“Simon Peter’s voice rings out with one short sentence: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’”
By Pastor Mark Nieting
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16: 13-20
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whether or not you’ve looked at the bulletin or the screen, you know we’ve come to the time in the service called the sermon. Thursday morning is my normal “sermon writing time,” and so, as I sat at my desk once again, I asked myself, “Self, how many sermons have I written over the 28 years I have been a pastor?” It’s hard to come up with an exact number, but a little pad-scratching produced the number 1400, not counting chapel services, funerals, weddings and all sorts of other services that required some speaking. 1,400! How does one pick out the best?
Generally, remembering sermons is like remembering mom’s cooking years after leaving home. What DO you remember about your mom’s cooking? Mainly you remember that you ate, you got enough and you left the table feeling better than when you sat down. If mom was a “meat and potatoes” cook or if she was a “pasta-mama” that’s what we remember. But, every once in a while, mom might just surprise us with something truly memorable!
Speeches are like that too, and in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16, Jesus gives His disciples an opportunity to say something really GREAT. They had left Capernaum after another confrontation with the Scribes and Pharisees and walked 20 miles north to Caesarea Philippi, where King Herod had built a huge temple to Caesar Augustus……the first and greatest of all the Roman emperors. (He was the Caesar Augustus of the Christmas Story, who ruled from BC31 to AD14.) It was a very pagan area and a place where Jesus could be alone with just His disciples.
Imagine the setting. They were surrounded by pagan temples and a very secular culture when Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Today we might ask “what’s the buzz on this Jesus” or something like that. “Tell me,” Jesus said to the disciples, “what people are saying about me.”
It didn’t take long to get a whole list of answers. Some, like Herod Antipas (see Matt 14:1-2) say you are John the Baptist come back to life. Others are convinced that you are Elijah the Prophet, the one prophesied by Malachi to come back before the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” (Mal 4:5) Some say you are Jeremiah…..or another prophet from the old days who has come back. And, our text doesn’t say this but we can be fairly certain it was thought if not said, some probably didn’t have a clue whom Jesus was.
It’s not hard to imagine the disciples, all sitting around Jesus, just buzzing with answers to His question…..they say you are John, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jonah, Zechariah, Daniel…..until Jesus raises His hand, stops the conversation and changes NOT the topic, but the FOCUS!
What about YOU? Who do YOU say that I am? These are the men who have been with Jesus for two years now. They’ve witnessed miracles, listened to sermons, participated in hundreds of conversations, heard Jesus pray……they’re the ones who should have a crystal-clear idea as to who He is! So Jesus gives each one of them a chance to voice their own opinion. Who do you believe me to be?
A few moments ago Jesus had a chorus of answers. Now only ONE voice speaks up. One man gives ONE answer to Jesus’ question. Simon Peter’s voice rings out with one short sentence: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’
How would YOU have answered? What would YOU have said?
Peter’s declaration was truly a great moment that grew out of a great opportunity that literally changed the course of his life and set the groundwork for the entire Christian church to follow, all springing from a few words from a sincere heart at just the right time. It was a great speech.
OK, maybe it wasn’t a speech in the technical sense of the word. Maybe it was the “greatest comment ever made” or the “greatest answer ever given” but it really was great!
What was it, given all the speeches and sermons all of us have heard and all the words that JESUS must have heard, that made Simon Peter’s statement so powerful? It’s like the “perfect storm,” the right combination of ingredients. Here it was words by the right person, at the right moment, with the right vision, and the right understanding. (This should be repeated.)
All this is true for Peter when he makes his declaration about Jesus. And all of this can be true of US as well! Let’s examine why.
For starters, Peter is the right person. He’s NOT an extraordinary person…..he had the same strengths and weaknesses all the other disciples had. He’ll argue with Jesus when He starts talking about going to the cross. He’ll jump out of the boat to walk on the water without a second thought….till he sees the waves and then sinks! He blows it totally after Jesus was arrested, but races to the tomb on Easter morning. But because he is SO human, SO much like you and me that he’s the right person to make such a great statement about Jesus.
Peter also speaks up at the right moment. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He is finished with the work in Galilee and is about ready to head towards Jerusalem and the cross. But first Jesus has to be sure that His disciples are clear about who He is and what He is about and what the community of believes will look like, so it’s the right time for Peter to speak up as he does.
When he speaks up, Peter also has the right understanding. He senses that Jesus is no ordinary prophet; but that He is far MORE than Isaiah or Jeremiah or the others before Him. No, Peter sees that Jesus IS the Messiah, the one who has been anointed by God….that’s literally what Messiah means…… to do what He was to do. Peter considers Jesus to be his KING, the one who rules over his life. He “gets it” that Jesus is the “Son of the Living God,” the one who shows God’s love and power and grace more clearly than anyone ever had. And imagine how much deeper Peter’s understanding becomes in the very next chapter when Jesus reveals Himself to him on the Mountain of the Transfiguration!
All told, Jesus is impressed; so impressed, in fact, that He says to Peter, Blessed are you, son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in Heaven. Jesus knew that Peter’s “speech,” his declaration of faith, was nothing less than a true Gift from God! What Jesus said to Peter reminds all of us that the very core of Christianity, faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, is GIVEN TO US as a gift from God! Peter didn’t come up with this by himself…..it was the Holy Spirit who authored it in Peter’s heart, mind and finally, voice!
“You are Peter,” Jesus says, “and on this ROCK I will build my church, and the gates of hell itself will not prevail against it!” Given what some have done with this verse (Roman Catholics especially) it would be wise to parse it out a bit farther. You’re a petros, “a chip off the old block,” Jesus says to Peter, and on this petra, on this huge, rocky cliff of faith I will build my church and not even all the forces of hell itself will be able to overcome it!
The Christian Church, which began on Pentecost by the Holy Spirit, was not founded on a man or on the confession of a man, Peter or any other. It was founded on the saving revelation of God’s grace to humankind through Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. It’s not Peter’s church….it’s God’s church, with Christ as the foundation.
That is what I NEED TO HEAR from Jesus as I look at the world of today. I see Christians suffering and dying at the hands of persecutors everywhere. I see our Christian cultural values under attack from all sides. I see fewer people in church and fewer kids in Sunday School. That’s why I NEED to HEAR that God is STILL IN CHARGE of HIS CHURCH, and that NOTHING, not even hell itself, will defeat it……and us.
That is why we, who are no different than dear old saint Simon himself, are the right people in our age and time to make the very same declaration of faith that Peter did. We are the people who KNOW Jesus is the Messiah. We are the people who trust Him for salvation. We are the Church who knows He is the King!
That’s why we are able to speak up, as Peter did, at just the right moments for others to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior also. We can speak words of peace when conflict erupts. We can speak words of encouragement when others are discouraged. We can bring words of HOPE when friends feel hopeless. We can share words of guidance when others are lost. And, by God’s Holy Spirit, we can do it at JUST THE RIGHT TIME…and know it’s a “God-thing!”
That’s because we have the right understanding of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who has created us in our world and redeemed us by His grace. We KNOW and trust that God is alive and well in this world and in our lives.
Peter was given the opportunity to give a “testimony” about Jesus and it turned into the greatest speech ever. He didn’t miss the moment. Neither, dear ones, should we!