Summary: In our culture where the influence of the church is diminishing, why should we BE the church? The answer is found in the identity of Jesus and the promises he makes about the Kingdom he is establishing (the church).
Why the Church
I want to share some staggering statistics about church. Since the year 2000, more than 4000 churches in America have closed the doors to their buildings each year. That's more than 40,000 churches.
At the turn of the 1900’s there were 27 churches to every 10,000 people. At the start of this millennium, there were only 11 churches to every 10,000 people.
And the numbers don’t stop there. Every year, 2.7 million church members drop into inactivity. Now those statistics are evident in our own congregation, but this is a culture wide problem. And it leaves us with a question.
When we look at the world around us; when we read statistics that thousands upon thousands of churches are closing each year, do we ever wonder why Jesus chose the church?
If our culture is any indicator, the church seems like a flawed concept. So you and I may be asking, “Why the church?”
That is a question we are going to explore today as we look at our text.
Text: Matthew 16:13-20
• As we turn there, I want to frame the answer we seek in a question that Jesus asked, “Who do you think I am?”
Turn with me to Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus has been traveling around preaching and the text tells us that he comes to the region of Caesarea Philippi, and he asks his disciples a question. Look at verse 13.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do 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.”
Jesus had left an impression on the culture around him. People thought they knew who he was. Some said, “he reminds me of John the Baptist.” You realize don’t you that Jesus and John the Baptist were related. So I image Jesus shared a common appearance with John the Baptist. Not only that but John the Baptist and Jesus preached a similar message. They both preached a great deal about how the Kingdom of God was near.
So some say, “He kind of reminds me of John the Baptist.”
Others were saying, “He reminds me of Elijah.” It is an intriguing comparison.
Just before Easter this year, the Jews for Jesus came to talk about the Jewish celebration of the Passover. Sarah Asher came and told us about some of the traditions the Jews have during Passover. One of them is to put an extra place setting at the table and to leave an empty seat. No one is allowed to have that spot. And when a child asks about the seat they are told, “That’s a place for Elijah.”
It is the hope every Passover that Elijah will come to dine with his people. Why? Because traditional Jews believe to this day that the coming of Elijah will be a prelude to the coming of the Messiah.. It is a belief that goes back to before Christ.
Now I want us to catch the irony of this belief that Jesus is Elijah. Some Jews in Jesus’ day see Jesus as the PRELUDE to the Messiah, rather than the Messiah himself.
Still others see Jesus more like Jeremiah. Jeremiah, has a nickname. He is often called the weeping prophet. Read the book of Jeremiah sometime. He weeps bitterly because of Israel’s sin and because of her captivity. Some people in Jesus day see Jesus as a weeping prophet.
There are two instances I can recall where Jesus weeps -- At the tomb of Lazarus whom Jesus would then raise from the dead. And as he entered Jerusalem the week before he was crucified.. However, I have to believe that Jesus wept fairly often over Israel and over her sin if he is compared to Jeremiah.
Others see Jesus as an unnamed prophet. However his name was known and he had made an impression on the culture of Israel.
Back in our text, Jesus takes the question he asks in general and he makes it personal.
He says, “That’s who others think I am. What about you?”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Jesus is specifically asking his disciples in this text, but that is still a relevant question to us today. In our world, every major religion has to wrestle with that question.
Some have chosen their answer
The atheist says Jesus is a myth. God is simply a way for the religious to manipulate the naïve. Or he is for the weak minded who need a crutch.
The Muslim says “Jesus is a prophet along the same lines as Mohammed.
I have an aunt who says that Jesus was a good moral teacher but nothing more. She claims that he N.T. has been embellished and corrupted.