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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Matthew 16:13 - 17:9, Mark 8:31 - 9:10, Luke 9:22-36

One of my dearest friends, the late Fr. Charlie Fields, used to put it this way: “There is only one question: who do you say that I am?” Whatever your denomination, it is the only thing that matters. Your relationship with Christ is built upon your recognition of just who He is.

Winston Churchill had a similar problem with Charles DeGaulle during the Second World War. The British and the Americans were arguing over whether or not to “recognize” the Free French. Churchill, with his usual precision of language, zeroed in on the problem. Recognize? As what? “Recognition without a formula is meaningless. A man may recognize a woman as his mistress or as his wife.”

The disciples, in today’s passage, are going through the same thing:

(Mat 16:13-20 NIV) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" {14} They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." {15} "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" {16} Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." {17} Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. {18} 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. {19} 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." {20} Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

(1 John 4:15 NIV) If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

So says John the Apostle. He lived in a simpler time, perhaps. Today we have people who tell us that Jesus is Lord; they have the bumper sticker and the T-shirt, but their lives do not acknowledge it. He, like all the writers of the New Testament, would have been appalled at the easiness with which our words do not match our deeds.

Jesus’ disciples had an advantage over us in another respect. They had an idea of what the Christ (which is the same as Messiah) was supposed to be. Daniel the prophet had given them a description long before:

(Dan 7:13-14 NIV) "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. {14} He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

So they were looking for a man who would be given such authority. Some of the passages of the Old Testament portray him like this, a king of all. Others (notably Isaiah 51) portray him as the suffering servant of God. They did not, however, see both as possibilities. We (Monday morning quarterbacks) know that this meant two advents.

Jesus begins his lessons on what the Messiah is with a much simpler point. “Who do you say that I am?” Not what do the others say; this is not an opinion poll. It is the challenge to the heart. What other people think of Jesus does not count -- for you.

Keys of the Kingdom

The passage above has been much misused and debated, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church. I must take your mind back about 1500 years. At this time the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome (now known as the Pope, though the Catholic church insists he has always been known as such) was being debated vigorously. With the aid of some fraudulent documents, the Roman church took this passage and claimed that Christ had made Peter the head of the church and gave to him -- personally -- the authority of salvation on earth. We must, therefore, take this passage in its original context and see just what was meant. To do this, we need the Old Testament:

(Isa 28:16 NIV) So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.

To the hearers of this word, being Jewish, they would need no further guide. The rock referenced here is not Peter (Greek for a small stone, e.g., pebble) but its play on words, the great shelf rock, the bedrock of the church: our relationship with Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it:

(1 Cor 3:10-11 NIV) By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. {11} For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

So indeed did the original church take the meaning -- which includes Peter, by the way. But what about those keys? Again, we must start in the “Fifth Gospel”:

(Isa 22:22 NIV) I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

Again, to the Jew of this time, the meaning of the key would be clear. The Messiah -- remember that Jesus was often addressed as “Son of David” -- would inherit David’s throne. The reference is to Christ; Jesus is explaining to the disciples not who (Peter) would have the keys but rather how those keys would be wielded in the world -- by his church. If there is any doubt of this, hear the words Christ gave in the Revelation:

(Rev 1:18 NIV) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

The keys belong not to Peter but to Christ. The question is, then, how does Christ use those keys?

Binding and Loosing

It’s pretty explicit that Christ intends his authority on earth to be wielded by his church. A little later on in his ministry, Christ will amplify this doctrine. So we will peek ahead:

(Mat 18:18-20 NIV) "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. {19} "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. {20} For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

If you read on in this passage, you will see that Peter understood the context perfectly. He next asks how many times he is to forgive (e.g., seven times?) Our relationship to Christ is that of the forgiven sinner -- and Christ wields his authority by giving us the power to forgive each other in the assurance that if we forgive, he forgives:

(John 20:23 NIV) If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

(Note that this explicit authority to forgive is conferred on the Apostles with the Holy Spirit -- after the Resurrection).

In summary: the keys, binding and loosing are all based on the rock, our relationship with Him. That relationship is one of the forgiven sinner -- and to us he has given the power of forgiving each other, in his name.

Rejection

Christ now begins to teach his disciples just what it means to be the Messiah:

(Mat 16:21-28 NIV) From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. {22} Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" {23} Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." {24} Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {25} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. {26} What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? {27} For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. {28} I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

(Mark 8:31-38 NIV) He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. {32} He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. {33} But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." {34} Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {35} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. {36} What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? {37} Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? {38} If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

(Mark 9:1 NIV) And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."

(Luke 9:22-27 NIV) And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." {23} Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. {24} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. {25} What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? {26} If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. {27} I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

There are three aspects to this passage which fascinate me.

Why does Peter not understand?

You will recall that it takes Peter a while to get the point. At the Last Supper, Peter first does not want Jesus to wash his feet -- and then, after the first explanation, wants the whole bath. I suspect that Peter is measuring Jesus with Peter’s yardstick. We often do that. How often have we limited God in our prayers by our assumption that if we cannot do it for Him, it cannot be done!

Moreover, “the good is the enemy of the best.” It is a good thing not to be persecuted; the best thing is salvation. Peter is substituting his “good” for Christ’s “best.”

The gradual nature of revelation

(Heb 1:1-2 NIV) In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, {2} but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

One of the most confusing things to those who attempt to study the Bible on their own is exactly this. It appears that the Old Testament conflicts with the New Testament. It is not so; it is just a matter that God could only reveal so much to out limited minds at any one time.

It is exactly the same with us during our lives. Many Christians stop growing intellectually (and, eventually, spiritually) because they assume that they already know all that they need to know. God has other plans.

The prime example of this is the Old Testament Law:

(Gal 3:22-25 NIV) But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. {23} Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. {24} So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. {25} Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

The Law is not reversed; it is superseded. Even now our knowledge of God’s ultimate purpose is incomplete!

(1 Cor 13:12 NIV) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

We are forbidden to add to or subtract from God’s word[1]. But we should also be aware that God has much more to teach us; now, as we dive deeper into it, and then, when He returns.

Self-Denial

Christ does not just talk about His role; He talks about ours. We are to “take up the Cross.” We are to deny ourselves. To understand this, I believe we need to remember three things:

Persecution is inevitable

(2 Tim 3:12 NIV) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

The Paradox of life

We see the process of losing life as just that: losing. But consider well: who is the source of life? You, or Him? If you depend on you to save your life, can you ultimately succeed? If you depend on Him to save your life, can He ultimately fail?

Reward

Knowing our natures, Christ frequently promises reward to those who are faithful. There it is; if you try to do it your way, you cannot succeed. Do it His way, you cannot fail -- and be rewarded as well.

 

Coming Again -- Seen Today

(Mat 17:1-9 NIV) After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. {2} There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. {3} Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. {4} Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." {5} While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" {6} When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. {7} But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." {8} When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. {9} As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

(Mark 9:2-10 NIV) After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. {3} His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. {4} And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. {5} Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." {6} (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) {7} Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" {8} Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. {9} As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. {10} They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.

(Luke 9:28-36 NIV) About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. {29} As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. {30} Two men, Moses and Elijah, {31} appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. {32} Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. {33} As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.) {34} While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. {35} A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." {36} When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

First things first: why is there a six day wait?

Some might conclude that there is no connection, but I think not. God is an artist, and to Him six days means something:

·         Six days of creation springs immediately to mind.

·         Six days around Jericho

·         Six cubits -- the measuring rod of the Temple in Ezekiel

But in all these things, the “seventh” is the day things happen. Christ is teaching his disciples a symbolic lesson. Six days -- then the glory of God.

The touching point is this: Peter (and by implication, all the other disciples) want to stay on the mountain top. This is the passage from which we get our phrase, “mountain top experience.” This Christ does not allow them to do. For our own benefit, we need to inquire into this. Why can’t we stay on the mountain top?

·         Peter, unwittingly, provides the first explanation. He wants to build three booths (the old King James has “tabernacles.”) These booths are the ones referenced in the Feast of the Tabernacles in the Old Testament. That feast commemorates the Exodus, when the Israelites lived in tents (booths). The point? Exodus, tabernacles -- all are symbols of the fact that we cannot stay in one place -- we are on a journey. Until we arrive at home, when He comes again or we die, we are travelers. This world is not my home, mountain top or not.

·         The work, as Oswald Chambers puts it, is in the valley. We are commanded; we are supposed to be in obedience. And what is His command? That we spend all our time on the mountain top -- or down in the trenches?

·         Finally, we need to consider the purpose of the mountain top. It is to provide vision. May I suggest a parallel? Near my home is a creek. It is rare for a creek in Southern California to flow year round, but this one does. It does so because at the head of this creek is a dam; that dam stores water which enables the creek to flow in the dry season. So it is with our mountain top. It is the experience which fills the dam. We must remember, however, that the dam is filled only so that the creek may flow all year round.

The disciples have seen (likely enough) the Lord in his pre-incarnate form.[2] They are rightly terrified. How much more terrifying will it be for those who do not trust Him on the day of His return! But for those who have “been to the mountain top” we shall view it differently:

(Luke 21:26-28 NIV) Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. {27} At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. {28} When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Ultimately, this is the result of the answer to the question. Who do you say He is? If He is Christ and God, and you believe and obey, then your redemption is drawing near indeed.


[1] Revelation 22:18-19

[2] See, for example, Daniel 10:4-6

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