Sermon: Matthew 16:13-20
Pentecost 14 - September 10, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
When this sermon is over we’re going to stand here together and confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. In the second article of that creed we will confess to believe very specifically who Jesus is: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. . .”
But what if today I suddenly stopped you after the second article and before the third article about the Holy Spirit and asked you, “Do you really understand what you’re saying about Jesus? Do you comprehend how profound these truths about Jesus really are?” After all we’re stating truths that are contrary to reason and science - that Jesus, a human being, is the Son of God, actually born in a miraculous way of the virgin Mary.
In our text today Jesus did something similar with his own disciples. He asked them what people were saying about him. He asked them specifically who they thought he was. This was no time for them to recite a memorized creed or to just repeat words and ideas from other people. Jesus was asking them from their own hearts and minds who he was.
Jesus could just as well turn to each one of us today and ask
WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
Jesus was travelling with his disciples in the area of Caesarea Philippi located quite far north in Galilee. It was a city built by King Herod’s son Philip. In the proud and arrogant spirit of the Herod family Philip named the city after the Roman Emperor Caesar and, of course, himself.
It could be that Jesus traveled this far north with his disciples to get away with them away from the crowds of people in order to do some important instruction or, in this case, to ask them a very pivotal question.
He first of all asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, a way of designating himself as God’s Son who had come to this world as a real human being. Jesus loved being one of us.
But Jesus was interested in what others were saying about him, what the disciples had heard people saying about him. More accurately, he wanted the disciples themselves to say what people were saying about him. Jesus didn’t really need to find out from the disciples what people were saying about him. He knew. He wanted the disciples to say what people were saying because he was leading them to a more pointed and personal question.
The disciples told Jesus that some people were saying that he was John the Baptist or maybe the prophet Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. It seems that people had the idea that people could be somehow reincarnated in a person born after them. Or at least people believed that a person could have distinct characteristics of someone who lived before. At any rate, lots of people recognized that Jesus was a man of God, that he urged people to repent of their sins like John the Baptist, that he spoke forcefully and powerfully like Elijah, that he warned of God’s judgment like Jeremiah and the other prophets.
It’s interesting that the general belief about Jesus was that he was a good man, a preacher of God’s word, but they stopped there. He was a prophet, but not anything beyond a really good prophet.
What’s the general belief about Jesus today? Who do people say he is? There are really two groups of people who will express their beliefs about Jesus. There are lots of people who would say that Jesus was a really good person, a man of God, a preacher of goodness and morality. Most people who don’t espouse any religion would say those kind things about Jesus. Eastern religions recognize Jesus as a good man. Even Islam names Jesus as a prophet of God.
The second group of people who express their belief about Jesus are people like you and me, people who believe that he is the Son of God and our Savior. They will confess all those truths that we list in the Apostles’ Creed. And we hope that when you and I say those words about Jesus they’re not just coming from our head but from our heart as well.
Jesus wanted to know what was really going on in the heads of hearts of his disciples. He wanted them to really think about what they believed. And he wanted them to say it out loud. It was one thing to travel around with Jesus in this little band of men talking about Jesus being the Son of God and the Messiah. But when they were asked directly, personally, what did they really believe?
Jesus in his all-knowing mind could have gone down the list of every one of these disciples from Peter, James, and John to Judas, Matthew, and Thomas and known exactly what they believed, what they really believed.
If Jesus sat down beside you right now and looked you right in the eyes and asked you, “Who do you say I am?” it would really be a test of the sincerity of your belief. You know that he already knows what’s in your heart. He knows if you really believe he’s the Son of God, he knows how strong your faith is, he knows if you really mean it.
Jesus wants us to say out loud who we believe he is. Jesus wants us to say out loud what we intellectually know and believe about him. He wants us to say what the Bible says about him. But he also wants those confessions of faith to come from the heart, a heart that’s really convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior. That’s why he asked the disciples and why he asks us, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter became a spokesman for the disciples. His answer to Jesus’ question, his confession of faith was very clear and true: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was saying two things. Jesus was the Messiah. He was the one who had been promised across the pages of the Old Testament to come to save his people. But he was also saying that he was more than just a man, a regular human being. He was the Son of God himself.
There’s something about Peter’s confession of faith that really stirs the Christian heart and soul. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They are words that are so absolutely true. They are words that are so profound. They go so far beyond the timid unbeliever who might say that Jesus is a good man or even a great prophet. Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Peter’s words tell us that Jesus came into the world to save us from the guilt of our sin. Peter’s words tell us that Jesus is the one, the only one, the one promised in the Garden of Eden and down through Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist. He’s the almighty Son of God who came to crush the head of the serpent and destroy the power of the devil. He is our Messiah and Savior.
Believing and confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is far more than believing the obvious and reasonable that two plus two is four or that there’s a force called gravity that holds us to the ground. Really knowing who Jesus is and really believing who Jesus is a gift of God. That’s why Jesus told Peter that what he confessed was not something revealed to him by other people. It was revealed to him by God the Father.
When we stand here today in a few minutes and confess our faith in Jesus, or anytime we think about who Jesus really is, it’s so important that we stop to consider what we’re saying we believe is so profound, so humanly unbelievable, that it takes the power of the almighty God to really believe it and take it to heart. It’s easy to recite words. It’s a miracle of God’s goodness that we really believe those words and truths about Jesus.
And it’s a miracle what those truths about Jesus mean for our lives in this world and in eternity. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” There’s a play on words here that we miss in English. The name Peter and the word rock in Greek sound very much the same. But Jesus’ point was that he was going to build his New Testament church on the rock solid foundation of Peter’s confession - the truth that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God.
And here we are today, 2000 years later, believing and confessing the very same truth about Jesus. The Church, made up of believers in Jesus’, has been based all this time on the truth about Jesus, about who he is, that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Do you see why it’s so important that Jesus asked his disciples that question, who do you say I am? Do you see why it’s so important that Jesus look directly into our eyes and heart and ask that same question, who do you say I am? He wants us to look too, to examine our heads and hearts, to see what we really believe.
Without Jesus, without a true belief and confession of Jesus, we have nothing. If Jesus were just a good man it would be great that he was good, but he could not save us from our sins and build a kingdom of believers in this world and the next. Jesus could have been a great prophet, but if that’s all he was he couldn’t save us.
But he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And he can and he has saved us from our sins. That’s why he told Peter and the disciples, “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.” Along with belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God not only comes forgiveness but also the responsibility to proclaim forgiveness to others.
Jesus gives believers the keys that open and lock the door of heaven. When sinners refuse to repent God in heaven sees that impenitence, and they are still bound to their sin and guilt. It’s our responsibility on earth to warn sinners that their impenitence locks the door of heaven for them. But when sinners do repent God in heaven sees their faith and repentance. It’s our responsibility and privilege on earth to open the door of heaven to them with the message of forgiveness, with the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Who do you say I am? Who do you say Jesus is? You’ll answer that question in a moment in the Apostles’ Creed. Say them with your mouth. More important, like Peter, say them with your heart. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Amen.