Who Do You Say He Is?
TEXT Matthew 16:15-17
Proper 16, A
‘He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’ When I read this text I often imagine a lazy afternoon in the cool of the shade under some trees. I hear the quiet droning of a few flies. And a seeming off-handed question. Almost like small-talk, or an after-thought. In my mind at least a couple of the disciples doze right through the whole exchange. Why? Earth shaking – life altering – questions, never seem that way when they are asked … only when you try to answer them.
“But what about you? Who do you say I am” It’s one of those questions that just seems to come out of the blue, doesn’t it? It’s not shocking, it's just unexpected. I’m pretty sure that up until that time the disciples hadn’t really given it any serious thought. I'm pretty sure sometimes both we and our people do the same. He's Jesus of course. That's a good enough answer for many. But Who is He really … to you? That's THE question at the heart of everything for disciples of the Lord. The answer to this question is the foundation of our faith and our hope and our comfort. It is the lynch-pin of your Christian life dear saints. And so, it's the one question we all must give some serious thought, the one everyone must answer.
Some thought that Jesus was demonic, the source of great evils. A mad-man not worth listening to. Others acknowledged at least that He was a good man. Some looked to Him to be their Bread King, or their source of free medicare. Some looked on Him in wonder, some in confusion, some in great fear. The disciples themselves once thought Him a ghost.
I think it is safe to say that most people in the world still feel the same way. Left on our own the answer will always come out the same. It will either be that Jesus was a dangerous liar; a lunatic and religious fanatic; or that he was basically a good example. The first answer is just plain foolish, not worth rational thought. The second brings no peace of mind, no comfort for the troubled soul. It can only cause doubt and confusion and despair. The third brings no hope. If Jesus were only a good man, His death holds nothing. All we have left of this Jesus would be a merciless task-master, expecting the same perfection of us that He lived. Is it any wonder so many people think of Jesus as only an after-thought if ever at all?
But enough about them. What about you dear saints? Who do you say that He is? Not just in here (head) but here (heart). Not just in your Sunday morning best behaviour, but in your day-to-day conversations and actions? Who do you say He is when you can't reconcile the pain and suffering you see in your loved ones with the loving God of scriptures? Who do you say He is when your mind won't get past the finances, bills and emergency expenditures? Who do you say that He is when you are confused by what He is asking of you or worse yet, afraid of it? Who do you say that He is when you are facing down that person, or situation yet again and He seems to be no more real or helpful for you than a ghost? Who do you say that He is by your words and deeds, when your life and your heart scream out that He cannot be what you know He is or your life would be more like you’ve always wanted it to be? The answer you give will be the lynch-pin of your faith. It is the reason you do and say what you do. It is important not just for you, but for those who look to you. So, what kind of answer do you give when you aren't thinking of the answer?
The only answer that fits is the one Peter gives. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is also the one answer that none of us could come up with on our own. Human logic won’t allow it. Human pride can’t accept it. True knowledge of Jesus' identity is too high for lowly humans to obtain. Not on our own. It is one that can only come from God Himself. It is the Father's pleasure to reveal His Son to the little ones, the children, the lowly and lack-witted like you and me.
Just as Luther, in turn, once revealed the truth to Louis VIII when he wrote: “We hold to that Defender of our church who says I shall build My church, not upon length of time, nor upon the great number of people, nor upon “so it must be,” nor upon the practice or the word of the saints, nor, finally upon John the Baptist or Elijah, Isaiah, or any of the prophets, but upon this sole and solid Rock, Christ, the Son of God. Here lies the strength of our faith, here we are safe against the gates of hell. He cannot lie and deceive; but all men are liars. And when the saints act and speak without this Rock they, too, are men. The perfectly pure, only, and certain Word of God must be the foundation of our faith.”
And that Word was made flesh. That Word is Jesus the Christ! He is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Saviour of all mankind. He is the Lord of all creation, the healer, the forgiver, the giver of eternal life. He is the heart of the Christian Faith and the foundation upon which His Church is built. He is the one Truth that will stand against everything and see us safely through.
God sent His only son to earth to be born a human being. He lived his life according to God’s law. Entirely. So that He could be the spotless sacrifice made to atone for all sin. Jesus, the Messiah, came into the world to defeat sin and death and the devil once and for all. He did it by taking away all their leverage over us. satan, the accuser had us dead to rights because of our sin. Jesus stood up and paid for that sin. He took that sin on his perfect shoulders and died for it. Now sin, death and the devil have no more power over us. There is nothing they can hold over our heads.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle with them still. We are still very much like Peter in that way. We will fall woefully short. Where Christ is confessed there will be opposition, sometimes even from within the confessor. But no opposition, no matter how fierce or dogged can prevail against Him. Individuals may fall, but with Christ's help we get back up again. Congregations may falter, quit, or simply fade away … but the Holy Christian Church, will stand forever with her Lord and Saviour.
And in that church, through Baptism and the continued preaching of His Word, God has personally given each of us the opportunity to believe with Peter that Jesus is The Christ, The Son of the Living God. Yet it will still take a lifetime for us to really understand what it all means. Through faith we can say that Jesus Christ is our Lord, but it is only by continually hearing His Holy Words, by receiving his precious body and blood, that we come to understand more fully what that really means when life in all its fallen unpleasantness stomps all over our neatly systematized beliefs. It is only through the trials and tribulations of this life that we really begin to see the depths of all that Jesus does for us as our Saviour, the Christ.
And so the question is put before you today. What about you dear saints? Who do you say that Jesus is? It's the question that's at the heart of everything for us disciples of the Lord. It's the foundation of our faith and our hope and our comfort. It is the lynch-pin of your vocation as disciples. It is the foundation of all you do and say before the people God has placed in your life. So who is Jesus to you … really? Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! And on this sure foundation you can build your life and your witness and be sure it will stand up under all that may come.