Summary: To quote a familiar television show, "Is that your final answer?"
“Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) “I know who you are -- the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24) Those two statements about Jesus came from rather unlikely sources. Do you remember who made the first statement? That was the centurion’s confession of Jesus on Good Friday. He was the man in charge of Jesus’ execution and after he saw the dramatic events surrounding the death of Jesus he was moved to declare that Jesus was the Son of God. Do you recognize who made the other statement about Jesus? It was an evil spirit—a demon. He was in a state of panic in the presence of God’s Son and correctly identified him as the Holy One.
At least in the case of one of those two confessions we can say that although it was correct it didn’t benefit the speaker in any way. The demon who correctly confessed Jesus as the Holy One of God was immediately silenced and driven out of the person he had occupied. In the case of the centurion we aren’t told if his confession of Jesus later led him to learn more about the one he had crucified.
The point I want to make with those two examples is that a correct confession of who Jesus is only benefits a person when it comes from faith in Jesus. After you have crucified Jesus it seems a little late to realize he is the Son of God. And after an angel has been driven out of heaven and delivered to Satan’s domain forever it does it no good to tell the truth about Jesus.
In a similar way a person can say that Jesus is a great teacher, a famous person, and even the Son of God but unless there is a confession of faith in Jesus it is of no benefit to the person. Knowing and believing who Jesus is and what he has done is the key to a person’s salvation from sin. Our acceptance or rejection by God hinge on what we believe about his Son. On top of that the power of Jesus’ church comes from belief in the truth about him. With those sobering thoughts in mind we turn our attention to the gospel lesson for this Sunday from Matthew 16. May the Holy Spirit lead us to a correct response produced by faith to the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” With that goal in mind I ask you what Jesus asked them:
WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?
I. The correct answer is a rock for your faith
II. The correct answer is a rock for the church
When we look at this gospel lesson in the context of Jesus’ life we quickly see this as a turning point in his ministry. Through patient instruction Jesus had led the disciples to a correct understanding of who he was. After this conversation recorded by Matthew Jesus began to tell the disciples about his role in the Father’s plan of salvation. He would be betrayed into the hands of his enemies, suffer, and be executed. In time their knowledge of who Jesus is and their faith in him would grow. But it would be on the simple answer that Peter gave on this day that their faith would rest. And on that simple confession the church of Christ would be built.
Before the correct confession of who Jesus is was given by Peter Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Remember that Jesus frequently used that descriptive phrase “the Son of Man” when he was referring to himself. It was a title from the Old Testament. It was a phrase applied by the prophets to the promised Savior. The disciples responded to Jesus questions with the answers that they had heard on the street. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” They were all nice answers but they were all wrong. John the Baptist was a powerful preacher who had done his work of preparing the way for Jesus. But he had been executed by King Herod to fulfill that foolish promise that the king had made. Jesus was not John the Baptist. And although Jesus did many miracles he was not the prophet Elijah. And Jesus did boldly speak God’s Word in the face of opposition but Jesus was not Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. All those answers to the question “Who is Jesus?” were incorrect. They sounded flattering. They no doubt came from some people’s good intentions but they were just plain wrong.
If we were to go around today and ask people who Jesus is we would get even more answers than the disciples had heard. Muslims will say that he was a prophet. Buddhists will gladly call Jesus a “guru” and one of the incarnations of Buddha. Mormons say that Jesus is “a son of God” along with many others. Philosophers may acknowledge Jesus as one of the great minds of the ages. Historians point to him as one of the most influential people that has ever lived. Jesus has been called a first rate teacher, a political activist, and a worker of miracles. Although these answers to the question of who Jesus is sound wonderful they all fall short of the full truth—the most important truth.