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Sermon July 16, 2017

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1310

July 16, 2017 Matthew 16:13-20

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)



“Who Do You Say That I Am?”



  • Who Do People Say Jesus Is?


13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”


Imagine if you introduced this question into a conversation, “who do you think Jesus is?” We could either stop the conversation dead in its tracks, or perhaps begin to introduce the gospel to the person or group. Sometimes we might get to it this way, “I’ve been reading about Jesus Christ recently, do you have any thoughts on him?” I’m sure there are a multitude of ways we could introduce Jesus into more conversations. It might be a good challenge for us to consider ways to talk more about Jesus. We could begin by consider talking more to Jesus!

Jesus asked his disciples first who people were saying He is. Back then they had John the Baptist on their minds or one of the prophets like Elijah or Jeremiah. Of course, most of the people they who had contact with them were Jews. They would have had the great names of the Jewish faith on their minds if asked about Jesus. 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. Who knows what people thought, but the disciples heard some people say that Jesus was John the Baptist.

Others said Jesus was Elijah. Now this would have been the thought that a prophet of old had returned. Elijah was taken from the earth in a fiery chariot so the idea was if he never died he could return as a prophet at any time. In this case people considered Jesus as the return of the great prophet Elijah. If people did not think of Elijah, they must have been thinking in that range of thought, some prophet had returned – perhaps Jeremiah or another of the great names in the history of the Old Testament. One thing people knew was that prophets still came on to the scene and Jesus was a prophet and maybe even one known to the Jews from ancient days.


That is not the case for people today, certainly not in our context.


Who do people say Jesus is? Some would say he was a great man who taught wonderful things about love and peace. Others might say he was a revolutionary figure in his day and many people followed him and still do today. If you go to YouTube, not the best place to learn about Jesus, but there are lots of videos where the question is posed to people on the streets, “Who is Jesus?” Some actually do say “my Lord and Savior,” but most have no clue. He’s part of a story that was made up or a story that got blown out of proportion. One guy said he was a great teacher like Buddha or other teachers in history. A lot said he was a 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”.



  • Who Do You Say That I Am?


15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”


Jesus then turns the question on the disciples, from who others say who He is to who they say He is. Peter is the only one who speaks up. Peter is the disciples who speaks his mind, sometimes without thinking. Peter is also seen as one who speaks on behalf of the disciples. In this case he makes a confession about Jesus’ identity. Is Jesus John the Baptist? Is Jesus the return of a great prophet? Jesus first asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That question was easy to address, but then He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Now it gets personal. The disciples are confronted with their own thoughts on Jesus. It is Peter who speaks, Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the anointed One, the one Israel has been waiting for, the Savior. He is the Son of God, God’s only Son, the one with whom God is pleased. This is a foundational confession and in the reformed faith we trust this confession and this truth about Jesus to be the cornerstone of the faith.

John Calvin said of this statement, “The confession is short, but it embraces all that is contained in our salvation; for the designation Christ, or Anointed, includes both an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting Priesthood, to reconcile us to God, and, by expiating our sins through his sacrifice, to obtain for us a perfect righteousness, and, having received us under his protection, to uphold and supply and enrich us with every description of blessings” (From Calvin’s Commentary on Matthew).


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 you say Jesus is? That is the question. How would you answer it? You could quote Peter, but what would you say to explain what you 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.


  • The Revelation of God


17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.


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.


We might wonder how God revealed this to Peter. Was it from all that Peter had seen of Jesus and heard from him? Was it recognition of the Old Testament prophecies? Was it simply a conviction received from God in the Spirit? We cannot be sure, perhaps all of those things. We might ask ourselves the same thing, what is it that convinces us that Peter was right and how has God revealed it to us as well?


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 was thinking this week about all the revelation God has given us about Jesus and the phrases that have become part of our confessions. Just to list a few we read in Hebrews 6:


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.


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. One of the problems in the modern church is we have tended to shy away from our identity in Christ.


  • The Foundation of the Church


18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.


I’ll say it again, God is the one who revealed this to Peter and here we read that God is the one who builds the church upon this truth and upon this person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps what we need in the church is a renewed confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” In that confession we might rekindle our identity as a church. In that confession we might reconnect in a deeper way to the One who is our Messiah. In that confession we might say: “We are disciples of the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This is the confession that will draw people to Jesus and that is our goal, that is our work, because that is the work of Jesus, to draw people to himself. Holding fast to our identity is one of the keys to draw people to Christ and to renew the life of the church in our society. If we are just Presbyterian or just church goers or just attending worship because grandma ingrained it into our bones, then we are identified less with Jesus and more with the church of convenience. Such a church will never draw people to Christ, but if we confess with Peter and live in to and out of that confession, the Lord will reveal to us and to others that Jesus is the Messiah.

The authors of the book Jesus Manifesto note, “three features are present in every awakening in the history of the Christian church: (1) a rediscovery of the ‘living Word,’ or the scriptures and its authority; (2) a rediscovery of the living Christ and His Supremacy; (3) a rediscovery of the living Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts and power to manifest Christ in the context of that culture” (p. xix, Jesus Manifesto, Sweet and Viola). All that is to say that we cannot ever lose sight of the Scripture and its authority. We cannot lose sight of the living Christ and we cannot lose sight of the living Spirit or our living God. Let us make that our prayer for the day, may the Lord continue to reveal to us Peter’s confession and what it means for us, and for the church, and for the world. Amen.