruits it is evident that their beliefs are not founded upon the gospel of Christ, and that they deny and blaspheme the very essence of God's revelation from circumference to core. Having absolutely no information about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, sin and salvation except by God's revealed Bible, they treat it as human beings are prone to regard their timepieces, all of them are different, but each person is assured of accuracy by honestly depending on his own watch.
Having heard from his apostles what people thought of him, he desired to hear them confess what they thought of him, and he asked, "But whom say ye that I am?" Peter immediately replied for himself and for the whole apostolic college, ''Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)
Peter was a man of great vivacity, and men of this mark are subject to great mistakes; they are as eager to act and speak as to think. When he heard Jesus speak of his approaching death, he hurriedly declared, "Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not happen to thee." (Matthew 16:22) When Peter saw a few rays of celestial glory atop the holy mount, he was stricken with their splendor, and quickly exclaimed, "Lord, it is good for us to be here: let us build three tabernacles; one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias." (Matt. 17:4) When he saw Jesus being put into the hands of his enemies, he heedlessly drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus. However, such vivacity is also accompanied with great advantage. Such a person gives attendance to the virtuous course with greater proficiency than do the men of slow reactions. The zeal of such a person is more ardent, the emotions more vehement, and when shown his mistakes will at once become a living pattern of piety. Therefore, when Peter heard the question of his Lord, he felt himself animated with a holy urgency, and it would have been mortifying to think that any one of the other apostles had more zeal for his Master, and with all the powers of his being he sparkles with quick decision, and confidently replies, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God! "
"Thou art the Christ," or, thou art the anointed. Thus the confession admits of his Messiahship. It announces acceptance of Jesus the consecrated according to prophecy and shadow, the Lord, Master, Savior, King of kings, and Judge at the inflexible bar of judgment beyond time. It crushes our hearts to hear people who are molded by worldly opinions confess the name of Christ while in belief and deed they deny and decry the very essence of the authority and majesty which the expression declares!
Jesus assured Peter and the other apostles that this confession of faith which he had made was not a production of frail and erring man. His expression was very emphatic, "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven!" That is, the apostles by inestimable privilege were witnesses of the life of Christ, hearers of his doctrine, spectators of his miracles, beheld him after his resurrection, witnessed his ascension back to heaven, and were recipients of the miraculous endowment necessary to the revelation in accuracy, that it might be written unerringly and set in order
correctly. Thus it is the production of Almighty grace and unending love which wrought the way of salvation for wayward men!
Beware, O mortal man! lest the erroneous opinions of men thwart your good intentions and wreck your true faith! Opinions of error are often accepted because of worldly glimmerings which hover around them to dazzle the beholders. It is certain, however, that eternal truth has a radiance that distinguishes it from all untruth. Intelligible evidence must be given its prerogatives and its rights. When, for example, I affirm that I am an intelligent being, and that I animate a physical body, that I possess a power of will which the Creator gave me, and just as long as he shall please to continue me in this state I may demonstrate the true evidence as by intelligent choice I turn my eyes to the east or to the west, and as I grasp the significance of and give heed to God's intelligibly revealed
will and accept the verities of God's orderly universe which I am daily confronted with. Thus I find myself guided by a brightness of evidence which cannot be found in any contrary proposition.
The sophist may invent objections which puzzle me, but he can never produce reasons which counterbalance those that determine me. The infidel and atheist may combine countless arguments in favor of some anti-Christian religion, may accumulate his imaginations in favor of Mohammedanism; the Jew may boast of the power of Judaism; denominationalism may gather its arguments for the consolidation of the world and religion but the revealed evidence which lights the way of Christians cannot be overthrown by such sophism, and I will not be turned from the purity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gentle reader, let us completely devote ourselves to the eternal truths of the gospel of the risen Christ. Let us be adorned with holy dispositions, that we may be admitted to the eternal pleasures which they can procure. Help us Lord that we may diligently apply ourselves to the complete genius of the great confession of faith, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."