Sunday Sermon 23rd August – Who do YOU say Jesus is?

Who do YOU say Jesus is?

Matthew 16: 13-20

It doesn’t matter what other people think, what is most important is who Jesus is to you and whether you are ready to confess your faith to the world. It doesn’t matter who I say Jesus is, or who any other preacher says he is, because it’s our Father in heaven who reveals the truth, not me, or any other person.

God might give me, or you, the words to speak and inspire, or encourage, others to seek and find for themselves who Jesus is, but who you think he is today might be very different by tomorrow. He might be a Teacher, a Prophet, a Preacher, the King of Love or the Prince of Peace. He could be your Saviour, your Friend, a Healer, Miracle Maker or Shepherd. You might know him as your Rock or your Anchor; the bright morning star, the Light of the World, your Truth, the Bread of Life or someone much greater.

When Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is they reply with many identities, but he doesn’t say they are wrong. Today Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jew — and others — will all have different answers to who Jesus is: ordinary Jewish man; prophet or messenger from God; wise teacher and great preacher, all know him, but know him differently. Jesus is like the stranger who walks with us and we get to know him better as we travel until we realise we don’t want him to leave us.(Luke 24: 29)

I hear our mission statement saying how WE want to get to know Jesus better so that we can make him better known and it all starts by meeting him. People around the world know Jesus differently, but the important question is who he is to me and how well I know him?

I don’t know whether Peter is acting as spokesman for all the disciples or is having one of those radical moments in which he blusters in like a bull in the china shop articulating whatever comes to mind without pausing to think. I doubt there was a church meeting to discuss their collective belief and Peter’s statement was probably a surprise to the group, but that’s how the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit inspires with unexpected words and wisdom for the moment. We tend to hold our tongue in the company of people we believe know better!

There are so many books written by theologians and academics, priests and teachers telling us how to believe and what to believe, but the Spirit reveals the truth not the human wisdom. Our words can be the seeds that we can nurture with encouragement, but God helps the seeds to grow into the fruit of truth.

As a preacher my words are the seeds, not the fruit so I pray the truth will be revealed to you through the Spirit and you will know Jesus better tomorrow than you do today. Who people believe he is today is not wrong because it is our opportunity, our mission together, to make him better known.

It is in our relationships with all people of whatever faith, or no faith, that we can give more meaning to the name of Jesus so that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him King of glory now. “Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

When we know Jesus as God wants us to know him, and confess that belief, we will become a rock on which the Church is built. Peter was not the finished product, but a ROCK on which Jesus could build. Who do you say Jesus is? Your answer is not wrong because tomorrow you will know him better and the church is a work in progress being built on a rock.

The words of Jesus are the rock, the solid foundation of our faith, and we will survive the storms caused by covid-19 and the injustices that flood the world because nothing can overcome us when we put his teaching into practice. Some of us have tried to build our house of faith before and it washed away in the storms, but we can gather up the pieces and build again on the solid ground.(Matthew 7: 24-27)

It was in the region of Caesarea Philippi beneath water falls that provide the source of the River Jordan that I made my own confession of faith in the cool waters hidden away in a valley by a forest of trees. This gospel reading always stirs up emotions because it wasn’t a planned event. We parked the car and stumbled over the location and the Holy Spirit took control as I gave my life to Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s when we become God’s Church building project — and the work is still in progress. I am, you are, we are, God’s building and our vision is for the work to be completed when we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven!

I am sowing seeds with my words when I share who Jesus is to me and whatever you believe we are on a shared mission “to get to know Jesus better.” In that process we want to make Jesus better known, but there is a warning “not to tell anyone that Jesus is Christ!”

The reason for that warning is different now to what it was, but it remains pertinent to our times. Telling with your words what you know is most effective when you can show from your heart what you have to tell. The words alone will not grow without the signs that accompany them. (Mark 16: 20)

Don’t tell the story of Christ until you understand what it means to be like Christ. The disciples still had to know Jesus better before they could make him better known in the world and so we are growing into Jesus shaped people with the kingdom of heaven revealed through us.

Our great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel includes teaching everyone to obey everything Jesus has commanded and the best teacher is example. If we don’t live what we preach, don’t preach it because our faith will seem like a lie. The warning to the disciples is the same as it is to us: Don’t tell anyone about Christ unless you can show what it means to be like Christ to everyone! Put the words into practice and your house will be built on the rock of wisdom! (Matthew 7: 24)

Jesus was protecting his disciples with this warning because such a confession would lead to persecution and inevitably execution they were not ready for. They had to get to know him better so he wanted them to wait until after the evidence of resurrection had happened. (Matthew 17: 9). Then, and not before then, they could go and tell the story to the nations that shall turn their hearts to the right; a story of truth and sweetness, a story of peace and light. It’s an old Salvationist song. It continues as a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord; a song that shall conquer evil, and shatter the spear and sword.

Jesus didn’t want his disciples rushing into battle before they were ready and he doesn’t want us to be fighting the world until we understand there is a cross for us to carry, a life to sacrifice, a love to be shared and a wilderness to be encountered. We can’t choose the smooth from the rough for the Spirit goes where she must and we go with her.

Don’t tell everyone how wonderful it is to live for Christ if you are not ready to be broken with him because you will reveal stories of betrayal and denial that make Church the great hypocrite of faith. Get to know Jesus as you build on the rock of his truth and when you are ready share an honest gospel that will overcome evil and open hearts to the kingdom of heaven.