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THE Question

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Sermon Title: THE Question

Passage: Matthew 16:13-20

Date: January 20th 2008

Intro and Background:

This is the climax to the teachings of Jesus with His disciples. In fact, you might say that this is like a final exam of all that Jesus has been trying to get across to them.

This final exam has but one question. I’m not sure I like tests with only one question. If you miss it, you fail. If you know it, you pass. It’s all or nothing. If there is only one test question, you better know it.

For some two and a half years Jesus had been moving to this moment-teaching and reteaching, affirming and reaffirming, demonstrating and redemonstrating, building and rebuilding the truth of who He was in order to establish it completely and securely in the minds and hearts of the Twelve.

As Jesus spent more and more time alone with the Twelve, Jesus went more often into Gentile territory and stayed longer. He withdrew to the fringes of Palestine in order to be free of the of the multitudes of people only looking for one more sign or miracle, and the growing hostility of the Jewish religious leaders.

Passage:

13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Caesarea Philippi was at the very northernmost area that Jesus and His disciples traveled. It is also a very beautiful place, as you can see from the picture. Today the city has not been worked very much by archaeologists, but we know where it is and where the basic structures were. But across from it at the base of mountains there is this enormous mountain side of rock, like a solid wall stretching straight up to the heavens. It also was a place where idol worship was very dominant. Actually, there were places for idols carved right in the rock in the landscape. It was here that Simon, Paula, and Randy judged who would be the next Idol. Actually it was here that Jesus chose to test the disciples to see if they understood who He truly was. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t know what people were thinking, but He was using this as a teaching time for His disciples.

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ most common title for Himself and is used of Him some eighty times in the New Testament. It was recognized by Jews as a title of the Messiah.

Daniel 7:13-14 was commonly known to refer to the coming Messiah:

13“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

It also emphasized the humanity of Jesus. Jesus liked it because his mission was to come and live as a man to bring salvation to mankind. But Jesus was much more than a mere man.

14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

We can learn something of the person of Jesus just by who people thought He was. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, never drank any wine, was a fiery preacher who confronted sin head on. John the Baptist didn’t play the political correctness game at all. In fact, it was John the Baptist who was beheaded for confronting Herod about his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife. Jesus said of John the Baptist that no one born was greater than John the Baptist. Jesus must have been like him in many ways, but yet Jesus was much more.

Others said that Jesus was Elijah come back to life. Elijah was one of the great Old Testament prophets that stood against the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Elijah took on all the priests of the false god Baal and proved that Yahweh was the one true God. God did many miraculous things during Elijah’s ministry. In modern Jewish Passover celebrations an empty chair is reserved at the table for Elijah, in the hope of his one day coming to announce the Messiah’s arrival. Elijah, like John the Baptist, was a great man, but also was thought to be a forerunner to the Messiah, not the Messiah Himself.

It is interesting that Jeremiah is also mentioned as a possibility. Why did they think that Jesus was Jeremiah? Again, Jeremiah was considered one of the greatest prophets. Some Jews thought that before the Messiah returned to establish His kingdom, Jeremiah would return to earth and restore the Ark and the altar to their proper places in the Temple. Interestingly, another forerunner to the Messiah, not the Messiah.

One of the things that Jeremiah did was that he brought God’s message to Israel even when the leadership was against him. Known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah also had a heart for his people, Israel. All three of these men were great men, but fell short as to identifying who Jesus really was. Jesus continued:

15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Jesus here emphasizes the word “you.” “Who do YOU say I am?” This is the ultimate question that each person must come to ask themselves. Those that thought that Jesus was simply a great prophet, teacher, even a political Messiah come to free Israel from Gentile control, were so close, and yet so very far from the truth. There are entire churches that teach the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, and yet do not believe that Jesus was more than a man. It’s amazing to watch around Christmas time as the Television specials try to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Yet they never really answer the question. The disciple Peter, the outspoken spokesman for the disciples, knew the right answer:

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter, in the midst of the statues of dead, false gods lining the rocks as they walked by, Peter declared the ultimate truth – Jesus was the Christ, but not just a political Messiah, but the Son of the Living God. Jesus was God! Peter, and I believe he represented the disciples here, finally was beginning to understand what Jesus had been teaching all along. It seems so simple to us today, yet even today so many miss the true meaning of Jesus being both fully man and fully God. Jesus was the only one who could bridge the gap caused by sin, and bring mankind back into relationship with a holy God.

17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

Peter might have initially have been proud of himself, giving himself a pat on the back for passing the test. Jesus, however, puts it in perspective for us. Actually this was God’s doing, not Peter’s. Without God’s help, we can’t understand spiritual truth.

1 Corinthians 2:14 says:

14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

It is mind boggling, but God gets all the glory for Peter knowing the truth. It is God that makes it possible to know the truth about Jesus, and it is through Jesus that we are able to know God. Think about that for awhile. The main thing to remember is that God always gets the glory, not us. This really helps to understand the next verse:

18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Here Jesus used a play on words. Remember that they are at Caesarea Philippi, probably viewing the amazing rock formations and caves near there. Now that the disciples have learned this key truth, Jesus was going to then teach them more. The name Peter is Greek is Petros, meaning small stone. The word for rock here is Petra, meaning a huge rock mountain. In the midst of the rocks of Caesarea Philippi, and in view of Mount Hermon nearby, Jesus was making a reference to the massive truth that Peter and the disciples have finally understood.

On the truth that Jesus is God, Jesus will build His church. This is the foundational truth of the church and the reason we are here to worship at Grace Bible Church this morning. The truth that Jesus is God. God Himself came, lived and died, and rose again so that we might know Him and receive eternal life by trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord.

There has been over the years a misunderstanding of this text, and the idea that Peter was somehow the foundation of the church. Peter was a leader, but there is no evidence that Peter was the first pope, or that the entire church leadership was given to him or passed down from him. These views give Peter the glory, which Jesus clearly did not do this. The truth that Jesus is God is the foundational truth that Jesus then builds His church upon. He and He alone is the Head of the church. Jerry would be the first to tell you that he isn’t in charge here, Jesus is.

What about the reference to the gates of Hades? This is a reference to death. Hades is the temporary Hell where all unbelievers go and are tormented as they await the resurrection when they will be permanently cast, both body and soul, into the lake of fire. Jesus being God was able to conquer death for all who trust in Him.

Another misunderstood passage is the one that follows: 

19aI will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;

What is Jesus saying here? Let’s look at this passage carefully. It is interesting that keys were often given to trustworthy stewards by their masters. Peter, as a representative of the disciples, was given the position of a steward. All believers in Jesus are to be stewards. What are we to be stewards of? I believe we are to be stewards of the great truths of God, including the truth of Christ’s deity.

2 Timothy 1:13-14 states:

13What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul, as a steward of God’s Word, in 2 Timothy was reminding Timothy of that awesome responsibility. He mentioned again later on in the same letter.

2 Timothy 2:2 says:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

When we become believers, we are entrusted with the truth of the gospel. Yet for us, to protect it we don’t lock it away in a book of secrets, but we proclaim it to the world. It is when the word of God is not taught that it is lost. This next verse is even more difficult to understand:

19bwhatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Many have used this verse to pray to bind demons and even to bind Satan. Is this really what this passage is teaching? One of the ways to understand the Bible is to look at the context, which is the passages before and after. The context here is really not spiritual warfare. One thing to remember is that we are not to pray to Satan or demons. I have heard some pray, I bind you, Satan, or I bind you, demon. All prayer is to be directed to God and Him alone.

Jude 9 says:

9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

But this passage isn’t really dealing with this topic. It is dealing with Peter’s confession that Jesus is God. Let’s look at it.

The term “bind” means to forbid, and the term “loose” means to permit.

Christians can authoritatively declare what is acceptable to God or forbidden by Him because they have His Word. Christians do not determine what is right or wrong, forgiven or unforgiven. Rather, on the basis of God’s own Word, they recognize and proclaim what God has already determined to be right or wrong, forgiven or unforgiven. When they judge on the basis of God’s Word, they can be certain their judgment corresponds with the judgment of heaven. The key is to be biblically accurate. When believers are in agreement with God’s Word, God is in agreement with them.

Often today it is encouraged to tolerate other religions. Christianity works for me, but I can’t judge others and what works for them. Biblically, this is not a proper attitude. While God is the only one who knows the heart, we can judge right and wrong based on the truth of the Bible. There really is only one way, not whatever works, and we as Christians are to teach these great truths to our generation and to the next through our words and our lives. Jesus did. The Word of God has stood up to man’s scrutiny and has been shown to be absolute truth. We can call a sin a sin.

Today, many say that all truth is relative and there are no absolutes. That is an absolute statement. We are to live according to God’s word, even when it doesn’t fit our culture. Speak the truth in love.  

We conclude with verse 20:

20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Christ often kept his disciples, and even demons, from telling others. The time for evangelism had not yet come. After His death and resurrection, Christ gave us the great commission to go into all the world and preach the truths of God. Plus, Peter wasn’t quite ready, for in the very next section, Jesus when talking to Peter says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Before we are too hard on Peter, we must realize that we are a lot like him. With our mouths we confess Christ as God but often our actions say otherwise. I know this is true for me.

So what do we take home with us from this passage of Scripture?

First,

the same one question exam that the disciples took is one that God has for us. How do we truly answer THE question? Who do we say Jesus is? Do we recognize Him as God and Savior in our lives, not just in our words? If we say Jesus is God, yet do not live by His Word, we are simply fooling ourselves. If we really believe He is God, we will live like it.

Second,

We must realize that it is God who first enables us to understand His truths. God gets all the glory. The more we study the Bible, the bigger and bigger God gets, and the more we see that it is all about Him, and not about us.

Third,

We are all stewards of God’s great truths. We have been given the most precious treasure to guard and preserve, to pass on to the next generation. How are we doing that? How are we teaching our children about God? How often do we sit down with our families and discuss the things of God? Talk to your wife about God. Talk to your kids about God. The best evangelism is done right at home.

Last,

Live according to the absolute truth of God’s Word. Don’t compromise to please everyone, please God! Walk in the authority of God and His word. Stand up for the truth. Learn it, live it, and pass it on to others.

God’s truth is just as relevant to us today as when it was written long ago, because God never changes. He is here today, desiring to change your life. Maybe you are going through difficult times right now. Jesus is the answer to your questions. Jesus is the living God, He created us and knows our deepest thoughts and struggles. Not only that, but since He is God, He can do something about them, but He doesn’t force us. He wants us to choose Him. Allow Jesus Christ to make a difference in your life. He alone is qualified, for He is truly is God.

Let’s pray

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your word, it is so deep and profound, and yet you wrote it to everyone for us to know you through it. I pray for those who have yet to trust in Christ that you might open their eyes today, to see your marvelous truth. I pray for those who are disciples already, that we might live in such a way that you are glorified and praised in what we say and do. Help us to be stewards of the wonderful gift of your Word. Help our children have a new love for learning about You, Lord.

In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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