by Dr John Williams
Text: Matthew 16:13-28
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Let’s not rush over this…Jesus had arrived in an area at a safe place …a place of quiet retreat perhaps. It was an opportunity for him to ask his disciples two questions:
What views where held about him by people in general?
And who did the disciples themselves that he really was?
To the first question they saw that people in general identified or linked Jesus with a figure from the past…instead of acknowledging him as unique…important for us to see the social context for the drama about to be played out.
John the Baptist raised from the dead…there were likeness between John and Jesus…both called for repentance and seeking Kingdom of God…maybe folk hoped that Jesus as John resurrected could continue John’s work!
A second Elijah…parallels here…both men of prayer…both healed the sick…both challenged false religions.
Another Jeremiah…maybe that was getting close in many ways…patience endurance, suffering, both were prophets, Jeremiah for told of the new covenant where God’s laws would be in their hearts and people would have relationship directly with God with God…no “go-betweens”. It was consistent to see Jeremiah linked to Jesus…who for most Christians gave evidence and the manifestation of the new covenant.
But now the real drama begins….
Jesus then turned and said to them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
So here we have the confession of Peter…the confession that has been a cornerstone of Christianity.
And Jesus says…”And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
So that ends the first stage of this drama…
Peter makes a powerful confession with insight and clarity that has been the clarion call for Christian faith. Jesus…both the Messiah, or the Christ…and the son of the living God.
Jesus said the insight and confession was not of Peter but of God.
Now for stage two:
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Peter has gone from a profession of the Christ …the son of the living God to now …hey Jesus you can do that…we love you… you’re the Christ…they will kill you…you can’t do that…!
Peter like all of us are often eager to put and keep the Christ in a box…constrain and hold the son of the living God to actions and behaviors for which we are comfortable…expect and understand….
But right from the beginning…Jesus says… Stop you can’t fence me in! You can’t put me in a box…I am the son of the living God…my work is the passion of God to bring the Kingdom of God into being!
So…He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
So what does this two stage drama mean for us here at Kippax
It all about our confession of belief and insight into who we say Jesus is …how we get that right(what’s that?) and get it wrong(what’s that?)….like Peter ….and then how we live out what we ‘confess’.
Are we here at Kippax prepared to be open to all the possibilities that God might seek to work in our lives? How have we fenced God in to just one small fraction of what God can do and use us to foster the Kingdom of God.
One minute Peter had a wonderful set of words of who he believed Jesus was and how he was the son of the living God…but then in a short time in his living that out he is jumping in asserting and constraining the mission and action of the Jesus of his very confession.
Are not we exactly like Peter. I think we are. I know I am.
Our belief and our finding ways to live out that belief are often fractured.
But surely we are the people whom God loves to transform, renew, empower, and work through in amazing ways…His grace is truly amazing…lets not constrain it to where we are comfortable!
To me it’s about what we know of God working in our lives and how that calls us to the edges…to the places and needs of people we often least expect or want to be. In fact we could be blind to the need and probably repelled with the prospect…tha’s if we let go work in an unbounded way in our lives.
For me if we can accept ( and there will be many who cannot) with Peter that Jesus is not only the Christ…the Messiah but also the son of the living God…that in truth the word had become flesh and dwelt amongst us (pitched a tent amidst ours!)…
Then we must be very open to seeing how this risen son of God can work in our lives in an unfettered way.
We cannot fence-in God’s working in our lives to just that which just gives us comfort…helps us get through the hard stuff.
Surely we will need to be expectant that our belief in Jesus will transform and give new life to every aspect of our lives.
The vision of life is deeply centered in God. That was where Jesus was.
God is yearning for relationship with us…an image that helped me see what this might be like came last week as my 8 ,month old granddaughter turned from her mother’s breast to greet me with arms stretched and a beautiful smile and excited blue eyes…a magic moment.
As a grandfather I felt a sense of what I imagine God seeks in our outstretched arms, face and eyes seeking and rejoicing in love and trust.
The life we seek is about personal transformation into the likeness of Christ and then it’s about our participation in God’s passion for the kingdom of God.1
Ponder on this.
The place I would ask each of you to move to today is this.
Spend some time thinking upon the question:
“Who do you say I am?”
And follow that with the question:
What are we doing about living out the consequence of your answer to the first question?
As you do this you might like to think about the Christian ways:
“It is a way of being Christian in which beliefs are secondary, not primary. Christianity is a “way” to be followed or traveled with God more than it is about a set of beliefs to be believed. Beliefs are not irrelevant, they do matter. But they are not the object of faith but God is…and for most Christians…. God is Jesus.”1
As you think about these things…let’s see if we have fenced Jesus into a safe and comfortable part of our lives or are we willing to be open to God working in strange and unexpected ways in our lives.
Ways that transform us and our world, empower us, energize us, make us new, and drive our passion to see the kingdom of God come at hand.
As we do this we will be preparing ourselves for the next few weeks at Kippax where we will be asking:
What are you passionate about?
Why? And what are you doing about it?
So we have the questions…who do you say I am?
Our response to that and how faithfully we work out how to live it out can determine largely what we do with out lives.
What we know and experience of God matters more that our expressed set of words that make up our confession.
And what we do with our lives because of what we know of God and the experience of God in our lives is ultimately what matters.
Let us begin to think upon these things.
24 August 2008
* 1 Marcus J Borg (2006) JESUS: uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary, HarperCollins, p308.