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Read Matthew 16:13-20 here.
Jesus said, “Who do people say that I am?”
And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah, or one of the prophets.
And Jesus answered and said, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”
And Jesus answered and said, “What?”
Who do people say that I am? What do you say?
One of my favorite parts of presbytery meetings, or really any meeting, is when someone is telling about their faith. I love hearing people tell their stories, in their own words what Jesus means to them. It’s encouraging and affirming to hear people profess their faith in an authentic way.
We have lots of more “official” theological statements. I compiled all the statements about who Jesus is from our Book of Confessions here. There are some wonderful statements in the Bible.
- Peter makes one in our reading for today: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16)
- Paul makes a great one in his letter to the Colossians: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15)
Pastors are required to write a statement of faith to be part of the information that we submit to churches when we are looking for a call. I wrote mine back in 2012. I took a look at it this week, found that it is very carefully theologically correct and complete, but not very interesting, so I may rewrite it one of these days. I think I will keep the first sentence, though:
“My faith is the foundation of my life, and the lens through which I see the world.”
Of course, that’s not unique to me. It’s true for all of us as we seek to trust God and follow Jesus. Faith is our foundation. But explaining our faith can be challenging.
Peter’s profession of faith is especially remarkable because he has this insight at a time when most people are still trying to figure out who Jesus is. Jesus points out that this insight has not come from flesh and blood, but from God. Paul tells us something similar in his letter to the Corinthians: “…no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
And then Jesus gives Peter a new name. His name was Simon, but Jesus calls him Peter which means rock. And I wonder…was Peter stone-faced when Jesus called him the rock? (Hmmmm….)
The people in Jesus’ time were expecting the Messiah to be a great prophet like Elijah or Moses.
- The prophet Malachi had said Elijah was coming.
- Malachi 4:5 5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah .. .
- And it says in 2 Kings 2:11 that “suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between [Elijah and Elisha], separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.
- Elijah didn’t die, so he was expected to come back.
- In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses prophesied, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites.”
So it’s not surprising that some said Elijah or Moses. But Peter says, “The messiah, the son of God.” He means that Jesus is one they had been expecting, the one for whom they’d been hoping and waiting.
Jesus is asking this question at a significant point in time and in a significant place. They are in Caesarea Philippi. This is as far away from Jerusalem as they will get in their travels with Jesus. From here they turn toward Jerusalem, and Jesus begins preparing the disciples for the events he knows are coming – his arrest and crucifixion. This is a turning point. From here on it will matter more and more that they understand who Jesus is and why he came.
Caesarea Philippi is not a Jewish town. There are temples here for worshipping the Greek god Pan and Caesar Augustus. This is a place that is far from God theologically. This is a place that is far from God geographically, far from the temple in Jerusalem which was at that time still considered the central place for the Jewish people to worship God.
So here in this far away place, Jesus asks for a profession of faith. Who do you say that I am?
Why does it matter? When we are far away from God, when we need God the most, we draw near to God by acknowledging Jesus as Lord, Messiah, Savior.
- John Leith says that “the Christian life begins with the call to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah.”
- Paul says that if you “declare with your mouth and believe with your heart that Jesus is Lord you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
Saying out loud what we believe helps to solidify our own faith, and helps to encourage faith in others.
One of my favorite professions of faith in the Bible is from Luke 23. There are two criminals who are being crucified next to Jesus.
39 One of the criminals hanging beside Jesus scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The criminal’s profession of faith was to stick up for Jesus when the others were mocking him. “This man hasn’t done anything wrong. . . Jesus, remember me.” A short but effective profession. “Jesus, remember me.” In those three words he’s saying that he believes in Jesus and in Jesus’ power to bring him into God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.”
Another simple profession of faith came from the centurion keeping watch over the crucifixion. – The centurion, and those who were with him, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” –Matthew 27:54
Sometimes a profession of faith is simply a cry for help. In Matthew 9 “a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, 21 for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned around, and when he saw her he said, “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
She professed her faith by taking the action of coming near enough to touch his robe. That was a turning point of faith, as she turned to Jesus for help.
When have you experienced a turning point?
When has God done something that changed your faith and your life?
Thinking about and identifying these helps us to see how God has helped our faith to grow. Some of us have been coming to church all our lives, and so we may not think we have a turning point story. But at some point the decision to come to church became our own, as we got old enough to decide for ourselves.
There will have been points in all of our lives when we made a decision to ask God for help in prayer, or to do the right thing in a situation where there were other options. Those decisions to trust God, whether we said them out loud or took a step without saying anything, are professions of faith and turning points.
Let’s take some time this week to think about our turning points, our professions of faith, our faith journeys.
Maybe you’re at a decision point right now. Where is God taking you next?
Talking about our faith helps us to clarify our thoughts. Saying things out loud helps us to use different parts of our brains. It helps so much that there’s even a term for processing our thoughts out loud. It’s called “rubber ducking.” It turns out that computer programmers have found that talking out loud through their code helps them to work through debugging.
It sounds weird, I know. But there are some advantages to talking to rubber ducks:
- Rubber ducks will never interrupt you.
- You don’t need to worry whether you are bothering the rubber duck with your problems.
- Rubber ducks don’t gossip about your private problems with other rubber ducks.
- Your trusted rubber duck is never busy and always waiting for you.
This is also true for pets, but you don’t have to feed a rubber duck. It sounds crazy, but why not give it a try?
I think it’s notable that we are reading this scripture today, between the two national conventions of our political parties. The Democratic Convention was last week, the Republican Convention is next week. We’re hearing both sides tell us that the future of our country, our hope of salvation, is that their candidate wins the election. They may not exactly say it in those terms, but that is what both sides are saying. So it’s a good time to remember that our hope of salvation is not in one candidate or another, or in a political party. Our hope is in Jesus Christ.
Jesus died and was resurrected for us all.
The decision that matters is to trust that the power of the resurrection is at work in our lives and in our world. We participate through our prayers and in our actions. We participate in our professions of faith and in the ways we love one another.
May today be a turning point for us all.
And may the peace of Christ rule in our hearts [and be thankful]. -Col 3:15
 John H. Leith, Basic Christian Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 167.