Sunday, January 18, 2009

What is our response?

Today we celebrate Peter's confession of Jesus as the "Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). I listened as Christ Church's pastor preached an excellent message on the Matthew 16 text.

Last semester, in homiletics, I too preached on this text. Rural Lutheran, my teaching parish, was the church I had in mind in this message. Everything we do as Christians is in response to Jesus' question.
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Over the past weeks, I have had the privilege of eating lunch with several of you. Your love for this church is tangible. Everyone is concerned about declining numbers, especially those who grew up here, remembering the once full pews. We are facing many challenges which are echoed in the hymn, “The Church of Christ, in Every Age.” “The church of Christ in ev’ry age beset by change, but Spirit led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.”


Today’s gospel text is set in Caesarea Philippi, a place noted for its worship of many gods. In this setting, Jesus “asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Responses varied from John the Baptist to one of the prophets, yet with a common thread. Jesus was special and was compared to prophets and miracle workers. He impacted the lives of people then even as he does today.

Jesus knew what people thought, so why did he ask? Was it for ego strokes or because he was insecure like some of us are? No, instead Jesus is providing a little tease to get the disciples thinking. Their own thoughts regarding Jesus doubtless ran through their minds as they reported what others thought

Jesus then cuts to the heart of the matter, saying to them, “But who do you say that I am?” In verse 13, the Greek word for “asked” is in the imperfect tense denoting continuous or repeated action in the past, so it could be translated, “Jesus persistently asked his disciples, ‘Who … the Son of Man is?’” It was never about the others’ responses, but about the disciples’ reaction to this question.


The turning point of this passage hinges upon Peter’s answer for himself and the other disciples, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." He is acknowledging Jesus as the specially chosen, anointed one of God, the one the Jewish peop
le have been waiting for, who would set them free from bondage. God revealed this to him. Surely, this was not the first time he had thought about this. Jesus repeatedly asked who people identified him as. Likely, the disciples discussed this among themselves.


This revelation comes loaded with implications. Jesus says in verse 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.” Peter or petros in Greek is an isolated stone, but the rock, petra, is literally living rock, bedrock. “…I tell you, you are an isolated stone, and on this living rock, bedrock I will build my church…”


The Lord said to Peter, “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." Peter is given the keys to unlock the mysteries of God! Keys also symbolize authority and responsibility. The power to bind and loose may be interpreted as the power to teach with authority and we are not talking about well educated people here either, but blue collar workers, like many here today.


Our response to the question, “Who do you say that I am,” has significant implications for us as well. This power to unlock the mysteries and to teach with authority not only was given to the disciples, but is given to the church today.


Our answer to Jesus’ persistent question determines how we live our lives, how we deal with disappointment and pain, how we do or do not share our faith. There was a time in my life when I experienced who Jesus is in
a totally unexpected way. Everything was outside my control. In that time and place, I experienced Jesus as friend, provider, healer, and Lord.


Jesus builds his church on the bedrock of faith. It is his work and nothing can stop it, not even the “gates of Hades” or death. To control the gates of a city was to conquer it. What a relief that this is God’s work and not Peter’s or ours.
Acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, and Lord of our lives, and sharing that faith is the first step in growing this church.


Peter's confession and pondering

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