“Who is Jesus?”

Matthew 16:13-20

Before we jump into the middle of chapter 16 of Matthew 

I would like to recap what has happened thus far. 

The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the earliest accounts of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The author is anonymous but historically has been attributed to Matthew, the tax collector, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. After the ascension of Jesus, the disciples spent 30-40 years orally passing on what they had witnessed in their time with Jesus, telling about His teachings which they had all memorized. Matthew arranged these stories and sayings into the book we are now reading through. 

Matthew’s purpose in positioning the details was to tell how Jesus is the continuation and fulfillment of the whole Biblical story about God and Israel. 

  1. Jesus is the Messiah from the line of David
  2. Jesus is a new authoritative teacher like Moses
  3. Jesus is God with us, or in Hebrew, Emmanuel

The first thirteen chapters describe from the birth of Jesus up to where Jesus and His disciples began demonstrating how the Kingdom of God had appeared. 

As we discovered there were various responses to this proclamation. There were those who believed and received, there were those who were confused and more neutral and then there were those who were totally against the whole idea. 

As we continue with the second half of the Gospel of Matthew, we will discover how the conflict between those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah and those who don’t works out. 

Now on to today’s Scripture. 

To catch you up to chapter 16 let’s go back just a bit and set the stage. 

  • Jesus has fed thousands, for the second time
  • The Pharisees and Sadducees demand Jesus give them a sign 
  • Jesus tells them they will get no sign, except “the sign of Jonah” who by the way was a prophet who had been sent to a Gentile, unclean land

  • The disciples worry again about not having enough bread, to which Jesus warns against the “yeast of the Pharisees” and the disciples eventually get the analogy

Which brings us to today’s story. 

Notice Jesus and the disciples have again traveled to a region of Galilee that is more populated by Gentiles. Likely they were trying to escape the pressure of Jewish religious leaders, regroup and allow Jesus time to talk freely with His disciples. 

As part of their conversation Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am? Out of context this may sound like a strange question. Jesus wasn’t self-conscious and concerned about what people thought of Him. This goes back to the way of teaching done in Jesus’ day. 

Questions were posed that would get the disciples thinking and would lead up to the significant thought or idea being presented. 

His disciples respond with

  • Some say John the Baptist
  • Some say Elijah
  • Others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets

In each of these statements, seeing Jesus in these roles meant that people hoped for a political messiah who would overthrow the corrupt powers that were oppressing Israel. Sadly, each of these statements underestimates Jesus. They provide some respect or honor but they fall short of recognizing or honoring who He really is. 

Then Jesus asked the deciding question, 

  • “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus set the stage by asking what the populace was saying about Him, now this was where the rubber met the road. 

This question is as poignant today as it was then. Stop for a minute and ask yourself this question, 

  • Who do you say that Jesus is?

Knowing that we will be judged by our answer 

we should recognize that 

we answer this question every day 

by what we believe and by what we do. 

If we really believe Jesus is who He says He is, 

it will affect the way we live. 

Impetuous Peter responds with, 

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

The disciples had been following Jesus for almost three years by this time. They had been present when the crowds had swarmed around Jesus seeking a miracle or hoping for a prophetic word. We can surmise that Peter and the disciples themselves became students of Jesus because He was remarkable and unusual. However, over the course of time, having been in relationship with Jesus they understood that Jesus was not only the Messiah, the Christ, but He was also the Son of the living God. Which for a Jew meant that Jesus was God Himself, Emmanuel.

Like a good teacher, Jesus compliments His pupil for his bold and correct response. 

Jesus points out that Peter didn’t come up with this answer on his own. It was divine inspiration which had blessed Peter with both insight and boldness. 

This is a wonderful example of how God works through us naturally. Peter wasn’t even aware of God speaking through him. It goes to show that God doesn’t always speak in strange and unnatural ways. Often Godly inspiration is ordinary and simple. 

Jesus went on to tell Peter that the meaning of his name, “Rock,” which perhaps was also a description of his character, was also a promise of God’s work in him.

Here is the turning point of the story. 

Jesus was revealing that He would build His church on the cracked foundation of a flawed disciple. 

That should give us hope! 

His church today is made up of flawed individuals of which we are a part. 

But that doesn’t mean we are doomed, 

just the opposite. 

Like the disciples, we will not experience real victory until Jesus returns again. However, in the meantime, we do have the ability to unleash the power of forgiveness and grace in the world and to share the role of the church  in fighting oppression. 

Jesus continues in setting the church in a context of conflict because Jesus goes on to claim the gates of Hades will not overcome the church. 

Again, Jesus provides us hope. 

The forces of death and darkness won’t prevail against 

or conquer the church.

Next Jesus offers Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. 

How many of you have heard or seen the image of Peter at the Pearly Gates of Heaven, with keys in hand, allowing people to enter or turning them away?  Such is the imagination of others. This image is not sustained anywhere in Scripture. Jesus may have given Peter the keys to the Kingdom but nowhere does it provide authority for him to sustain this authority or pass it on. 

Jesus did however state that whatever Peter would bind on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. This was terminology used amongst the Jewish rabbis of that day. Rabbis would bind or loose an individual in the application of a particular point of law. Jesus was giving both the permission and the authority to the first generation apostles to set up the rules of the early church.

The conversation then closes with Jesus commanding His disciples not to tell anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. Can’t you see the disciples cocking their heads to the side and thinking, 

“Really? Not tell anyone?” 

Why keep it a secret?

Good question.

Let’s go back to the way people learned in the days Jesus was around. Student’s were not told information, they were allowed to discuss details and come up with their own conclusions. 

Wasn’t this the way Jesus worked? 

Show people the love, mercy, forgiveness and let the Messiah-ness come on its own. 

Okay, for all good readers out there, this is where the story turns, we have reached the climax of Matthew’s gospel. The exposition has been established followed by rising actions. Jesus’ identity has finally been deciphered and Peter has been given a new identity as well. In order for the predictions of suffering, death and resurrection to occur we had to have Jesus’ identity revealed, there is no turning back now.

Let’s go back to the idea of Peter sitting at the Pearly Gates, deciding who’s in and who’s out. What if, instead of being the Heavenly Bouncer he was there to be the Celestial Greeter? Doesn’t this make more sense? 

Later on in the New Testament Peter was inspired by a dream that led to him teaching that Gentiles, who were once excluded, should be included. 

And what about the command, “Don’t tell anyone?” 

This may not seem like a great evangelistic technique, 

Or is it? 

What if we followed the model of the Gospel of Matthew and didn’t go around proclaiming “Jesus is the Messiah,” but instead offered the signs of Jesus

  • kindness
  • mercy
  • healing
  • forgiveness
  • abundance
  • justice

Instead of approaching with Jesus first;

you approach with Jesus’ way first. 

Instead of the hard sell, act now response;

We go with the slow roll, build a relationship

and go deeper, allow the Holy Spirit to work. 

I vote for the latter. It’s not our job to save people, that is the work of the Holy Spirit, John 16:7-8, ESV

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

It is our job to live like Jesus and show kindness, mercy, healing, forgiveness, abundance, justice to everyone, regardless. 

With the help of the Holy Spirit go I. 

Let’s pray.