The title of my message today is: A Rose by Any Other Name. Many of you know the rest of that line, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What you might not know is that it comes from the Shakesperean play of Romeo and Juliet. And so, Jesus, by whatever Name or title we know Him – Christ, Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd . . . by whatever name we know Him, and whatever we call Him – His fragrance is even sweeter than that of the Rose of Sharon.
Here is my text for today: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)
Jesus asked them two questions: Who do people say He is; and then He asked who THEY say He is. And make no mistake about this next point: Jesus asks you and me today the same two questions.
Now, according to the text, some in that first century were saying Jesus was John the Baptist; others said He was Elijah; Still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
Of course, they were wrong. They were wrong because many of them were expecting a different kind of Messiah than Jesus was to be during His first Advent. They expected the Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression. They were not expecting – or even thinking they NEEDED – to be delivered from God's wrath that was due to them because of their sins.
Who do people think Jesus is? According to some recent surveys one-quarter of those surveyed believe Jesus was simply a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha. And while I do not have at my fingertips the percentage of people who believe there are many roads to heaven, from reading and listening to others, I believe that percentage is enormous.
So, again, the question Jesus asks His 21st century audience: Who do people say He is? A magician? A good man? A charlatan? A prophet like Buddha, or Muhammed?
Listen, please. Like it or not, Jesus is NONE of those things. He is Himself Almighty Jehovah God in the flesh of a man. Almighty God incarnate.
And because we were CREATED through Him, He has the absolute and unchallengeable right to decide the entry requirement to eternal life. That is why He said it as clearly as it can be said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by Me." (John 14)
Really, there is no way for the HONEST seeker of truth to escape what CS Lewis spoke to this question of who Jesus is. Writing in his classic book, ‘Mere Christianity,’ Lewis put forth this unassailable argument:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse . . . but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
Ok, so those are some of the things people say about Jesus. But before we ask His second question of ourselves – who WE say Jesus is – let’s see what kinds of things Jesus said of Himself that define Him as either a lunatic, or a devil of hell – or the Holy Son of God?
We do not have the time today to examine the multiple statements Jesus made about Himself that, if they were untrue, would brand Him a devilish heretic. But here are only two texts which represent the many others: John 8:58 à Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” If you know the context of that comment, you remember everyone picked up stones to kill Him for declaring Himself to be the One of Exodus 3:14 in which God spoke to Moses, telling Him His name is “I Am.”
And then we return to this text we’ve already seen. Jesus tells us: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
Please hear this: Scripture is unambiguous when it speaks of Jesus as Almighty God incarnate – God in the flesh of a man – who lived among us as fully God and fully Man in one body. If that foundational truth is false, then Jesus was surely a lunatic, or a devil from hell.
So, that was the first question – who do people say Jesus is. Now the second question – the answer to which holds eternal consequences for each of us: Who do YOU say Jesus is? I hope you have said – and will continue to say until your last breath: “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Now if you are thinking you came to that decision based on your own insight, or wisdom, or research, let me say it right off – you are wrong. You did NOT come to that decision on your own.
According to God's inerrant and infallible word, to know who Jesus is – to REALLY know who Jesus is – can only be accomplished through and by the SUPERNATURAL work and permission of the Father. No one in the history of humanity ever came to salvation through anything they could understand or DO by their own intelligence or wisdom. Why? Because that’s the way God set it up. God ALONE must open our spiritual understanding. Otherwise, we remain dead in our trespasses and sins. And dead people cannot do ANYTHING on their own.
And that’s why so many people we run across cannot see the multiple plain-as-the-nose-on-the-face Biblical texts of the Old Testament that speak of Jesus. You know many of them. For example, Isaiah 7: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). The Hebrew name, “Immanuel’ means, ‘God with us.’
Or this one: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
I mean, how can ANYONE miss the meaning of those verses? The child in Isaiah chapter seven will be called “God with us.” In chapter nine He is called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”
Or this one in the 30th chapter of Proverbs: “Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!” (Proverbs 30:4)
Listen to it again: NO ONE comes to the right conclusion about Jesus by their own wits or wisdom or research. And certainly we must use the brains God gave us to discover truth, but we came to our conclusion only through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Remember what the Lord said to Peter when he answered the question: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then responded: “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Listen, please. Jesus was very, very serious when He warned, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44) He wasn’t being casual when He said: “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (John 6:65)
So, if you are a Christian today, it is because God CHOSE YOU for adoption into His family. Why did He do that? I don’t know. No one knows. But Scripture is unambiguous to this truth that God doesn’t want ANYONE to perish. He wants EVERYONE to join Him for eternity. But, as He tells us repeatedly from one end of the book to the other, He will not be mocked. And as we have seen in our Friday Bible studies, God knows the heart of each person – whether they will humble themselves before Him or harden themselves. That’s why Scripture tells us He reveals His Son to those whom He knows will receive Him into their heart. The rest – He hardens further.
That truth is inexorable. We saw it in the life of Pharoah. That principle is repeated in the first chapter of Proverbs. We see it in the incident with Ahab, Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22. We see it again in St Paul’s warning to the Christians at Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 2). And we see it in the responses of the ungodly in Revelation chapters 9 and 16.
God reveals His Messiah to those whom He knows will respond in the affirmative – which is also why it is so important to mature in our obedience to His voice. It is why we need to stop saying ‘no’ to God, even in the little things. And we need to say ‘yes’ – even in the little things. Remember these words of the Lord Jesus: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:10)
So, again the question He asks us, as He asked them: Who do You say the Son of Man is? Well, Christians call Him Lord. We call Him Savior. We call Him Shepherd. We call Him Christ or Messiah. We call Him Friend. We call Him our Lover. On and on and on the names and the titles roll off our lips. But as we talked about earlier in this message, a rose by any other name is still as sweet. Likewise, Jesus, by whatever Name we call Him is still as sweet.
In part two of this message, we will look at this Rose from different angles, but as I come to the close of this message today, I want to look at one of Jesus’ names – that is, ‘Savior.’
A savior is a person who saves another, who rescues another, who delivers another from danger or death. Which then begs the question: What did Jesus our Savior save us from?
That’s easy. He saved us from the Father’s wrath. Christians speak so much of God's love – and for very good reason – but in doing so we often neglect that God's LOVE was once and for all demonstrated on Calvary’s cross where the Son satisfied the WRATH of God against sin – OUR sin.
For example: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Romans 5:8-9
And this one: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36
And this one in which St Paul writes to the Christians at Thessalonica about how those in Macedonia and Achaia “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
One might ask – what does the wrath of God look like? Well, this might surprise some people – but God's wrath is NOT necessarily a sickness. Or a heart attack. Or a stroke. Or a crippling accident. Or a tornado. Or an earthquake. Or a plague.
Certainly, throughout Scripture, God has meted out His anger in such ways against persistent sinners – individuals and nations. But life is far too complicated and the effects of sin in the whole of humanity are far too invasive and endemic to blame every catastrophe and accident and illness on God's wrath. To say that such tragedies are always the result of God punishing sinners is, in many cases, nothing more than superstition.
But do not think for a moment that the wrath of God is not a very real and present danger for all who persist in sin. As the writer to the Hebrews warns: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries . . . For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-27, 30-31)
We read this also in Revelation 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice the context of these two texts, which are representative of dozens of warnings in both Old and New Testament of the Final Judgment. It is during that final and yet-future Judgment that the full and eternally terrifying wrath of God will be poured out on everyone who rejected the Savior’s substitutionary atonement for their sins.
It is THAT terrifying and never-ending judgment from which Jesus our Savior has saved us. And if THAT truth is not the sweetest smelling odor you’ve ever encountered, then you need to pay closer attention to the promises and to the very, very ominous warnings of Almighty God.
A rose by any other name still smells sweet. And our Savior, by any other name or title, still smells sweetly to everyone who DESIRES to be saved –saved from the Father’s wrath.
How then ought you and I to live? We should all know the answer by this point in our walk with God, and that answer really is quite simple:
First, our lives ought to be laced with frequent confession and repentance when we stumble along the narrow road that leads to eternal life. And then, we must, to the best of our abilities, live holy lives according to the commandments and principles of Scripture as taught by the apostles and the Church since the first century.
There is no hope for eternal life without obedience to God.
Next week we will look at the Rose of Sharon from a few other perspectives.