Bible Passage: Matthew 16:13-20 Pastor: Pastor Berg Sermon Date: August 28, 2017
Back in 1966, a new game show debuted on American TV. It was called “The Newlywed Game.” Versions of the show have continued to appear, even to this day. The basic premise was to see how well these newly married couples knew each other. They would ask one spouse a question ahead of time and then during the show, ask their mate to answer the question. The better you knew your spouse, the better you would fare.
Doesn’t it seem like that’s what Jesus is doing with his disciples today? First, he asks what the crowds, the people were saying about him. But, then, he gets personal. He cuts right to their hearts and he says, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not just the disciples in Caesarea Philippi that are facing that question today. You and I are faced with it as well. So what about you? What’s your answer going to be for Jesus?
But before we get to the heart of the matter, perhaps some background information would be helpful. Last week, Pastor Schlicht shared a story of Jesus and his disciples as they left the friendly confines of Israel and journeyed to Syro-Phonecia, the region of Tyre and Sidon. Since then, the disciples witnessed another miraculous feed of thousands with just seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. They crossed the sea of Galilee from one side to the other and back again. They watched as Jesus again dealt with the persistent unbelief of the Pharisees and listened as he warned them about their teachings, which spread like yeast. Today, we find them journeying north, again outside of the borders of Israel to Caesarea Philippi, an area once part of Israel, but now primarily Gentile.
Things have calmed down, at least for the moment. They’re not being harassed by the crowds or hassled by the Pharisees. These disciples had seen and experienced so much in a short span of time. They’d heard what the crowds were saying about Jesus. They’d even said some of those things themselves. Think back to what Andrew told his brother Simon way back when they started following Jesus: “We’ve found the Christ, the Messiah!” Think about what Peter said after that miraculous catch of fish, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man!” But those events were long ago, spontaneous sputterings after witnessing something spectacular. Since then, they’d been with Jesus for some time. They’d seen both the praise and the protests. And now, back outside of Israel, back in Gentile country where they were less likely to be bothered, Jesus casually asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
It’s clear that Jesus’ ministry was having an impact. Not only were people speaking well of him, they were speaking very highly of him. These were no historical lightweights. Elijah and John were both connected to the promise of Messiah. Jesus’ disciples baptized as John had. Jesus himself called people to repentance. Like Elijah, Jesus was a man of prayer and a worker of miracles. And like Jeremiah, Jesus already had the authorities opposing him. But what’s the one thing you notice about all of these answers? All are very complimentary of Jesus, but they all fall short of the mark. Jesus the prophet, Jesus the rabbi, Jesus the religious leader; but not Jesus the Savior. Not Jesus, the Christ.
If we were to ask that same question to people around us today, do you think we’d get similar answers? Other than clear opponents of Christianity, there aren’t that many people who have bad things to say about Jesus. Many see Jesus as a great teacher. Many hold up Jesus as a great example for us to follow. Who among us hasn’t been told to ask, “What would Jesus do?” as we face temptations to sin? But all of those answers fall short of the mark. If all we ever see in Jesus is a great teacher or a great example or someone who helps us out once in a while, then we’ve missed the mark as well.
So why does Jesus turn the question on his disciples? Isn’t it clear that they know who he is? They’ve spent all this time with him, day in and day out. They’ve seen the miracles. They’ve witnessed his teaching. Why does he ask them? Why here in Caesarea Philippi? Why now at this time in his ministry? Verse 21 isn’t part of our lesson this morning, but it really helps us to understand why. Why does Jesus ask his disciples? Matthew tells us, “From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised again.” Why did Jesus ask them? Because their understanding of who he truly is would never be more important than in the days ahead. Seeing Jesus as just a prophet or just a rabbi or just a religious leader was not going to get the disciples through what was about to happen. They would despair if they didn’t understand who Jesus is and what he came to do. For what they were about to face, there wasn’t a more important question.
“So, what about you? Who do you say I am?” Let’s listen to how Peter responded.Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s interesting to note that all of the previous “confessions” or exclamations by the disciples were spontaneous. They were the result of some great sign or miracle. But not this one. This is the first time that Jesus has asked them personally and directly. And Peter’s answer was a perfect one. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There’s a couple things that jump out at us here. First, look at how direct and definitive Peter’s answer is. Three times we find a definite article in the Greek that we translate, “the.” And that may seem like an insignificant, throw-away word, but it’s not. Peter is saying, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the only one. You aren’t just another anointed prophet or priest or king. You aren’t a political hero come to save us from the Romans. No you are the Anointed One, the One God has promised throughout the scriptures. And not only that, you aren’t just another child of God, no, you are the Son, the second person of the Trinity, True God and True Man, the only Son of the only God.”
The other thing that jumps out at us is Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession. He says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Remember how I said that Peter’s answer was a perfect one? That’s because it was revealed to him by God himself. Notice how Jesus addresses Peter. He calls him Simon, son of Jonah. Simon son of a human being. Simon son of a sinner. Peter, by his human nature, knew nothing about Christ. Peter, by his human nature, was utterly and completely lost in the depths of his sin. And next week, you’ll see that unbelieving, misguided sinful nature rear its ugly head. No, it wasn’t Peter by himself that made this confession. Peter didn’t discover this truth on his own. He didn’t decide on his own. “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.” Left to himself, Peter never would have discovered this truth. And friends, neither would we. For we too are sons and daughters of sinful men. We too know nothing about Christ and his work of salvation by nature. We too are utterly and completely lost in the depths of our sins. We can’t decide or discover what God has done in Jesus on our own. “For flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” God, in his grace, created faith in Peter’s heart through his Word. He led Peter to know the truth about Jesus by the working of his Spirit. And by that same Spirit, he led Peter to give this perfect confession. And it’s on this confession that Jesus builds his Church.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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.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.” Jesus uses a little wordplay here. The Greek name Peter means rocky. Jesus isn’t saying that the Church will be built on Peter, but on the strength, the solid rock of his confession, which didn’t come from him but from God. It is on the rock solid truth that Jesus is the Savior, the Christ, the one who came into the world to live and die and rise, this is the foundation of the Church. And notice the one who’s doing the building! It’s Jesus himself. He is the one who has promised to work through his Word and Sacraments to build and grow his Church. And we and every other believer are little “Peters”, little rocks that are being built into a spiritual house. And so solid is the foundation, and so skilled the builder, that nothing will destroy Christ’s church, not death, not hell, not the devil himself. And rather than driving people away, Christ has given his Church the keys to lead people in. To show them the way to heaven through Christ.
And then Jesus says something that maybe confuses us. “Then he commanded the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.” Jesus had just heard the perfect confession of faith, revealed by the Father in heaven. Why would he tell the disciples not to share it? The world wasn’t ready for it. At this time there were many misconceptions of who the Christ would be and what he would do. Even the disciples themselves shared these misconceptions. No, not until after Jesus went to the cross would those misconceptions be washed away. Only then, would the world be ready.
But there are no such restrictions for us. And so the question Jesus posed to his disciples he poses to you. What about you? How will you answer? May the Holy Spirit bless your answers with the same revelation that Peter received. But we don’t need to wait for God to whisper in our ears. We have that revelation at our fingertips, in the Word. And there we see time and again, Christ for us. Christ living for us. Christ dying for us. Christ rising for us. Christ interceding for us. Christ ruling for us. Christ giving himself, his body and blood, for us. May your sharing of Christ, your confession of Christ, your telling of Jesus be blessed as you tell of all that Christ has done for us and for the world! And remember, no matter what trials you may face, no matter what difficulties you may encounter, the gates of hell will not overcome Christ’s Church or its confession. May you be blessed to say with Peter. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.