The audio was recorded at our Praise and Worship service on August 24, 2014.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Who is Jesus? On one hand this question seems simple. We answer it in our creeds, sometimes our prayers, and in our Sunday School and Bible Study moments. On the other hand this question is difficult. We have been arguing over the answer for around two thousand years and still have varying understandings. But this is where I’d like to start. It’s this question that has the crowds talking. News travels fast. Big news travels faster. And news like the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness and Jesus calming another storm is going to travel at small town, gossip speed. Everyone wants to know - who is Jesus?
Jesus himself is wondering what the crowds are saying. So he turns to the disciples - Who do people say the Son of man is? The disciples list off the popular choices and questions that they have heard for the identity of Jesus. Jesus appears to fit the mold of one of the prophets of old. Could Jesus be cut from the same cloth as Elijah? Or Jeremiah? Others are thinking along more current lines. Could Jesus really be John the Baptist - not beheaded, but a Houdini-like escape artist who slipped the violent clutches of Herod only to keep teaching and turning the world around? The disciples give their answer. So Jesus asks a deeper question.
"Who do you say that I am?" After following in his footsteps they must have an idea - an opinion. They have been witnesses to the rhythm of his teaching and healing. They have seen the great acts of power. They must have opinions of their own. So Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”
The answer comes from Peter. Of course it had to be Peter. The first one to speak, the first one to act, but not always the first one to think. Peter, the outspoken leader of this group of rag-tag students states, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the moment freezes. While seemingly tame to us who confess Jesus as the Christ on a weekly basis, this is a radical statement. To Peter and his time, this moment of confession rocks the landscape of his world.
Peter’s answer is risky. It has religious and political implications. To declare someone to be the Son of God is blasphemy in the Jewish understanding. For Jesus to be called the Son of God is no trivial matter. This is one of the questions that will be put to Jesus when he is on trial, and his answer will cause the high priest to tear his cloths in anguish. The high priest will give the guilt verdict and issue the death penalty. He will not tolerate such blasphemy. Yet this is Peter’s statement. Jesus is the Son of the living God. It’s a dangerous thing to say.
Peter’s answer also comes with political ramifications. Matthew tells us that they are passing through Caesarea Philippi, a city that Herod the Great’s son dedicated to Caesar. The name carries great political weight. In the Roman world, the son of god is Caesar himself. You can travel around modern Turkey and Greece and Rome today and see this claim carved in gleaming marble. To name anyone else as the son of god would be an act of treason. Standing in the city that bears Caesar’s name, the confession of Peter rings as a stark contrast to the so called “son of god.”
Yes, Peter’s answer is risky. It’s blasphemous and treasonous. It stands against everything that Peter has been taught and everything the world attempts to impress upon him. Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the anointed one, the son of the living God. It’s a confession that echoes throughout history. It is one that shapes our own lives here and now. For Jesus is indeed God’s anointed one. Through Jesus God has changed the world.
But these words don’t just come from Peter. Even with all his training as a disciples, all of his classroom time with Jesus, Peter could not have made this confession on his own. Jesus says this quite plainly, “Blessed are you, Simon son Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” It is God who has spoken through Peter. It was God who opened up Peter’s life and experience to witness the kingdom of heaven, God’s love and will for the world, right in front of him in the person of Jesus. God has revealed to Peter who Jesus really is. God is at the foundation of the world’s experience of Jesus as son of the living God and the heart of God’s kingdom.
But Peter is not perfect. Which is good news to us. Peter is a great example of what Luther would label “simultaneously saint and sinner.” Peter will be the one who will desert Jesus in the dark hours of his trial and death. Peter will be the one who runs away. But God is not done with Peter. God can still work through him. God will continue to help Peter confess Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God. Peter would become one of the key leaders of the early church. And his final witness to Jesus will be from a cross. Peter’s continued confession of Jesus as the son of the living God will be a constant threat to those in power. It is an example for us to follow today.
Peter’s confession is risky. And it’s what the world needs. The world needs us to recognize that God is still speaking through us, ordinary people. Ordinary people who have been drawn into an extraordinary calling. God is still working through the simultaneously saint and sinner. We have been empowered to continue to confess Jesus Christ as son of the living God, the savior of the world. And we can do this because of what God has already done for us.
God has already confessed who we are. It is God who has already acted on our behalf through Jesus Christ. Paul put it best in Romans 5:8 - “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God worked through Jesus, confessing us to be forgiven from the cross. God gave us new life, confessing us to be set free through Christ. God has already spoken for us. God has already set us free. God has made us to be a power-filled people for the sake of the Gospel.
God has already confessed who we are. It is God who has already acted on our behalf through Jesus Christ.
Paul put it best in Romans 5:8 - “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God worked through Jesus, confessing us to be forgiven from the cross.
Our confessing Jesus to be the Son of the living God is more than a recited Creed. More than a bumper sticker or a cross necklace. Our very lives can point to Christ.
Our lives can be a confession of faith. Our lives can point to the earthy shattering reality of new life in Jesus Christ. And it is already happening in this place. How we invest our time, money, resources, gifts - our investment in the well-being of others is a confession of the power of God in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.
By following Jesus in the rhythm of God’s love we learn how to confess. God works through us, just like God worked through Peter. As modern day disciples we learn the patterns of confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. The act of confession takes practice. We have the opportunity to train ourselves for the work of spreading the Good News of God’s love.
We learn these patterns through study. We have a number of great opportunities for that in the upcoming weeks - training sessions for modern day disciples. Today is Rally Day. We are kicking off our new Sunday School year with classes for all ages. Opportunities to gather in God’s word to study, pray, and be in relationship with one another. On Wednesday we are kicking off Sacred Arts, Jumpstart, and Confirmation. We have a bunch of high-schoolers who are chomping at the bit to learn more about Jesus so that they can model the confession of Peter to the world. We have a plethora of training opportunities to get ourselves fit as disciples.
Today we install our new Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries Kiesha Priem, who knows what it means to confess Jesus with her life. She is a personal trainer of sorts. She will help us to pattern our lives after the life of Jesus. She will help to train us in confessing Jesus with out lives. Her energy, love, and abilities will be an asset to this faith community and we are delighted to learn with her what it means to continue to follow Jesus.
We are a people created to be witnesses to God. God has already confessed who we are - we are loved and set free in to new life through Jesus. Our call is to confess the Good News of Jesus with our lives. And we are a power-filled people.
May God bless you this week and always, as you confess along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.