Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

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I was asked to tell you a little about myself. Therefore, who is Paula Cooper? It is kind of hard to talk about myself outside of the challenges, outside of the gates of Hades that had me trapped. However, my deliverance from those gates has developed the spirit of resilience, perseverance and character that I believe I possess. I am one of the least of these; and because of that, I have made up in my mind that I don’t want anyone, if I can help it, to feel alone or abandoned as they struggle with their own gates of Hades. A friend of mine once said, “We move from guilt, to grace, to gratitude.” The many things that I have endured have drawn me closer to Jesus, the Son of the Living God. It is out of this gratitude that I serve Him, and that I am most honored to go to Zambia to help life “the least of these…” It is as if God is saying to me, “I saved you, and I’m going to use you to help Me save others!!”

 

Please join me in prayer:  Father, have Your way in this sacred place. Please, create in us a willing and submissive spirit that allows Your Holy Spirit to permeate in our hearts, minds, and souls, so we can evolve into living sacrifices, acceptable to You, O Lord, and to Your Will for our lives. May we decrease so that Jesus may increase in us as He moves our faith into action!

 

Our focus today is on the passage in Matthew 16:13-20. Today’s sermon title is: But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

Have you ever asked a question beginning with the word, Who? Who is that girl? Who is this new boyfriend of yours? Who is your BFF? Who are you going out with tonight? Who are you talking to on the phone or on the Internet? Who is that person sitting on the church stairs?

 

Someone wanted me to tell you who I am.

We ask these questions because we assume the person we’re asking knows something about that person—can identify the person, to give us some insight to who they’re dealing with.

 

To know someone’s identity could suggest that we must be intentional about getting to know them.  It might mean that we may have to have a conversation with them or spend some time with them to forge some type of relationship. Once we’ve done that, perhaps, a negative or positive impression is revealed. Perhaps, after all of this, we learn enough about a person that we can share who they are with the one who is asking.

Regardless of all of this, if our hearts and minds are not positioned to get to know someone; if we come with our own agendas, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the people who just wanted to be healed, then it won’t matter who a person really is.

The dictionary defines the word “identity” as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.”[1]

 

But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

 

Let’s try to recall some of the accounts that may have led up to the Who questions in today’s passage. We’ll start at chapter 15. Matthew records stories with subtitles such as: The Tradition of the Elders, Things that Defile, The Canaanite Woman’s Faith, Jesus Cures Many People, Feeds Four Thousand. Then, in chapter 16, we have the Demand for a Sign, The Yeast of the Pharisee and Sadducees, and then there’s today’s passage, Peter’s Declaration about Jesus.

 

 

I just want to repeat, Jesus is teaching, healing, curing, admonishing, and revealing to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the people, and the disciples who He is in God.

He has come to save the house of Israel, God’s chosen people; and they just aren’t getting it… They have strayed away from the Word of God, and it is noticeable by the way they are treating the “least of these.” However, despite His teachings, despite the healings, despite the feeding of the 9000, and despite all he is sharing regarding the One who has sent Him, His Father, it is not piercing the hearts and minds of most of the people…

 

But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

 

In chapter 16, verses 1-12, the Pharisees and Sadducees come, again, seeking another sign because they cannot, or will not, believe that he is the Messiah.

By this time, I would think Jesus is probably fed-up, and He tells them that the only sign that will be forthcoming will be the “sign of Jonah.” Some say that this “sign of Jonah” is referring to Jonah’s trip to Nineveh to warn the people of their wicked says and for them to turn back to God. Could it be that Jesus was alluding to the fact that He and Jonah have similar calls? Perhaps by stating that “the only sign they will see is the ‘sign of Jonah,’ is a correlation to the miracle and rescue of Jonah from the belly of the whale after 3 days and Jesus’ rising from the dead on the 3rd day. Is Jesus exhausted with them and is just refusing to continue trying to prove his identity?

 

Charles Swindoll states, “Rather than believe, they accused Jesus of doing this by the power of Satan. Jesus recognized their hardness of heart and refused to give them further proof of His identity.”[2]

 

Therefore, after this, Jesus warns the disciples to not be like these leaders and to beware of their yeast.

 

My friends, “Yeast is used symbolically in the Bible to represent influence, usually negatively. Just as a little bit of yeast works through and permeates dough, thereby producing a noticeable result (that is, the bread rises), so to[o] does influence, be it good or bad. In Galatians 5:9, Paul says that false teaching is like yeast. Seemingly, the only positive usage of yeast in the Bible is when Jesus says that the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven [is] like yeast (Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:18-21).[3]

However, the disciples are clueless! They are focused on the fact that they have forgotten to bring bread on the trip; so, they thought that he was talking about them leaving the bread.

 

Folks, why are they worried about bread? They are in the presence of the “Bread of Life.” The Giver of Life who cures, heals, and feeds more than 9000 people. Surely, he will feed them?

 

But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

 

As we come to verse 13, we enter Caesarea Philippi with Jesus and the disciples; a district known for its paganism—idols, idol worship, sin, you name it…

 

Some scholars think that perhaps Jesus asks the questions out of frustration, because many still do not believe who He is, which is demonstrated by the responses of the Jewish people, God’s chosen people; or perhaps, Jesus is just drained emotionally, knowing of the journey he will soon take on the Via Dolorosa Road to Calvary. Perhaps he is wearying from the previous encounters or journeys that he asks the question: Who do people say that I am? The disciples answer with names of well-known dead prophets: John the Baptist! Elijah! Jeremiah! One of the Prophets!

 

I would venture to say that this probably strikes a nerve, because, His Father, our God is a Living God!

 

People, the Living God is right there in the city with you! My dear friends, God is right here with us.

 

God is curing them, healing them, feeding them, and delivering them! My brothers and sisters, God is still curing, healing, and delivering today. He is the Living God. The dead prophets are just historical reminders of God’s work in and through them. His identity is revealed through them!! God is still working through us!

Paul tells us in the Romans passage that God has given of gifts to continue the work of His mission: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

 

 

Warren W. Weirsbe says, “A right confession of who He (Jesus) is, is the basis to salvation. His person and His work go together and must never be separated.”[4]

God continues to work in Jesus, the Son of God, the Ultimate Prophet, the Ultimate King, and the Ultimate Priest!

Perhaps because of these answers, Jesus needs to hear from his disciples, who have been walking with Him for almost 3 years. Surely, they will know who He is. He poses the question to the disciples: But Who Do You Say I Am?

 

Peter proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God the Living God!” Jesus responds by saying: Yay, Peter you got it right! He goes on to say, “Simon Son of Jonah, no flesh or blood has revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven. As he continues, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

 

What? Amid, a city practicing paganism, Peter proclaims a Truth from Heaven!! Amid the paganism and false teachings that saturate our cities today, what do we proclaim?

 

But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

 

What does Jesus mean when He says, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it?”

 

The Roman church has one idea. There are other scholars who speculate that Jesus may have meant that he would build His church through the work of Peter and disciples. Others believe that Jesus could have meant that the church was to be built on Peter’s confession; and then there are others who think that, because Matthew chose to use the Greek words “petros” and “rock”, it could support the verse in 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[5]

 

So, does this mean that the church should be operating through our efforts? Our confessions? This brings me right back to the Romans passage where Paul is trying to persuade us: “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. Do 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. 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 judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.”

 

If we work in the gifts that God has gifted us, we will be able to provide means that will lift the gates of Hades off the backs of God’s people—those things unforeseen to us but that they endure every day. So, you ask, “What is this ‘gates of Hades?’” I’m glad you asked. Jamieson et al wrote that the “‘gates of Hades’, or the unseen world; meaning, the gates of Death: in other words, ‘It shall never perish.’ Some explain it as ‘the assaults of the powers of darkness’; but though that expresses a glorious truth, probably the former is the sense here.”[6]

 

Suppose, today, Jesus asked you who do you say I am?

 

You’ve been a church member for years. Do you really know me? Do you know that I am the Son of the Living God? Do you know that I truly want to walk with you on your journey? Do you trust me? Do others know that you know me?

 

But Who Do You Say I am?

 

Are you caring for the least of these: the hungry, the naked, are you visiting the sick and the prisoners? Are you fighting against the systemic injustices that oppress my people?

 

 

Do you do anything to deliver my people from the gates of Hades? The things that keep them bound, captured and trapped in sin…

 

Do you know who I am, so that my people can “have life, and have it abundantly?”[7] Do you know why I went to the cross?

 

What would be your answer?

 

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/identity {Accessed on August 26, 2017}

[2] Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll – https://www.gotquestions.org/sign-of-Jonah.html. {Accessed on August 26, 2017}

[3] http://www.theopedia.com/yeast {Accessed on August 26, 2017}

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996) 57-59: Logos Research Systems, Inc.,.

[5] 1 Peter 2:5, NRSV.

[6] Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

[7] John 10:10, NRSV