This weeks meditation is from Matthew 16:13-20.
I remember my first year of marriage with Shi, that year when you begin to really realize what it’s like living with a different person. I left the toilet seat up and she put it down. I left the cap off of the tube of toothpaste, which drove her nuts, because she was fanatical about putting it on. I used dishtowels to dry everything off and she is very particular about how said dishtowels are to be used. She liked to leave all of the lights on in every room of the apartment. I liked to turn them all off and use the soft glow of table lamps.
It was those simple quirks of habit that we hadn’t known about before, that drove us nuts sometimes but also made us curious about each other, this other person we were married to, what made them tick? This curiosity led to deeper conversations, stories about family and the past, then every so often a story and a behavior would click, like a key in a lock. Many times it was my own realization about my own behaviors, why I did what I did. But sometimes I would catch a rare glimpse into that beautiful enigma that is my wife, the key turned and Yes! suddenly a whole new part of my wife’s world was opened to me.
In our Gospel reading today, we catch a glimpse of one of those rare kind of conversations, where the key fits into the lock and opens up a new world of understanding. Jesus initiates this conversation with his ancient disciples but the question posed transcends the centuries and is asked of us as well.
Who do people say that Jesus is?
The disciples answered easily enough, speaking for the masses and what they had heard. Many thought he was a great miracle worker come to heal their diseases and feed their bellies. Not very long before this conversation Jesus had fed the five thousand men, plus women and children with some crusty bread and fish. Before then he showed compassionate mercy upon the sick and the demon-possessed. But when Jesus began to teach that same crowd that he had miraculously fed about the kingdom, most of the people didn’t want anything to do with it. They wanted Jesus to be an on-call, On Demand, miracle worker, healing what they wanted healed, feeding them bread from God’s all you can-eat-buffet, but nothing more beyond that.
Some times, maybe more than than we are aware of, we treat God much the same way; expecting God to work within our timetables and expectations. Some even pushing it to the point where they actually expect riches and wealth from God just because they want it and they treat Jesus like a giant gumball machine in the sky, insert coin and get out what you want.
Who do people say that Jesus is?
Very much in line with that, many people held that Jesus was one of the prophets reborn from their history, like Jeremiah or Elijah. These prophets had been abused and mistreated by the people of Israel in the past because of the message they had of warning and to turn back to Yahweh and repent. They didn’t listen then and they weren’t listening to Jesus now. Today, Islam considers Jesus a prophet among many other prophets throughout history, From Adam, to Moses, Elijah, to Jesus, ending with Muhammad, just one more person in a long line of people.
Who do people say Jesus is?
Still others believed and still believe today he was merely a good teacher, like a Buddha or Gandhi, a person you could take moral lessons from on how to be a good person. This belief simply takes what it likes from Jesus, like the beautiful words of loving your neighbor as yourself, but it leaves behind the context which makes such a statement make sense, love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul and mind and in doing that you are empowered to learn to love your neighbor as God has loved you.
Throw a microphone out and you could get dozens of more answers and opinions to this question, who do people say Jesus is? Maybe you have heard some yourself, maybe you hold onto some of those opinions as well. Most of them have their place, emphasizing an aspect of who Jesus was and what He did to accomplish His work. He was a miracle worker and a prophet and a teacher. But each of these opinions are too small by themselves, to neatly tied into a tight little bundle, like why Shi is so particular about her dish towels, there is actually more to the story.
Then Jesus switches the question and it becomes personal. It’s easier to talk about Jesus in the abstract and what other people may or may not think, but this question reaches down to your very heart and soul, your core of belief, “who do you say Jesus is?”
Peter answered, for himself and for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the messiah, the Son of the Living God.” With this answer Jesus replies, “blessed are you Simon because this did not come from human opinion but from the Father in Heaven, now you will be called Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” The name Peter, or in the greek petros, meant Rock. Jesus had given Peter a new name with this confession of faith. And upon this Rock, which means both the confession of faith that Jesus is the son of the living God and the foundation of the Apostles teaching, Jesus would build his church of which we are heirs to, now 2,000 years later.
But what was so powerful about what Peter had said? What was so strong that it would be the Mighty Fortress, the Rock of our Faith and the foundation of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? There were and are many opinions about who Jesus was and is, many touching on aspects of Jesus’ identity, but those words did not come from human opinion, desires, or wants, but from God telling the world who Jesus is. Those words revealed from God was the key that fit into the lock, that began to explain all of the other aspects of who Jesus was. From this confession Jesus goes on to tell his disciples what it meant for Him to be the Messiah, that to be the Messiah meant suffering many things, dying at the hands of godless men and on the third day being raised from dead. That confession led to the cross and the empty tomb and a world that would never be the same.
But it all has to start with the answer to that question, who do you say Jesus is? Surprisingly then, the answer to that question is first and foremost, “it doesn’t matter who I think Jesus is!” What matter is who God says Jesus is and taking God at His Word and Promises, that Jesus is the savior, the messiah, the son of the living God. Then in faith, we take God at His Word and trust in His promises, we make God’s Word our Words and God’s truth our truth, we confess that I believe that God’s promises are true and Jesus is the savior of the world.
That confession of faith is the key that opens up the kingdom of heaven and as some theologians have said, “all of God’s yes’s are in found in Jesus.” Now Jesus is not only the savior of the World but He is your savior and Lord.
Because now, when that confession of faith is your confession of faith, all of God’s promises are “yes” to you in Jesus.
Does God know me and love me. Yes, because he sent his son Jesus to our world to live and die for you.
Does God forgive me all of my sins? Yes, because Jesus died upon the cross and his blood covers all of your sins.
Does God have a future and a hope for me when I die? Yes, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and has made a place for you with Him.
Will God one day make all things right and fulfill His promises? Yes, Jesus lives on high and will return to bring in the new heavens and the new earth, world without end, Amen.
In that confession of faith, built upon the Rock that is Jesus our Lord, you have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and its high time that we start opening some doors and letting the truth roam free. Not hiding it behind thick walls and locked doors, keeping it all to ourselves, but opening the kingdom of heaven to the world around us because Jesus is the Messiah, the savior, the son of the living God and all of God’s yes’s are found in Him.