“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptizer, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus replied, “Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed! No human revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you. You are Peter, and I can guarantee that on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.” Then he strictly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

“But Who Do You Say I Am?”

That is THE BIG QUESTION – isn’t it?
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

The disciples, who would have done some shopping at the local shopping mall, and maybe stopped in at Floyd’s barbershop, would have picked up on the local gossip – what people were saying about Jesus behind His back.
This was the information Jesus was looking for; who did the shop keepers, the mothers with small children, the subsistence farmers and fishermen.What was the buzz among these people? What did National Inquirer have to say about Him?
The religious leaders knew who He was, He was a trouble maker. He was someone cutting in on their power – their interpretation of God’s word. There was no mystery as to what they were saying about Jesus. They wanted Him gone – the quicker the better.
However, it was important for Jesus to know if the general populace was catching on to the message He was giving. Were the people preparing for the messiah? So He asked His disciples.
The disciples replied,”Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Humm … interesting that they thought some long-dead prophet had returned to life.
So, most people still had not realized just who it was that walked among them. Who it was that fed them – spiritually and physically. They realized that He was a man of God. But they had not yet realized He was the God of Man.
Now Jesus put His disciples on the spot by asking, “And how about you, guys? Who am I to you?”
These were His hand picked disciples to whom He was speaking. They had not only seen the public miracles they had also seen “behind the curtain” – so to speak. They had heard the public teachings and also had Him give them private instruction.
Now he asked that big question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter spoke first. Now I have to admit that I am a bit like Peter – never one to hold back with an opinion or observation – here he jumped in with both feet and his mouth open.
“Dude, You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus came back with a verbal hug when he said, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.
For all his brashness and for all his impulsiveness, Peter was in tune with God. The answer came so quickly to his lips, that Jesus knew where the answer came from.
I heard a street preacher from Baton Rouge say that a woman approached him one day a say that she KNEW he was telling the truth – ‘cause nobody could lie that quick! There is a truth in what that woman was saying. It is easier and quicker to speak the truth than to think up the lie.
Hang on to your seats because, here comes a change or direction. Jesus had been asking “Who do people say that I am?”Now he tells Peter, “I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock.”
I like the fact that Jesus was praising Peter here. Along with a pat on the head, he gets a new name. He looked into Peter’s life and saw not the fisherman, not the quick tempered, not the denier, but He saw the man of God that Peter would become.
I have been told that Jesus was doing a play on words here. That Peter’s original name meant pebble and that by calling him Peter, he was literally calling him Rock.
Now I don’t read Aramaic so I can’t personally verify that story – but I like it. I know from reading the stories He told, that Jesus had an amazing sense of humor and anyone who can come up with a quick pun is my hero.
Anyway, So Jesus is now saying that Peter has grown from a pebble to a rock. And He has a job for this rock to do.
Here He says, “This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”
Did you catch that part when we read the scripture?
We, His church, can attack the gates of Hell. When I was younger, I thought that Christianity was purely a “defensive” religion. That is, we are protected by God by our belief. And we are. However, we are also to be an army that “attacks” evil, even the gates of Hell.
Jesus now says, “And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
Wow! No more barriers! Remember that Jesus was talking to a conquered people who lived under the rule of Rome. Think what these simple words meant to them. He told this powerless person, “You have the power!”
We, who have been captives of sin, we have the power! We aren’t just freed from sin, we are given the power to attack evil. Let’s be on the offensive!
Next Jesus did something that I don’t truly understand, He swore the disciples to secrecy. He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah.
For a long time I thought that was to protect Himself. Remember, He already had people in authority, trying to capture or kill him.
Now, I wonder if He meant to protect His disciples. He was not done preparing them for the adversity they would face. So, perhaps, like a father sheltering his children, He was asking them to keep this secret for just a little while longer. Until the time came when they could say boldly that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the true son of God.
Now, in this time and in this place, the question for us is, who do we say He is? And what are we going to do about it?

©Thomas E. Williams 2011


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