March 10, 2024. Who Do You Say I Am?

First Mennonite Church
March 10, 2024
Who Do You Say I Am?
Sermon Text: Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus had an itinerant ministry. On some occasions, he moved because of
the resistance he faced in some places. And that was exactly the reason why
Jesus had come to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This city was known for
various reasons. In earlier times, the city was known as Paneas because
there was a shrine dedicated to the worship of the god Pan. During Jesus’
ministry, the city’s name had changed to Caesarea Philippi because Herod’s
son, Philip, had done some expansion and renamed it in honor of Caesar
and himself. During the Jewish revolt, the Roman General Vespasian made
the city his recreation spot. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 71 AD,
Titus, the Roman general who carried out the destruction, marched the

captives Jews of war to this city and threw them to wild animals. That is
according to the Jewish historian Josephus. 1
It is this historic region where Jesus inquires with the disciples what they
know is the populace’s opinion about his identity. That he was a prophet was
the common denominator. However, their view is not that Jesus was a
prophet in the manner of those of long ago, but of one of them resurrected.
That reveals the lost hope there was about God speaking to his people as
Israel knew it. At that time, it was hundreds of years since Israel had seen
its last prophet. However, they were not too far away in their guess. Jesus
had called himself a prophet before. In chapter 13, the day he was rejected by
his townspeople in Nazareth, he said about himself, “A prophet is not
without honor except in his town and in his own home” (v. 57).
Although, not quite accurate, the populace’s opinion about Jesus’ identity
as a prophet of old being resurrected also revealed their belief that God can
raise someone from the dead. It is something Jesus proved before their eyes
on that first Easter Sunday.
Once having heard the outsiders’ opinion about himself, Jesus then
addresses the question to his own. “But you – who do you say I am?” We are
not sure how long it took Peter to respond on behalf of the other 11 apostles.
It could be that they fall silent. Had they given thought to that question
before? Most likely so. Could they put into words who they believe he was?
Finally, Simon Peter finds words from deep within himself: “You are the
Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

1 Josephus. The Jewish War 3.9.7

At that, Jesus focuses his attention on Peter and says, “Blessed are you,
Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but
by my Father in heaven. 18  And 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. 19  I will
give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will
be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in
My dear brothers and sisters, before we dig into the significance of this
passage for us as followers of Christ, let me explain to you the reason we are
beginning our Easter series with this passage. Easter Sunday is the day
Christians celebrate the glorious victory of Jesus over death—giving us the
hope of our very own resurrection. But the joy, the hope, the power of
Jesus’ resurrection that Easter Sunday should remind the world is only
possible when a person has answered and resolved for himself or herself
the issue as to who Jesus is. This life-altering question: Who do you say I
am? Dictates whether the resurrection of Jesus has any meaning to an
individual. The answer to that question determines whether we are insiders
of Jesus’ group or not.
For the outsider, Jesus might simply be an exclamation or interjection
when surprised or startled, “Jesus!” Still, for others, Jesus was a good man
of olden times, a myth at worst, or a good teacher or prophet at best.
Peter’s answer, “You are the Messiah/Christ, the Son of the living God” has
to be the personal conviction each of us must hold. But such a conviction is
not something we come up with based on human wisdom. The conviction
that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the Living God has to be through
Divine revelation.
In the case of Peter, he was a fisherman by trade until shortly before he
made such a confession. He was more used to mending nets and catching and
selling fish. However, upon receiving that Divine revelation, he found
himself at a turning point in history. A moment in which God proposes to
create a community in which Jesus is the builder and defender.
Peter’s accurate and profound truth in what he uttered came from the
Father. Jesus says Peter could only answer accurately and convincingly
because God “revealed” apocalypto—the Father made a Divine disclosure of

Jesus’ identity to Peter. This Divine disclosure of the identity of Jesus is
what each of us must have to believe in Jesus, as God’s Messiah, the Lord
and Savior of the world. I want to believe that each of us has had that
revelation from God. I want to believe, that God has given each of us, sitting
here today, the divine disclosure of who Jesus is. Thus, we can say with
conviction and without fear: Jesus is my Lord and Savior. And if you are
not sure, let us plead with the Father to give you that revelation.
Still speaking with Peter, Jesus declares him as the chief proclaimer of that
truth. Jesus gives Peter an unrepeatable position of keeper of the keys to
the kingdom of heaven. The countless jokes and stories depicting St. Peter
as the gatekeeper of the Pearly Gates have their origin in this verse.
However, Peter is not given the authority to decide who enters heaven or
not. Keys refer to the teaching authority Jesus places under the care of
Peter during his life as leader of the church within the Jewish and Gentile
churches as we see in the book of Acts. Consequently, with being given the
keys to the kingdom, Peter is also given the authority to loose and to bind.
This is a rabbinic expression of the authority to keep watch over what is
allowed or restricted in the process of interpreting the Torah. In Matthew,
chapter 18, it is something the church is given authority, too, by Jesus.
“You are Peter—Cepha—Aramaic or Petros–Greek, and on this
rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not
overcome it,” Jesus says. On the confession that Jesus is the Messiah and
the Son of the Living God, Jesus will build his church. If Peter’s declaration
is the foundation, Jesus is the builder of the community of the new
covenant in his blood. Jesus calls this community “the church.” The word
ekklesia (eckleesia) means “called out.” The people of Israel during the

exodus journey were often called, “the assembly of Yahweh” qahal
Yahweh,–the congregation of Yahweh. This refers to the assembly God
summoned through Moses every time God wanted to communicate
something to them. Therefore, when Jesus calls the community of the new
covenant the ekklesia, he sets it in contrast to the Jewish synagogue. This
community of the new covenant is built by Jesus Christ. It is the people to
whom God has revealed the true identity of his Son. This is the community
that confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior. But, Jesus not only builds this
community, but he also defends it. He is its builder and protector that not even
the forces of death can or will ever overcome. “The gates of Hades
will not overcome it,” Jesus promises. Let us take heart in this solemn
promise of the Lord! Yet, at the same time let us realize two fundamental
truths embedded in it. First, is that the church of the Lord will always be
assailed by the forces of the gates of hades. The church of the Lord will live
under constant attack from the power of evil forces, some are clearly
evident as evil, while others are disguised as good things for the church.
Today, some present themselves as “defenders of Christianity.”

Let us remember: the church needs no one to defend her. It is
built to last by the one who said, “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
We do not need anyone to defend us as God’s people. The words of the
apostle Paul are clear to us: If God is for us, who can be against us? Who
shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or
persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved
us. 38  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor
demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39  neither

height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate
us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31, 35,
Anyone who believes he or she needs a defender has set aside his or her trust in

the Lord who made this promise. And that leads us to the second truth.
The church will never die because it is founded on the rock. The church will
endure the test of time up until the coming of the Lord. On that day, evil
will be vanquished forever and the church will enter into its eternal and
complete freedom in Christ’s glorious kingdom.
So, the question set before us is: Who do you say Jesus is? I pray we all have
been given the Divine revelation that he is the Messiah, the Son of the
Living God. And if you are not sure, let us pray to the Father to give you
that revelation.
Let us pray!