Who Do You Say I Am?
11th Sunday After Pentecost A 8/24/2014
Matthew 16:13-20, Romans 12:1-8
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
So, I have a question for you. Who is Jesus? Who was he? Who is he now? What did he do? Was he God, was he the King, or was he just some rabble-rouser? These are all questions that the followers of Jesus had to face in our Gospel reading for today, and they are questions that we have to face as followers of Jesus today.
So when Jesus is walking around with his disciples in the Greco-Roman city of Caesarea, he asks the disciples who people say the “son of man” is. Notice that he doesn’t say “I.” He says the Son of Man. Jesus wants to hear what the people think about the Son of Man, not Jesus as he is.
You can kind of predict the results. Everyone realizes that Jesus is some sort of important religious guy, but no one is quite sure and everyone has their own idea of who this Jesus is. And none of them are right.
It kind of sounds like our culture, right? The saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind. Instead of John the Baptist or Elijah, however, now people say that he was just a great moral teacher, or a prophet of Allah in the Islamic faith, or maybe he was just some hippie that got on Rome’s bad side one day and paid the price.
I think that Jesus was just trying to get Peter to think about who Jesus is. Because as soon as Peter answered the first question, Jesus asked him another one. This question was similar, yet it was much more personal than the first. This time he asked what Peterthought he was.
Pause right there for a moment. Here they were, in a pagan city filled with Romans, the foreigners that had taken over their country. Peter, ever the impulsive disciple, shouts out that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Or, more literally, the Son of the God of Life. Remember, Messiah, or Xristos in Greek, where we get our word “Christ”, literally means, “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, whenever a king had been chosen for Israel, the prophets would pour oil over his head. This happened with Jesus’ earthly ancestor David in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, when the prophet Samuel was instructed by God to pass by David’s older brothers to anoint David, the youngest and least significant of Jesse’s sons to be the future King of Israel. The disciples and many other people were focused on this idea. Even after Jesus rose from the grave the disciples asked him if Israel was going to get a king to rule over them now.
So with this in mind Peter, in Caesaria Philippi, a center of Roman power, pretty much shouts to the world that Jesus is the king of Israel. You have to give Peter credit! He definitely has some guts. Saying that he is the king and the Son of God was a direct show of disloyalty to Rome, since Caesar was often called the “son of god.” Maybe this was why Jesus told the disciples at the end of the passage to keep it down a bit.
Has confessing Christ ever been a difficult or awkward thing to do? I know often that admitting you are a follower of Christ leads to awkward moments at best ore maybe even outright hostility. Jesus asked Peter what he thought while they were in an awkward and hostile place, not while they were safely behind closed doors or in the countryside somewhere. Remember, Jesus cares a lot about whether or not we confess him as Lord, even when it doesn’t seem like a good time for us.
After this bold reply by Peter, Jesus gives him a rather interesting response. The first thing that he does is give Peter a pat on the back. You can kind of just see Jesus thinking “Yay, you finally got one right! Good job!” But Jesus does tell us some important things about the faith that Peter showed.
First, Jesus told Peter that his confession was “not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Peter’s faith to make his confession did not come from anywhere within him. Peter’s faith was given to him by God. It is the same way with us. At our baptisms we are given the Holy Spirit, who shows us the way and gives us the courage to confess Jesus as Lord.
Second, Jesus works a little word play. He tells Peter, Petros in Greek, that he is the “rock,” petra, upon which the church will be built upon, and that the “gates of Hades” will not overcome it. This bold faith that Peter has will be the foundation for the church when Jesus is gone. And this was true, just look at the first few chapters of Acts. Jesus also says that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Some translations will say “Hell” rather than “Hades,” but there is an important distinction to be made here. “Hades” is the old Greek word for the underworld, or the place of the dead. Used here, rather than Hell, the place of eternal punishment, I think Hades more refers to the “powers of death.” I think the best translation would be: “You are Peter the Rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death will not overcome it.”
Once before, Jesus told a story about a builder who built a house upon a foundation of strong rock, and the house was able to stand through the storm. The foolish builder built his house on a weak foundation of sand, and the house was blown away. My friends, we want, we need to have a firm foundation of solid rock, not on weak sand.
The only good foundation of the church that strong, bold faith that Peter exhibited that day. A church built on that kind of God-given faith in Christ will stand up to the powers of death because we believe and place our trust in Christ, the Son of the God of life that has conquered death. Because of that faith, the reality of death that we see and face every day in this sin-broken and imperfect world we can stand against, because our faith in Christ.
The third thing that Jesus told Peter was his gift of the Office of the Keys, or the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is why often art of Peter will include him holding keys, and one of the symbols of the Roman Catholic Church is a pair of crossed keys. In any case, The Office of the Keys is the power that Jesus gave to the Church to forgive the sins of repentant people on Christ’s behalf or to bind the sins of unrepentant sinners to them. That is why we confess our sins at the beginning of every service. Jesus gave the Church the ability to bind and loose sins because he knew that there would be a time when he would not be around his followers in the flesh like he was at that moment. He knew that future generations of Christians would need to hear that healing word of forgiveness and know that it was true and from God. That’s why Jesus gave Peter the keys.
Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say I am?” The same question should be asked to each of us. Who do you say Jesus is. Is Jesus just simply some relic of a distant past that we stop to think about once a week or so? Or is he something more? Is Jesus the anointed Son of the Living God of Life that conquered death and gives us a firm rock-like faith to build our lives on that will withstand the powers of death? I can’t answer that for you. I can tell you that I want the foundation of faith. I pray that the Holy Spirit grants all of us that foundation of stone that Peter showed that day. Amen.