Summary: 3rd in a 4 part series. When we proclaim faith in Jesus Christ we begin to build a life in faith and a ministry to others. That faith is the rock the church is built on.
When I first started in the summer seminary program back in the summer of 1992, I had a professor named Dr. Rodney Roberts, who was a United Methodist preacher from New Mexico. I had him for two different classes.
Both of these classes were interesting, but the most enlightening was a class in Biblical Interpretation. Fairly early in the class Dr. Roberts talked about something he referred to as an “Ah-ha” experience. The ah-ha experience happens when you have been looking and struggling with something like a Biblical text and you just aren’t getting it. You struggle with it and look at it and it is anything but plain and simple. You don’t understand. Then, suddenly, a light goes on in your brain and you say “ah-ha!” It all falls into place and you suddenly understand that which was totally not in your understanding just moments before.
I have had those experiences many times. I feel certain that many of you have had them as well. This morning we continue our series “Who Do You Say He Is,” a look each Sunday this month at Matthew’s version of Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” For the disciples in general but for Peter in particular this lesson is an “ah-ha experience, but the only problem was it wasn’t a Biblical text back then, it was an ah-ha in real life experience. I guess that proves that ah-ha experiences can happen anywhere and any time. It may be Scripture for us, but for the disciples, it was real life. They were living it.
Our lesson finds Jesus and the disciples on the road. That in and of itself is nothing unusual. Much of the time when we read the stories form the Gospels Jesus and the disciples are on the way to or from somewhere. The lesson this morning says, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi…” That tells us that this group was on the road and now they had reached this particular location.
As I picture this story in my mind’s eye, they are still walking down the road. As they walk Jesus changes the subject of the conversation. He asks a question, “Who do people say that I am?” They give him a few answers but I don’t really think that this was the question that Jesus really wanted to ask. The disciples respond with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
All of their answers are good. After all, Jesus did ask them to tell him what they had heard and that is what they did. If someone were to ask me what color the banner is and you hear me say green. Then later, someone asks you, “What color did Keith say the banner is?” and you answered green that would not be a lie. Your answer to their question would be correct because you answered the question that they had asked you. If, however, you were asked, “what color do you think is the banner?” and you said green, your answer would be as wrong as mine. The disciple’s answers were not wrong, however, because they answered the question that Jesus had asked them.
Next, Jesus turns it around on them and asks the question that I believe was his intent all along. “Who do you say that I am?” What color is the banner to you? See, it is a very different question. That doesn’t mean that to the disciples the answer would be any different, but it is possible to get a different answer.
As I imagine this story unfolding I can hear one of those awkward moments of silence. The disciples know that they are supposed to know the answer yet the answer just isn’t there. The longer the silence goes, the more difficult it is for them to stay quiet, but what do they say? Finally Peter answers the question. “You are the Christ” he says, “The Son of the Living God.”
I have often wondered whether Peter really knew this or if he was just trying to break the awkward silence. It would be very typical of Peter to jump in on an impulse, making a statement, just because it was what he thought the right thing to say at the time, and he actually stumbled across the right answer.
But, the more I have thought about it, the more that I have come to understand that this wasn’t just one of Peter’s impulsive moments. It was Peter’s ah-ha experience. I came to that conclusion because of Jesus’ answer, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” That was the part we talked about last week, but Jesus continues, “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Jesus’ words, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven” were my ah-ha experience to this particular passage. If God revealed it to Peter, then it wasn’t just something to blurt out in order to break a time of awkward silence.