There’s a great spiritual you might have heard at Christmastime over the years. Each of the verses talks about some aspect or another of the Christmas story, but the heart of the spiritual is the refrain: (sing twice) “Everywhere I go; everywhere, I go, my Lord; everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus.” I know it’s August, and I know we have long left Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story in the dust, but this spiritual, this refrain, we need them today, now. Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus.
Who do people say that the Son of Man is? That’s Jesus’s first question to the disciples. I have on my office bookshelves across the lawn some three hundred books. Back at home, at the parsonage, I probably have another thousand or so—all of them, or nearly all of them, are either talking about Jesus or talking about people who like to talk about Jesus. I teach sometimes at a seminary in Baltimore and another one down in D.C. Each of these has libraries with another hundred thousand or so books, mostly about Jesus or about people who like to talk about Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: you could go down each page and count up how often his name appears, but it would take you a lifetime.
And that’s just the books. That’s the stuff that’s easy to track down, get a handle on, figure out. On top of all those books is the chatter, the millions of people who could be talking about Jesus right now, at this very moment, not to mention the billions of people who have talked about him or heard him talked about over the course of the last twenty centuries. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus.
And there’s plenty to talk about, too, isn’t there? Miracles, signs, strange words, intriguing teachings. Jesus is a fascinating fellow. Talk, talk, talk: we could talk about him all day long. Talk about his strange birth. Talk about whether he really said and did the things the Bible says he said and did. Talk about what he meant by them if he did. Talk about his death. Talk about his resurrection. There’s plenty to talk about: but what are people saying?
That’s what Jesus wants to know: what are people saying? Even before the New Testament was written, even before the church was the church, even before his crucifixion and resurrection, folks were talking about Jesus. He has given them something to talk about, and talk they do. What are they saying? According to the disciples, they’re saying that Jesus is a prophet. “Some say John the Baptist.” Prophet. “Others Elijah.” Prophet. “Still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Prophet. Prophet…s. Did Galilean Jews really think Jesus was one of these historic figures, reincarnated or back from the dead? Probably not. But they had something to talk about, and they needed a way to talk about it. So you can imagine a bunch of them sitting around, shooting the breeze after dinner, saying things like, “You know, the way he takes on the scribes and the Pharisees, he’s a real John the Baptist.” Or, “Wow! Did you hear about him raising that little girl from the dead? He is an Elijah!” Or, “You know how he goes on and on about God and kingdoms and restoration and covenant; he is such a Jeremiah.”
Jesus never denies any of these names. He doesn’t say, “Oh no, everyone’s gotten it all wrong! What am I to do?!” He never corrects the disciples, either: ‘I’m no John the Baptist, and I’m not Elijah or Jeremiah. How could they think that?” He doesn’t say that. There is truth in what everyone is saying about Jesus, or else it would be important, essential even, for Jesus to get the record straight.
Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus. But what are they saying? It’s been a long time since anyone called Jesus John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah. But many, many people have been content to call him a prophet. They babble on about a short passage from the Sermon on the Mount, or they pull out one of his pithy short sayings and make it into a bumper sticker. Some of us might be tempted to pull our hair, clench our teeth, and say, “No, that’s not right!” But if Jesus could find truth in incomplete pictures of himself, shouldn’t we, too? Rather than rebuking those who are happy to think of Jesus as a prophet, or a “Great Teacher” (which is really just a backdoor way of saying a prophet), rather than rebuking them, or rolling our eyes, or muttering under our breath, why not come alongside them, walk with them, live among them, and say to them, “Yes, he is a prophet! Yes, he is a Great Teacher. But there’s so much more to talk about.”?
Jesus doesn’t change the conversation by denying what others have said about him. Jesus changes the conversation by changing the question. No longer, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now the question is, “But who do you say that I am?” It’s easy to talk about what people are talking about, but Jesus doesn’t let us off that easy. “Who do you say that I am,” he asks. The talking dies down while he waits for an answer.
Peter—of course it’s Peter, it’s always Peter, isn’t it—Peter hits the nail on the head: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Messiah. Anointed One. Christ is what we usually say these days. Son of the living God. So much more than another anointed prophet, or even a king. God from God, Light from Light, True God from true God. Begotten, not made. Of one being with the Father. Son of the living God. Messiah.
Peter, Jesus tells us, could not have made this true confession on his own. Talk, talk, talk all you want, all day long, every day for two thousand years: on its own, it will never be enough. Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus, but everybody talkin’ ’bout Jesus doesn’t know him yet. That kind of knowing, that kind of talk, is a gift from our Father in heaven. It’s a different kind of talking. It is the point of all talking: to speak truth, to the glory of God the Father, about his Son Jesus Christ. The Father gives the gift, Peter receives the gift, and Peter uses the gift the way the Father intended, making his confession before Jesus, the disciples, and every person who has ever read the gospels. No wonder Jesus promises to build his church on the rock of Peter.
At this point, if you have ever been anywhere near a sermon on this passage (even, I think, one or two of my own sermons), you probably expect to hear something like, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Not today. What you say about Jesus is important, but what the Father revealed to Simon Peter he has also given to the whole of Christ’s church: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This is what we have been trusted with: a truth so powerful, so profound, that it can only be known when the Father gives it. A truth so earth-shattering that Jesus commands his disciples to keep it a secret. But what Peter and the disciples must keep hidden, the church now publicly proclaims to the whole world. The confession Peter makes is our word, too, the backbone of our prayers, our preaching, our hymns, our creeds, our deeds of service, and our sacraments. These are the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the means of grace from the Father for the church given to Peter for the sake of the world.
Talk, talk, talk. Everywhere I go, somebody’s talkin’ ’bout Jesus. But maybe it’s time for some of our talking to die down. Maybe it’s time for us to seal up our lips so that we can listen more carefully to the church’s confession, to the truth the Father entrusts Peter and us. Our words will come, I’m sure—they almost always do. But do we have ears to hear the truth that has already been spoken?