“You are the Christ”
Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in Your sight, O God. Our Rock and our Redeemer.
Peter’s Great Confession. When we hear it we likely focus on Peter and the faith and conviction he has to be able to stand up and answer Jesus’ question about who He is with an unwavering “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It’s only right that Peter and his conviction gets significant attention. This is the single most important question that will ever be asked or answered. To get the answer to this question correct is not just to pass some earthly test but it’s the key to our very salvation.
THE FOUNDATIONAL CONFESSION OF THE CHURCH IS THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST
And yet, there’s much more in these 8 short verses than just Peter’s confession. The confession is critical, but in this text, we also hear the important message of how we come to know this information and how we’re to live as people who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Today, we’ll explore those three aspects of this text.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked His disciples, ‘who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’” Jesus is meeting with his disciples in a very specific place. Caesarea Philippi is perhaps one of the furthest places from Jerusalem that we have Jesus recorded as being. It’s a town 25 miles north of the northern tip of the sea of Galilee and is a place known for its worship of the god Pan. It’s also where Herod the Great built a temple to Caesar Augustus around 20 BC. A perfect place for the confession of Peter to the identity of Jesus. Far from the worship center of the Israelites and in the midst of the worship of anything and everything besides the Living God, Jesus brings together His disciples for a course in His true identity. It’s what He’s been slowly revealing to them over the course of the previous two years.
Jesus walks the disciples into this understanding by first asking them who others are saying that He is. The disciples respond with the common thoughts of the day and then Jesus hits them with the straightforward question which He needs them to be able to answer rightly and convincingly. “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am.’”
In my master’s degree studies at Concordia, St. Paul I didn’t have to write a thesis or a dissertation, but instead had to complete a capstone project. The project, like a thesis, was a culmination of all the work I had done in the program and consisted of papers and research I had done, but in the end my work ultimately had to be summed up in a neat and tidy, succinct way. In some ways I think of this account as the capstone of the rigorous program of study that Jesus had been putting the disciples through for the previous few years. His aim was that before He could complete His mission that the disciples could fully believe and accurately convey to others who He is. They needed to be able to take what was being sown in their hearts and confess it with their lips. They would be the ones who would carry on Jesus’ mission once His time on earth was complete. Peter was able to sum it all up in 10 simple words. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And I can imagine the smile on the face of the pleased Teacher as He realizes that Peter has gotten it. “And 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.’”
Which leads us to our second point which is how the disciples came to understand the reality of who Jesus is. And how we come to understand it as well. It’s certainly not the result of our well-reasoned thinking. It’s not the culmination of years of Sunday School and Confirmation class and Adult Bible Study. Although all those things are good and worthy, and we should be doing them. It’s the Father who has revealed the Son to us and the Holy Spirit whose work in our hearts leads our own lips to be able to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Another Gospel account that aids our understanding of this reality is Luke’s account of the Pharisee and the tax collector. That account gives us the bold comparison of one who thought his own words and actions held some weight in the eyes of God and another who humbly knows that he has no means of forgiveness, except the mercy of Almighty God. In the same way, we need to recognize that our salvation is not the result of anything that we have or can do, but rather grace, through faith worked in our hearts that causes us to be able to do nothing other than confess who the true God is.
Paul tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” The prayer I prayed at the beginning of this message, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in Your sight, O God. Our Rock and our Redeemer, sums up the way in which God desires for His people to live as forgiven and redeemed children. The words of our mouths, the confession we proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is nothing other than the vocalization of the meditation of our hearts that reflects the faith that’s been planted there.
Each time we confess this out loud. Each time we tell our neighbor this truth. Each time we accurately summarize the foundation of our faith with a confession of who Jesus is, we’re doing exactly what Jesus tells Peter that he and the disciples will be doing. What He tells us the church will do. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Some attempt to claim that the rock on which Jesus will build his church is Peter himself. But I tell you that the rock is the confession which Peter makes. It’s the confession we make that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It’s on this confession that the church was built and on which it stands. And ultimately the rock is Christ Himself, who is the sure and strong foundation of the church, and each of our lives.
The Father has revealed to us who the Son is. The Holy Spirit has, and is, working faith in our hearts. From the time we were brought, or came on our own, to the waters of baptism this dynamic has been working in our lives. Our faith is strengthened as the Father reveals Jesus to us and as the Holy Spirit continues to strengthen the faith He has planted in our hearts. We were washed and made clean and in our baptism, we’re strengthened to live out the confession we make with both our words and our lives. But, just like Peter, we too will stumble. Our confession will not always be so convincing. Think about this man who made this great confession and then only a short time later denies that he even knows who Jesus is. Our lives can often feel like they’re following that same path. A steady and strong confession flowing from the faith in our hearts one minute and then the next seemingly so far from it all. Which is why we, like Peter, are blessed with the knowledge of the work of our Savior. Jesus lived and died and rose again so that our human frailty and failings would be covered by the forgiveness He won for us. So that when the faith sown in our hearts lines up with the confession that flows from our mouths we can confess to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord. And we can look forward to that day when there will no longer be any frailty. When there will be no stumbling or failure on our part. And when we are face to face with our risen Lord and can do nothing other than confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That day when we fully experience the glory of our risen Lord is the reward of the faith that’s planted in our hearts and which we confess with our lips. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.