Summary: One weakness of Lectionary preaching is actually not a weakness of the lectionary, but of the preaching: When we forget that the passage for today is not an isolated piece of text...

Who is He, and What is He to You?

Rev. Delwyn Campbell / General / Joining Christ on His Mission / Matthew 16:13–20

My Favorite Illustrations A Child’s Only Knowledge of Jesus

A Child’s Only Knowledge of Jesus

In Vacation Bible School, A teacher asked a little boy who had little church exposure, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” The boy replied, “Is his middle initial ‘H’?” The boy had never heard the name of Jesus except in a profane way.

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Matthew 16:13–15 ESV

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

One weakness of Lectionary preaching is actually not a weakness of the lectionary, but of the preaching: When we forget that the passage for today is not an isolated piece of text, but is the continuation of the ongoing Word from the Lord, we can forget context and connections that would otherwise present themselves.

For example, today’s Gospel text, and the question that is presented, does not occur out of the blue. Jesus didn’t just suddenly throw out a question as a “pop quiz.” To see the full significance of these two questions, you would want to go back to Matt 14:1, where Herod, having ordered the death of John the Baptist, hears about Jesus, and tells his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” Jesus hears about this from John’s disciples, and goes out into the wilderness, but the crowds follow him out there. He responds to their need for physical help and heals their sick. He then responds to the disciples’ concerns and feeds the crowd, after which he sends them on a boat to the other side, while he deals with the crowd. Afterwards, Jesus goes, alone, to pray, while the disciples are still in the boat, rowing against a storm. About 3:00 am, Jesus goes to them, walking on the water, where, in response to Peter’s demand, He invites Peter to join Him on the water. When the two of them get back to the boat, after Peter’s attempt to “be like Jesus” fails miserably, the rest of the disciples exclaim that Jesus is “the Son of God.”

The next morning, after they land at Gennesaret, Jesus heals more people, addresses the accusation of the Scribes and Pharisees and the fearful response of His disciples. He then, in the area around Sidon and Tyre, deals with the Canaanite woman’s request concerning her daughter, in which she confesses Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. After leaving the area, He heads back to the area of the Sea of Galilee, where the needs of another crowd lead to more healings and a second miraculous feeding, this time of 4000 people.

Next comes another interrogation by the Pharisees and the Sadducees, requesting a sign from heaven, which he rejects, leaving to cross over to the other side. When they get there, the disciples discover that they had forgotten to bring along provisions. Jesus uses this for another teachable moment.

Now, in today’s Gospel text, Jesus asks them two significant questions: the first, what do people in general say about the identity of the Son of Man, and second, but more importantly, what do they themselves say?

› Who is he, and what is he to you?

Now, regarding what other people say, the first thing that I would note is that those whom the people mention have two things in common. Can anyone tell me one of those things?

› (wait 15 seconds)

If you said, “They are all prophets,” that is good. If you said, “They are all dead!” You’ve been paying attention because that is what King Herod said. Everybody was clear on the notion that Jesus was no ordinary Rabbi. No, he was, somehow, unique. Whatever else they thought, they recognized that, for, after all, everyone knows that dead people stay dead unless Someone intervenes, Someone with a lot of power. Now, a search of the Gospels reveals a total of three events regarding the raising of the dead before Christ’s death. The first one, Jairus’ daughter, is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels but not in John. In that one, there is a certain ambiguity about whether she was truly dead, since Jesus says that “she is only sleeping.” The second, the Widow in Nain, is only mentioned in Luke, but it is mentioned before the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The third, the raising of Lazarus, is only mentioned in John.

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