Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
August 24, 2014, Pentecost XI
Isaiah 51:1-6, Psalm 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
From the Prophet Isaiah:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Life is full of questions. We deal with questions throughout our life. Some we ask of other people; some are asked of us; and some we just contemplate in our minds.
What am I going to do with my life?
What will tomorrow bring? Will my children turn out…all right?
Not only do these practical questions beg for an answer, but what about my spiritual life?
Am I saved? When I die will I go to heaven?
Why does God allow such tragedy to exist…on the earth? Why is there so much evil in this world?
How many have heard the Geico Insurance commercial where a person reads a statement: “Fifteen minutes can save you 15% on car insurance.” The response is: “Everybody knows that.” And then the question is asked: “Well, did you know that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it fall, it still makes a sound?”
All of these questions have one common element…which is illustrated by the following story: A college sophomore tried to prove how smart he was one day by asking his professor the following question: “Is the bird I’m holding in my hand dead or alive?” If the professor said the bird was dead…the boy…was going to free the bird…and let it fly away. If the professor said it was alive…the boy was going to crush the bird. The professor looked at the young man and said, “My boy, the answer is in your hands.”
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus once again took His disciples to Gentile territory. This time it was to the region of Caesarea Philippi. They were about 120 miles from Jerusalem in the northern part of Palestine. The region was strongly identified with various religions: It had been a center for Baal worship; the Greek god Pan had shrines there; and Herod the Great had built a temple there to honor Augustus Caesar. It was in the midst of this pagan superstition that Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God. And it was probably within sight of Caesar’s temple that Jesus announced a surprise: He would not yet establish His kingdom, but He would build His church.
Jesus looked at His disciples and in a moment of reflection said: “Who do the people say that I am? The disciples began sharing with Jesus what they had heard: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
In the case of Jesus, a right confession of who He is, is basic to salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). His person and His work go together and must never be separated. It is amazing to see how confused the public was about Jesus, and even some of His disciples.
One thing is clear: We can never make a true decision about Jesus Christ by taking a poll of the people. The important thing is not what others say, but what do you and I personally say? The decisions of the crowd, right or wrong, can never substitute for personal decisions.
Not a lot has changed since Jesus walked amongst us. In our world today, you can speak of Jesus as a Prophet, a holy man, a teacher or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as the “Son of God” or “The Messiah” and people will line up to express their disapproval; sometimes even anger.
Muslims will say: “Prophet, Yes…God, No!”
Jews will say: “Teacher, Yes…Messiah, No!”
Even some “Liberal Christians” will say: “Exemplary man, Yes…Divine, No!”
In our secular, pluralistic society, we have been watering down the Gospel and the Name of Jesus, for quite some time. We quite often are afraid to offend people and their beliefs, so we choose to speak of Jesus very little, or not at all.
We accept the idea of God…and we admit to trusting Him…but then we go our separate way. We take the position that “religion” is a private affair…so don’t say anything.
Jesus then asks the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter had the correct response: “Thou art the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God!” This confession was Peter’s response to the revelation God the Father had given him. This revelation was not the result of Peter’s own investigation. It came as the gracious act of God. God had hidden these things from the proud Pharisees and Sadducees and had revealed them to “babes,” the humble disciples (Matt. 11:25-27). Peter saw past the man and saw the divinity hidden in Jesus, so he could cry out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
It should be noted that there had been other confessions of faith prior to this one. Nathanael had confessed Christ as the Son of God (John 1:49), and the disciples had declared Him God’s Son after He stilled the storm (Matt. 14:33). Peter had given a confession of faith when the crowds left Jesus after His sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6:68-69). In fact, when Andrew had brought his brother Simon to Jesus, it was on the basis of this belief (John 1:41).
How then, did this confession differ from those that preceded it? To begin with, Jesus explicitly asked for this confession. It was not an emotional response from people who had seen a miracle, but the studied and sincere statement of a man who had been taught by God.
Also, Jesus accepted this confession and built on it to teach them new truth. The Lord knew that Peter could now be led into new steps of deeper truth and service. Our Lord’s ministry to His disciples had prepared the way for this experience. Jesus’ ministry was also turning in a new direction; for He would be headed to the cross.
Once the Holy Spirit reveals Christ in our lives…and we make the confession of faith…this does not end our journey…it is just the beginning of being transformed. We are then called to read and study the scriptures; to develop a daily prayer life with God; to associate with other Christians, by worshiping together. We are called to spread the Good News to those that God puts into our lives. We are to be instruments of the Holy Spirit; to reach others for Christ.
Jesus also proclaimed that He was going to establish His church. Jesus said to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18). This church was formed on the Day of Pentecost, and composed of all true believers in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.
These Jewish men, steeped in Old Testament Scripture, recognized the rock as a symbol of God. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress” (Ps. 18.2). “For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God?” (Ps. 18:31). Jesus had given Simon the new name of Peter, which means “a stone.” Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and confesses Him as the Son and God and Saviour, is a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5).
Jesus Christ is the foundation rock on which the church is built. We are called to be a distinct society known as the body and bride of Christ, with a unique heavenly calling and destiny. The church is not just Congregationalist, Methodist, Baptist or Episcopalians. The church is not just Protestants or Catholics, but true believers in Christ!
This church built by Christ is a universal church. There is a oneness to the people of God (Eph. 4:1-6) that ought to be revealed to the world by love and unity (John 17:20-26).
There was an organist practicing one day in a great church in Europe. A man came up to the organ and asked if he could play. The organist looked at him and thought to himself: I really should not let this man play. Just look at him: he is unshaven, his clothes are soiled, and he looks like a bum. So the organist told the man, “no.” But the unkempt man persisted and finally, the organist gave in and let him play. The man’s fingers danced over the keyboard in a way the organist had never heard before. The stranger played on and on. The organist didn’t want him to stop. Eventually, the stranger stopped playing and got up to leave. The organist could not contain himself and said, “Who are you; what is your name?” The stranger paused and looked over his shoulder and said, “My name is Felix Mendelssohn.” The organist couldn’t believe it. He said to himself, “And to think, I almost did not let the master play.”
Recognizing the Master is the first step; then you proclaim: “Jesus, thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ would conquer death; death would not hold Him, and death would not be able to hold any of His people. Christ would “storm the gates” and deliver the captives! “The gates of Hades” or hell is the final destiny of all unsaved people after the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
I was sent an email the other day and I would like to share this story with you: There was a pastor on an airplane flying from Dallas to Boston. When he sat down, he noticed that he was seated next to a well-known theology professor. He was eager to start a conversation with the professor about some doctrinal subject. But before he had a chance, the professor looked at him and told the pastor that he had just lost his little boy…through death.
The pastor listened as the professor told his story: He said his son had come home from school with a fever and we thought it was just one of those childhood things. He and his wife took the boy to the doctor and found out it was a virile form of meningitis. The doctor told them that we cannot save your little boy. So, they took their son home and put him to bed and made him comfortable.
And so this seminary professor, loving his son as he did, sat by his bedside to share those last moments with his son. It was the middle of the day and the little boy whose strength was leaving him and whose vision and brain were getting clouded said, “Daddy, its getting dark isn’t it?” The father of the boy said, “Yes, son, it is getting dark, very dark.” The boy said, “Daddy, I guess it’s time for me to go to sleep, isn’t it?” He said, “Yes, son, it’s time for you to go to sleep.”
The professor said his little boy had a way of fixing his pillow just so, and putting his head on his hands when he slept. So, the young boy fixed his pillow like that and laid his head on his hands and said, “Good night Daddy, I will see you in the morning.” He then closed his eyes in death…and stepped over into heaven. The professor turned away and looked out the window of the airplane for a long time. In time, he turned back with tears coming down his cheeks and said to the pastor, “I can hardly wait…until the morning comes.”
The morning is coming, my friends, when we will see our loved ones, who are in Christ. That is what Jesus is saying, “The gates of hell, the gates of DEATH, shall not prevail against HIS church!” Against us!
Remember our Lord’s words: “Who do you say that I am?” The important thing is not what others say, but on what…you say?
Are you ready? Are you truly ready? Do you know where you are going? If you were to die today, would you know Jesus Christ? Would He know you? Would you be absent from the body and go immediately into the presence of the Lord? (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:23).
Jesus asked the question of His disciples and now He asks each one of us: “Who do you say that I am?” The answer lies in your hands.
Let us pray:
Grant, O merciful God, that Your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.