Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20 for Pentecost 12 (Pr 16), August 20, 21 & 23, 2020
- It is a bold and a brave thing for a teacher or a leader of any kind to ask, “What do you think, guys? How am I doing?” or “What are they saying about me out there?” I’ve done it—and I’ve gotten unexpected answers. Weird answers. Some answers that surprised me, like, “Pastor, you’re a modern guy and you love all things new.” Or “Pastor, you’re an old school guy.” I think I’m somewhere in between—using what I think is the best of old and new. Some answers were humbling. Some information was useful to me. Some information was not useful at all. Public opinion is usually all over the place. You can’t stop people from having different and sometimes wrong ideas.
- Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?” That’s interesting the way he asks. Not “How am I doing?” or “What are they saying about me out there?” but “Who do they say I am?” It’s a simple question, but also a question that is at the heart of Jesus’ work and mission—and today it’s a question that is at the heart of Christianity—about what we believe, do and teach in his name.
I. A Simple Question.
- “Who do people say I am?” In our class on the Gospel of John, we see that question answered on every page: Who is Jesus? That’s because there was some confusion about the person and nature of Jesus near the end of the first century (A. D. 80s and 90s). In chapter 1, John makes it very clear, Jesus is truly divine and truly human. In chapter 2 Jesus shows who he really is with signs and wonders. In chapter 3, this week’s lesson (Monday at 7:00 p.m. on YouTube), John tells us Jesus is the Savior of the world, the one we are to trust for eternal life. This is who Jesus is. This is what the Scriptures say about him. This is what our creeds say about him.
- Back then, about a year into Jesus’ public ministry, about a year before his suffering, death and resurrection, after much teaching, after the feeding of the 5,000, many of the people didn’t really know. When he asked, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Sometimes people generalize. We do that, too. A few years ago, I asked somebody, “What is Pinterest?” and someone answered, “Oh, it’s like Google.” Or “Oh, it’s like email.” It isn’t like either of those. It’s like a bulletin board where you pin a graphic or pin some idea to share with others. So, back to the first century: Who is Jesus? “Oh, he’s a traveling preacher like John the Baptist.” “Elijah.” In the last words of the Old Testament, Malachi foretold that Elijah (or someone like Elijah) would come to preach repentance. (That was fulfilled by John the Baptist, See Matthew 11:14.) “Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” By this point, it doesn’t really matter, because the crowd’s ideas are wrong. Despite Jesus’ teaching, despite his miracles and healing, people didn’t really know who Jesus was.
- In our time, even though it’s been almost 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth with almost 2,000 years of his church proclaiming his gospel… Even though the Bible has been the most printed book for the past 500 years with copies in almost every language imaginable, people still get the simple question wrong. Once I visited another church, and the preacher talked about Jesus as a teacher. A great teacher. A wonderful teacher. Okay. Then he said, “…and this is how Jesus is our Savior. He teaches us how to live.” Hmmm. Jesus does indeed teach us how to live as we follow him in love, but that’s not really Jesus as Savior, is it? That’s Jesus as self-help coach who tells you how to save yourself—and we can’t save ourselves. A Savior is someone who gets you out of what you can’t get yourself out of. John the Baptist taught who Jesus is and what it means that he is Savior simply and clearly. “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
- Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter spoke up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It’s really a title. It means “the anointed one.” It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah, which also means “the anointed one.” In the Old Testament, there were many people who were anointed: prophets like Joshua, Elijah and Elisha; priests like Aaron and his sons; kings like Saul, David, Solomon and all the rest. In Psalm 2, David writes about nations raging against the LORD and against his Anointed One, and later calls him “the Son…” David wasn’t writing about himself. He was predicting another Anointed One.
II. A Foundational Answer
- Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” At another time he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). So Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, (the crowds had many wrong ideas about Jesus) but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it.” Peter wasn’t the rock. Jesus called Simon the fisherman “Peter” because he could be solid and unmovable—like when he gave this confession about who Jesus is. Peter could also be like a rock because it took a while for things to sink in. Peter heard Jesus teaching for over a year. He saw Jesus feed a crowd of 5,000. He saw Jesus walking on water. And then Peter panics in the storm. It took a while for the truth of the displays of Jesus’ power and might to sink in to Peter. The confession “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock on which the church is built.
- What does it mean that the church is built on Christ? What is the church? The word church (ekklesia) means those who are called out, that is, called out of the world to Christ. The church collectively is built on Christ. He is the foundation for our work, our teaching and life. And the same is true for each individual. The question “Who is Jesus?” really has an impact on us as we are connected to him. “Who are you?” “Who am I?” If Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then we Christians have our connection to the living God through him. If Jesus is Savior, then we are the saved. If Jesus is the one who has the words of eternal life, we are the ones who have eternal life as we cling to his Word. John said it in the first chapter of his Gospel: “…to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
- This is who Jesus is. This is who we are. Jesus is the Son of the living God. In Jesus, we have the right to be children of God. Jesus became what we are, truly human. He took on our status—the status of sinners—even though he had no sin of his own. And he has made us what he is—children of God. He has given his status to us—a status of holiness. Without him we’re lost. Without him, we’re stuck in our sin, powerless, unable to change, unable to truly live. With him, we have life. “Life and light to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.”
Conclusion: That’s what it means for you and me. This is who you and I are because of Jesus. On this rock, Jesus has built his church. On this rock, Jesus has built your life and mine. It’s unchanging when everything else is changing. It’s our confidence when everything else is falling apart. “…those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Matthew 16:13-20 (EHV)
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he commanded the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.