Redefining Jesus to Meet Our Expectations and Our Culture’s Preferences

The following is an excerpt from The Knowing Jesus Study Bible, edited by Edward Hindson and Ed Dobson. I hope this might encourage us to consider where at times we too might be like Peter, who attempted to fit Jesus within “the parameters of his own expectations.” 

As I write in my book Face to Face with Jesus, many today try to reinvent Jesus to fit popular notions of the kind of Christ people want. But Jesus is notoriously uncooperative with all attempts to repackage and market Him. May we worship and serve the Son of God, never attempting to redefine Him, but instead faithfully representing Him in all His fullness to a needy world. —Randy Alcorn

“Who Do You Say I Am?

During Jesus’ earthly ministry there was much discussion about who he really was. Some people surmised that he was John the Baptist come back to life. Others conjectured that he was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets (Matthew 16:14). But Jesus was primarily concerned about what his own disciples thought. Peter’s confession was immediate and emphatic: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (verse 16).

Peter actually professed two separate truths about Jesus’ identity. First, he is the Christ, God’s promised Messiah, the anointed One sent by God to be our prophet, priest and king. But Peter further declared that Jesus is the Son of God.

Peter was characterized by his impetuous actions and outbursts and frequently spoke what was on his mind without sufficient forethought. In this instance, however, he is to be applauded for his insightful statement of faith. But before we cheer too loudly, we must look ahead at the ensuing event.

Shortly after this conversation Jesus began preparing his disciples for his coming death (verse 21). These words did not sit well with Peter, and he spoke out in rebuke ‘Never, Lord! …This shall never happen to you!’ (verse 22). Peter understood who Jesus was but failed utterly to grasp the nature of his mission, assuming that, because Jesus was the Messiah, he had come to establish an earthly kingdom and to overthrow the Roman government. Peter was right about who Jesus was but wrong about why he had come.

And the issue was critical—critical enough for Jesus to respond to Peter with uncharacteristic harshness. If Jesus were not to die in accordance with his Father’s plan, then Satan would win the victory in the battle for the human soul and destiny, and Peter was in effect voicing Satan’s opinion!

Peter had structured his conception of Jesus to fit within the parameters of his own expectations. The consummate man of action wanted a king and a kingdom—not death and apparent defeat. We often do the same thing. We are quick to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but then we proceed to try to force him into the misshapen opening that represents our own image, perspectives and needs.

Our human nature wants to make Jesus Christ palatable to our modern culture rather than allowing him to shine forth before the world as a crucified and risen Savior. But when we redefine Jesus, we do the work of Satan. At that point we, like Peter, understand neither our leader nor our enemy.

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