Proper 16 (2023)

The Church God Wants  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  21:58
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The Supreme Question

As most of you know I am a California boy. The strange weather, the fires and earthquakes that can be shocking to many people here are all quite normal for a Californian. We take it is stride and don’t give it much thought.
That was the case in Southern California in 1998. The Orange County Register — local newspaper — said that the whether caused by the infamous El Niño, or maybe it was the earthmoving equipment grading lower land for new construction, homes suddenly broke apart and slid down hills to certain destruction. In beautiful Laguna Niguel, 5 homes and 21 condo units were destroyed.
In San Juan Capistrano — just a few miles north of San Diego — on May 22, 1998, the earth shook. John Curtis woke up, thinking a distant earthquake had hit—no big deal; a typical Californian thought. He dragged his trash cans to the curb and went back into his kitchen for a drink of water. As he looked out into his yard, he suddenly saw that three-quarters of it was gone. A landslide hit without warning and sheared the backyards of three homes. The newspaper reported that in one moment an $80,000 swimming pool and 300,000 cubic yards of dirt dropped 100 feet down the hillside.
These homeowners did not ask the right questions; or maybe they did and they got the wrong answers. Regardless, they thought they were secure. Many homes in several neighborhoods were totally destroyed. They realized unfortunately too late, that their homes were not built on solid rock!
Likewise for many people today in their relationship with God.
Over the next few weeks we are discovering what God wants in His Church, and today we find out from the appointed text that He was a clear answer to the most supreme question of all: — “Who Do You Say that I Am?”
And this is true in our relationship with God too! As Christians, we claim that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, but does our life reflect this declaration?
This supreme question is important because:

It is easy to give false answers or imperfect opinions.

Jesus prefaced His question with a more general one that had to do with the impression He had made on the people during His brief ministry (v. 13). This question brought forth many answers.
The Sadducees said He was a lunatic.
The Pharisees called Him a drunkard and glutton.
The Scribes regarded Him as unlearned.
On the other hand, some views of Jesus, though inadequate, were not entirely false. People had been impressed by His character, His personality. They had placed Him among the greatest sons of Israel. Some had been so impressed by His earnestness that they thought He might be John the Baptist come back from the dead or Elijah or Jeremiah (v. 14). But such opinions, however flattering, were not enough; they fell far short in describing Christ.
People still offer good and favorable opinions about who Christ was. Many observations about the morality of the Lord's teaching or His concern for the well-being of mankind are complimentary. However, they express nothing about the true nature or mission of Jesus Christ. Our verdict on His person is inadequate if we merely elevate Him to the highest rank of men. Since this attitude is as prevalent today as it was when He first posed the question, we must face afresh the challenge of the Lord's query.
This supreme question is also important in view of

The rival claimants to humanity’s loyalty.

In his Historical Geography of the Holy Land, George Adam Smith draws attention to the importance of the locality where Jesus asked His question. One can imagine that the gleaming marble temple where Caesar was worshiped caught the attention of the disciples as they stood with Christ outside Caesarea Philippi.
Near that temple was also a grotto devoted to the worship of the Greek god Pan. In this grotto archeologist discovered niches carved into the hillside where statues of the various gods were kept.
There they stood-two deities setting forth their rival claims. And over against them, challenging them both, stood the demands of Jesus, the “Son of the living God” (v. 16).
The situation has not changed in 2,000 years. There are those who still worship other gods: the Muslim god Alla, or the Hindu god or the Buddist god.
Lest we think these are the only gods, what about our idols, like the idol of power, or an the idol called recreation, or leisure. Oh, and let us not forget the idol called money.
To have an idol is called idolatry. And Idolatry means we worship a different god, instead of the one true God.
What does the catechism teach us about idolatry? First, it is breaking the First Commandment. And what does it mean to have a god? “It means to trust in and rely on something or someone wholeheartedly to help us in time of need and give us all good things.”
But if our faith presumes to make its historical claim about the person of Christ, all of the other rival god that vie for our loyalty must be rejected.
Finally, the supreme question is important because our answer to it

Shapes our attitude toward Christ's cross and our own.

It is significant that today’s text Jesus has nothing to say about His own sufferings and those of His followers until this crucial question has been faced and answered.
But the moment Peter gives the right answer and affirms Christ's divinity, Jesus shifts the conversation to the suffering awaiting Him in Jerusalem (v. 21).
The view one takes of the cross of Christ will depend on the view one takes of His person. If Jesus is only a great man, then His death has no more importance than that of any martyr who died for a noble cause. But if Jesus is God, then His cross becomes the vicarious suffering of God Himself, whose sacrifice avails for the sins of the world.
Suffering is also part of our calling as Christians. When the Gospel was first preached, Christians were persecuted; not to be ashamed of Christ meant torture and death.
Witnessing to the faith may still lead to suffering and self-denial-our own personal cross. To boldly declare that Jesus is the only way unto salvation, and all other gods will result in the wrath of God being revealed against them it the ultimate declaration.
This could result in persecution; for when we endure personal suffering and loss for Christ's sake, then the view we hold of His person must qualify our attitude toward such hardship. If He is truly God and is with us and in us as only God can be, we shall not need to bear alone the burden of suffering and despair.He will always be at our side.
“Who do you say that I am?” This is still the supreme question. In every age it is the most important question with which men have to deal. How is it possible to reach the right answer regarding the deity of Christ? It is something revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word. “Flesh and blood,”Jesus says to Peter, “has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). We must reach the answer in the same way.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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