Summary: A sermon for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, focused on Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah.
One of the most popular game shows in recent years, if not all-time, is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? When the show first came out, it was hosted by well-known television personality Regis Philbin. Now, in syndication, its host is The Today Show’s Meredith Vieira. Regardless of host, both versions of the program have always drawn a sizable amount of viewers. Both versions have had the same basic format of a contestant answering several multiple-choice questions en route to the big question worth a million bucks. Both versions also employ the use of lifelines, which are helps that the contestant may use in order to stay in the game even when a question has them stumped. But the thing that both versions have in common that sticks out the most—the saying that kind of became the catch phrase for the show—is when the host would ask the player, upon the player’s response, “Is that your final answer?”
The idea behind asking whether or not that contestant wanted to make their answer their final answer was that it gave them the chance to change their mind; it gave them the chance to re-think what they had said—and perhaps to reply differently.
In today’s Gospel text, we have painted for us a scene of Jesus speaking with his disciples. In recent weeks, we have recalled the stories of Jesus walking on the water and healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. The disciples had been witnesses to many glorious and amazing things this man had done up to this point. But now—after having presented a substantial amount of proof—Jesus decides it is time to get to the heart of the matter by asking his followers to weigh in on the topic of who, exactly, he is. Jesus wants to make sure they have been paying attention.
So he asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16.13, ESV). There are some interesting things about this inquiry. First, it is noteworthy that Christ wants to know who other people—those outside his group of friends—say that he is. He wants to know what the general consensus is. “What’s the buzz?” Jesus seems to say. I have always felt that Jesus phrased his query in this manner as a means of showing his concern for the other—for those who were on “the outside.” Surely Jesus believed that his closest followers would know and understand who he was; he hoped for this, anyway. But he appears to have some concern for the ones on the opposite side of the fence—those who were not yet part of his flock. Jesus wanting to know what people were saying about him leads me to believe that we, as his followers, need to concern ourselves with what people are saying about him. We cannot fulfill the commission to make disciples for him otherwise.
Another thing that grabs my attention is the posing of the question itself—not the way in which it is asked (which is what we just discussed), but the fact it was asked, period. After all, being the Son of God—and God incarnate—would you not think that he would know the answer to such a question? The Scriptures tell us in other places that Jesus knew what people were thinking within themselves. So then, should he not have known what folks were saying about him? It is my belief that he absolutely knew what the masses thought of him; however, he wanted the disciples to ponder what the masses thought of him. Jesus wanted his followers to contemplate what it was others were saying about him, in order for them to gain a clearer perspective of the truth he had revealed to them. In other words, he questioned the disciples in this manner so that they might see how the world’s perception of Jesus stacked up against what Jesus himself had shown them regarding his identity. By taking time to reflect on this comparison, one view would be judged false while the other would be deemed correct. In light of the evidences he had presented, Jesus was confident the truth would be apparent.
As I have said many times on Sunday evenings, since we have been studying other world religions, the goal of the study is to understand faiths that are different from ours. But more than that, it is to help us—in light of what we learn about them—gain a greater appreciation for our own beliefs. I feel that a Christian’s faith should only be strengthened when he or she observes what others claim to be true. Because when their truth is placed side-by-side with the truth, the one that is fallacious will crumble—while the one that is genuine will remain, and shine.
For, to be sure, misconceptions and misunderstandings about Jesus abound in our day and age—just as they did when our Savior walked this earth. When the disciples answered Jesus, they said, “Some say [you are] John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16.14, ESV). Now for most people, to have these things said about them would be a tremendous compliment. If any of you were compared with—or confused with—one of these giants of the faith, how would it make you feel? Probably ten feet tall and bulletproof. And it is true, all of these persons were great—in their own ways. But they did not have the same purpose that Jesus did, nor were they capable of carrying out the plan the Father had placed on his life. While certain men and women throughout this world’s history have accomplished marvelous things, Jesus stands head and shoulders above the rest. For he (and he alone) was set aside as the One—the only One—through whom humankind could be redeemed.