Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:13-20

Here comes the first line in the sand. “But who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asked this question of the disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This is a beautiful place. It is in the wooded foothills of Mount Hermon. A spring of water comes out of a grotto creating a small stream that gives birth to the Jordan River. Its significance reaches back to Alexander the Great who established a temple to honor the Greek god of nature, Pan. Later it became a Roman imperial city, an administrative center, renamed to honor Caesar Augustus.

Jesus traveled all the way north from Galilee, to the very edge of Israel, to an historic place that represented creation, pagan idolatry, and political power and only then asked his questions. “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?”

The options haven’t changed much over the years. Some say John the Baptist – an edgy religious teacher, a spiritual revolutionary – others say Elijah – a miracle worker who channels the power of God – still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets – one who speaks on God’s behalf to challenge both the people and their leaders. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t disagree with any of that. But the real question is the one that follows.

But who do you say that I am?” Now he gets personal. Standing there, so close to the earthly power centers of pagan religion, emperor devotion, and political power, Jesus draws his line in the sand. He asks his disciples, and he asks us, “Who am I, to you?”

We only hear Peter’s response. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” You, not Caesar, are the chosen one, the anointed one, the Savior, and Lord of all. You are the Son of the living God, not the ancient gods of nature who were so quick to bless earthly power, to welcome Caesars into their pantheon of divinity. Peter got it right.

Jesus quickly affirms Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.” That’s an interesting title. Remember Jesus’ words from verse 4 of this chapter? “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” More on that tomorrow.

Today Jesus asks us, “Who is Jesus, to us?” Is he a spiritual sideshow or Lord of our lives? Is he a magician, a miracle worker, good only for our entertainment or perhaps our rescue? Or is he the living embodiment of God, the One who reveals God’s will for all of life?

Martin Luther taught that our god is anything we look to for status, identity, and security. Who will it be? Caesar or Jesus? The gods of culture or the God of Creation? Who am I, to you?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we don’t always, or even often, understand you. We don’t see you clearly. Our eyes are so easily blinded, our vision clouded, by the voices that call for our obedience and devotion. We need what Peter received, that power greater than ourselves, that insight that comes only from your Spirit, that we might believe, trust, and follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 16:13-20”

  1. Sue Faillettaz Says:

    Thank you so much for your closing prayer today; it is so true. I find more and more that we hear how the original Greek said something else, making me wonder just what is the truth . And you remind us that the Spirit will make things clear.

  2. Sharon Says:

    P. Kerry, thank you for this series from Matthew. Each day, the power of the Gospel comes through as you give background and discuss the passage. And, your challenges to us are clear and crucial. God bless you for continuing to write.

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