May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord Our Strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.
“Now When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
We’re at that part in Matthew’s Gospel today, where Jesus, for some reason or other is becoming more and more cryptic in what he says…not that Jesus is particularly known to those around him for speaking simply!
If it’s not one parable it’s another and if he’s not disappearing to have some time alone, then he’s going off to heal someone somewhere and expecting the disciples to make sense of it all, but also to keep it to themselves for a while…
Now though, there are signs and wonders being demanded by the disciples. (And this is after Jesus has walked on water and after he has fed the five thousand…!)
Then we have Jesus foretelling his Death and Resurrection.
We have the Transfiguration when Jesus turns into a human lightbulb in front of Peter, James and John and they have a vision up on the mountain of Elijah and Moses… that’s in Chapter 17.
In this morning’s/evening’s passage, Jesus has arrived just near the sea of Galilee near Mount Hermon in a region known to be steeped in paganism.
And as though the disciples had not been tested enough, Jesus has now, perhaps the most important test of all before his death and resurrection.
Because today, is that critical moment.
Jesus isn’t simply asking them to follow him…(Not that there’s anything simple about following Jesus!)
Jesus isn’t asking them to help him in any way…
Jesus isn’t giving them a lesson on how they should carry out their mission…
Jesus simply wants to ask them a question and get an honest response.
That question “who do you say that I am?”
Who do you say that I am, after all these miracles…
Who do you say that I am, after I have called you from your boats and your families and your friends and asked you to follow me…
Who do you say that I am, after I have told you the beatitudes, told you about not serving two masters, about judging others and even raised Jairus’s daughter from the bonds of death and warned you about the coming persecutions…
Who am I NOW, to you?
Because, you see it’s one thing to recognize Jesus as a very nice and intelligent, bit unusual carpenter from Nazareth, and a very different thing to recognize him as the Son of God and Saviour of the World…
And the disciples are not the only one’s challenged with recognizing Christ for who he is.
Let’s remember, the woman at the well in John ch4…fair enough Jesus reveals who he is to her, but she doesn’t take too long to be convinced.
Think of the two men on the road to Emmaus, it took them a while, but they got it in the end and perhaps given the journey they’d had we might cut them some slack.
And of course, there is St Thomas who is faced, literally with the risen Jesus after the Crucifixion when Thomas drops to his knees and proclaims “My Lord and My God”…the same Thomas who was running his mouth about not believing until he has the opportunity to touch Christ’s wounds.
And let us never forget, that the very first person in the Gospels to recognize Christ for who he is, is his Mother. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, the first person to believe in Jesus…the one who brings him to birth in our world, she is the first person to know who this Jesus really is.
What he is capable of, because her life is the first life transformed by Jesus Christ…even before he was born.
She knows exactly what it means to live in Christ and have Christ live in us, and she was spot on with knowing what he was coming to bring about…a Christ who lifts up the lowly and throws the mighty down from their thrones.
It’s Peter though, who today gets the gold ticket.
Because, Peter has answered Jesus’s question.
There, infront of his all his friends, put on the spot a bit by Jesus…
Jesus asks “who do you say that I am?” a question to All of them, but only Peter seems to have the guts to make a response…
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ ‘And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven’.
Now if you think that’s something…just listen to what Jesus says next:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”
That’s not just a promotion, as so many read it…that’s not just a very nice pat on the back from Jesus to Peter.
Let’s remember, Jesus has taken himself to the most ungodly place, to a place steeped in paganism and darkness, to utter these words. When I say ungodly, I don’t meant that god isn’t there, because is everywhere…I mean places where God is not recognized or worshipped just to be clear….!
Jesus creates the foundations of the Christian Church, the rock of the Church is placed in the midst of such evil and darkness…the symbolism of this is so powerful and even moreso because he chooses a lowsy human being to be the rock…!
To me, it says that Christ meant what he says…the gates of Hell will not. Touch. My. Church.
To me, it says that Christ wanted a Church that was unafraid from diving into the depths of humanities evil and mess, that Christ wanted a Church willing to venture into the ungodly places and to proclaim him as Lord and King.
To me, it says the Jesus wanted a Church that was not afraid to roll up its sleeves and get it’s hands dirty for the building up of the Kingdom. And to me, the fact that he chooses a human being in the form of Peter, says to me that perhaps Christ wants us to not worry so much about getting it wrong…
If God wants polished behavior he has all the angels in heaven to supply that – what God loves about us, is our spiritual poverty, and our human weakness. Because actually, God can make something of that…!
And as he stands there with Peter and all the other disciples, even those too afraid to make their own confession, so he stand with us all today.
And if Christ has said that the gates of hell will not touch the Church, and if the Church is us, the body of Christ, then the gates of hell will not touch us. The powers of hell cannot harm us, the darkness of this world has no power over us who proclaim Christ as Our Messiah, as Our Lord, as Our King.
Jesus chooses a single, weak, human person in the form of Peter to build his Church.
And the only qualification that Peter has, is that he believed in Jesus as the Son of God and that he was not afraid to speak that truth.
We exist so that that truth may be proclaimed, we exist so that others may come to say with all of us, “You, Jesus are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.
Sometimes we have to shut up and listen to what the Spirit is saying, to allow this to happen.
Sometimes, we have to put ourselves at risk, out on a limb, risk making ourselves look stupid for this to happen.
Sometimes we have to follow Christ into the midst of darkness, perhaps even our own darkness and our own sinfulness, to come to that place where this can happen.
But we do all that, knowing that this Christ who we have been following, the Christ who has led us to where we are today, is indeed faithful, does not let us go, and does not give up on us, even when we haven’t got the guts to trust him completely.
If you think Peter was perfect, you just wait until later on in the Gospels to see what a chicken he turned out to be when his fears get the better of him.
It’s always easier to be bold when we have the Son of God standing right beside us, and maybe that is a lesson in itself.
But for today, as he is indeed here amongst us, let us say in our singing, in our loving, in our living and in how we respond to those around us:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Our Lord, Our Saviour and Our Friend…not just today, but everyday, not just in heaven, but here on earth.