Matthew 16:13-20 There are many important questions that we are asked over the course of our life. Will have this man to be your husband, this woman to be your wife? Do you solemnly swear to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic? Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the trust? The answers that we give to these questions are important--but only for this life.
There is another question—the most important question—that each of are asked and that we must give answer to—a question that will shape and direct, not only our lives on earth, but also eternity. That question is asked by Jesus of every person in the world: Who do you say that I am? The Bible says that:
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Whether one is a Christian or not, there can be no serious disagreement that Jesus is the most important person who has ever lived. Billions and billions of people have followed him as Lord and Savior. Billions and billions of others have regarded him as a great moral teacher and leader. Billions and billions of others have regarded him as their greatest enemy and nemesis.
The entire course of world civilization- with the rise and fall of great nations and the plans of great men- have taken place in the name of Jesus. He stands at the very center of history and everyone has an opinion about him. So it was in Caesarea Philippi.
They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Everyone had an opinion about Jesus. A prophet. A miracle worker. A great teacher. Such was the beauty of his life- and such was the power of his words- that he impacted everyone he met and all of them had a high opinion of him. But it is not enough then or now to know the opinions of others. We must answer for ourselves. What about you, who do you say that I am?
The way we answer this question determines how we will live every other moment of our life and it determines where we will spend eternity. And it is not good enough- to get close enough- to the truth.
To live the life that God intends for us to live on earth—to live with God forever in heaven—we must know and confess the truth about Jesus—about who he is and what he came to do. The Bible says that at the question of Jesus: Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the answer to the most important question that we will ever be asked. This is the answer that will shape and guide our lives here on earth. This is the answer that opens our graves and heaven’s gates. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God!
Jesus is the Messiah—the Promised One of God. He is the Savior who the prophets promised would suffer for our sins and rise again. He is the One who stands victorious over death and our grave and has conquered Satan and forgiven our sins. He is worthy of our trust.
Jesus is the Son of God. He is Immanuel-the God who is with us. To know him is to know the Father. To hear him is to hear the Father. To have him as brother is to have God as Father. He is worthy of our worship.
And Jesus is our Lord. He is our one true King. His will must be our will, his ways our ways. To walk in his footsteps as his disciples is to walk in the narrow way that leads to life.
To have Peter’s answer- as our answer- is to know and believe the only thing that really matters and endures. So important is this answer to our life right now and our life to come that God himself gives the answer to us. The Bible says that:
Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
The Bible says that God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. But the knowledge of saving truth does not come from our own reason or intellect—it does not come from some scientific experiment—it does not come from mystical, emotional experience that we have had.
A saving knowledge of the truth—the correct answer to the question of Jesus: Who do you say that I am—comes from the work of God in our hearts, from his revelation. The Bible says that: of his own will the Father has brought us forth by the word of truth. And the Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.
Peter confessed the truth about Jesus Christ because he saw the truth in Jesus’ life and heard the truth from Jesus’ lips and his heavenly Father caused Peter to be born again—to have a new heart and new mind that believed in and trusted in Jesus. So it is for us!
That we can confess the truth about Jesus Christ and be saved is because God has given us the gift of faith. He has known us and loved us from eternity. He has sent his Son to die and rise again for us. And he has called us to faith through the Gospel.
When it comes to our salvation, God has left nothing to chance. He has accomplished it all. And he has revealed it to us so that we can know and believe the truth. This is the way he builds his church one person at a time. Jesus said:
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The Bible says that the household of God is being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. But what does this mean? Obviously a foundation built upon mere men (as the prophets and apostles surely were) cannot endure eternally. Much less can the church be built upon one man—even a man as great as Peter.
And so what is the church built upon? It is built upon Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone and the faithful confession of who he is and what he has done that came forth from the mouths of the prophets and apostles of old.
The prophetic and apostolic scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the foundation upon which our faith and the faith of the whole Christian church on earths rests and Jesus says that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
What a comfort that promise is in these days when it seems that powers of evil hold sway and Christians across the world are persecuted and martyred for their faith.
When we see what is going on in the world around, when we experience the decline of Christianity in our own nation, it is so easy to become discouraged and worried about what the future holds when it comes to the church. But we have Jesus’ promise that all the powers of the devil cannot rob us of our faith or destroy the people of God.
There may be hard times. There may be sorrows. There may be persecution. But rather than retreat, we are called to go forward with the Word of God, confident that Jesus will continue to build his church. Jesus said:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The promise of the keys is nothing else than the Great Commission: to open the gates to heaven by preaching the Word of God—both the law that condemns and the Gospel that saves. That is the mission of the Church—to bring people to heaven.
We are to speak the truth in love about the wages of sin and call the world to turn from sin and be done with it. We are to unashamedly bear witness to the will of God expressed in the Law and warn the world that the broad and easy way leads to death.
But we are also to tell the world that Jesus has forgiven sins and conquered death and opened the way to eternal life. We can do this with confidence that we are speaking the very words of Christ and his authority stands behind them. This is our mission.
Often times churches and congregations get confused about their purpose. A concern for the material needs of others becomes a social gospel whose goal it is to make a better society rather than bring people to heaven. A willingness to be all things to all people makes the church a mirror of the culture rather than the salt and light we are supposed to be. A godly desire to abstain from the sins of the world makes us draw back into a holy huddle rather than engage the world we live in.
But these words of Jesus are the cure to all these perversions of the church. Because the gates of hell will not prevail against us and because the authority of Jesus is with us, we go forth into the world with the Good News, knowing that Christ and his people will ultimately have the victory—which is why it the words that conclude our text are so odd. The Bible says that Jesus: strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
It certainly seems odd that Jesus would commission his apostles to build the church and open the gates of heaven and then forbid them from speaking the truth about who he was! But this charge to remain silent was only for a time. He wanted to make sure that people had the whole story—that his identity as the Messiah was tied to the cross—that he was not an earthly king but a heavenly Savior. Even the disciples struggled to get this right.
But after his death and resurrection this command to remain silent is no longer in effect. We know the truth about Jesus—his identity and mission—and that truth must be told so that those around us might also know the answer to the most important question: who do you say Jesus is? Amen.