13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b]will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Although we know the answer to this question is that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the Living God, note how cleverly this question is phrased; I am is used in both questions. Of course, Jesus is not asking the questions for his sake but for our sake to discover and confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the One sent by God. The I am reference is telling. God calls himself I am. The name that is beyond expression because God is beyond expression, bigger and greater that our finite minds, more expansive than our minds can put into words.
When Moses is called to lead the Israelite’s out of slavery from Egypt Moses asks God who shall I say has sent me? God answers, “I am!”
As Jesus states, “I am the living water, I am the bread of life, I am the true vine, I am the Good Shepherd”, and we could go on, what Jesus is rightly claiming is that he is God.
The very questions posed through the I am reference affirms the truth that Jesus is God; the Great I am.
Caesarea Philippi, is about twenty - five kilometers north of the Sea of Galilee. This city was the site of Baal cult worship, the god Pan was also worshiped here. Herod the Great had built a temple to Caesar Augustus. It is significant that the scene of Jesus’ questions took place in a setting of pagan god worship and political power.
Confessing Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, may be easy within the confines of the church. Perhaps a clearer contrast might be made between the "Son of the Living God” and the places and people serving dead idols. It can be more difficult to live in the power of the Living God when we are surrounded by indications of contrary powers, authorities and the many gods that vie for our allegiance.
One of the lessons Jesus is leaving us with in this setting is that the world can be seduced by power, force, purple robes and gold crowns, but we who proclaim Jesus as Messiah have to continually align our thinking and actions to the crown of thorns and the red spilt blood of the power of love that lives into eternity.
In 2020 we who confess Jesus as the Son of the Living God do so within a diverse society. It is easy to name the many gods that would distract us and tempt us from the straight and narrow for the path is truly wide. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind and by your confession that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. We hear this message again through this text.
Jesus is declaring in this very setting that he is going to reconstruct the centrepiece of God’s world. Jesus is not going to build another temple or shrine, instead Jesus is going to build a community, consisting of all who give their allegiance to him; God’s Messiah, the Son of the Living God. As a result of this question, this community begins in Caesarea Philippi, with Peter’s declaration. Peter has much to learn and many failures to overcome but this is all part of the process. Jesus’ new community, after all, will consist simply of forgiven sinners.
The assertion that Jesus is the Messiah is more powerful than all that had inhabited the setting previously and all the clanging gongs of empire, the powers that rise and fall and all the events of history. This truth lives on from generation to generation and no power can overshow it.
Who do people say that I am?
Jesus asks the disciples who others think he, the Son of Man, is. We might view this question as an invitation to engage in critical dialogue with other perspectives. What do others say? The disciples answer that some people say that he is John the Baptist; others declare that he is Elijah; and still others claim that Jesus is Jeremiah or some other prophet. In other words, people don’t agree.
However, this does point to the fact that people of Jesus’ time saw Jesus to be like an ancient prophet who was God’s mouthpiece against injustice. The need for the second question makes clear that Jesus was more than God’s mouthpiece. Jesus was God’s sent Messiah.
People of Jesus’ time did not know each other very well in the way we think most important: psychologically or emotionally. They neither knew nor cared much about psychological development and were not introspective. Their concern was how others thought of them. Honour was important. Conscience was the accusing voice of others, not an interior voice. Their question was not the modern one, who am I? Rather, they asked the questions that Jesus asks in this text: "Who do people say that I am?" and "Who do you say that I am?”
It’s interesting that Jesus asks what others think of him. It may be an interesting question for us to ask what others think of us? It may be just as interesting to ask in our community what others think of Northern Illawarra Uniting Church.
Second Question: “Who do you say that I am?”
I don't think Jesus asks us to confess who we believe he is for his sake, but rather for our sake, that we might know the power of his love and life, that we might know a personal relationship with the Living God through Jesus his Son. Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
Even though this essential revelation was given to Peter at this stage, does Peter really understand what this confession means? Clearly Peter’s actions post this confession indicate the disconnect between his public confession and his everyday actions. Peter will go on to completely misunderstand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, he will later resist Jesus’ intention to go to the cross, and he will eventually deny and desert his Lord. But for now, in just this moment, he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. That’s an important step in Peter’s faith journey, reminding each of us that our faith in God is a journey. A journey of great insights and obedience and incidences of failure to get it right. But this is not a guilt trip. Instead it is an understanding that at the same time we who know there is so much more to do than we seem able to do and that even our best efforts often fall short, not living as deeply or truly into our confession as we should, and at times getting confused or scared about what that confession means.
Yet there are moments when we confess, when we do something right, when we perceive more of God’s purpose than previously, when things come together, and when we sense God’s Spirit at work in us and among us. At those moments, it makes sense to pause and give thanks, remembering that God completely entrusts Peter and ourselves to build his Kingdom. God grows His Kingdom and brings much good even out of our humanness. Look what Peter achieves in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the vehicle for us to live into the truth that Jesus is the Saviour of the world.
This confession, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, took on a whole new meaning for the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus, more clearly, becomes the promised Messiah, the One of whom the psalms and the prophets spoke.
Just as God gave Abram a new name, Abraham, indicating the he would be the father of a great nation, now Jesus gives Simon a new name; Peter, the Rock. Jesus had told the parable of the wise man who builds his house on the rock; Here Jesus is declaring that he is doing just that, building his Kingdom on the truth that he is the Son of the Living God.
We all have times when this confession is not lived out as it should be. Karl Barth, a famous theologian, was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on and sat down next to Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. "Are you new to the city?" Barth inquired. "Yes," said the tourist. "Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?" asked Barth. "Yes, he said, "I’d love to meet the famous theologian, Karl Barth. Do you know him?" Barth replied, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning." The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel and told his friends, "I met Karl Barth’s barber today."
We don’t always get it right, let’s not beat ourselves up over this but instead let’s remember that our confession is a journey towards greater understanding and the aligning of words and actions as we live into our understanding of Jesus the Son of God.
”And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome 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.”
The keys of the kingdom of heaven given to Peter represent teaching authority. That is also the meaning behind binding and loosing. Those terms for authoritative teaching, the authority to interpret God’s Word and apply it to particular cases, the authority to declare what is permitted and not permitted. The key of the Kingdom of God is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus’ life and teaching are the authority for living.
“The gates of hell will not overcome it:”
Two weeks ago, the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 was the episode of Jesus walking out to the disciples who were in a boat caught in a storm. There is an understanding that this text is a word of encouragement to the church. Jesus sent his disciples out into the waters without him. He has sent them, commissioned them, but he is not with them. The church – the disciples - are in the boat alone. They are battered by waves and head winds. But Jesus has not abandoned them. Jesus walks out into the storm. “take heart,” he says. “I am with you.” No force will overcome God’s church.
COVID has changed many things – our lifestyle may not return to what it once was but many good things may come from that: our pace of life may be slower, the complexity of life and huge amount of resources we have been accustomed to consuming may lesson, just to name a few things that may change.
Church may be different; mission may be different post COVID. While I believe that the people are missing face to face worship, will we become too comfortable worshipping at home by ourselves in our PJs? On-line has become an important vehicle for mission, BUT let’s not forget the importance of relationships and belonging before believing, particularly in a society where loneliness is a major problem. Why would people go on-line to investigate who Jesus is unless they have a personal crisis and they are searching for someone greater than themselves, or as the Bible says, unless someone tells them, tells them in an appropriate way about Jesus the Son of the Living God.
Whatever post COVID brings, God holds the future and the gates of hell will never prevail against God’s Kingdom.
Likewise, a number of years ago a story appeared which told of a man who picked up a beautiful rock from a North Carolina stream bed and used it as his cabin doorstop. Years later a geologist who was hiking in the area stopped at the cabin and noticed the doorstop. The geologist immediately recognized it as a huge lump of gold. In fact, it proved to be one of the largest gold nuggets ever found east of the Rockies. Just as the man didn’t fully appreciate the beautiful rock that was priceless gold, so we may not fully understand the enormous gift of enlightenment given by God that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Paul says that we now see through glass dimly but one day we will see clearly the greatness of our God. Living into the understanding each day as we journey in faith grows our confession and the alignment of our lives to the One who truly is the Messiah.