Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
It is good to be back with you this morning. We had a very nice and relaxing family vacation, and the best part was when my phone didn’t ring!
We didn’t do anything particularly special this year, just hung out together and did some little day adventures here and there which kept us as busy as we wanted to be.
There’s just something about getting away for a bit which helps you reflect, which helps you reenergize, which even helps you to prioritize things in a new way when you return.
I feel like this has been particularly good vacation for me this year. It’s been good for me to get away and unplug from life in the church, to spend time with my family, and to relax.
As a result, I’m back, I’m refreshed, and I’m ready to continue on this journey God is calling us on.
But what of this journey? What is it we are doing as churches? What is it that grants us the permission to stand out as something (or someone) different in the world today?
One blessing about my vacation was that we only had one channel on the TV. Which meant, aside from a few shows, we didn’t have it on much. Which also meant we weren’t inundated with all the news going on in the world. Yes, we still had internet access, so we did have an idea of what was happening. We paid particular attention to what was happening in Charlottesville, yet we still felt we had somewhat of a distance, a buffer from all the “bad news” out there.
I don’t think I need to tell you what happened in Charlottesville was horrible. I never, ever thought I would see such blatant racism in our society like what we saw there. Yes, I know it still exists in our society, I’ve seen examples of it, I’ve heard stories, I’ve even witnessed some acts personally… but I never expected it to be shown so publicly. It’s absolutely horrible and despicable what these people publicly declared in their marches.
But enough of that for today. A lot of words have been spoken about this topic over the last few weeks, and people are still fighting against these racist beliefs, these nazi sympathizers who have no place in the world today. We should all be speaking publicly against such belief systems, and fighting these ideologies.
There is just so much junk in our world today. Stuff we thought was gone, or at least isolated in dark corners, it’s all creeping back out into our society. Not to mention the long standing issues our own communities have faced for decades with alcoholism, drug addiction and poverty. It leaves us wondering what we can do to make the world a better place.
Which brings me back to wondering just what this journey we are on is about. Who are we as churches? What is our identity in all this mess?
Jesus, as he’s walking with his disciples wonders about the effectiveness of his own journey. So he stops and asks them a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16:13)
The disciples, who seem to have their ears to the ground, respond with what they have been hearing people say about Jesus as he tours the countryside.
John the Baptist, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets is their report. In other Gospels Elijah’s name is mentioned. It’s interesting that John the Baptist is mentioned, since I’m confident that it’s well known that he was killed by King Herod, which wouldn’t have been all that long before Jesus asked the question. They were roughly the same age though, so maybe people thought he escaped death somehow? I don’t know. It must have been some sort of conspiracy, I suppose.
Conspiracy theories aside, what is common among John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah and all the other prophets?
There’s a few things I suppose. One is they all did great things in the name of God. They were all great prophets. They all taught powerfully about God. They were all seen as faithful, great examples of what Godly people should look like. But there’s one more thing, they are all dead.
The people, when they speculate about who Jesus is, they name great people, but they also name dead people. People who had only a limited time on the earth, they had limited abilities, they could only do so much in their time. They did great things, don’t get me wrong, but they were limited by their human nature, by their mortality.
They were just men.
Weak, imperfect men.
And those who said that Jesus were these men, well, they were wrong. I suppose they were close? Maybe? They recognized that God had done things in these men and they are also seeing God doing things in Jesus, so there’s that common point.
But they didn’t see it all now did they.
Jesus then turns to his disciples directly, the men who followed Jesus every day, heard every word he spoke, saw the healings, saw him feed over 5000 people, saw the miracles, and he asks them the same question: “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15)
I wonder if Peter stepped out and answered immediately and confidently, or was there an awkward moment of silence before he sheepishly raised his hand and said the words? That’s the problem with a written text, we can’t know the body language or the emotion of the response.
However he said it, he got it right. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)
Jesus praises Peter for his answer. He calls him blessed. He says he’s going to build his church through him. He says Peter will receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Hell will repelled by him.
Here’s a question for you: Do you think this reward is only for Peter?
Yes, Peter was the leader of the early church. Yes he unlocked the hearts of many people as he preached the Good News of Jesus Christ in his ministry later on in his life. Yes he did great things in the name of Jesus.
But he’s not the only one.
All the other disciples did the same. So did Paul. So did other apostles, all listed in the Bible. Some who met Jesus personally, but also others who came along later.
For 2000 years people have been doing great things in the name of Jesus Christ.
If they were to do them in the name of Jeremiah or Elijah, do you think we would have the same church today? No we would not!
Because John the Baptist, Jeremiah, all the other prophets have one definite thing in common. They are all dead men.
Jesus is neither. Jesus is not dead, he has risen from the grave and now sits at the right hand of our Father in heaven. He is also the Son of God, for a time was man, but was always fully God, not limited by his humanity, but full of the divine. He did things mortal humans could not do. At least not without a touch of the divine in their lives as we have seen in the Bible; the Apostles were able to do miracles, but only in the name of Jesus Christ could they do them.
So, who is Jesus going to build his church through? Who is the reward for?
Well, it’s clearly more than Peter. We have 2000 years of history showing us more than just Peter built the church.
Who receives the keys to heaven? Who will build the church? Who can put the run to the devil?
Anyone who calls on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. That’s who!
And that list of names includes you.
If you believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and seek to live your life as a child of God, you will do great things for God and for the church.
Peter came to this understanding of Jesus because of his own personal encounters with Jesus and with God, by extension of what Jesus did and taught.
Well, isn’t he lucky because he got to walk with Jesus every day for 3 years! We’d all feel that way if we had that same opportunity!
Really? What about Judas? He walked with Jesus every day. He heard the same parables. He saw the same miracles. Yet Judas betrayed Jesus and turned him over to his death.
What about Paul? Paul never met Jesus in the flesh as far as we know. Paul never followed Jesus day after day. Paul hunted early Christians and put them in prison and to their deaths. Yet he was changed in a personal encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit while walking along the road and his life was forever changed.
What about you? Who do you say that Jesus is?
Is he a prophet? Is he a great man? Or is he the Son of the Living God?
This may not seem like much of a difference, but it really is. Through a personal encounter with the risen Christ Jesus you will experience far more than without. Jesus seeks to have a personal relationship with his disciples, which includes all God’s children, including you. Especially you.
Do we want our churches to do great things? Forget about attendance and budgets for a moment. Do you want the church to do great things? Of course, we all do.
Then we can’t be afraid of personal encounters with Jesus. We can’t be afraid of using his name, it’s because of him we are here today. It’s because of him Peter was able to go out and preach and bring in the first new believers, new disciples.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer led the way when he implied that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing left to say. Bonhoeffer was a great theologian of the early 20th century who had an incredible passion for Jesus which led to him standing up against Hitler, a position that would eventually lead to his death in a concentration camp.
He saw that if the church put anything ahead of Jesus, it was no longer a Christian church. And he saw plenty of this as churches in Germany all stood silent, and some even in support, of what was happening in that country.
Is Jesus first and foremost in everything we do? Is Jesus our foremost focus here this morning? Is he foremost in our meetings? Is he foremost in our homes, our work, our daily life?
Jesus seeks your heart. He seeks a deep relationship with you. Why? Because we want it. Deep down in our souls we long for a connection to the one who gives us life, the one who created us and this whole universe.
Jesus is the Son of the Living God. He is our connection, he is the one who bridges the gap. And he will guide us on this journey of life and church if we acknowledge his power and his presence in our lives.
Let us pray,
You are the one who brings us to God, your Father and our Father in heaven. Would you speak to our hearts this day, that we may know your presence here, and know it in our homes, and know it in our workplaces, and know it everywhere we find ourselves. We long to know you more. We long to feel your presence because it brings us life.
Lord Jesus, reassure us that you are more than a mere man, but you are the Messiah, our Saviour, the Son of the Living God.
Bless us this day, and every day, with the power of your Spirit, as we seek to go great things in your name on this journey we call life.
We ask this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.