Who Is Jesus?

Who Is Jesus?

August 27th, 2017

Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.* 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 

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.

A well-known pastor was visiting an Old Age Home. While sitting opposite one of his elderly parishioners he asked “Do you know who I am?” She replied, “No, but if you go to reception, they will tell you”.

Who are you?  The question of identity is a question of great importance.  While it is most essentially an issue for teenagers and young people seeking to discover who they are and where in the world they fit; the question keeps reappearing in different guises throughout our lives.

The central question of the reading from Matthew has to do with the identity of Jesus.  Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  That is a grand statement.  What does it mean?

Who is Jesus?  Peter is answering a question that is addressed to every church member.  For all who are members of a Presbyterian Church have declared in public, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.”

Some decades ago, looking for an inoffensive way of fulfilling the requirement that we “examine” candidates for church membership, I began the practice of asking, “What does it mean to you to say that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.”  It seems to me that if we are going to make this confession, we ought to be able to speak to its meaning.

I’m not looking for any particular answer.  I hope I will hear an answer that is appropriate to the person’s age, place in life, and ability to understand.  In other words, I hope to hear something honest.  I also hope I will hear an answer I can hang somewhere on the tree of Christian tradition.  Nevertheless, the fact is, the answer to this question is ultimately a very personal response to what each of us has found in Jesus.

Furthermore, every time I try to answer that question for myself, the answer turns out to be different.  Presumably I have matured in my faith.  So the answer should be different, perhaps deeper, or simpler, or addressing some facet I have not previously addressed.

When you and I confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are not only saying something about Jesus.  There is a synergy involved such that the more we learn of Jesus and his Father, the more we learn of ourselves.

In our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, you and I are saying something about ourselves.  We are expressing our identity both as Christians and as human beings.  From time to time we have to come back to this question of identity and explore it again.  Who am I, and who am I in relationship to Jesus Christ?  Our responses will grow with our faith.

Another aspect of our reading addresses what happens to us when we make this confession.  We see what happens to us in what happens to Peter.  First, Peter was given power and authority.  Then Peter was given a mission and responsibility.

And that is what happens to you and me.  We receive power and authority.  We receive mission and responsibility.

Power and authority.  To what extent do you feel powerful?  I think the naked truth is that mostly you and I feel powerless.  I look at things in this world I would like to change and I’m tempted to retreat.  To a monastery.

We make jokes about our politicians and our president.  Underlying these jokes is a terrible truth: They are not in control.  Some of them cannot even manage themselves let alone the direction of the nation.

You and I try to make things right in our households but somehow it seems like our good intentions are not enough.  We are like beauty contestants who get up and say our greatest desire is for world peace.  If only we could make that happen.

Perhaps you and I underestimate our influence over others, especially those close to us.  We are often unaware of the effect we have on others by the example we set, the purposes we pursue, the way we carry ourselves through life.

The person over whom we have the most influence is ourselves.  You and I have power is in the power to change ourselves, to change our behavior, to change our attitudes.  You can’t change anyone else, but you can nurture change in yourself.

I regard this as one of the most important goals of spiritual life.  I aim to be formed, reformed, transformed by daily prayer and Scripture reading.  I keep a list of virtues I want to be working on so that through daily exposure to the Word of God I might become the man God intended from the beginning.

Only you can stop demanding that you be loved and discover the joy of loving others.  I am not the first pastor to say that I began my ministry reminding people, “We have to love.  We have to love.”  It took me awhile to understand, “We get to love.  It is a privilege to love.”  With God’s help, you and I can experience that kind of change in our lives.  We can stop looking for love and instead we can receive the power to become love.

It’s an interesting paradox that when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord, acknowledge him as our sovereign, it is we who are empowered.  We don’t empower Jesus.  He empowers us when we acknowledge him as Lord and Savior.  We receive power and authority.

Those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are also given a responsibility.  You and I are tasked with a mission, a purpose.

Who among us wants to die without knowing why we were here?  You and I need a purpose bigger than ourselves.  What purpose will you serve?

God answers that need by giving us a purpose.  In broad terms that purpose is “love of neighbor.”  It is love of neighbor near and far.

The same Jesus who teaches us to love is the Jesus who is calling everyone in this room to some form of ministry.  It may be a simple thing.  I remember in Des Moines there were two women in their late eighties, Elsie and Sarah.  If I went to visit Elsie, I knew I had to leave before three o’clock.    That was when Sarah would call and they would chat for half an hour or more even though Elsie had called Sarah at ten that morning.  They were each being sure the other was okay.  It was their ministry to each other.

I have learned never to settle for excuses like I’m too old or I’m too frail.  Every one of us needs a reason to get up in the morning.  Every one of us needs a mission and every one of us is called to some responsibility.

I remember a dear friend of my family, who was also my campus pastor at Cal Poly.  Ray had a brother whose job was garbage collection.  Ray’s brother felt that he was every bit as much called to the collection of garbage as Ray was to ministry.  I appreciate the people who haul away my garbage and if I had to choose between having a pastor and having a garbage collector—that might be a hard choice for some of us.

There are some criteria that seem to apply to recognizing one’s mission.  For example, mission responsibility always requires us to serve beyond the bounds of our families just as in the church it requires us to look beyond the walls of the church.  Every time you and I draw a boundary and say my giving goes this far away and no further—every time you and I draw lines like that Jesus comes along with an eraser.  He asks us to stretch ourselves, to reach a little further and a little further until our love reaches out to embrace the whole world, the world God loves.

Friends, our faith is a global faith.  No one gets left out.  Our reach must be far as well as near.  God calls us to reach out beyond our comfort zone.

Often the best we can do for people far away is give money, fund missionaries.  Build potable water systems.  Sometimes we can do things not so very far away and send our own people as we have done.

And if you and I cannot do much for world peace, let’s strive for peace in our households, in our neighborhood, in our community.

In short, there are serious consequences to confessing Jesus Christ.  It was Peter who first saw God’s presence in Jesus.  It was Peter who first confessed Jesus Christ as savior.  And what happens is that as the reward for recognizing the Christ, Peter received power and authority; a mission and responsibility.  So it is for us.

And one more thing:  The woman said, “If you go to reception they will tell you who you are.”  When we go to Scripture and prayer, seeking to know God, we also discover who we are, and perhaps more importantly, who we were meant to be.

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