But Who Do You Say I Am?

BUT WHO DO YOU SAY I AM? (Sermon Notes – by Mrs Karen Brassett)

 

Good morning

 

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Karen. Those of you who do know me may be wondering why I am up here and, believe me, I am wondering that too! When Will first mentioned writing a sermon I just laughed and forgot about it – I thought he was joking. A few days later, however, he followed up on the idea and assured me that he had actually been quite serious. As I have never done anything like this before I hope you will bear with me.

 

Today we are going to look at Matthew 16:13-23.

I am using the New Living Translation and the words should appear on the wall.

 

From Matthew 16 we read:

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

 

May the Holy Spirit use this reading to speak to our hearts and teach us more about Jesus.

 

Jesus headed north with his disciples, to the region of Caesarea Philippi.

  • It is generally thought that he did this to take a bit of a break from the crowds, so that he could spend more time teaching the disciples and trying to prepare them for what was to come.
  • A lot has been happening in the two preceding chapters. Chapter 14 includes the feeding of the crowd of five thousand men, plus an undisclosed number of women and children, followed by Jesus walking on the water and calling Peter to come to him. In chapter 15 Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman and rewards her faith, in the face of some quite harsh rejection, by releasing her daughter from demon possession. He heals many more people besides in both chapters, and also feeds another crowd, this time of four thousand. It certainly seems like some time out would have been beneficial.
  • The setting chosen for this passage is a very significant one, for both religious and cultural reasons, but I would like to leave that to one side this morning and focus on the personal significance of what is happening.

 

In the context of all these things that the disciples have recently witnessed, Jesus asks them two questions as they are walking along the road. The first question is rather safe and neutral:

13“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

 

The disciples are able to report back what they have been hearing from the crowds.

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 

These answers show that the crowds recognise Jesus as someone special. They are placing him in the category of “Prophet” which was a very high honour. But this is still a human category and falls far short of the truth.

 

Jesus then asks a second question which is anything but safe and neutral. This question is direct and very personal:

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

 

Every time I read this an image comes to mind of the whole group suddenly going very quiet, probably even coming to a sudden stop in the middle of the road. This time only one of them gives an answer.

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 

At this point it looks like Peter has got it.

  • He has listened to Jesus teaching for several years now
  • He has witnessed miracles and healings
  • He has even had his own personal experience of walking on water.

 

The response Peter gets from Jesus certainly makes it seem like he has got it right:

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

 

This is pretty mind blowing stuff!

 

Stop and try to imagine for a minute how this must have felt for Peter. He had just put himself way out there and declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. That in itself would have been an intense experience. But Jesus then responds by changing his name (Simon is now Peter, “the Rock”), and bestowing unimaginable authority on him. That has got to be more than anyone can get their head around in just a few minutes, and so it proves to be.

 

In the next verse Jesus predicts his death for the first time.

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

 

Poor Peter! This really is too much!! He has just made a really courageous declaration, been rewarded with an amazing affirmation and the apparent appointment to a really important position, and now Jesus is talking about dying. Not only does it not seem right that the Messiah, the Son of God, will die, but he is talking about being tortured and murdered by the religious leaders.

 

Peter decides he needs to set Jesus straight.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

 

This time Jesus’ response is very different.

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not God’s.”

Peter goes from number one supporter to dangerous enemy in the blink of an eye.

 

Two things stand out here for me.

Firstly, I have to admit to feeling rather sorry for Peter.

  • A lot of very intense and significant stuff has just happened in a short space of time.
  • He has just had some huge future responsibilities and expectations described to him.
  • Before he has had time to even try to process what they might mean he is confronted with yet another major announcement.

He responds with his typical impetuous enthusiasm, steps in to start trying to live up to his new job description, and runs head first into a brick wall. Ouch!

 

So let’s have a look at what just happened.

  • Jesus asked his disciples a question.
  • Peter answered him. In fact Peter not only answered the question, he gave the perfect answer.

Surely that should have been the end of it – ten out of ten for you Peter.

The answer Peter gave Jesus was honest and genuine. What happened next, though, brings me to my second point:

Jesus’ question is not static.

He was not just seeking information or setting a test to see which of the disciples would pass. Peter gave a great answer, and he believed what he said, but his subsequent actions show that he did not really understand his answer, or who Jesus really is.

 

How did Peter end up on such a roller coaster ride?

  • He had been following Jesus for several years by this time, living closely together with him, and learning daily from his teaching.
  • He had witnessed countless healings and other miracles, including several people being brought back to life, and he really believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.
  • So why could he not accept Jesus’ predictions of what was about to happen next?

 

It is easy for us to look back from 2000 years after the Resurrection and ask why Peter did not understand the significance of these things. We probably like to think that, with all that evidence, and having such a close relationship with Jesus, we would have been able to see things more clearly. Surely we would have understood when he talked about having to die and be raised from the dead.

 

But would we?

 

Peter accepts, I believe whole-heartedly, that Jesus is the Messiah, but his concept of what that means is shaped by the Jewish teachings he has been raised with from birth. These present the Messiah as a person sent by God to restore Israel, and bring peace to the earth, by ruling as a human king. In spite of all the time he has spent with Jesus, and all the new teachings he has heard, he has still not been able to make the transition from the strong historical traditions he has grown up with to the radically different concept of an eternal, heavenly kingdom which begins on earth.

 

Here I would like to swap sides in the conversation for a moment. It is easy for us to imagine how confused and hurt Peter must have felt in all this – but what about Jesus? Have you ever stopped to think how Jesus must have been feeling at this point?

 

The words Jesus uses to denounce Peter hark back to his response to Satan during his temptation in the wilderness. One of the temptations Jesus was offered was all the kingdoms of the world if he would only kneel down and worship Satan.

 

In effect Peter is now trying to get Jesus to accept the very same thing, earthly kingship and power. This is, after all, the Jewish interpretation of the Messiah. It is his human expectation of what should happen.

 

I imagine the temptation must have seemed so much stronger to Jesus this time because it was being offered by a friend in the guise of support and acclamation, rather than by his obvious enemy. I am absolutely certain that it must have been incredibly painful for him.

 

Jesus was on a very similar roller coaster to the one Peter was riding.

 

When we look at this passage we can imagine, and probably identify with, the range of feelings and reactions that Peter and the other disciples might have had. But how often do we try to put ourselves in Jesus’ place, to imagine the significance these interactions had for him?

 

Although they had been on the same journey over the last few years, Jesus would have experienced it from a very different perspective.

  • Only Jesus understood the importance and true meaning of what he had been sent to do.
  • Only Jesus knew how crucial it was that the disciples should start to understand his teachings before he left them
  • Only Jesus understood the significance of Peter’s declaration.

 

When Peter made his declaration, Jesus must have been elated, and probably also a bit relieved. Here was the evidence that all his work was bearing fruit. He knew that Peter was to be the one who would lead the infant Christian community and now, as he prepared to face the events ahead of him in Jerusalem, he had some reassurance that Peter was nearly ready.

“You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you.”

 

How hard would it have been for him then, to have to turn around and say:

You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not God’s.”

 

For me these two statements help explain how Peter could get everything so right and then so wrong. His first answer was described as a revelation from God. He ran into trouble when he turned from that revelation and fell back on his human thinking and experience.

 

They also highlight for me something that caught my attention recently when I was reading the second chapter of John. Verses 23-25 say:

 

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

 

Jesus may have experienced a similar high and low but, unlike Peter, he did not experience confusion or disbelief.

25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

 

While he may have been excited by Peter’s declaration, and deeply hurt by the temptation Peter put in front of him, Jesus was not caught by surprise. He knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew that Peter was going to stumble, and even that he would desert him. He knew what was in Peter’s heart, and he knew that he did not yet understand what his answer meant.

 

This brings me back to the point I made earlier, that the question Jesus asked is not static.

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

 

You see Jesus still asks this same question today. He asks each one of us, and we need to think about this carefully. It is not a question that you can answer and leave.

 

But who do you say I am?

 

Like Peter, we can give the perfect answer, and we can believe it. But do we understand what our answer means?

 

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 

The truth is that our understanding of what our answer means can change with each significant experience we have in life.

  • It is influenced by where we are in our spiritual journey.
  • It is influenced by what is going on in our lives right now, and by what has gone before.
  • It also has a big influence on how we live our lives, on the decisions and choices we make.

 

This is why Jesus’ question is just as important for us today as it was for the disciples when he asked them. Who we say Jesus is, how deeply we believe it, and what we understand that to mean, directly determine how we choose to live.

  • As we get older we grow
  • As we live we experience so many different things
  • As we experience different things we learn
  • As we learn we gain knowledge and, hopefully, increased understanding.

 

for he knew what was in each person’s heart.”

 

We need to remember that Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Today he continues to ask each one of us the same question he asked Peter and the other disciples. He asks because he knows that our answers are not important for HIM, they are important for US.

 

“But who do YOU say I am?”

 

I want to leave you with these two questions this morning:

  • What is your answer for Jesus?
  • What does your answer mean for you?
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