Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

08/21/11 Sermon

Matthew 16:13-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

The setting of today’s scripture is in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a multicultural city that was home to many different religions in Jesus’ time.  Located in the northern extremity of Palestine it had temples and statues of Syrian gods and the Greek god Pan. There were also statues of King Herod that people worshipped as well as Caesar who the Romans worshipped. 

 

Caesarea Philippi, with its multi-culture and pluralistic religions in a way can remind us of the United States today as we’re becoming more and more a nation of many different cultures and religions.  And it’s interesting that in this multicultural, multi religious city that Jesus brings up this conversation with his disciples asking them about his identity.  As we read, Jesus first asks the disciples---- “Who do people say I am”?

The disciples say, “Well some say Elijah or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets”.  The answer points to people believing Jesus is a great man, a wise teacher, a prophet, but nothing more than that. There is no claim of Jesus’ divinity.  And of course that’s an answer that many in our secular world would echo today. Jesus is known as a great teacher, a great man but not identified as the Son of God.

Other religions who acknowledge Jesus make the same claim. The Islam faith see Jesus as a prophet and claim that it’s idolatrous of Christians to proclaim him being anything more than that.

Of course Judaism also makes a similar claim of Jesus being a great teacher, but the Messiah he is not.

And even within liberal Protestants Jesus is often seen as a great teacher but nothing more than that.

But Jesus goes on to press the disciples on this question of who he is. He asks the disciples point blank, “Well who do YOU say I am?”  And it was a very important question in the middle of this multicultural, pluralistic setting.  Because Jesus needed to know where these disciples stood as they were going to be the ones who would carry on Jesus’ ministry after he had gone.  They would be confronted with the tremendous pressure among all of these different religions and cultural pressures.

So Jesus’ question, “Who do YOU say I am”, was a critical one. It would define how Christianity would continue on.   And of course as we know Peter’s answer in verse 16--- became a foundational confession that the faith of Christianity has been built upon.  Peter boldly confesses that Jesus is more than a prophet or great teacher. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.  And as we see, Jesus commends and accepts Peter’s confession. He goes on to tell Peter that he would build his church on this Rock; this confession of faith.

And of course, Jesus has kept his promise as here we are over 2000 years later; the church, the Body of Christ still proclaiming and confessing that Jesus is not simply a prophet or teacher but the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  Still, in the backdrop of our own pluralistic culture, we find ourselves under more and more pressure to keep making this confession and declaration of Jesus’ divinity.  We Christians live in a time where the culture has an unwritten rule of etiquette that we are to keep our beliefs to ourselves.  And as Christians yield to the pressure of the culture, a generation is becoming more and more unaware of the confession of Peter. The church is failing to fulfill its calling to witness to others. 

 

There’s an old story about Jesus appearing in heaven just after his resurrection. Jesus is giving a progress report on all that has happened while he was on earth.  Moses is there and he asks him, "Well Jesus, did you leave things in capable hands?"  Jesus responds, "I did. I have left behind Mary and Martha and Peter and the other disciples."  Moses said, "What if they fail?"  Jesus said, "Well, I have established the Church and filled it with the Holy Spirit and they will carry on."   And Moses said, "What if they fail?"  And Jesus replied, "I have no other plan."……………….

We are Jesus’ plan; we’re it----we’re the people of faith, the church that Jesus built.  We’re the ones called to confess and declare to the world that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

There is no plan B. It’s up to us to carry on the faith.  Unfortunately many of us are unequipped to carry out this calling.  The institutional church has been so inward focused with a mentality that you need to come here to learn and receive Jesus that we have lost our confessional witness to the culture outside.

Meanwhile a generation is  becoming ignorant of who Jesus is. He’s becoming nothing more than a historical figure, a great moral teacher like Gandhi.  But today we are being reminded that as the ecclesia or universal body of Jesus Christ we have a job to do.  Our foundation is grounded in confessing to others that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the divine Son of the living God.

So the question to us today is how do we reclaim our confessing witness in this postmodern, multi-religious world? How do we carry on the message of the gospel in a world that seeks to silence us?

Well I want to talk about two ways that we can reclaim our confessional identity and be the witnesses that we are called to be.

Now the first way we reclaim our confessional identity is when we witness to others our own personal encounter with Jesus…

In verse 16, when Peter responds to Jesus’ question of “Who do you say I am”, with a very personal response.  When Peter says, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, you get the feeling that Peter knew something deep within his heart about Jesus.  In fact after Peter’s answer Jesus says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  Peter’s response came from a deeper knowing; it was an answer that came from within his heart and soul.

And that’s an important point for us to understand as we reclaim our confessing witness to others.  We need to be able to tell others who Jesus is personally to us.  And that means we need to really reflect on the question that Jesus asked the disciples. Because in reality it’s the same question Jesus is asking us today---- Who is Jesus to you?

Now a lot of times when we look to answer that question it turns into some kind of theological jargon.  Our answer is like some book report about the history of Jesus; we give a biography and we explain the process of salvation.  But that’s not the kind of witness we are to go to the world with. If that’s our witness then Jesus really is only a great teacher and nothing more.

I’m reminded of a contemporary Christian song that’s titled Everything to Me. And I think it gets to the heart of what it means to be a true confessing witness to Christ.

Let me share some of the words: 

     When I grew up in Sunday school, I memorized the Golden Rule and how Jesus came to set the sinner free.

     I know the story inside out and I can tell you all about the path that led him up to Calvary.

     But ask me why he loves me, and I don’t know what to say. But I’ll never be the same because he changed my life when he became everything to me.

     He’s more than a story, more than words on a page of history. He’s the air that I breathe, the water I thirst for, the ground beneath my feet, he’s everything,      everything to me.

If Jesus asked you today, “Who do you say I am? What would be your response?

You know, it could be that our confessional witness in this generation is silent because Jesus is really only a historical figure to us. We really don’t know him personally ourselves.---our church leaders have taught us head knowledge and nothing else.  But the true witness of a disciple of Christ is a witness of a personal encounter with Jesus.

So ask yourself today: Who is Jesus to me?

Is He my messiah, my Savior who rescued us?

Is he the living Son of God who is touching me and transforming me everyday?

Can you share the story to others who Jesus is and continues to be in your life?

Now the second way we reclaim our confessional identity is not simply thru our words of who Jesus is in our lives but also thru our actions.  Too often the witness of Christians to the culture has been hypocritical.  We say one thing but act in another way.  I was helping out at the ecumenical food pantry about 6 weeks ago and I witnessed a heated argument between one of the members of the church and a client coming to get food.  They were fighting over a parking space.  I couldn’t help but think of the message that sent to this woman coming to get food.  Regardless of who was to blame, it was the response of the church member that was the key issue at hand.  Her witness to this woman was basically an affirmation to the culture’s claim that Jesus is really only a great teacher of the past.  After all there was no inner change in this person that would witness to the living Christ in her life.

But a true confessional witness to Jesus, the Son of the living God is a witness that runs counter to the Caesarea Philippi world that we live in.  Our witness in our actions makes a difference in this world; it draws people into a relationship with Christ as they see the shining light of the Holy Spirit radiating within us.  Our actions of generosity and compassion, our forgiveness and encouragement are all witnesses of the living Son of God whose Spirit is alive.  And even as people in our culture who don’t profess Christ as their Lord and Savior are involved in acts of mercy with us, they will begin to see that there’s something else going on within us.  

Mother Teresa was asked by a young man why she always talked about this Jesus stuff as she served others.   He said he was going to work among the poor like her, do the good works of charity, but without the Jesus baggage.   Mother Teresa responded, "Go and work 20 years or a lifetime among the poorest of the poor. Then come back and tell me how you did it. I know that the only way I have been able to do it is because of Jesus."

The true confessional witness of who Jesus is, is seen by the living power that lives within us.  For us to make a true confessional witness of who Jesus is to the world today, we need to be indwelled by the living Spirit who is radiating His light from within us………………….. 

In closing this morning, we are being asked by Jesus to confess to the Caesarea Philippi world that we live in, who Jesus is.

As Christ’s church we have a responsibility to pass on the confession of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Only when we have experienced him personally and when he dwells within us are we able to prove that Jesus is more than some great moral teacher.

Is he a personal Messiah who has saved you?
Is he the living Son of God who is leading and growing you?
In the midst of our pluralistic culture, our Caesarea Philippi, let us confess Jesus thru our story and thru our actions.
Let us witness that he is indeed our everything.

You and I, as Christ’s universal church, are the key holders of the kingdom of heaven.

Let us joyfully lead others to the gates of God’s eternal kingdom as we confess Jesus----the Messiah, the Son of the living God who lives within us.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen