12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 27, 2017
“Who is This?”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text for today’s sermon is the Gospel lesson read previously from Matthew chapter 16.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Who is the greatest golfer of all time? That depends on who you ask. Some would say Bobby Jones. Others might say Arnold Palmer or Jack Nichlaus. Still others would say Tiger Woods. Throughout the 2000s, Tiger Woods was the dominant force in golf. He was the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks). But then a persistent injuries and troubles in his life knocked him from Golf’s highest pedestal and he never returned to greatness.
Will we still be talking about Tiger Woods in 5 years? 50 years? 500 years? Probably not without also asking “who is that”?
Jesus never won an Open Championship. He never had an endorsement contract. But people everywhere still know His name 2000 years later! Coincidence? I don’t think so. So…who is this anyway? Glad you asked.
Over the past several weeks the Gospel lessons have pointed us to some of the miracles of Jesus: feeding the 5000+, walking on water, and healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. These are miracles that show us who Jesus is by pointing us to what He has done motivated by compassion and love: He fed the crowds because they were hungry, went to the disciples in the storm because they were afraid, and healed the woman’s daughter, who was not an Israelite, because of her faith.
In verse 13 of today’s lesson, we hear the issue at hand: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That’s a good question considering how people have identified Him thus far in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has been called teacher, a blasphemer, and a demonic. Now, in today’s text, we find out that the masses are also thinking that Jesus may be John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I would think it is safe to say that there was a lot of misunderstanding about Jesus in His day and exactly who He was.
And so here we are, 2000 years later, with high definition TV and hand-held access to the Internet and cars that park themselves…but we still as a society lack a unified answer regarding “who is this?” There is still a lot of sinful misunderstanding about who Jesus Christ is; many today are still confused. Regarding Jesus, people say He’s a good teacher or a trusting friend or a pal who knows your every secret. He’s the one who will bail you out of every financial problem. He’s the one who can fix all your nasty habits. He’s the one who will get your enemy for you some day. He’s one way among many ways to heaven ’cause we’re all going there someday no matter how you define “god” so we should just learn to “coexist” because we’re going to spend together forever. Still others say that Jesus is a phony; a fraud who peddled parlor tricks to woo a bunch of spiritually-needy people and the Church is a continuation of an ongoing swindle to get money away from people. Wrong Answer, just as wrong as John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah.
Peter’s confession is also our confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” True…but what does that mean? His name itself means something. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” His title – “Christ” (not His last name) – refers to “the anointed One,” that is, the one set apart by God for a special, holy purpose. And just what is that purpose? For that answer you have to trace Matthew’s entire Gospel.
Who is this? We know that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (chapter 1). We know that He was identified as the Son of God at His baptism (3:17). We know that He was an amazing teacher from His Sermon on the Mount and His parables (chapters 5-7, 13). We know that He works miracles (chapters 8-9, 14-15). But there’s more!
To truly know who this is, you’ve got to stick with the narrative through the gruesome end. If you hang in there through the brutality and the flogging and the nails, it’s when Jesus Christ is hanging dead on His earthly throne — the cross — that He is declared to be who He is: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God”’ (27:54). Granted, the cross looked like a defeat, but it wasn’t. Christ Jesus is not whom He appears to be. He is more than teacher or friend. He is the Son of God who gives His very life for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls through faith in Him.
To know who He is is to rejoice at the words heard at the empty tomb: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay”’ (28:5-6). Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was crucified, who rose again, and who then gave His Great Commission to all His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20.
So what does that mean for us? We know who Jesus is, right? Okay…but what does that mean to you; what difference does that truth make? Do you confess Him to be the Lord and Savior of this world? To know Christ is to know His Gospel, to be enlightened in this life by His gifts, and to live a life in accordance with His Word.
And so here in Sarasota, FL and not Caesarea Philippi, we, along with the disciples, we answer the question “who is this” in the same way that Peter answers. As a result, we are given strength and courage to boldly confess our great Triune God in this world where confession is not always that easy. In our answer we find ourselves bound to Jesus through a faith-filled life commitment that not only directs our daily living, but lasts through this life and into eternity. Amen.