Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1368
September 30, 2018 Matthew 16:13-20
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
Today we conclude our ten week series with the passage of Peter’s confession. It’s the question of the day: “Who is Jesus?”
What People Say About Jesus
In Matthew 16 – The context of Matthew might assume that the disciples were hearing from other Jews about who they thought Jesus was. The assumption and expectation among many Jews was that prophets could return to pronounce judgment upon Israel. The most recent prophetic voice among the Jews was John the Baptist. John the Baptist might be an easy connection to make. They shared many characteristics: preaching repentance, both prophetic voices, and religious. John’s life was cut short and it was likely that some people thought he had returned or maybe never even died and now he was embodied in the person of Jesus. At the time, many people probably thought Jesus was John the Baptist.
Others reached deeper into Jewish history. Elijah is a great choice because he was taken away in a fiery chariot. He never died. He could return as a prophet at any time. How about Jeremiah? God could make anything possible when it comes to the prophets. Jeremiah because he was a great prophet whom God may send back. Any of the prophets could fit the circumstance of returning prophet. But what is unique is that all of them are prophets and only prophets. Jesus is prophetic, yes, but much more than just a prophet. At least the disciples have been paying attention to the buzz about town.
Today, 2018 – If you type the question about Jesus into YouTube, there are a multitude of “on the street” interviews asking “who is Jesus?” The context is different today, except for those videos filmed in Israel, because now we can ask people all over the world. Some say he was a great man who taught wonderful things about love and peace. Most of those looked like they just stepped out of a flower painted VW van from 1966. Others say he was a revolutionary figure in his day and many people followed him and still do today. Some actually do say “my Lord and Savior,” but most have no clue. One guy said he was a great teacher like Buddha or other teachers in history. A lot said he was a white guy with long hair and a beard. He was a historical figure. One lady said that all the religions claim to be the answer so obviously none of them do, so she said her religion was doubt and she identified herself as a “doubtist”. More than one said Jesus was a make believe story.
Speaking of those in Israel, it’s interesting that many Jews today give no thought to Jesus and some families even forbid their children to read anything in the New Testament. Some of those children who are now adult never even knew that Jesus was Jewish.
Who Is Jesus?
So who is Jesus? It is still one of the most important questions we might ask today. Peter’s answer is a cornerstone of Protestant understanding of the church. Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the anointed One of God. He is the Son of the living God. Peter is speaking on behalf of all the disciples. It is a phenomenal confession of faith. Jesus is the One Israel has been waiting for. He is the Savior of the world. We are able to go to the Bible and find multiple expressions about Jesus. He is the bread of life. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the anchor of our souls. He is light and life and love. He is everything for us.
How we answer this question affects our relationship with Jesus. The question and answer binds us to Jesus in some way. It sets the tone of who we understand ourselves to be by who we understand Jesus to be. Our answer to that question connects us to Jesus. Our answer to that question is what draws people to us and to His church. It is not any particular program or quality of facility or any particular person outside the person of Jesus Christ. Who do we say Jesus is? That is the question. How would we answer it? We could quote Peter, but what would we say to explain what we mean by Christ or Son of the living God? I suggest we know how we would answer this question before we ask anyone else. I suggest that Jesus is asking us that question on a daily basis. He asks us in how we talk about Him and how we act. He asks in how we are related to Him and how we relate to others.
But it is so much more than just our personal confession and even more than Peter’s confession, because in one way Peter’s confession and ours is a gift from God, a gift to Peter and to us. God is the one who revealed this to Peter. God is the one who builds the church upon this truth and upon this person of Jesus Christ. God is orchestrating the truth by His revelation to His people. God is the living active being behind the scenes of the scene in Mathew 16 and today in our lives and in the life of His church.
How Do We Know?
God is how we know how to answer the question of Jesus’ identity. God reveals it to us – God’s self revelation is found in Jesus and in the whole of the Bible. How does this happen? What goes on in our hearts and minds to make this happen? There comes a time in our lives, maybe multiple times, when we are asked to consider the question from Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” We cannot rely on what others might say. We cannot hide behind what is popular at the time. We can come to what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in the confession of Peter. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is not a decision we make on our own or a discovery we think about in our own thoughts, but it is revealed to us by God. The revelation for us is the great blessing in the Holy Scripture that reveals who Jesus is through its witnesses and stories and accounts like this one in Matthew.
I’ve shared these with you before but it’s worth repeating! These are just a few of the revelations God has given us about Jesus:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV).
Jesus is the anchor of the soul. What a great confession for the believer. Jesus is the one who holds us steady in the sea of chaos. Jesus is the sure and steadfast one who reaches to the depth of our soul. Jesus is our high priest who hears our confessions of sin and intercedes for us.
We read in Colossians how God reveals the supremacy of Jesus:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV).
Jesus is the embodiment of the law and the prophets (maybe that’s why some people thought he was one of the prophets).
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18 ESV).
Jesus is our identity as Christians. There is nothing we can do apart from this connection.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5 ESV).
Being Christian means we are identified in a particular way – as Christians, as those who know who Jesus is and what Peter confessed, and what we confess in Jesus Christ. It means we are connected to Jesus. We are connected in such a way that the name goes with us, the name of Jesus.
Why is this important? What does it say about us? How shall we live in response to this revelation? Why is this passage important to know and cherish?
Well you know the answers:
This passage identifies what others think about Christ, then and now. Then he was just another prophet. Now he is seen by many in even less impressive ways, good dude, historical figure, made up story. We can know that many people have no idea who Jesus is or why it is important to know.
This passage identifies who Peter and the disciples believed Jesus to be and thus identifies Christ as the Christ, the Son of the living God. This helped to shape their lives from this time on. It did not leave the disciples full of faith and strength because we know they all would later abandoned and Peter even denied knowing Jesus. But the confession and belief kept them in the kingdom even if they stepped out of the gate once in a while.
This revelation of the Christ is given by God. This, I think, is crucial to know because we are not that smart, first off. But we are also so tainted by sin that our eyes would be blind to Jesus without the regenerating grace and mercy of God that gives us eyes to see and mouths to confess.
Because we know see and confess, we can stand strong in the face of cultural changes and opposition to the faith. We know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the foundation of the Church. Jesus is the Christ! This even the demons know and they tremble.
In the end this passage also identifies who we are. We are Christians, that means, we identify with Jesus in such a way that He Himself defines our existence. Jesus is our very life. I heard a great speaker on Friday who was talking about owning our identity, in his case it was not just our identity in Christ, which takes precedence over all else, but also in owning our ethnicity and offering that to others as a part of our witness to Christ. I won’t go into the forty-five minute explanation he offered, but suffice it to say that we are called to claim ownership in our Christian identity to the point that Jesus becomes our offering to everyone. We cannot shy away from this confessional life of Christ. We cannot be ashamed of the gospel. We cannot be frightened by what others may say about Jesus and thus also say about us.
Instead, we go forth with boldness and gentleness and courage and conviction and love. We go forth knowing who Jesus is and thus who we are. We go with His word in our hearts, words like these ten passages we have spent time with, passages that speak of a new creation, being born again, God’s love, Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, or the Great Commission. We carry these passages and we carry the name of Jesus and we carry the confession of who He is. Carry is well. Carry it with the intention of sharing it and expressing it in love and hope and faith. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is our confession and our identity. Own it and give it to others that they may come to own it as well. Amen.