Last week at St. Peter Lutheran Church, we tried a little bit different format for the worship service based the Faith5. For the “sermon” we watched the mission trip video from the Chicago mission trip a few weeks ago. It was a great service, but there’s no sermon to post here. You can see a few pictures here.
This week, the sermon text is Matthew 16:13-20. I found this and this as well as this passage’s commentary in Feasting on the Word helpful as I prepared for today’s sermon. Today is also our first day of Sunday School and our first day back to two Sunday services.
Please join me in a word of prayer.
Gracious God, as we gather today, we ask you to be present here among us. Help us to hear what you are saying to us. Guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions that we may testify with Peter to who you really are. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Messiah. Amen.
Who do people say the Son of Man is?
“Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself, so he’s asking them, what’s the buzz? What are people saying about me? It’s hard to tell if this is a real question, or just the set up for the lesson he’s about to teach them.
It could very well be a real question. I know how hard it can be to get good feedback on what you’re doing. I told a few friends about the experiment we did in worship last Sunday, and they asked me how it went. I said, “Some people told me they liked it. I’m sure it didn’t work for some people, but they weren’t the ones who talked to me.”
I’m not saying people should start complaining more, but I think I can understand if Jesus really wants to know how people are reacting to what he’s doing.
Or, maybe Jesus is asking this to make a point. “Who do people say I am?”
“Well, now, let’s see. Some say you’re John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
How would you respond if you were asked? Who do people say Jesus is today? How do people react to Jesus?
Some still look at Jesus as “one of the prophets.” He’s a great moral teacher, someone with wisdom to be studied, like Socrates or Plato, or Benjamin Franklin. We like to hear what he says, especially when it’s a sharable, inspirational quote, something we can post, or hang on a wall.
When you treat Jesus as a great teacher, which he was, and a lot of people see him that way, you can kind of pick and choose what’s helpful. You can take his words and make them fit your agenda, whether that’s making him all about breaking down borders and loving enemies, or pro-government, or anti-tax, or guilting people into giving money, or whatever you want to pick and choose.
This is tempting for me! I know there’s stuff Jesus says that I really like to talk about, and stuff I really wish he hadn’t said.
Some people today still treat Jesus like John the Baptist, this great leader, willing to rock the boat, kind of radical, a little like Martin Luther King Jr. And yes, Jesus was a social activist, challenging the authority of the religious leaders and the Roman empire. Like John the Baptist, he eventually gets killed for stirring up too much trouble. But that too is an incomplete answer.
Did you catch the problem with everyone the disciples compared Jesus to? They’re all dead. Jesus is alive, yet we often treat him as if he’s dead, a distant historical figure.
Who do people say Jesus is?
I saw this week there’s going to be a new Netflix show from the creator of Orange is the New Black about Jesus as a teenager. Some people immediately got really upset about the idea of trying to show Jesus as a real person and making fun of him.
I can see all kinds of ways a TV show about teenage Jesus is a terrible idea, but I also think it could be really interesting.
Even though God becoming a person and living among us is the center of our faith, I don’t know that we spend enough time thinking about Jesus as a real person, a real, live, physical growing human being. That might stretch who people say Jesus is!
After the disciples give a few suggestions about the word on the street from other people, Jesus gets to the more important question. He gives the disciples a pop quiz: Who do you say that I am?
Now, remember, the disciples should already know the answer. If you remember back a few weeks to the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14, at the end of the story when Jesus got into the boat with them and the storm ceased, it says “those in the boat worshiped him, saying ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” This is not a trick question.
It is, however, probably the most important question in the Bible. Who do you say that I am? What do you believe about Jesus? Imagine Jesus asking you that question. I suspect each of us would have a little bit different answer. It’s a surprisingly tough question.
There’s the church answer, the one we’ll say in the Apostle’s Creed, I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, conceived by the virgin Mary, et cetera. Jesus is the second member of the trinity, light from light, true God from true God.
All that’s good and important, but what do we mean when we say that? How do we describe the living God in the flesh?
What is our testimony? It’s worth thinking about this week, especially how you might answer in a way people outside church can understand, rather than using church code words.
What does the way we live say about who Jesus is? What about the way we talk, the way we spend our money? Our time?
I’m pretty sure Jesus is not asking “Who do you say that I am?” because he’s having an identity crisis. He’s not confused about who he is. He’s trying to get the disciples to think about why they’re following him. Why have they given up everything to follow Jesus?
Who is Jesus for you? Why are you taking a perfectly good Sunday morning to be here for worship today?
And of course, it’s Simon who answers Jesus’ question. He always seems to be the one who’s ready to speak up.
Matthew doesn’t tell us if there was an awkward moment when Jesus asked and no one wanted to answer. He doesn’t tell us if they all looked around hoping someone else would speak up. Or maybe they all raised their hands because they all knew the right answer, but Simon just jumped in and blurted it out.
Usually, Simon’s eagerness gets him into trouble, like with the whole trying to walk on water thing. I love that our congregation is named after the guy who’s willing to take chances and try stuff without knowing exactly what’s going on. But this time when he jumps in, he gets it exactly right. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
We know he gets it right, because Jesus tells him so. He gets an “A” on the pop quiz. And not only that, Jesus says from now on, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
There’s a joke there that loses something in English. In Greek, the word “Petros” means “Rock” and it’s not something used as a name. It’d be like me seeing someone and saying “You have a colorful personality. From now on, you shall be called ‘Crayon.’”
Peter has the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” He still doesn’t really have any idea what that means, as we’ll hear next week in the second half of this story, but for a moment, with the Holy Spirit’s help, Peter gets it right, and this testimony that Jesus is the Messiah, the savior, God in the flesh, this is what the church is built on. This is the testimony that’s strong enough to prevail against the gates of hell itself.
The foundation of the church is not how holy or sacred Peter is as a person. It’s not even that he believes so much better than the others. The foundation of the church is Peter’s testimony, his experience of Jesus as Lord and Savior. That’s why we’re here today.
Of course, both as people and as church, we’re pretty good at forgetting the simple declaration of who Jesus is and making it more complicated, trying to make Jesus into something he’s not and use him for our own purposes. Jesus is the messiah, the Son of the living God. That’s our message.
The church has this tendency to try to shore itself up by trying to prove the existence of God through logic and science, or by focusing on certain traditions, or on education, or even on celebrity endorsements.
As we move into this fall where we’ll be talking a lot about Martin Luther, (and that’s good!) we need to remember that the church is not founded on Martin Luther. It’s not founded on Charles Wesley, or Billy Graham, or John the Baptist, or Elijah. The church is not even founded on Peter, although it’s built upon his testimony. The church is founded on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Son of the living God, God with us.
As we begin this new year, moving into two Sunday services, starting up Sunday School, and confirmation, and new studies, and festivals, and all the other stuff we do as church, let this be our focus. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
May this testimony inspire and transform us to live as God’s people.