August 27, 2023


Passage: Matthew 16:13-17

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
— Matthew 16:13-27, ESV

Sometimes the most important words you hear in life are followed by a question mark.  Questions cause thinking.  Thinking yields answers.  Answers can show the way, the truth, and the life.

When Haddon Robinson taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he challenged his students to take on any text with questions.  An early lecture always contained the following ditty: “I had six faithful friends, who taught me all I knew, their names were What, When, and Where; Why, How, and Who.”

When James Montgomery Boice wrote about the gospel, he said the best way to lead people to Christ is to help them ask the right questions.  Who is Jesus?  What did He do?  Why did He do it?  What does this require of me?

Jesus’ first recorded words in the Bible (chronologically) were questions.  “Why are you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (ref. Luke 2:49).”  This served to remind Joseph and Mary of who they were really dealing with.  The Lord continued with this motif as He preached in His public ministry, with about a hundred and thirty-five questions coming from His mouth recorded in the four Gospels.  Some of them include:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (ref. Matthew 6:27)  Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (ref. Mark 4:40)  Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (ref. Matthew 12:48)  Why do you call me good? (ref. Mark 10:18)  Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (ref. Luke 6:46)  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (ref. Matthew 16:26)?  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? (ref. Luke 24:26)  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (ref. Matthew 27:46)  Do you love me? (ref. John 21:17)

That last question was asked to the same Simon Peter we see here.  He did, savingly, albeit imperfectly.  Do you?  To know Jesus is to love Him, but to know Him is to find the right answer to the key questions asked by Jesus in Caesarea Philippi.

The Perfect Setting

It is important to note the setting of this gospel Q&A session taking place.  Jesus had gone with the twelve to an area twenty-five miles north of Capernaum, where most of their ministry had unfolded.  Caesarea Philippi was the perfect place, free from distractions, where Christ could press them for commitments to His person and work.

It was perfect timing, too, as God’s timing is always perfect.  By this time Jesus had invested over two years of His life into these men, choosing twelve to resemble the twelve tribes of Israel, molding them into the leaders of the new Israel, the new covenant church, the new visible expression of the kingdom of God.

Modern evangelicalism shows little of the patience of the Lord when dealing with the souls of people.  Some think in two minutes or two verses of an invitation hymn we can turn people into disciples of Christ.  Jesus took two years before pressing these men, the best of men (although one of them was a fraud), for a decision.

God let me live to be twenty years of age before He asked me to follow Him.  Of course, other people had pressed sooner, and caused a great deal of confusion.  But when God calls you, it sticks.  How old were you?  Maybe, after many years of patience, God is pressing upon you today.  So let’s get to the questions.

The Perfect Questions  

There stood Jesus with the twelve.  The perfect place and the perfect time yielded the perfect questions.  One regarded public opinion, the next called for personal faith.  It was a brilliant one-two punch, delivered by the Champion of champions, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Opinion polls make great conversation starters, and usually serve to illustrate the depravity or stupidity of man.  Most polls in our age are political, and I like to steer clear of politics in the pulpit.  Let’s keep our focus on Christ and Christianity, as the Lord Himself did in this episode.

Popular opinion in Jesus’ day offered an array of wrong answers.  “John the Baptist” was a rumor started by a guilt-stricken Herod Antipas.  “Elijah” reflected the Jewish ideal that the fiery prophet who rode off to Heaven in a fiery chariot would return and light a fire of revival in Israel (ironically, John the Baptist actually filled this role).  I’m not sure where the answer of “Jeremiah” came from, as he was a most despised prophet, despised for telling the truth, during a most desperate time in the history of Israel.

The problem with popular opinion in Jesus’ day was that neither John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, nor any of the old prophets were God.  Jesus is God, with us, for us, instead of us, come to save us.  No mere mortal will do, including you, for no one can save himself.

“Who do you say that I am?”

This is the question of all questions.  This is the punchline of all punchlines.  This is eternity in the balance.  This is the moment of truth.  In the combination of the two questions, Jesus clearly sees Himself as the Christ, the Messiah, the “Son of Man.”  Now it is up to the twelve Apostles to decide.

If you are ever to go to Heaven, then understand it does not matter who your mother thinks Jesus is.  It does not matter who your Pastor thinks Jesus is.  It does not matter who your influential friends or a social media influencer thinks Jesus is.  It matters who you think Jesus is, and you need to think right.

The Imperfect Answer

Now stepping up to the plate, the fisherman from the Sea of Galilee, Simeon Bar-Jonah.  Simeon’s father, Jonah, was a fisherman, too.  Jonah is a very good name for a Jewish fisherman.  Simeon was about to have his name changed to an even better one, forever.  Now he swings.  And he hits.

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

This sounds like the perfect answer, and it gets about as close to it as one can get.  Jesus is the promised Messiah, from the promised line of King David.  Jesus is the promised Messiah, begotten of God, God with us, through the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.  Jesus is Savior.  Jesus is Lord.

Everything has been perfect in this episode so far, except for Simon Peter’s answer.  If it were perfect, then why was Peter still expecting Jesus to lead a violent overthrow of the Roman Empire?  If it were perfect, then why does Jesus call Peter “Satan” in the next episode, because Peter forbids Jesus to go to the cross.  If it were perfect, then why does Peter, in less than a year, deny he even knows Jesus Christ?  If it were perfect, when why does Peter literally hide from Jesus, in doubt and despair, after the resurrection?

I am not saying that Simon Peter was not saved.  He was, is, and always will be.  Jesus pronounced him “Blessed,” a joyful and peaceful state of being belonging only to those who belong to God.  Look him up in Heaven, when you get there, if you get there.  And get there you will, if you make an imperfect profession of faith, like the imperfect Simon Peter.

Peter’s understanding of the theological triunity of God was imperfect and in formation, but he believed that Jesus was, is, and always will be God, a necessity for salvation.  Peter imperfectly passed through the valley of doubt and denial, but he never disbelieved the essential gospel of Jesus Christ.  Peter imperfectly plodded through the Christian life, as we all do, but all believers do plod, do persevere, do prove that once saved you will always live like a saved person, imperfectly, but faithfully, constantly, perseveringly.

The Perfect Understanding

With Peter’s profound profession of faith now in the books, it is left to Jesus to close this chapter with a perfect understanding of what has just transpired.

“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

When I was about ten years old, my best friend Ray’s parents owned and operated a barbershop and gym.  They cut my hair for free (until it fell out) and let me work out in their gym (another thing that didn’t last long).  On the wall of the gym were the names of anyone ten and under who could bench press 100 pounds or more.  I wanted to see my name on that list!

So, with my dad and best friend’s dad as a witness, I laid down on the bench, took the weights in my hands, and let the bar fall to my chest.  Then I pushed, and pushed, and the weights began to rise.  About half way up they got stuck, so I closed my eyes and pushed as hard as I could.  They did not move at first, but then began to rise, all the way up.  I opened my eyes and the weights were back on the rack.

Mr. Luke didn’t write my name on the chart.  My dad didn’t say much, just a faint congratulations.  I wanted my name on that wall, but humility prevented me from saying anything.  And it’s a good thing.  When we got home, my dad told me that when I faltered, and when I closed by eyes and strained, Mr. Luke grabbed the bar and lifted it for me and placed it back on the rack.

Peter could not pat himself on the back for his profession faith in Jesus Christ.  He had not pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.  He could not even say he took the first step and God took the rest.  As Jesus explained, his faith was owed to grace, all of God’s doing, and all glory belongs to Him.  So it is with me, too, and any other Christian who makes a personal profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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