Matthew 16:13-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]
“THE ANSWER REALLY MATTERS”
A minister friend of mine speaks about the first question a church search committee should ask a candidate in an interview. He says, “Don’t ask the prospective minister if he or she can grow and administer the church, or preach a good sermon, or care for the flock. Don’t ask them about their faith or their calling or vision for ministry. At least not first. Ask a candidate first, ‘Are you willing to change lightbulbs, plunge blocked toilets and shovel snow?’ If they answer, “Yes,” with enthusiasm, you may well have your person.” Thankfully, I’ve not had to do these things here, at least not often. Congregations expect a lot from their ministers, and most do their best, especially if they are well supported, as I always have been here. And I’m sure you will support Jessica in the same way.
The answer you give to a question can really matter. Matthew 16:13, ‘Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Caesarea Philippi was in Northern Israel right on the Syrian border. There were many religions in the area. The pagan people worshipped Baal in 14 different Baal temples. Herod the Great had built a large temple for the Romans to worship Caesar. Furthermore, just outside Caesarea Philippi there is a large rock cliff, hundreds of feet high. I’ve seen it and I’ve stood beside it. Beneath this rock cliff is a cavern filled with water. Greeks considered the cavern the birthplace of Pan, the nature god. For the Greeks this was a sacred place.
Here beside this great rock cliff, in the presence of so many pagan religions, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “The Son of Man” was the title of a divine figure from the book of Daniel which Jesus applied to himself. The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked his disciples, “But who you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It was a question for Jesus’ followers back then. And it’s a question for the church and for Christians in every generation. “Who do we say that Jesus is?” The answer we give to this question really matters. Why is this so?
First, Simon Peter’s answer really matters because it is the right answer.
To be considered a great prophet was high praise. Yet that answer was inadequate. “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter’s answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” was the right answer. Jesus said so himself.
Remember when the teacher asked a question in class and called on you as you raised your hand. After you answered the teacher said, “That’s right. Well done!” and you felt pretty good. That’s how Peter must have felt when Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of Jonah!” But the right answer didn’t come just from Peter’s own insight. Jesus said to him, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” This answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is so important that it takes God’s help to profess it. Even the disciples who were with Jesus day and night needed God’s help to give the right answer.
It’s true for us, too. Christian faith does not come from reasoning alone. Now that can help, and we need to both hear and read the Gospels, indeed all the Scriptures, for they all give witness to Christ. But there is a mysterious element about our profession. There is something about my faith in Jesus which I can’t quite explain. It somehow feels like a gift from above. Perhaps it is.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how C.S. Lewis became a believer. It happened on the day he went on a trip to the zoo. He left in the morning as an unbeliever and came home in the evening believing in Jesus as the Son of God. It was the mysterious and wonderful work of God’s Holy Spirit in his life, as it was in Peter’s, as it is in your life and mine. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the basic confession of the church, and of every Christian believer. And to confess that about Jesus is to exalt him, highly. To the Hebrew people the term “Son of” meant to share the same nature with someone. To say that Jesus is the Son (capital “S”) of God, means that he shares God’s nature. And to call him the “Son of Man” even though it’s a divine title, reminds also us that Jesus shares our human nature. Fully divine and fully human.
In the next passage, Jesus said that he must suffer and be killed and on the third day rise again. When Peter said that this would never happen to the Messiah, Jesus rebuked him. Eventually the disciples would see that this was a necessary part of Jesus’ mission. But even now the essential confession had been made. “But who do you say that I am?” The answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” really matters because it is the right answer. And this answer was confirmed by God himself when he raised Jesus from the dead.
Here’s the second reason this answer really matters. It’s because this confession is the rock on which Jesus builds his church.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” For Protestants, Peter himself is not the rock. Rather it is his confession which is the rock. Now Peter is honoured by the church because he was the first to make the confession of Jesus as the Christ, and he was the great leader of the early church. But Peter represents all of us who make that same profession. The rock on which Jesus is building his church is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. The church Christ is building on this solid rock cannot be destroyed, but endures through the ages.
Peter has a great phrase for professing Christians. In his 1st letter Peter calls us, “Lively stones, who are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Christ is the cornerstone of the church, and we are lively stones in the church’s structure.
Are you a lively stone, empowered by the Holy Spirit? Of course, it will be a while before the congregation gathers for worship again, and the church will be taking wise and necessary precautions. But when that happens, gather as lively stones, enthusiastic about your faith, worshipping with reverence and joy, listening attentively to God’s word, serving willingly, sharing generously. I think it’s a great witness to visitors when Christians are seen as lively, enthusiastic Christians, lively stones.
The answer “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” really matters because on this rock Christ is building his church.
Finally, this. The confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God really matters because it is the key to Kingdom blessings.
Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The key is the confession of Christ. When you believe that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, then the door to the Kingdom of Heaven is unlocked for you. And to a new way of life, not only in eternity, but here and now.
Tim Keller was, until recently, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, a fine preacher, writer and teacher, popular among young people though he’s probably 70 years old. Keller tells of a man who was considering becoming a Christian, but first wanted to know what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Rev. Keller asked the man whether he believed Jesus rose from the grave. “I don’t know,” said the man. Keller replied, “If you don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, why does it matter what the Bible says about homosexuality?”
Tim Keller went on to tell the man that believing that Jesus rose from the dead is far more important than what the Bible says about that issue or any other. So start there. That is the key issue – the resurrection and the identity of Jesus. Keller continues, “For faith in the living Christ changes the way one thinks about success and money and possessions and love and forgiveness and relationships. Beliefs matter, and if you believe Jesus is who the Bible declares him to be – the Risen and living Lord, the Christ, then you live your life differently… And if it doesn’t change your life, then you don’t really believe it.”
But when you do believe and profess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, the door is unlocked for Kingdom blessings to flow into your life. Of course, it means eternal life with God and all his redeemed people. It also means that right now, your sins, past, present and future are forgiven; that you are an adopted child of God, filled with a living hope; that the fruits of the Spirit are growing within you; that you are a happy witness and servant for God and his Christ; and that you will have nothing to fear when Christ comes again to take his people home. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer, this profession really matters for this life and for eternity.
May God keep revealing this truth to our hearts and minds, and keep you and me and all of us strong in our faith and our profession. “I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord…”