It wasn’t long after we had arrived in Caesarea Philippi that some religious leaders came to the house where we were staying. Without so much as a greeting, they started in at Jesus, telling him if he was going to teach in God’s name and claim the authority that he was taking that he needed to show them a sign. To prove that what he was doing was from God.
“A sign? You need a sign?” Jesus just shook his head and turned to me. “Peter, what is that little ditty you do about the weather?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You know the one, about the colour of the sky.”
“Oh right, when we were just kids we were taught; Red sky in morning sailors take warning, red sky at night sailor’s delight.”
“Exactly. Listen guys, even little kids can read the signs that God gives us, but you can’t read the signs of the times. People only want a sign so they’ll know when to clean up their act. You want a sign? Fine. Here’s your sign, and it’s the sign of Jonah.”
The Pharisees were baffled. “Jonah, what’s Jonah got to do with anything?”
“You don’t get it now, but you will. Just as Jonah had to spend three days and three nights in the belly of fish, the Son of Man will need to spend three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. Jonah was sacrificed for a few, the crew on the ship, but ultimately, after his life was given back, the entire city of Nineveh believed.
“But, even with the sign of Jonah, you will try to explain it away and justify your behavior. You don’t believe now and you won’t believe then.
“You boys put on a good show with your righteousness, but deep down inside you know that you don’t serve God, you only serve yourselves. You’re like a tomb that’s all prettied up with flowers, but inside it’s still full of nothing but rot and death. Don’t think for a minute you have anybody fooled, least of all me. It’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s underneath.
“Remember this day, and when you see the sign of Jonah, you’re going to have to decide for yourselves who you are going to serve, because you’re going to have to serve somebody, and it will be your choice.”
I don’t think anyone had ever spoken to the Pharisees that way, at least not to their faces, and they had no idea what to say, like my father used to say, they didn’t know if they should spit or cuss. And so, they didn’t do either, they just turned and stalked away, grumbling as they went.
Jesus turned and looked at the rest of us. “That went well, don’t you think?”
It was Judas who spoke first. “It’s just that they don’t know who you are.”
“Well then, who am I?”
Who was he? He was Jesus; he was our teacher, our Rabbi. That’s who he was.
“Oh come on guys, who are people saying I am? You know, your friends and families?”
There was a bit of a pause and we thought about it, who were people saying Jesus was. Bartholomew spoke first. “My father says that you are Elijah.”
Someone else spoke up, “Or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
James said, “the old man says you’re nothing but trouble, but that what he was always saying about John and I when we were growing up.”
“John the Baptist.” Thomas said, “the other day I heard someone say you were John the Baptist come back from the dead. I tried to explain how dumb that was, that you’ve been around as long as John has, but they were pretty determined that’s who you were.”
“As much as I miss John, he’s dead, and I’m not him.”
I couldn’t stand it, they were all thinking it but it was like nobody wanted to be the first to speak it aloud. I blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” And as everyone turned and looked at me I remembered Mary’s words from the night before, “But, there’s more than that, you’re not just the chosen one, you are the son of God.”
“Yes Peter, that’s exactly who I am, and you will be blessed for acknowledging what my Father has revealed to you. You father named you Simon, the reason I call you Peter is because you are the rock that I will build my church on.
“You can’t even begin to imagine what that church will look like, but it will hold the keys to heaven and earth, and it’s been chosen to help depopulate hell. And hell won’t stand a chance against my church.”
I just stood there stunned, the rock? The church? Me? This wasn’t what I signed up for, I was just a fisherman.
And the Jesus told us, “Seriously guys, the time hasn’t come yet. You know who I am, but you can’t be telling people, they need to find out the truth from themselves.