August 21, 2011
TEXT:  Matthew 16:13-20
Vicar Alex Post

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Success in this world is often measured by what others think of you. For example, opinion polls are conducted by polling agencies or news networks to determine whether the majority of people support a certain policy or politician in our country.

On the other hand, success in this world is quite often measured by performance. If a quarterback does not throw completed passes, the team is less likely to win, and the quarterback is less likely to be re-signed by the management. It is expected that you will do what you signed up to do, or you will lose your position, your salary, your chances of future success, and your title.

August 21, 2011
TEXT: Matthew 16:13-20
Vicar Alex Post

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Success in this world is often measured by what others think of you. For example, opinion polls are conducted by polling agencies or news networks to determine whether the majority of people support a certain policy or politician in our country.

On the other hand, success in this world is quite often measured by performance. If a quarterback does not throw completed passes, the team is less likely to win, and the quarterback is less likely to be re-signed by the management. It is expected that you will do what you signed up to do, or you will lose your position, your salary, your chances of future success, and your title.

Popularity is not the same thing as success. Someone can become infamous for an offensive remark made in public just as quickly as he can become wildly popular for giving a rousing speech. John the Baptist, for example, was very popular at first. Many people swarmed to the wilderness of Judea to hear this sensational man who preached fire and brimstone, calling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2) But then he offended the Pharisees and Sadducees by calling them the children of poisonous snakes. The last straw for John the Baptist was when he told King Herod that it was wrong for him to commit adultery with his brother’s wife, Herodias. John ended up being murdered while in Herod’s prison.

Jesus Christ had a similar rise and fall in popularity during his life on earth. In many towns, Jesus was welcomed, especially when he healed and fed many (Mt. 9:35, 14:19).  Although
Jesus was rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth (13:57), he was welcomed by singing crowds with palms and praises on the road into Jerusalem (21:9). Yet the crowds condemned Jesus to death just a few days later. You see, Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be popular, or to lead a popular movement, but to suffer and to die for the sins of the world.

Many popular people – presidents, rock stars, and philosophers – have tried to re-make Jesus Christ in their own image. The “popular” Jesus is sometimes redefined as a common man of the people, a man who wanted to unseat the current incumbents, a nonviolent revolutionary in a time of oppression and occupation by the Roman Empire. Others say Jesus was a progressive religious leader, who challenged the elitist Jewish ruling councils and substituted real spirituality for their empty rituals. The postmodern, relativist spirit of our times might picture Jesus as a mystical guru, who taught that all living things must be in harmony, since god and all other things are inseparable.

Yet even more false teachings have risen up concerning Jesus Christ than one can count. Many claim that Jesus wasn’t God, just a good teacher; or He only appeared to be God, but still only human; or He is like God, but is actually a created being; or He is just one of three modes of existence that God has, not having a distinct person of His own.

False teaching about God was rampant in the city where Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Caesarea Philippi was also known as Caesarea Paneas, after the Greek god Pan. Philip the Tetrarch named this city “Caesarea” for the emperor Caesar Augustus, under whom the polytheistic imperial cult spread throughout the Roman Empire. It was near this idolatrous city, far away from Jerusalem, that Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was.

Jesus’ opinion poll about himself would gauge who people thought he was. Everyone who had seen and heard Jesus had surely already made a judgment about who he was based on what he said and did. Those who heard him preach thought he was an excellent teacher, one who had authority and knew his Old Testament Scriptures (Mt. 7:28-29). Those who saw Jesus perform miracles “glorified the God of Israel” (15:31) and believed in Jesus (8:13). But other people started gossip chains and tabloids. They accused Jesus of being a drunkard, a glutton, a friend of sinners, (11:19), a blasphemer (26:65), and even an agent of the Devil, Beelzebul, who cast out demons by the power of other evil spirits (12:24). These false accusations about who Jesus was would lead to the unjust indictment of the Son of God. Jesus would suffer and die a much worse death than John the Baptist.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?” This is the opinion poll question that Jesus asked a sampling of his followers - the twelve disciples. Jesus already gave away part of the answer to his own question when he called himself the “Son of Man.” Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man” more than any other title. It is a confusing and ambiguous title for many. “Son of man” would surely categorize Jesus with the Old Testament prophets, such as Ezekiel, who was called “son of man” by God 93 times as he prophesied to Israel. This Jesus is THE Son of man, the one who will come with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13-14), the one who is both God and Lord, the one who will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).

Jesus is the Anointed One – that is what the title Christ means. The Hebrew word is Messiah. “Anointed One” often refers to the Levite Priests, or to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, but most often to the kings of Israel, specifically King David. Jesus Christ is the descendant of King David, but much more than that, He is the King of the universe who will come again to judge the whole world.

Now, we know from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is not only the ultimate King and the greatest and final Prophet, but He is the Savior of all people, the one who died to take away the sins of the world. So why are there so many different responses to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The guesses seem pretty random: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Why did people think Jesus was one of these people?

Well, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist in prison (Mt. 14:10), and because of his nervous guilt, he might have been the one to start the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist, risen from the dead (14:1-2). Maybe people thought that Jesus was actually Elijah, because Elijah had never died, but had gone up to heaven in chariots and horses of fire in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-14). God had promised the return of Elijah through the prophet Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Mal. 4:5) It had been 430 years since God had sent a prophet to Israel! Surely, this man Jesus could have been Elijah, returning to restore the kingdom of Israel?

But no, Jesus told the crowds concerning John the Baptist: “he is Elijah…” (Mt. 11:13-14) John the Baptist was the return of Elijah and the final prophet before Jesus’ arrival. So Jesus is not John the Baptist, or Elijah. Neither is Jesus Jeremiah, although both prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, first by the Babylonians and second by the Romans (Mt. 24:1-2). John the Baptist was beheaded in prison; Jeremiah was imprisoned and thrown into a muddy cistern; but Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross and hung there for the whole world to mock. Jesus Christ would die slowly over several hours, suffering intense humiliation and bearing the weight of the world’s sins.

That is the result of doing what he was sent to do. It is often the result of doing the will of God. If we think that doing the will of God leads to earthly success, we ought to look at the cross of Christ. If we think that God will only judge the sins of others, we need to look in the mirror of God’s Law and see that our sin is what hung Jesus on the cross. If we think that Jesus is only our invisible friend, and not primarily our Savior from sin, or that life as a Christian will always be comfortable and peaceful, we should think again. If we think that Jesus was simply a good example to emulate, we should read the Scriptures and learn that only Jesus, true God and true man, could die in our place for the sins of the whole world. This Jesus did what his Father sent him to do.

Who do you say the Son of Man is? The question is not: How popular or how successful is Jesus? But the question is: “What has Jesus done that you should believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?”

 I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” He was born of the miraculous power of God the Holy Spirit. He suffered bloody torture under the Roman governor Pilate. He was crucified on the cross, died, and was buried in a rich man’s tomb. He descended into hell to proclaim His victory over death, and on the third day, He burst forth out of the grave so that we too might be raised! He ascended into heaven to be with the Living God until that glorious day when the Son of Man will return on the clouds to judge every man, woman and child, whether he or she is still living or has been buried for thousands of years! The Son of Man is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Until that glorious day, Jesus Christ has already begun rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its temple. It is called the Church. “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Jesus renamed Simon “Peter,” which is “Petros” in Greek, and promised to build his Church on this rock, which in Greek is “petra.” Surely, Jesus does not build the Church on one human or on his position, especially since Peter wavered and denied Jesus right after confessing him as Christ. Instead, the Church is built on the true teaching of Jesus Christ, his apostles, and the pastors whom he has sent to us. They bind and reject all sins and false teaching, even as they loose and extol all good deeds and true teaching, whether it makes them successful and popular or not.

Jesus has called each of us to suffer and die with him. We might suffer and die just because we confess this simple creed: “Jesus is Lord.” (Phil. 2:11) We might suffer because a loved one or friend has rejected Jesus and is seeking his own way. We will certainly suffer the effects of our sins, the death of loved ones, and the severe hardship of temptations. But in that suffering is the One who was anointed to suffer God’s wrath in our place, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He understands your suffering, and He has promised that He is “with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Jesus is faithful. He did the thing that He was sent here to do, because he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and he loves you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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