Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
I love the story from a church I worshiped with in NC: a lady, Maxine, taught the preschool Sunday school class there for something like 60 years. One boy, Richard, who is now a full grown man, was always so tired when his mom dropped him off for class. This one particular Sunday, Maxine was started to tell a Gospel story that, of course, included Jesus. Richard, who was apparently hoping for a morning nap, lifted his head off the table and said “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, all we ever talk about is Jesus!”
It makes me laugh - one, because I know Richard well and know what an intelligent man he is now. Two, because I’m sure there are a lot of adults who can relate! Right? What do we talk about on Sunday mornings?! We talk about Jesus! A lot! Especially the last few weeks as we’ve journeyed through the book of Matthew, which is a Gospel book full of stories about….Jesus.
And it’s for good reason. Our faith, as Christians, is grounded in the teachings of Jesus.
How would you answer these questions:
Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus to you?
Who is Jesus to the world?
Who is the Messiah?
Who is the Messiah to you?
Who is the Messiah to the world?
Do these questions have the same answers?
Our text today reminds us of the importance of identifying who is the Messiah - who is the Christ who brings hope to this world?
As Jesus asks the disciples who do people say the Son of Man is, Simon Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. As the conversation continues between Jesus and the disciple, we hear that the acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah is the foundation, the rock, upon which the church will be built. That key, knowing Jesus is the Messiah and that he carried with him the message of hope and salvation, is what will unlock God’s kingdom on earth.
This isn’t an afterlife kingdom Jesus was talking about; it is a now-life kingdom. It reminds me of a Scripture passage later in Matthew where Jesus says that whatever you did not do for the least in society (the poor, the abandoned, the marginalized) you did not do for me. Bringing God’s kingdom to this earth means bringing it in our actions now - today - as if we were ministering to Jesus himself.
How we identify Jesus impacts our faith: it is the rock upon which our faith community is built.
Remember all that the disciples have seen and heard from Jesus before this conversation. They have seen the 5,000 fed. They have experienced him calming winds on the water. They have heard his use of offensive items in getting his point across.
Simon Peter is basing his response on this witness - on the things he has experienced. He isn’t basing his response on hearsay, on what someone else has told him is the right answer. I believe we can learn from Simon Peter in this story.
We must decide for ourselves our response to the question “Who is the Son of the Living God?”
Mitzi J. Smith, professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, (workingpreacher.org) says “How we identify Jesus should be based on personal encounters with God, even though informed by our (re)readings of the sacred text and in dialogue with others. How we identify Jesus should be grounded in a lifelong conversation with God whereby we adjust what we think we know as necessary (16:17). Our denomination, our church, our pastors, our mothers or fathers, our siblings, our Sunday or Sabbath school teachers and others will have their opinions, but in the end we have to decide for ourselves in conversation with God how we will identify Jesus.”
I find it encouraging to see many young adults coming to worship and engaging in conversations at LCCC, because so many have mentioned re-evaluating and re-assessing their beliefs so that their faith is their own, not simply what parents or Sunday school teachers taught them. Please don’t hear me wrong: I am not discrediting teaching children about the Christian faith. What I am saying is that we all need to eventually form our own response in identifying who Jesus is.
I would argue that even after we are considered “young adults” - no judgment on what that age is - that we do well to re-evaluate and re-assess our beliefs and who Jesus is to us.
Jesus is the Messiah from the living God...living means growing and morphing...not staying stagnant. Neither should our faith be stagnant.
Identifying who Jesus is, as the Messiah and Son of the Living God, is something that we can come back to for grounding and focusing and recentering
So, why not tell? Right?!?! Why did Jesus instruct his disciples to not tell others this wonderful news of him being the Messiah? We often sing the song, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” at Christmas time and Jesus is saying “Keep your mouth shut on the mountain.”
Biblical scholars argue many possibilities. Perhaps Jesus knew that it wasn’t yet his time to be fully realized as the Messiah - perhaps he knew that once word got out that he would be more aggressively targeted. This theme, where Jesus instructs the disciples to not tell others about his divinity, is seen in other Gospels as well and is known as the “messianic secret.”
Smith has a suggestion on how to interpret this secret. She says that perhaps the disciples’ “lives will speak louder, more truthfully, and more effectively than their words. ...On this rock, thou shall not build a prison nation. On this rock, thou shall not build a nation where millions of children are homeless and hungry. On this rock, thou shall not build churches that oppress the poor and women and turn a blind eye toward sexual violence within its gates and in the streets. On this rock, let us build assemblies that demonstrate belief in a living, speaking, incarnating God, a God of freedom and not of oppression, a God of justice, love, and peace.”
Perhaps Jesus was encouraging his disciples to truly act in ways to bring heaven to earth.
As we identify for ourselves who Jesus is - this guy we talk about every Sunday - who the Messiah of the living God is, I hope that our actions match and even outshine our words. I hope that our actions communicate to the world what is in our hearts - our faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.