Pastor Walther / Matthew 16:13-20 / Confessing Christ / Pentecost 14 / Christian Education Sunday / September 10, 2017
We are a review driven society. We need reviews. Going to a restaurant, look at Yelp. You want a babysitter? There are apps that give reviews for babysitters. What kind of tv would you Like? There are reviews for any tv on a website. We want to know what people are saying about these things so that we can make a good decision. What’s interesting though is that so often these reviews are skewed. People review their Uber driver with five stars, even though they were terrible, simply because they feel bad and don’t want them to lose business. A husband and wife may both separately review a hotel online, one with 2 stars because they didn’t have muffins at the breakfast, and the other reviewing with 5 stars because they had a great time sitting in the hot tub. It’s even better though when I can ask family or friends what they think about a place or even an item for purchase, because at least I know the person reviewing the item. But even then, I can’t always trust them because I have different tastes than they do.
But because Jesus and his disciples didn't live in a world of reviews online, Jesus asked his disciples what the word on the street was about Him, about Jesus. The disciples were well informed. They couldn’t bring up the reviews on their phones but they definitely had heard some very promising things. People were comparing him to some of the great people in their nation’s history. Some people thought that Jesus was John the baptist come back to life, which was the opinion of King Herod who had beheaded John the baptist only a short time before our text for today. Some thought him to be Elijah, who according to prophecy was to precede the messiah. Others, the prophet Jeremiah.
Jesus worked hard during the past year: he preached a lot, traveled a lot, performed miracles a lot, and the people should have had some idea as to who he was. And Jesus' work had great success and acquired a lot of people to the “movement.” Everyone was not only speaking well of him but speaking very highly of him. The names that the disciples gave show the high regard in which people held him, all very complimentary ideas. So the question is, why would Jesus ask this? Was he insecure about what people were thinking about him? Was he upset with the reviews that he was getting?
What an appropriate question to ask on Christian Education Sunday. Jesus, who is true God, already knew the answer to the question. Jesus already knew the opinions and reviews that people had of him and who they thought he was. Even in our day few people have anything bad to say about Jesus. Even Muslims will say that Jesus was a great prophet. Sadly, people never want to say quite enough. All these reviews, all these people that they compared Jesus to, all of those opinions fell short of the truth. And so Jesus approaches his disciples, his closest followers. As the greatest Teacher ever, he poses this question: who do YOU say that I am? This question was not because Jesus was insecure, this was not because he wanted to know all the reviews about him. This question was a teaching moment.
The disciples had seen Jesus perform amazing miracles, preach God’s word with authority, walk on water, even cast out demons. But now in the quiet moments away from the multitudes of people, away from the glitz and glam of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus wants his disciples to calmly, and thoughtfully answer the question about who they think Jesus really is. At this point, there was no room for them to run away from such a personal question or hide behind the opinions of others.
What do you think about Jesus? You sitting in the pews, what do you think about Jesus? If you could look up Jesus and write up a review on your phone, how would you rate him? Would you give him 4 stars and say that he’s a pretty awesome guy who taught you some good morals. Would you give 1 star because you were diagnosed with a serious illness and you questioned where God was in that whole mess? Would you give him 3 stars for being good when you need him, otherwise I have no need to talk to him.
The interesting thing about this teaching moment of Jesus, is that on several previous occasions an answer had already been given by the disciples. The disciples had already told people who Jesus really was. So why ask this question if they had already answered the question in previous conversations? Maybe I could ask this question, given that it’s Christian education Sunday: Why do teachers give tests? Why do they give questions on a later date, even though the students have already studied it? 1+1? Done! Why would I need to remember that for a test? That’s because teachers understand that tests and reviewing for tests are wonderful ways for students to remember what they learned and so that it won’t be so easily forgotten. The answer to Jesus question was not the first time that the disciples said who Jesus was, but Jesus wanted this question to always be on their minds, and after calm consideration, did they still believe the truth about Jesus?
We hear Peter step up and answer for the group. He says: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and you can imagine all the other disciples nodding in agreement. Peter saw Jesus standing in front of him in the flesh, but yet, he recognized that Jesus is at the same time the Son of God, being God himself! Peter was confessing the mystery of the humanity and divinity fully in the person of Jesus. Jesus was on this earth because of us.
If God would honestly write a review online about us, we would have zero stars because we are selfish sinners. Jesus had to be fully human to live a sinless human life FOR US to meet God’s requirement of perfection. He had to be fully human so that he could die a human death, to die the death you and I deserve for our sins. At the same time, Jesus is also the eternal and living God. And because he is God, his life and his death are able to count for all people. It is through what he has done for us that we are eternally saved.
What is amazing, then, is how Jesus responds to Peter. He says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” We may be quick to glance over the little fact that Jesus doesn’t call Peter by his name, but by his official name, Simon son of Jonah. In this important sentence, Jesus is reminding Peter who he really is by nature. He is reminding all of us of what we are by nature. By nature, Peter, with flesh and blood, knew nothing of Jesus as the Messiah or the Son of God. Faith doesn’t come by human calculation, or intuition, or even tradition. Peter didn’t use his reason to figure it out, but Knowing Christ, who and what he truly is, can only come from God when learning his word. It is God who opens the eyes of people that we can see the truth and see the glory of Christ.
Because of this confession, Simon son of Jonah is now identified as Peter, “The rock.” But if Jesus here speaks highly of Peter, he is not praising him, but he is praising the grace of God which has made Peter what he is. The gospels show that Peter was anything but rock-like. His emotions often overwhelmed him and his actions often contradicted his nickname. It was the blessing of the Father that would turn him into a pillar of the church.
Peter was beginning now to perceive Jesus in a deeper way. How deep the disciples understood Jesus at this time we cannot say because the exaltation of the Lord and the full revelation of Pentecost had not yet occurred. The disciples would still have problems with the political idea of the Messiah, but they had learned to see that Jesus was much more than that. Only time spent with Jesus and in God’s word would those questions be answered and could Peter truly be Rock like.
The responsibility of the disciples is the same job that God gives to us as individuals and as the Holy Christian Church. God wants us to confess our faith and lead other people to confess that same faith in Jesus. For those who say that “corporate church” is bad, Jesus himself shows the importance of a church body working together using the law and the gospel. The work of the church isn’t always eye-catching or impressive. Sometimes it’s difficult sharing the truth about Jesus against someone’s opinion of him. In an age when everyone is making up their own rules on what is right and wrong, the Holy Christian church has the task of sharing the truth of God’s Word. This truth repeated through our lives is what strengthens people’s faith and confession. That is why Jesus repeated this conversation and this topic with his disciples so that they would remember the importance of who he was.
The repetition of that question and confession is something that we want to continue to do today. If Jesus found the importance of asking the question multiple times, shouldn’t we? How do we answer the question? Who is Jesus to you? I encourage you to answer the question every day. Set alarms or have reminders throughout your house. Take the time in devotion to get familiar with what Jesus and who he is. The only way Peter and the disciples were able to answer that question correctly was by spending time with Jesus. You know who the Christ is. His name is Jesus and he has saved you from your sin. We have God’s Word that leads us to confess our hope in Jesus as Peter did and we want the world to join us in confessing with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Amen.