Below is the manuscript for the sermon I preached today (27th August 2017) at Shepparton Baptist Church.
Bible reading: Matthew 16:13-20New International Version (NIV)
Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Introduction to sermon
I have been known as many things during my 45 years on the planet. There are quite a few that I won’t be able to tell you this morning! But here’s a list of the more suitable ones.
Husband, father, brother, son, paster, minister, uncle, production planner, purchasing officer, manager. I am also known for my humour (whether you think it’s funny or not), my quick reflexes, my short stature and even for my coffee habit. I am also known for my faith in Jesus. And honestly, there are probably many more that I don’t know about (maybe even some good ones)!
Different people might know Jesus in different ways, too. Some may only know his name as a swear word. Others might say that he was a good man, a prophet, a teacher or even as a bit of a crazy rebel. There are others who call him Lord and Saviour.
This morning we have a nice opportunity to take a closer look at just a few verses in the gospel of Matthew. We often have to take a brief overview of a large chunk of scripture. Let’s take a verse by verse look at it now.
v13: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
The word region is more literally “the parts” of Ceasarea Philippi (which is around 25 miles north of the sea of Galillee). So Jesus and his disciples travelled 25 miles to be in parts of Ceasarea Philippi. When they were there, Jesus asks who do people (or literally men) say the Son of Man is? We know that Jesus often referred to himself as the son of man, so it is clear that Jesus is referring to himself in this question. If you also check Mark and Luke they have the question simply as who I am.
Jesus wanted to know who other people, other men, other jews thought he was. What were they saying. Just to be clear, Jesus isn’t condoning gossip here. He is asking what the disciples have heard along the way.
Who do “they” say I am?
v14 The disciples respond with some fascinating reports yet all point to affirming that Jesus is a prophet. Some say John the Baptist, as did king Herod (from Matthew 14:2). A resurrected John the Baptist. Perhaps people couldn’t believe that John’s death at Herod’s hand was the end of it and there had to be some sort of recovery. Other’s said that they thought Jesus was Elijah in fulfilment of Malachi 4:6. It’s only in Matthew that Jeremiah is mentioned. Some theologians suggest that this is due to the doom and gloom that Jesus talks about in terms of the future of the nation. Others suggest that Jeremiah was a typical prophet. Whatever the reason, some people thought Jesus was either Jeremiah or another of the prophets. The rumour mill was certainly going nuts about him but interestingly, there is no mention of others considering Jesus as Messiah or Christ. Even after the miraculous feedings of 5000 and 4000. Even after the other miracles that Jesus had done, or all of the teaching that he had taught. Their eyes could not see Jesus like that.
v15 In verse 15, Jesus asks the disciples two more questions. What about you blokes? Who do you reckon I am?….well something like that anyway. The you is emphatic. If you were to write it down, the word you would be in italics or bold. But, what about YOU? Who do YOU say I am?
The question has been turned in it’s head. Before it was all about other people but now it’s personal.
I was away on a retreat at the start of last week. During one of the devotion times, we were asked a question about “how do we rejoice always”. One of the other people answered it as a theoretical question. As in “what steps must we do to rejoice always”. I took it far more personally. I thought of it as “how do I rejoice always in my life”. Questions become hard when we look at them from a personal perspective. Jesus just made the conversation very personal for the disciples. Who do you say I am. What do you tell people when they ask about me?
v16 We only hear of one response to Jesus’ question. We actually don’t know if the other disciples responded to Jesus. There are lots of theories and arguments about the next few verses. Some argue that Peter was answering for all of the disciples….as a spokesperson for them. I can’t see that this group operated in that way. They travelled together. They slept, they ate, they talked as a group. When the disciples were asked a question from Jesus, I imagine that all of them get talking. For whatever reason, we only hear about Peter’s. Again there are lot’s of theological arguments as well as church history arguments. Some people aren’t keen on the idea that Peter was to be the rock that the church was built on. It seems pretty clear here. Peter’s response was that Jesus is the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the Living God. No question about what Peter is thinking is there!? If we take a sneak peek at next weeks passage we find Jesus explaining what the truth of being the Christ looks like. Not the preconceived notions that Peter and the other disciples carried. We could even look at the beginning of chapter 17 to see the transfiguration of Jesus. Again confirming that he is indeed the Son of the Living God.
But for now, we must settle on the fact that Peter tells Jesus he believes that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God in whatever shape Peter meant it to be.
v17 Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. Blessed not with material happiness but blessed with holy joy. Jonah could be either a contraction of his father (John) or a reference to Simon, someone like Jonah. Jonah, the bloke who tried to run away from God’s calling (cue Peter’s denial of Jesus which is to come at Jesus’ interrogation). The fascinating part and one we could well spend a whole sermon on are the words “for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” Peter’s view of Jesus isn’t because of a committee decision. A review panel or even a gossip session. Peter calls Jesus the Messiah by divine revelation. The Father has revealed to Him the truth. Something we can all expect to have happen to us. We can expect divine revelation. Divine knowledge. An undeserved understanding.
v18 Now we come to one of the most argued parts of the bible. Jesus calls Simon, Peter. The name means rock. On this rock Jesus will build his church. We won’t get into the semantics of this statement of Jesus but let’s say that there are many who see this as Jesus telling Peter that the church would be built from him. Other’s suggest that it’s more about the faith that Peter shows. I’m going to go with the sense that Jesus is saying that the faith that Peter has showed will be the rock that builds the church. There are too many variables to suggest that the church would only come from Peter. There are too many “churches” in that time that did not come from Peter to hold to it strongly. Jesus does imply that Peter will have preeminence among his followers. A quick note on the word church. The greek word is ecclesia. Many argue that the word church wasn’t used at that time and so must have been added later. The word ecclesia simply means a gathering, a community. To use the word church here fits. It also gives us an insight as to when Matthew wrote the gospel.
And the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In the days, months and years to come, this must have been a comfort to many a follower of Jesus. Amidst persecution and martyrdom, they would have hung on to these words. So to must we hang on to those words. The gates of Hades (or to use our language) hell will not overcome the church. This is to be remembered when we hear about how the church is in decline. How people are leaving the church and the church will be dead in the not too distant future. That’s wrong! The church will not be lost in the world. Jesus will not allow his church to be lost to hell. There will always be the bride of Christ in the world. What shape that takes is up to us.
v19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loaded in heaven. We need to note that Jesus isn’t giving Peter the keys to the church but to the kingdom of heaven. There is a big difference. He also says that He will give the keys (not current tense or past tense but future tense). Jesus is referring to the coming death and resurrection where the kingdom of heaven will be made available.
We come again to a problem of translation when we consider the words bind and loose. We should also notice that the verbs of binding and loosing are both future perfect, a tense about which France says: “as the future perfect sounds as stilted in Greek as in English, the tense is apparently deliberate” (p. 256). With respect to its significance in this passage Chamberlain remarks: “This is wrongly translated ‘shall be bound’ and ‘shall be loosed,’ seeming to make Jesus teach that the apostles’ acts will determine the policies of heaven. They should be translated ‘shall have been bound’ and ‘shall have been loosed.’ This makes the apostles’ acts a matter of inspiration or heavenly guidance.”
We get it backwards based on how it is translated. We don't bind or loose things in heaven because of the acts we do here. We bind and loose things on earth because they have already been done in heaven. We are given authority and permission to change things here because it’s already happened in heaven. This idea also gives the fledgling church permission to change what happens within the church. Jesus is giving them authority to move away from Jewish laws and customs. The kingdom of Heaven looks different to the religion of the israelites and Peter and the church need to change, to move away from Judaism. Remembering that the disciples and the new church considered themselves as a variant of Judaism when in fact it was something very new.
v20 Something that always seems confusing is when Jesus tells people not to tell others who he is. That he is the messiah. Why not tell people who he is. Surely that would help with the building of the church? The problem is the different expectations of what the Messiah would do. What the Christ would do. The general expectation was that the Christ would come and reclaim Isreal for the people. Reclaim it in terms of a military army coming and taking it by force. Or with political influence. We know now that Jesus hadn’t become incarnate to do that. He was to reclaim the people of God by his death, burial and resurrection. If the rumour mill suggested that Jesus was the messiah it would have invited even more misunderstanding on why Jesus was there. People had a hard enough time understanding what he said at the best of times, let alone with the extra filter of messianic expectation. No…Jesus wanted to keep it quiet for a little while longer to help with the mission. The mission of redeeming the entire world.
Well, wasn’t that fun! To have a few moments of looking closely at a passage? Some of you agree and some of you are probably about to snore! What have we learnt from this passage?
We have learnt that Peter has amazing faith in Jesus (as if we didn’t know that from the whole walking on water episode). We know what people thought of Jesus and the risk of them knowing the whole truth. We know that knowledge can come by divine revelation. We know that the faith of Peter was instrumental in the beginning of the development of the church. We also know that we are given authority by heaven to make changes here on earth.
Knowledge is pretty useless if we don’t apply it. So what are we to do with it today? As I read through this passage, verse 15 keeps coming back to me. But what about you? Who do you say I am?
We know what Peter said abut the question remains….who do you say Jesus is? This question is not limited to purely what you say. It also includes your actions. It also includes how you interact with other people. Every part of your lives say something about who you think Jesus is.
Does your obedience to Jesus (or disobedience) suggest something about who you consider Jesus to be?
If this passage ask of us anything it is to be reflecting to the world Jesus in all that we do and say. Whether it’s at work, or shopping, or driving a car or even just having a coffee at a coffee shop. We have the gift of time to know exactly what Jesus did. How atoning sacrifice so that we may come into relationship with God the Father. That the Kingdom of Heaven is now available to all people.
So…who do you say Jesus is? Is he a prophet to listen to? Is he a teacher to learnt from? Is he a healer to ask for healing from? Is he a provider to give you the material things you desire? Is he a rebel that we need to imitate? Or is he just a name you use when you get angry?
The answer to the question “who do you say Jesus is” must be…
“He is the son of the living God. He is God and he so deeply desires to know us and to be given permission to transform us”.
Can you say that? Will you say that?