Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is three-in-one.
A 4th grade teacher was giving her students a lesson in logic.
“Here is the situation,” she said. “A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of the river, fishing. He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife hears his screams and, knowing he can’t swim, runs down to the bank. Now, why do you think she ran down to the bank?” A girl raised her hand and asked, “To draw out all his savings?”
Today, in our gospel lesson, the disciples are faced with a similar situation. They too were being asked a question of logic from the teacher. Only in this case it was the greatest teacher ever.
To get the most out of this story, we should all get to know Peter. When called upon in other situations, he didn’t always have the right answer. He was the champion at blurting out things before he really took the time to think things through. But this time he blurted out an answer that was both correct and insightful. Of course, he follows it up by again putting his foot in his mouth but we’ll focus on what he answered right this morning.
This section of the Gospel is kind of the gospel in miniature. It includes all the basic fundamentals of our faith in Christ. Jesus asks, “who am I?” and “will you trust me?” Let’s focus on the first question..
In the last few worship services, we have heard about the miracles of Jesus. We have spoken about Jesus feeding the crowds, of Him walking on water, of Him healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter.
Great things are happening time after time and His disciples have been witness to it all. This morning, Jesus checks to see if they have been paying attention. This morning He presents them with a test from the teacher. He starts with one simple question, “who do people say I am?”
This is where the blurting begins and the answers are all quite interesting. Answers came rolling out, “some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The answers, though somewhat vague, are still interesting. This is where the real test starts. This is where the story gets interesting and personal. Jesus asks the second test question, “who do you say I am?”
These are Jesus’ closest friends and followers. These are the men that have traveled with him from town to town and the witnesses to His miracles. Yet only one of them had any kind of answer, our friend Peter.
We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples because, in our modern world, still very few would actually consider Him to be the Son of God. It’s probably more likely that He would be considered a criminal in our politically correct society.
The FDA would get after Him for turning water into wine,
the EPA for killing fig trees,
the AMA for practicing medicine without a license,
The Dept. Of health for asking people to open graves, for raising the dead and for feeding 5000 people in the wilderness without a permit,
OSHA for walking on water without a life preserver,
PETA for driving hogs into the sea,
The National Board of Psychiatrists for giving advice without the proper credentials,
NOW for not having any female apostles,
Abortion rights advocates for saying that whoever harms children, it is better that they had not been born,
The interfaith movement for condemning all other religions,
The zoning board for building heavenly mansions without the proper paperwork,
And the seminaries for preaching and teaching without having gone to seminary.
The idea that He was actually the very Son of God comes hard to many, maybe even more difficult than it did for the disciples. And throughout the Gospels we see evidence that the disciples continued to doubt and question.
To me it’s one of the things that makes the Gospels so believable, because the disciples are just like us. In fact, in this situation, it was only Peter who seemed to have a clue to what the answer was to the question that Jesus has challenged them with.
And Peter didn’t get this insight from some textbook or seminar. The answer came straight from his heart. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter found that it wasn’t about what you know or knowing about who Jesus is. It was about truly “knowing” Jesus and there is a difference.
Peter had been around Jesus long enough to figure it out. He knew that Jesus was not just another person. He was someone very special. He could have answered, “You are the son of a Galilean carpenter, you are a talented speaker, a Rabbi or even a prophet. There are many answers that Peter could have given, yet Peter got it right. Peter answered that Jesus was the very Presence of God and God’s salvation to the lost sheep of Israel and the whole world.
And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So why was Peter’s answer so important? Because, and this is where we are talking about the Gospel in miniature, Peter confesses that Christ is the Son of God and for that he gets the keys to the kingdom. He answered correctly. The whole church was built upon this confession of faith.
The church today is a testimony to faith. It exists because of Peter and countless others like him who trusted and believed in God and His holy Word. Despite the circumstances they were presented with, despite the hostility of the religious leaders of the time, despite the persecution from the Romans and others after them, despite the lions that were unleashed upon them, despite the threat of being burned at the stake because of their faith, the church survived because of the one true faith burning in the hearts of those who put their trust in Jesus. We should learn from them as we face our persecutions today.
Now let’s move ahead a couple thousand years to the present time. Many of us also confess to this faith and we want others to do likewise. We want the church to grow and we sit around and wonder. What is it going to take? What is it that we should be doing? What kind of new service or program will we need to offer? How do we compete with the Evangelical’s around here?
If you’ve been in conversation with me about church growth at all since I’ve been here, you’ll know that it’s my belief that since the time of Christ, church growth is still dependent on the same thing as it always was. The foundation remains the same. We must continue to preach the Gospel and, by that, come to know Jesus. Not know “about” Jesus but really “know” Jesus. That we also proclaim Him as the Messiah in our own lives and that we share that Good News with others.
You can spend your entire life in a church, you can go every Sunday and hear every message. You can know everything you can about Jesus and still never, ever know Him. And, truly knowing Him is the entire point to our lives as Christians.
Peter was able to answer correctly that Jesus was the very Son of God, the Messiah, because he truly knew Jesus and He did so because of the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Even though we didn’t have the same opportunity to walk alongside him and be witness to His miracles as Peter did, the Good News is that we still have the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to the truth. We still have the same Spirit to reveal Jesus to us as Lord and to have a relationship with Him.
That is what Jesus truly desires. He wants us to know Him, to love Him, to allow Him the opportunity to love us back so that we might share this love with others.
I understand that all of us want to see Prince of Peace grow. I’m here to tell you that if you want to see that happen, you are going to have to be more intentional about sharing your faith in Jesus. You’re going to have to be more intentional in sharing how Jesus has changed your own life. No scare tactics, no threats, no pushing, just an honest sharing of the relationship that you already share with Him and a willingness to be open and honest and nonjudgmental about where people currently are in their relationship. People need room to grow.
Jesus is the Son of the Living God, and He is merciful. He is our Savior who is looking out for His followers to share His message of love and grace. That is who He is. That is the message that the church is founded on. If you want to see Prince of Peace grow, that is the foundation we must be built on we need to prove it by our witness, our words and our deeds.
We, as Missouri Synod Lutherans, are so different from other sort of, in your face, protestant churches. Billy Graham called us the sleeping giant. If anything, we are guilty of being afraid of offending someone, so we keep our faith to ourselves. We need to change that. We have to be willing to share if we are ever going to grow.
This relationship has been offered to you before, I want to offer it to you again. No scare tactics, no threats, no pushing. Just a simple invitation that begins with a very simple question from the Master himself…..”Who do you say I am?” So…. who do you say He is? Amen