I was impressed by the work of Mark Davis, Left Behind and Loving It, for his work with nuances of the New Testament Greek text in Matthew 16:13-20. In verse 13, the conversation begins with verb in the imperfect tense. Without getting too geeky on the Greek grammar, the point is that it changes everything.
Who do you say that I am?
Jesus asks Peter, "Who are the people saying that I am?" After Peter lets Jesus hear the gossip, Jesus points the question to Peter.
And this is where Mark Davis adds new depth. In keeping with the imperfect tense of "saying" in verse 13, we now here Jesus' question to Peter completely different. The question is not a pop quiz to see if Peter has been keeping track of the lecture and taking good notes. No the question, in the imperfect tense becomes...
Hey Peter, with all those conversations out there about who I am, what are you saying I am as you join in? Peter, "who are you saying that I am.?"
Peter gets more than a little pat on the back which might make us think the point was for Peter to have come up with the "right" answer. Jesus says, "God told you that". Then, with that little bit of praise in his ears, Peter is then told to stop it.
Jesus tells Peter, and the other disciples, sure, I'm the messiah, that's a good answer. But do not tell anyone. Stop telling people that I am the messiah. As you join these conversations with others and they start talking about who Jesus is, don't use those words life "christ" or "messiah." Stop it. Just stop it.
Why? Because Jesus, doubts that the idea about Jesus identity and mission is clearly communicated by these titles.
What words communicate communicate is so affected by context and history. Jesus seems to encourage us to move our conversations fromwhat titles do we use, to what does Jesus do?
So what do we say if we don't use the titles, "christ" or "messiah"? It isn't that these titles are not right, or untrue, or unorthodox. The questions is, do they communicate anything? The term "messiah", the Hebrew form of "christ" was used for powerful kings and rulers in Israel's history. Those previous uses were for people like David, the Patriarchs, and Cyrus of Persia. But Jesus is different. When these terms are applied to Jesus, the royal and warrior-like traits do not work. The term "christ" does not mean what you think it means.
What if in our conversations about Jesus we talked about, and pointed to Jesus' active work as one still healing blindness, enabling people to walk, outsiders to be welcomed into community, for excluded people (cognitively and physically delayed, racial minorities, gender minorities, and anyone else left out) to receive hospitality, and news that is good, welcoming, and loving given freely?
That is the answer that the disciples can keep stating. Stop saying who Christ is. Show it.