For several years I preached at Polzeath Methodist Church in Cornwall, before it changed to Tubestation (http://tubestation.org/).
This is a sermon I preached on 21st August 2005 and deals with a question that faces us all at sometime in our lives. And how we answer the question not only affects the rest of our life on earth but affects our eternal futures as well.
The Bible reading is Matthew 16 v 13 – 20 and is below:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 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. 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.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
In this short passage Jesus asks two very significant questions:
- Who do people say the Son of man is? and
- Who do you say I am?
The second question is one that each one of us must answer for ourselves. “Who do you say Jesus is?”
The question of identity is very important. We need to know who someone really is, rather than who they say they are, particularly in view of the recent terrorist events in London, where any young Asian male with a rucksack on his back is viewed with the greatest of suspicion.
Sometimes finding out for ourselves who Jesus is can take a lifetime of searching.
A couple of Christmases ago my boys were bought a game which involved discovering which character the other player was pretending to be by a process of elimination. Are you male or female? Do you wear glasses? Have you got a beard? Etc. On occasions the guesswork brings quick results and other times the game goes on for ages.
In our Bible passage Jesus asks these questions at a place called Caesarea Philippi which was north of the Sea of Galilee. This town had been founded by Herod’s son Phillip and named jointly in honour of the emperor Tiberius Caesar as well as Phillip himself. It had originally been called Paneas in honour of the Greek god Pan whose shrine was there. It was therefore a very pagan place. Perhaps you could say that it is like most of our country has become with the spread of different religions and belief systems. Jesus’s first question is about the ordinary folk like you and me. It’s not about the religious rules and regulation people, the Pharisees. After all they have made their minds up about Jesus. He didn’t fit in with their view of the Messiah so he must in their eyes be a fraud, an impersonator, a fake. No, Jesus wanted to know what the man and woman on the street thought.
And who did they think Jesus was? “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Today many people still have either no idea or a totally wrong idea about Jesus and that includes folk who have been going to church for years. Most of the major religions have to account for Jesus – he can’t be ignored.
1 Peter 2:6 puts it this way: “For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.”
CS Lewis that great scholar and Christian writer wrote in his book ‘Mere Christianity’ “Either this man (Jesus) was, and is, the son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”
So how do other religions get round the Jesus problem?
Islam says that Jesus was one of the six great prophets, but Muhammad was the last and the greatest. Also many Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t die on the cross – he escaped and Judas was crucified in his place! So if Jesus didn’t become the one perfect sacrifice for our sins, we haven’t been and can’t be forgiven, and so we are like all mankind without hope.
Hare Krishna states that Jesus was the son of their god Krishna.
Buddhists regard Jesus as a great teacher.
Hindu’s recognise Jesus as a manifestation of a god. As there are over 300 million gods in Hinduism that doesn’t say much!
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the divinity of Jesus, his eternal existence and his physical resurrection. They state that the archangel Michael was Jesus in his pre human state. So when they come knocking at your door, keep them talking as it delays them in their mission of deceiving your neighbours, but don’t agree with them as they will lead you astray as well.
The Baha’i faith teaches that Jesus was one of nine great religious teachers who were all manifestations of god. These teachers included Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius and Muhammad.
The New Age movement says that Jesus was a religious teacher to be compared with Buddha and Mohammad.
Many people outside of the church even if they don’t hold to the religions I have just mentioned don’t have a clear idea about Jesus. They know of the miracle baby in the manager and they may know about him dying on Good Friday, but to who he actually is, they haven’t a clue!
That’s what many of the people say about Jesus, but what about you? Who do you say Jesus is?
Have you come to that place where like Simon Peter you can say to Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? If so it is only because God has been at work in you through the power of his Holy Spirit. It’s his Holy Spirit working on us and in us that convinces not only that we need a saviour but that the saviour is Jesus.
We can read the Bible and all sorts of helpful books and listen to inspired preachers and not take any of it on board. It is only when the Holy Spirit makes the Word come alive to us or he speaks to us through others or even directly that light goes on and we take our first tentative steps of faith towards Jesus and the cross. I am told, incidentally that many Muslims are seeing Jesus in their dreams and recognising who he is and have subsequently come to faith in him despite the danger of doing so in Islamic countries.
I am sure that you like me have come across folk who have been to church for years, served on church committees and done “good works” yet never met with Jesus or acknowledged who he is and just how much they need him as their saviour.
Yet when you realise who Jesus is and respond to him, then God can start working in your life. This faith is the foundation on which the Lord can begin to build in your life. I will not get into contention over the following verse which many people take as justification for the Roman Catholic church being pre eminent because it was founded by Peter who is described as the first Bishop of Rome: “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.”
Lets look at this at a personal level and apply it to ourselves. Until such time that you come to faith and acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Saviour then he cannot build anything lasting on and with you. Without faith in Jesus it’s a bit like building out there on Polzeath beach – even if the walls are high enough and strong enough to keep the tide out, the sea will undermine and weaken your foundations of sand and the whole thing will be washed away. If you don’t have that bedrock of faith , a firm foundation, nothing you do will be of lasting value for the Kingdom of God. Yet build your life on this rock, this faith in Jesus and all the forces of hell will not overcome it.
We can see that is true in the work of Simon Peter. Simon was apparently a Greek name which means “Obedient one” or “He has heard”. Yet he becomes Peter the “rock” and despite denying Jesus at his trial, Peter was indeed a rock, a firm foundation of the church. This is picked up by Paul when he wrote to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 2: 20) describing the church as “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
It’s an interesting thought that with new found faith comes a new name. Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul once he had met with the risen Jesus. Many people over the years have taken a “Christian name” when they have come to faith and been baptised to show that the old has gone and the new has come.
Then Jesus tells Peter “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.”
Of course Peter used those keys to open the door to the Kingdom of Heaven, firstly when he preached that amazing sermon at Pentecost when 3000 Jewish people came to faith in Jesus and then later when at the House of Cornelius he brought the gospel to the gentiles ie non Jews. You can find Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and if you’ve never read it or it’s a long time since you’ve read it why not have a look at it today. There is a key verse I would ask you to remember as it ties in with the theme of today’s talk. In Acts 2:21 we
read: “ And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If you recognise who Jesus is and call out to him, you will be saved from your sins. Going to church won’t do it. Neither will doing good works such as running church bazaars or helping the poor, no matter how worthwhile they are. It is only acknowledging your own need of Jesus as your personal saviour that will save you.
So as we finish, two questions for you to think over:
- Jesus asks each of us “Who do you say I am?”
- To which I would add: And what have you done about it?
If you would like to have someone pray with you about this or any other matter please come forward at the end of the service and we would be pleased to do so.
Let’s finish with a prayer:
Lord Jesus you are the way, the truth and the life. We ask that through the power of your Holy Spirit you would reveal yourself to those who do not know you and help them to come to faith in you and so receive new life in you as their sins are forgiven. And for those of us who know you and love you, we ask that we may be filled with your Spirit and be your faithful witnesses wherever you send us. This we ask in your precious name. Amen.