Tag Archives: Matthew 16:13-20

“Who Do You Say I Am?” Can We Be Honest? (Aug. 27, 2017)

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

There are two questions that Jesus asks in this text. “Who do others say I am?” and, “Who do you say I am?”

I think we’re good at answering the first one, and not as good at answering the second.

The first question, “Who do other people say I am?” includes what we’ve been taught about Jesus, what people we respect say about Jesus, and what is generally accepted about Jesus. This question is often about doctrine, where there are right and wrong answers. We’ve become so reliant on what others say about Jesus that we have a hard time answering for ourselves. In the old days, if someone answered this question incorrectly, we would burn them at the stake.

We don’t do that anymore. Instead, if someone disagrees with the correct doctrinal position they simply burn in hell. Because we’re no longer uncivilized barbarians.

We’ve been trained over the centuries to have the “correct” answers to all things Jesus. We’ve had the ability to answer the second question, “Who do you say that I am?” frightened out of us. We’re so afraid of being wrong that we simply go along with everyone’s answer, assuming they are right. We’re no longer willing to go out on a limb, do a gut-check, to discover something new about Jesus. It’s as if all there was to know about him was discussed in the first few years, the question was called, the debate was closed, and a vote was held. No more discussion. No more discovery. No more sharing of eye-opening personal experiences with one we claim has risen from the dead. It’s all about what other people have said about him.

It’s important to note Jesus’ questions weren’t “Who do others say that I am?” and then, “OK, now what’s the correct answer?” No, he asks the disciples who Jesus is for them. He asks for their honest speculation. He asks them to take a risk, venture out, be vulnerable, and answer for themselves.

All the disciples are silent. You can hear crickets chirping, feet shuffling. Then Peter, who can’t stand awkward silences, opens his mouth and says something. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus praises him for answering. And we’ve assumed all these centuries that Peter is praised for having the “right” answer, even though Peter proves in the verses immediately following today’s text that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (come back next week!). It’s true that his answer has become the doctrinally correct one—the answer we are now supposed to use when asked who Jesus is. But in reality, it’s still probably what other people say Jesus is.

The church, at our heart, is a community where we ought to listen to what others have said about Jesus. We should hear what wise and deeply spiritual people have experienced him to be. But that cannot prevent us from discovering how he encounters us now, how he opens our hearts to God today, how he moves us in our own growth as disciples. What others say about him matters because it can open us up to possibilities, but it can’t be the final word for us.

We know all the “correct” answers. We know what is proper doctrine. We know what the first Christians voted on and approved as the right answers. But unless we are encountering the living Christ, we are only able to quote what other people say about him. Until we’ve answered for ourselves, based on our experience with the resurrected Christ, the best we can do is be silent like the rest of the disciples.

So here’s my question today. Why not answer Jesus’ second question, “Who do you say that I am?” What’s wrong with being honest about who Jesus is for us? What’s stopping us from sharing our own experiences, our own heart-events with him? Others might say our experiences are wrong. Some might even want to burn us at the stake because we may not be doctrinally correct.

But Jesus still asks, “Who do you say that I am?” In your spiritual journey, in your life-experience, who is he to you?

Because he has encountered you. If you haven’t recognized him, it might be because you’re only looking for the Jesus that other people have described. That may not be the way he comes to you. If you’ve been moved to acts of compassion, might that be the risen Christ? If you find yourself desiring mercy—given or received, couldn’t that be Christ moving in your life? When you are generous, kind, gracious, when you serve others, can’t we consider the possibility that it is Christ who has met us and moved us there?

Who is Jesus for you?

For me, at least today, Jesus is the one who reveals what God is like. He is the one who inspires me to live differently, generously, boldly. He is the one who makes me realize that those I tend to ignore are just as worthwhile as those I pay attention to. He is the one who moves me from judgment to listening. He is the one who brings out the “image of God” in me. It is in these ways that he is the Son of the Living God for me.

Feel free to disagree. You can call me a heretic or believe I’m on my way “somewhere” in a handbasket. But when Jesus asks who I say he is, I need to answer him.

Who do you say he is? I’d love to hear how you answer that!

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Sermon


Tags: , , , , , ,

Better With You Than Without You (Matthew 16:13-20)

Matthew 16:13-20

One problem with a text like this one is that there’s so much going on in it. In just a few verses there’s all the speculation about who Jesus is, Simon Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter’s name change to Rock, the gates of Hades not prevailing, the binding and the loosing, the “don’t tell anyone I’m the Messiah.” Too much to cover in a 90-minute sermon . . . (just seeing if you’re paying attention).
The part that is intriguing to me right now is the second question Jesus asks his disciples, the one Peter answers correctly, “Who do you say that I am?”
Here’s why. It’s an identity question, right? In Jesus’ culture, people found their identity in the people they hung out with. They didn’t get psychological about individual development and self-actualization. They were part of a community, and the identity of the community was the identity of the people in it.
When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” he’s asking a community question. He’s asking, “Why are you following me? Why are you hanging out with me? Why are you part of this community?” By answering the question of who they think Jesus is, they are answering the question of the purpose of the community of disciples. He’s asking the identity of the church–that community that gets its identity from him.
That’s a great question. Why are we part of the community of disciples? Why do we identify ourselves with the church? Or do we? What is it about bearing the name of Jesus that attracts us? Or does it? Why are we here?
Sometimes our answers to these questions are less than compelling. Sometimes they are deep and rich. But it’s worth struggling with, I think. Why are we here? What is it about a Jesus community that makes us want to be part of it?
The rap sheet on the church is far from spotless. As the church we often say one thing and do the opposite. Sometimes we expect the church to meet our own needs at the expense of everyone else’s. We make time to fight over whether or not we should stand during the Apostles’ Creed but don’t have time to feed the hungry. We buy a new car every year but can’t afford to increase our giving for Christ’s work through the church.
This is not new. Throughout history the church has cared for the institution of the church more than for the Lord whose name she bears. The church has been mean, manipulative, hypocritical, and not always very reflective of Jesus. And we still are. Some of the deepest evil and hatred has had its heart in the church. It would be easy to write off and disassociate from an organization that is so flawed.
But here we are. Why?
If I’m saying this is an important question, I suppose that obliges me to offer an answer. At least my answer. Why am I here? Why a I part of Christ’s Church? My answer is not simple. But it’s honest and it’s mine.
I am part of the church because there isn’t anything better. Nowhere else can people gather and talk openly about the deepest and most significant parts of our lives. No other community will walk with us from birth through death, celebrating and grieving together along the way.
I am part of the church because we offer hope where no one else can. We encourage love for those no one else loves. We consider mercy to be success rather than weakness.
I am part of the church, a community that bears the name of Jesus, because I love the things Jesus stands for. The fact that we don’t do it well all the time is frustrating, but we claim forgiveness not just for the world but for ourselves too. Again, something Jesus stands for.
I’m not part of the church because of the doctrine or the music or the tradition. I’m not part of the church because I think hanging out with you people gets me closer to heaven when I die. I am part of the church because it’s the one community where the values of Jesus are the bottom line. It’s the one community where we can talk freely about forgiveness, peace, making the world a better place, love, mercy, and compassion; in fact, the church is the one community where those things are expected.
I’m part of the church because I believe with all my heart that the ways, the values, the example of Jesus are worth showing to the world. I believe that as long as we’re holding Jesus as our standard, trusting in the forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion and peace that he brings, then the church offers hope to the world.
I’m part of the church because as long as we bear the name of Jesus together, we can hold each other accountable to his values.
I’m part of the church because I can live those values better with you than I can alone.
“Who do you say that I am?” is an important question that Jesus asks us. The answer reveals why we follow Jesus. It reveals why we’re here in this place. It reveals who we are and what we stand for. And when we know that, we can move forward together–in Jesus’ name.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Sermon


Tags: , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: