Matthew 16:13-20

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. It is the day when Christendom commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on His way to the cross. As Jesus was processing into Jerusalem riding on the back of a colt, the mood was festive and celebratory. The people were waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna, which means save us. The Jewish people were pinning all of their hopes for salvation and deliverance from the hands of Jewish legalism and Roman occupation on Jesus. The people saw Jesus as their liberator who would overthrow the Roman government and establish Israel and fulfill her nationalistic dreams.

I wonder though, did the raucous crowd really understand who Jesus was? I would suspect they probably did not. It is clear the perception and understanding the Jewish people held of Jesus was not in sync with the reality of who Jesus was and what His mission and purpose on earth was all about. How do I know? I know because the same people who were celebrating and exalting Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same people a week later calling for Jesus to be crucified and Barabas to be freed. I would imagine these people were devastated to see their liberator captured and rendered seemingly impotent. I suspect the prevailing thought at the time was, if he cannot save Himself, how could he possibly save us. It is no doubt devastating when we discover that someone is not who we thought they were. It is a bitter pill to swallow when you have invested your hope, trust and faith in someone only to find out later you have been duped. I suppose this is how the Jewish people felt when they saw Jesus in the hands of the Romans. The reality is that there are times when we will misjudge the character and intent of others. There will also be times when we will misread and misunderstand the actions of others. However, one of the ways to prevent misjudging, misreading and misunderstanding is by taking the time to find out whom a person really is. Go to the source and do not rely on second-hand information. Do not allow the prejudices and biases of others to color and skew your view of a subject. Make every attempt to avoid getting caught up in the mob/pack mentality.

Prior to entering Jerusalem, Jesus engaged His disciples in a discussion regarding their understanding of who He was. Jesus begins the dialogue by asking His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of man is?” Jesus inquires of the disciples, what is the word on the street? What are people saying? If you want to know how others view you and what they think about your work and efforts, ask those close to you. It is a good idea from time to time to check the pulse and to see where people are and what they think and how they feel. Knowledge of general perception is very useful information. It can help us make the necessary adjustments to correct misperceptions. Jesus’ question was insightful on a couple of levels. First, it allowed Jesus to gain knowledge of public perception. It also provided a segue into finding out what His own disciples thought about Him. One of the things we learn about questioning and asking questions here is that it is more effective to start with a general question and then move to more specific questions. Rather, than asking did you do it, start with do you know anything about it. When we are trying to gain information from people, the last thing we want is to put them on the defensive, to make them feel threatened or to cause them to become unresponsive. Jesus engages the disciples in conversational questioning. Once you get folks talking then it is easier to get them to be open and honest about their personal feelings.

In response to the question the disciples reply, “some say,” “others say” and “still others say.” The disciples tell Jesus that some say you are John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets. The general perception of Jesus according to the disciples is that Jesus is a prophet. A prophet is someone who has been called and appointed by God to speak on behalf of God. The disciples response helps us to see a flaw in perception – the difficulty to accept people on their own merit and/or as they are. It is interesting that when we come across special people, rarely do we recognize them as being special while they are in our midst. Usually we do not realize a person is special until they are gone or have moved on from us. Instead, we compare and the comparisons abound. Have you ever noticed how we compare this person to that person or when we find people with similar traits and characteristics we lump them all together. While I do not necessarily believe people are trying to be cruel or malicious, I do think it speaks to how limited our understanding of God is and our understanding of the way God works. God is in the business of creating special people for special situations and circumstances. Eve was especially created for Adam. Moses was especially created to lead Israel out of Egypt. David was especially created to lead Israel during the time he was king. John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah were special individuals called and appointed to fulfill special roles at specific times in the history of Israel. Jesus was special. He was not one of anything. It is unfortunate that sometimes we blow our opportunity to have special because all we can see is one of – we see people as being similar to someone else instead of uniquely special.

Jesus then gets down to cases, He asks His disciples directly, “What about you?” “Who do you say I am?” In other words, what do you know about me? We have spent the better part of three years together. We have eaten together, we have worked and labored together and we have laughed and cried together. I have spent countless hours, days, weeks and months teaching you and sharing insights about life from the Word of God. Now, after all this time I need to know what have you learned about me. After all the time we have spent together, have you discovered anything about me or is your knowledge of me based on hearsay – the opinions of others. Jesus asks a very pointed question that we all must answer someday, is our knowledge and understanding of whom Jesus is based on first-hand personal experience or is it based on the opinions of others. To put it another way, what do you and I really know about Jesus? After all of the years in church, Bible-study and Sunday school do we know Jesus better or do we still rely on what the preacher says?

Out of all the disciples, Peter answers. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s reply is interesting, but perhaps even more interesting is that he is the only one who answered. It is remarkable to think that people, men and women, can spend years studying and mastering academic disciplines like biology, chemistry and physics and know them inside out. On the other hand they can spend the same amount of time with another person and know so little about that person. I wonder how disheartening it was for Jesus to find out that even after all this time Jesus’ own disciples did not know who He was.

Jesus’ response to Peter is very instructive. It teaches us that a true knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is comes by way of revelation from God. Jesus told Peter, “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” No matter how much preaching and teaching we sit under and no matter how many books we read, no man or woman can reveal the identity of Christ to us. Until God opened my eyes and understanding of who Jesus is, it was Greek to me and made no sense. Without the revelation of God we can only know about Christ, we will never know Him personally.

We also learn that Peter’s confession is the foundation upon which the church is built and stands. Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” One of the fundamental differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism is highlighted in the interpretation of this verse. The entire papal system in Roman Catholicism was developed and based on the understanding that Jesus appointed Peter to be the head of the church. In Catholic circles Peter is recognized as the first bishop. Throughout the Protestant church, we hold that Jesus is the head of the church and Peter’s confession of Jesus as savior and Son of God forms the foundation upon which the church stands. Jesus’ remark to Peter helps us to also gain a glimpse of the church through the eyes of Jesus. The phrase “I will build,” suggests that Jesus sees the church not as a static organization, but rather as a living, breathing organism. One of the characteristics of an organism is that it reproduces. Organisms perpetuate themselves and keep themselves and their species alive by reproducing making more or producing more after their own kind. It is Jesus’ desire that the church be a reproductive body that transmits His DNA and genes to its offspring. In other words, one of the functions and characteristics of the church is that Christians should be reproducing other Christians and believers reproducing other believers. How do we do that? We reproduce every time we share our faith with someone who does not know Jesus and God using our witness and testimony of whom Jesus is leads that person to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. Every time we tell someone who does not know Jesus about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives we are sowing the seeds of reproduction that God through the Holy Spirit waters and grows. Whenever we share our faith with someone who is standing in the need of God’s intervention in their lives, we are transmitting and pouring our Jesus’ DNA that is in us into that person. Over time as we continue to pour into them, the DNA of Christ will take hold of them and they in turn will come to believe and become reproductive agents of Christ as well. Jesus is teaching us that contrary to popular belief, it is not programs, money, location, or even the time of day we worship that causes a church to grow, but rather it is the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is – the foundation upon which a church is built and stands is what causes it to grow. As we look at our church and the church as a whole we must ask ourselves what do we believe. Who do we say Jesus is? Is Jesus at the center, at the core of what we do, what we preach and teach?

Another characteristic of organisms is their ability to adapt and adjust to changes in their environment. Jesus said, “The gates of hell will not overcome it.” It is no secret that as we look out into our world we see evidence of satanic and demonic activity seemingly gaining ground and reaching into areas where the church previously held significant influence. Think about it, prayer has been taken out of schools, proposals for removing the Ten Commandments from government buildings and the name of God from currency. These seemingly are minor things to some, but I would ask you to consider the level of depravity our society has sunk to in the wake of these minor things. Truancy and dropout rates have increased in schools. Corruption and immorality is prevalent at all levels of government. Greed has become acceptable under the umbrella of a free-market economy. In addition to these minor things, has anyone noticed the drive to redefine what constitutes a family and/or marriage? Again, to some these are minor things. They say that water seeps its own level. In other words, a drip of water is not a problem per se. However, if the drip is constant and builds up with nowhere to drain, over time it will find a crack, crease or crevice and create major problems. The point is what starts out as a minor problem if left unchecked will become a major problem at some future point. What does this have to do with the church? Wherever there is a church that stands on the confession that Jesus Christ is our savior and the Son of God, the Devil and hell will not prevail in that community, in the lives of the families, in that city, nation or country. The knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is empowers the church to stand up to the powers of darkness to take back ground that the enemy may have conquered.

Finally, we learn that the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is are the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Many people wonder how can I get into heaven? According to Jesus, our confession that He is Savior and the Son of God is the key. There are those who believe that getting into heaven is a matter of being good. The Bible tells us that, “Our goodness is like filthy rages in the sight of God.” So, goodness will not get us into heaven. Some people believe leading a good life will get them into heaven. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” So, leading a good life will not get us into heaven. My friend, the only way we can enter the gates of heaven is by confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and savior and believing He is the Son of God.

It is also important to note that keys lock and unlock. Keys provide the holder of the keys with power and access. In other words, the one who possesses the keys can open and close doors for themselves, and they can also open and close doors for others as well. By giving us the keys, Jesus is also providing us with the power of access. The keys that Jesus gives us provide us with access into the presence of God. With the keys, we can go to God directly without the need for an intermediary. We can go to God for ourselves, and we can also go on behalf of others who are in need. With the keys, we have access to all of the resources of heaven. What resources you say? Ministering angels who keep watch over us and fight spiritual battles on behalf of believers. Divine intervention in situations that are beyond the scope of what we are physically able to do or handle. Jesus said that the keys provide the power to bind and loose. In other words, the keys of heaven can bind sickness, bind despair, bind depression, bind debt, bind fear and bind all of the stuff the enemy can throw at us. On the other hand they can also loose healing, loose joy, loose prosperity, loose courage and loose God’s power to transform, restore and overcome.

There are times when situations and circumstances in life will inquire of us, who do we say Jesus is? Then, there will be other times when Jesus Himself will ask us directly, who do you say I am? The knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is, is the foundation of the Christian faith. Everything that we do in the context of worship, every ministry that is developed, every prayer that we pray, and the hope for the future consummation of God’s kingdom is all predicated and based on the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. The fundamental difference between the Christian faith and all other religions is the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the savior of the world and He is also the Son of the living God. Whereas all other religions see Jesus as an ancillary figure on the periphery, the Christian faith holds that Jesus Christ is central to our faith and He is at the center of our faith. In other words, there is no Christian faith without Jesus Christ. Jesus puts the Christ in Christian.

March 28, 2010

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