13th Sunday after Trinity August 25, 2002
537, 364, 341, 408
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And 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.” Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
In the name of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, dear fellow redeemed:
What do you think? Certain people and organizations want to know, and so public opinion polls are taken on almost every imaginable subject. Surveys report favorite foods and consumer preferences for certain products. We’re told how many Americans favor military action in the Middle East, and that 21% of TV viewers like one local channel’s newscast. Requests for our opinions come over the phone, and even in shopping malls we see people with clipboards asking for a few minutes of a person’s time.
In our text we hear of an occasion when Jesus, too, took a type of survey. After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 when Jesus made it clear to the people that He would not allow them to make Him an earthly king, His following began to dwindle and opposition grew. His crucifixion and death were quickly approaching. The disciples, though, still had much to learn, and so Jesus led them away from the crowds into the foothills of the Lebanon mountains near the region of Caesarea Philippi. There He asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” It wasn’t that He needed to know. He knows the thoughts of all people. Public opinion was not going to sway Him in His decision to carry out the Father’s will. He asked the question for the sake of the disciples. It is such a simple, straightforward question, and yet so much depends on one's answer. All of Christ’s life and ministry lead up to this question, one which every human being has to answer. This is life’s most important question: “Who is Jesus?”
There were a number of different opinions. Jesus’ enemies, especially the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, had nothing good to say about Him. They called Him a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. They said He was out of His mind and demon-possessed.
But there were many others who held Him in high regard. When the Lord asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” King Herod, tortured by a guilty conscience for executing John the Baptist, thought Jesus must be John raised from the dead. Others looked back to a prophecy of Malachi which said that Elijah would be a forerunner of the Messiah, and believed Jesus might be the fulfillment. Some identified Jesus as Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
If we were to conduct our own survey and randomly contact 1,000 people by phone, or stand in the mall and ask, “Who do you think Jesus is?” we would hear similar answers. There might be a small percentage who would be violently opposed to anything having to do with Jesus; but many would give very complimentary answers: “He was a good man, a charismatic leader. He was a great prophet, teacher, and preacher. He set a good example. The world would be a much better place if everyone tried to live as He did. He showed genuine love toward all people, even His enemies.”
All these statements are true as far as they go, but they miss the mark when it comes to recognizing who Jesus is. Many at Christ’s time and many today speak highly of Him, but many see Him as only a man, definitely a great man, maybe even the greatest man who has ever lived, but still only a human being. Is Jesus only a man, a religious leader in the category of a Mohammed, a Buddha, or a Ghandi; or is He more?
After hearing what others thought about Him, Jesus made the question more personal: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
The twelve had been constant companions of the Lord for the past two and a half years. They had listened to His words. They had seen the miracles. Now Jesus asked for their conclusion. Without hesitation Peter spoke up for them all: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
What a beautiful summary of who Jesus really is! “Christ” is the same as the Hebrew name “Messiah.” It means “the Anointed one.” In Old Testament times God had His prophets, priests, and kings anointed with olive oil to signify that they had been set apart for His special work. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power to be The Prophet, High Priest, and King.
The prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah announced God’s Word to the people. They told how God had promised a Savior to rescue the world from sin. Jesus came as The Prophet. He, too, proclaimed God’s Word; but He could announce that the wait was over. He Himself was The Promised One!
The Old Testament high priests represented the people before God, and offered sacrifices for the people’s sins. The animals butchered on the altar were visual aids foreshadowing one great future sacrifice. Jesus is The High Priest. He represented all people before God, and on the cross offered the only sacrifice which truly did pay for all guilt. John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, “Look! the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Kings like David and Solomon ruled and protected the people. Jesus came as The King to defeat Satan and rule in hearts. He is the Son of Man, a true human being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. He is the one Man, the descendent of Eve, whom God promised would undo all the damaged done by the first man with his fall into sin. As a man Jesus could be our representative under the Law of God. He could take our place on the cross.
But He is more. He is also the Son of the living God. He is true God, one with the Father and the Spirit. “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). It wasn’t just a man who took our place under the Law; it was God Himself in the Person of Christ Jesus. Being God, He could live a holy, righteous life for us. It was not just a man who hung on the cross; it was the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He could offer a ransom price valuable enough to outweigh the world’s guilt on the scales of God’s justice.
But if there were differing opinions regarding Jesus at the time of our text; and if there is no agreement among people now about Him; how can you be sure of your answer when you’re asked, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?” How could Peter be so confident?
We won’t find the answer from so-called experts or from polls and surveys. Our certainty that Jesus is God is not the result of our own doing. We haven’t decided for ourselves that Jesus is the Christ. The Lord told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” The Father and the Spirit working through Jesus’ words created a firm faith in Peter’s heart.
The true, saving conviction as to who Jesus is comes to us from God in the same way. If you want to be certain of your answer, search the Scriptures. Read the Old Testament prophecies, and then look to the New Testament and see how Jesus fulfilled them to the letter. Dig into the Word at home and at Bible Class. Hear it in the worship service, for it is through the Word that God works and strengthens faith, and gives us the answers we need.
Sometimes the answers we give to questions don’t matter that much. Today, if asked, you might say that your favorite color is red. Tomorrow you might say blue is better. Some say it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you are sincere in that belief. But it does matter! It is a matter of life and death!
If we answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” with “He was a great man,” then all we see in Him is an example who showed people a good way to live. His death on the cross then can be nothing more than the unfortunate death of a martyr. That leaves us locked out of God’s kingdom and facing eternal death. Then we still have the problem of our sin to deal with. If Jesus were nothing more than a human being just like us, what could He do for us? He would need a Savior just as desperately as we do. But when the Holy Spirit enables us to answer like Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then we are truly blessed. We can be the happiest people on earth.
We are blessed because we have eternal security. Jesus told Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The name “Peter” means “rock,” but the Church is not built on the man Peter. We know that at times he was anything but rock-solid. Shortly after this he tried to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. In the courtyard of the high priest he denied Jesus three times. No, the rock is the truth of Peter’s confession regarding Jesus. On Pentecost Peter did not call attention to himself and say, “Trust in me!” He pointed people to Christ alone! Paul says too, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
If we build on Christ as the Son of God, our lives are built on the Rock, and we are secure against anything. Even the gates of Hades, which is another term for the powers of death and the devil, cannot stand up against Christ and His Church. The devil can attack with every weapon in his arsenal, but he cannot destroy those who are anchored to the Savior. If he tries to take away our peace with God by reminding us of how many sins we committed this past week, we can look to Christ who took them all upon Himself and gave us His perfect holiness. If Satan tries to frighten us with the prospect of death, we can look to Jesus’ death. We do not worship a dead hero, but a living Savior. He rose from the dead and assures us that because He lives, we, too shall live forever.
We are blessed as well, because the Lord has entrusted us with a set of very unique keys. He said to Peter, “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.” Jesus, the Son of God, has the authority to open or close heaven. He gives His believers the same authority. Sin locked the gates tight. We have to tell those who refuse to recognize Jesus as the Son of God that the kingdom is closed to them. We do this with the hope that it will lead them to repentance and faith. Those who see their sin and turn to Jesus as the One who takes away all sin, we assure that the gates of heaven stand wide open.
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?…What about you? Who do you say He is?” All of our Sunday School classes, Bible classes, and worship services lead up to that question. It will always be life’s most important question. The answer makes all the difference in this world and in the one to come. Who do you say the Son of Man is? By the Spirit’s power may we answer with joyful confidence, “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, my Savior!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.