Who Do You Say That I Am?
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Prayer & Scripture
We have arrived at the climax of this section of Matthew.
Matthew has been showing us Jesus.
Matthew began by telling us, this is who I believe Jesus is...
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
And what follows is not a theology textbook about Jesus, but a story.
And so much of Matthew 4-16 are stories about how people perceive Jesus.
Matthew indirectly is telling us about Jesus by giving us stories of how people experienced him.
Matthew began his gospel telling us who he believes Jesus is…but who do others say Jesus is?
27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
33 After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
Time and time again, through stories of how others perceive Jesus, Matthew is getting us to consider - who is Jesus?
Matthew said - Jesus is the Christ. The Messiah. But notice, no one so far in the story has said that.
And so we arrive at Matthew 16 and Jesus gets away to a really interesting location - Caesarea Phillipi - and asks his disciples directly - who do you say that I am?
And Peter offers his famous reply - you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
A teacher in Sunday school said to her class, “Class, what is small, brown, climbs trees, eats nuts, and has a bushy tail?”
And one of her students nervously thinks, “Well, that sounds like a squirrel but we’re in church so I think the answer is Jesus.”
Matthew 16:13-20 is a famous passage,
And there’s a possibility that we can read it and say, “Yup, I agree! That is the right answer.”
Many of us have been raised in church and we’ve heard “Jesus Christ” more than your own name. What does that even mean?
There’s a chance we can read this passage and think Christianity is about knowing the secret password. We die one day, go to heaven and Jesus is like a password you fill out to get into your back account…The password is Jesus is Christ ! and I select I’m not a robot and I get into heaven.
Peter gave the right answer. I can give the right answer. Jesus is the Christ. I’m at church. What more do you want from me?
So the question this morning that Jesus asks the disciples - and through Matthew’s genius writing - indirectly he asks of us…who do you say that I am?
What is Jesus after?
We’ll walk through our passage this morning and see Jesus asks, Jesus blesses, and Jesus warns.
We’ve been in Matthew in 2023 seeing how it’s a story about Jesus as the King and what it means to live in his kingdom.
And a while ago we looked at it in these three big blocks.
The first is Matthew 1-4:17 and it’s all about Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The second block is Matthew 4:18-16:20 - where we are today - and it’s all about what Jesus said and did. And Matthew wants us to consider - who is Jesus? Based on all he taught and the things he did - who do we say that he is?
The third and final block will be our path in the fall as we’ll see how Jesus is the Crucified King. He is often not what we expect and following him flips our worldview upside down in so many ways.
And so this morning we’re in Matthew 16. Jesus has withdrawn from the religious leaders who are opposed to him, and he’s going to do a retreat of sorts with his disciples.
Jesus has taught, Jesus has healed, Jesus has performed miracles and signs, and now he feels the time is right to begin to ask his disciples some key questions.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Jesus came to the district of Caesarea Philippi...
Caesarea Philippi was remote. It was located roughly 25 miles north of Jesus’ ministry HQ. It overlooked the Jordan Valley and was near the base of Mount Hermon, which stood approximately 9,200 feet to the northeast and provided an abundant supply of water to the region.
Explain CP location
Explain CP spiritually
Jesus asks broadly - who do people say that the Son of Man is?
Before we dive in, let’s just talk about the general perception of me.
Remember the Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite title for himself. It had to do with Daniel 7 and Daniel’s vision of one like a human reigning alongside God and defeating evil.
And the disciples report -
Some say John the Baptist - perhaps Herod spread this rumor as it says in Matthew 14 he thought Jesus was John resurrected, since it was Herod who killed John.
Some say Elijah - Elijah was a prophet who never died and it was prophesied before the Christ came Elijah would return. So, Jesus, some people think you’re Elijah!
Some say Jeremiah - Jeremiah was a prophet who pronounced judgment on Israel so maybe Jesus is another Jeremiah.
Some say just another prophet - Jesus is just another prophet in a long line of them…nothing special.
I think we can relate to this context.
Just like the disciples, we are in a place where other spiritual powers are worshiped.
We don’t go to temples and worship, but we will spend $40,000 on season tickets for the Seahawks and paint our faces and scream for Geno Smith. We worship money, entertainment, politics, sexual expression, ourselves…like the disciples in Caesarea Philippi, this is our context.
And, people say various things about who Jesus is...
Some say Jesus was just a great historical figure, some say he was a great moral teacher (who doesn’t think the world would be a better place if we all loved our neighbors?), some say Jesus was a revolutionary who would be so sad to know that people took what he did and made it into an organized religion.
So now Jesus has laid the groundwork and he goes for it...
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
In my NASB there is an asterisk by “said” which means that in Greek this verb is in the present tense.
Matthew does this to heighten the intensity of the narrative. We are supposed to lean in. Jesus didn’t say, he SAYS…But...
Okay that’s all fine and good, BUT
I know people say those things about me BUT
I know we are in a place full of other local deities BUT
Who do you say that I am?
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that Simon Peter answers first.
He is the first disciple called by Jesus in Matthew. He walks on water with Jesus, crying out, “If it’s really you, tell me to walk on water!” When the disciples don’t understand the parables it’s Simon Peter who asks, “Jesus, please explain...” And by the time Matthew writes his gospel, Peter is known as a key leader in the early church.
I wonder what Peter’s voice sounded like.
Did he yell? Did he whisper in astonishment? I think sometimes we might incorrectly assume he’s just monotonously reading from a script - giving the right answer so he gets a cookie.
Peter comes to this on his own. He’s not the kid in Sunday school who says Jesus has a bushy tail.
Matthew hasn’t been written yet. Peter has been with Jesus for years, observing his actions, noticing his character, learning from his teaching, and he’s looked at the evidence and he says in full conviction - You are the Christ, the son of the living God.
What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?
Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it’s a title.
Christ and Messiah are the same thing. Different languages. Christ is the English transliteration of the Greek word Christos. Which is a translation of the Hebrew word messiac or as we say “Messiah.”
Messiah means Anointed One. It’s someone, often a priest or king, chosen by God to represent and lead the people. The Jewish people were hoping for the Messiah to come as their Scriptures promised to bring God’s kingdom and kick out the pagan nations - namely, Rome.
But what does it mean that he is the Christ?
Messiah also comes from the word that means to smear with oil.
When your team wins the championship, you douse the MVP with Gatorade. You’re the one! We smear you with sugar water.
Do you know the first time in the Bible something is smeared with oil? It’s not a person, it’s a rock. There’s a story in Genesis 28 of Jacob having a dream out under the stars and he pictures a ladder that goes from heaven to earth…and he goes, “Whoa! Surely God is in this place.” And he Messiah’s the rock where he laid his head with oil.
So, to smear with oil is to say this is a person or place where heaven and earth come together.
So when we hear Peter say - You are the Christ! He’s saying - You are the one who is bringing the universe back together. What was shattered by sin, Jesus is the one who is going to bring Shalom.
You are the son of the living God....
Psalm 2 describes the Christ as God’s son. The LIVING God is a common OT phrase...
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?
perhaps said as opposed to the dead and counterfeit gods that were worshiped in CP.
You are the heaven and earth one - you are the one who is over and above all other gods.
Jesus asks: Who do you say that I am?
How would you answer?
Peter gives his answer. And Jesus blesses...
17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Based on Peter’s response, Jesus gives an enormous blessing.
Blessed by the Father
Blessed by the Father
Jesus says that Peter did not arrive at this conclusion on his own. Only God can reveal who Jesus is, and Peter received this blessing not from some distant deity but one that Jesus calls Father.
Peter has a lot of names in this passage.
Catholics call him St. Peter, he is called Simon Peter, now he’s called Simon Barjona - which means son of Jonah (we’ll come back to that), then he is called Peter.
Jesus changes Simon Peter’s name. He says based on your confession that I am the Christ, I will give you a new identity.
Peter is the Greek word Petros and Jesus says upon this Petras - rock I will build my church.
Dwayne the Rock Johnson is called the Rock because of his inhuman muscles. Peter is called rock because of his faith.
This is a debated passage because the Catholic church uses this to say Jesus is establishing the church and subsequently the system of leadership of the Pope and bishops.
But that’s not what this text says. Jesus is simply saying that Peter is going to be the leader of the early church and we see that played out in Scripture.
This is the first time church appears in the NT.
It is an assembly or gathering. Jesus says I am going to gather people around myself as the Messiah, and this community will never die.
The gates of Hades has two meanings - one, it’s a poetic term for death. This new community will beat death. And second, the gates of Hades was a place in Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi was home to a cave known to the pagan occupants as the gate to the underworld. These pagan worshippers believed that their city was literally at hell’s gates, where fertility gods lived during the winter. A stream flowed from the cave’s mouth, believed to be used by fertility gods traveling in and out of the cave. To attract the gods’ return, every springtime, they would engage in horrific, immoral acts such as prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats.
So Jesus blesses Peter and says you are going to lead this new death defying, enemy defeating community.
Jesus says I will give you the keys of the kingdom.
If I gave you the keys to my house - that would mean I trust you a lot.
Keys were an image of authority.
The original picture of humanity in Genesis 1 is humans as royal co-rulers with God, taking creation onward. And now in Jesus, Peter is given this divine authority again.
All this blessing from simple faith.
Not even perfect faith. Look a few verses down and we’ll see there’s a lot Peter doesn’t understand.
But even still, Jesus says this is the kind of person I’m going to work with.
Jesus has asked, he has blessed, and now he warns...
20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
We talked about this in our Community Group on Tuesday…why would Jesus warn - another translation says Strictly Admonish - not to tell people who he is? Isn’t that the whole point that we ARE supposed to tell people?
If Matthew wants us to know Jesus is the Christ, and tells us Peter’s confession so that we believe he is the Christ…why does Jesus not want us to tell others?
Jesus knows the power of the title “Christ” in his day. Many Jews believed the Christ would come as a military leader. He would raise up an army and use violence to bring the kingdom.
15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.
Similarly, Jesus withdraws in our passage to help his disciples understand who he is and what it means that he is the Christ.
Jesus asks, Jesus blesses, Jesus warns.
So Jesus asks the disciples, and Matthew wants to ask us here in the room: Who do you say that Jesus is?
I wonder if you could write down your answer, what would you say?
Maybe you’re like well it sounds like a squirrel but obviously the answer is Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. So that’s what I’m going to say.
This is not a pass/fail, but a personal invitation from Jesus to consider the most important question we will ever answer: who do you say Jesus is?
Based on our passage, here are some possible points to consider the nuances of this massive question...
In the presence of other gods
In the presence of other gods
Jesus’ question is a question of who gets our allegiance.
Who are we following? Who is teaching you about life?
Jesus went to Caesarea Philippi, a place full of other gods, and we too live in a context full of other things that get our worship. We live in the suburbs. Money gets our allegiance, we will do anything to achieve the almighty work/life balance, family gets our devotion, entertainment gets our time and money…and each of these things come with a promise that if we give them our attention, they will provide for us, give us comfort, give us joy, give us life...
And in the presence of all those, Jesus - the one who comes to give true, full, abundant, eternal life asks us - yes, but who do you say that I am?
Not what others say
Not what others say
Jesus knows what the Bible project thinks about him.
Jesus knows what your parents think about him…Jesus knows what your spouse thinks about him, even what your kids think about him, but he also makes it extremely personal. Who do YOU say that he is?
Maybe there’s a danger of group think at church…you’re here and you want to just go with the flow. But Jesus cares about each person’s heart.
Peter’s confession is true about Jesus…but we’re not supposed to just copy him and say “I got the right answer.” Who do you say he is? Your answer doesn’t have to be the Christ. Jesus goes by a lot of other names…Friend, Savior, Lord, Rabbi, King, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, Alpha and Omega…consider all that Jesus said and did and ponder who do YOU say that he is?
Peter’s answer is at a fixed point in time in his relationship with Jesus.
He’s far from a finished product and he doesn’t fully understand. But he’s all in.
Similarly for us, we are each on a spiritual journey…where are you today? Today, where are you in answering the question, Who do you say Jesus is?
If it feels write, consider writing it down and sharing with someone. Talk about what you wrote and what it means and what a next step of faith might look like for you.
Maybe some of us need to consider, have you had a Matthew 16 moment where you said, “Jesus, I don’t get it all, but I’m all in.” Peter’s answer was not perfect, but he had faith. Do you have faith?
Jesus’ question is full of grace.
With just a little bit of faith, all this blessing pours out on Peter. So it is with us.
Barjona - Son of Jonah. The one who ran from God but God still used. Peter would run from God but Jesus would forgive him. And it’s on this kind of person Jesus builds his church.
Hear grace this morning…who do you say that I am? Jesus also says this is who I think you are…you are my child. I have saved you from death. These other gods don’t care about you, don’t give them your allegiance. I’ve defeated them on the cross, I rose to new life and now if you have faith in me based on who you say I am - I will give you my own death-defying life and invite you into a new community and give you purpose that will last into eternity.
All from faith.
Ask me in 30 years who Jesus is…I am following him today, and I will follow him then, but what a beautiful thing that just upon