Summary: There are two vital things that Jesus wants to know - are you ready for the test? And are you willing to take just one step to become closer to God?
A fourth-grade teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in logic.
"Here is the situation," she said. "A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing. He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife hears the commotion, knows he can’t swim, and runs down to the bank. Why do you think she ran to the bank?"
A girl raised her hand and asked, "To draw out all his savings?"
Now today in our journey through Matthew – the disciples are faced with a similar situation – like being in class when the teacher asks a very important question. We want to seem intelligent so we blurt out an answer – not always the right one – but an answer none the less. Well this morning Peter blurts out an answer that is both correct and amazing – only to follow it up with a huge blunder.
The latter half of Chapter 16 of Matthew is a crucial section of Scripture. In it we see the gospel in miniature. If you boil it all down to the basic fundamentals the gospel has two aspects about Jesus Christ: "who am I?" and "do you trust me with your life?" To enter God’s kingdom you have to answer both questions for yourself – who is Jesus, and do you trust Him with your life? Here in verses 16 through 28 we find these two singularly important questions asked – and Jesus answering in a way the disciples did not expect.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
Jesus is walking along the road to Caesarea Philippi, on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful area – and I’m sure that Jesus would often have talks with his men as they walked from place to place.
This time He asks a direct question – "who do the people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
These three ideas were probably being bantered about by common-folk as to who this guy was. We already know that Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. Elijah was probably suggested because both he and Jeremiah didn’t "die" – in that the Scripture doesn’t record Jeremiah’s death and Elijah was picked up and carried to heaven in a chariot made of fire.
In fact, God told the people that Elijah would come in the last words written in the Old Testament:
5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
The view reflected popular belief that Jesus was a great prophet. Indeed, God had promised Israel that He would send them a prophet:
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
But Jesus doesn’t want to know just what other people were saying about Him – He wanted to know what His closest friends and disciples thought.
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Now, of course we think – well, you’re Jesus Christ – what more do I have to say? But remember, these men were having a hard time understanding who Jesus REALLY was. Jesus hadn’t just come out and said "well, I’m the second person of the Trinity, you see, and I’ve come to lead a perfect life and die for the world’s sins."
He said as much, but in little bits – He demonstrated it in His actions and fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies – but I think He wanted to see what all of this living with Him had done to their understanding.
Now we know that the disciples weren’t exactly the shiniest shekel in the pouch – much like us – so their answer would be interesting. All the more amazing then, that Peter, who often took the lead – even if it meant sinking afterwards – and makes this statement:
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Peter makes a startling revelation – perhaps the disciples had talked about whether Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah – which we’ll get to in a moment – but here Peter blurts it out.