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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Who Do You Say I Am?
Text:Matthew 16:13-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2013
Added:2023-07-11
Updated:2023-07-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Church’s One Foundation
‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Onward Christian Soldiers

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


05/26/2013
“Who Do You Say I Am?”
Matthew 16:13-20
 
The answer to the question of Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” is the most important answer that you and I can give. It is crucial to be able to answer that question correctly, yet most people can’t do so. Most people today, just as in the day of Jesus, don’t know His true identity. Many people today describe Jesus as nothing more than a good teacher, a moral man, while many others would describe him as a charlatan, even a figment of imagination in the minds of Christians. Still others deride him as Beelzebub, the evil one, just as the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. Still others acknowledge with their lips that He is the Messiah – the Son of the living God – but they don’t acknowledge that truth with their hearts and lives.
 
In that way, people today are no different than those in Jesus’ day. From verses 13 and 14 we see that the people of Jesus’ day didn’t really know who He was. Those verses tell us, When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’  They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”
 
It is significant that this discussion took place at Caesarea Philippi, for it was known as a center of false religion and paganism. Originally it had been called Paneas in honor of the Greek god, Pan, whose shrine was located there. The people had all sorts of ideas, not just concerning false gods and idols, but all sorts of ideas about the identity of the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ.
 
Some believed that He was John the Baptist, raised from the dead. That belief seems to have originated with King Herod. The 14th chapter of Matthew begins by describing how “Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’”
      
Herod had beheaded John at the request of the daughter of Herodias, but it came back to haunt him. When he heard of the miracles Jesus performed, he was certain that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Many others seem to have taken that view.
 
Another popular conception of who Jesus was came from the idea that Elijah had returned to earth from heaven in the person of Jesus. The Jewish people were well acquainted with the account of how Elijah the prophet was whisked up into heaven. Before his amazing transport into glory, the Lord had performed many miracles through Elijah.
 
For example, when Elijah stayed with the widow at Zarephath during a devastating drought, the Lord provided a jar of flour and a jug of oil that did run out. Later on, after the drought, the widow’s boy died, but in response to Elijah’s prayer, the boy came back to life. And on Mount Carmel, God gave Elijah a dramatic victory over the priests of Baal, as fire from heaven lit the sacrifice drenched in water.
 
In addition to these miracles and many others, Malachi 4:5-6, contains a prophecy that the Lord would send Elijah back to earth “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  Consequently, as the people saw the power of Jesus to perform miracles many surmised that this was Elijah, returned from heaven, even though Jesus had already explained that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that prophecy, as recorded in Matthew 11:13 and 14.
 
Others believed that Jesus was Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s name came up because in the Jewish writing of 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 – part of the Apocrypha, which isn’t in the canon of Scripture – there is a reference to Jeremiah hiding the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense, along with the tent of the tabernacle, in a cave. Many believed that he would return before the Messianic age, to restore the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and the altar of incense for public worship. Still others believed Jesus was one of the other Old Testament prophets, now raised from the dead.
    
The people had some interesting ideas, didn’t they? But none of them seemed to know the true identity of Jesus. So Jesus made the question more personal for His disciples. In verse 15 He asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”         
 
The question was addressed to all the disciples. The “you” is in the plural, but it is Peter who speaks up. That’s not surprising. Peter was often the spokesperson, but quite often he put his foot in his mouth and said things that were off beat. For instance, in the next chapter, on the Mount of Transfiguration as Peter sees Moses and Elijah with Jesus, he blurts out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matt. 17:4)
 
Although Peter was known for some of those off the wall comments, here in verse 16 Peter gives the perfect answer. He says to Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.In his answer, Peter describes the true identity of Jesus. He is the Christ, which means Messiah, so He is the One spoken about in the Old Testament prophecies. He is the true descendant of David who will reign on David’s throne eternally.
 
And Peter’s answer focuses on the divinity of Jesus as the Son of the living God.” Jesus is truly God Himself, the eternal Son of the Father, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Peter recognized the true identity of Jesus: the promised Messiah, the eternal Son of the Living God.
 
All of Grace
        
The reply of Jesus teaches that our knowledge of Him is all of His grace. In verse 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
 
If you and I have, as Peter had, a proper understanding of the identity of Jesus, it is because God has revealed that to us. Having a true knowledge of Jesus is a gift from God and we can take no credit for it. Our salvation is not part God and part us. It is often presented that way, but biblically it is all of God’s grace. Peter’s knowledge of the true identity of Jesus was supplied by the Father.
 
The same is true for you and for me. We have the knowledge of who Christ is because of the Father’s electing love and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
 
The truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone – and that this is a gift from God, not due to a wise decision or goodness on our part – this biblical teaching of election and its counterpart of reprobation, is woven throughout Scripture, Old Testament and New. Yet it is denied – actually detested – by many professing Christians. Why?  Because it totally humbles humanity and totally exalts God. 
      
The truth of God’s electing love – that the reason we who have saving faith in Jesus is because of God’s work in us and not of our own doing – isn’t the only thing in this passage that has led to many differences of opinion within the visible church. As Jesus commends Peter, He says a number of statements in verses 18 and 19 that have led to numerous differences of opinion in the church.
 
“On this Rock”
 
In verse 18 the Lord makes a play on words and says to Peter, whose name means “rock,” On this rock I will build My church.”
 
The Roman Catholic Church uses this verse to support their view that Peter was the first pope. As Pope he would be God’s vicar on earth, having keys to the kingdom of heaven and able to influence heaven itself as whatever the Pope binds or looses on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven.
 
Obviously, we who are Protestant don’t take that view. There is no other verse in Scripture that would somehow infer that Peter was the first pope, and neither does this verse. We believe that the church is built on Christ, but He certainly used Peter and the other Apostles as part of the foundation for the church in the New Testament. 
 
Ephesians 2:20 brings out clearly that the church is built on Christ, but also on Peter and the apostles. In that chapter, Paul describes how Jews and Gentiles alike come together as one group and are built into a holy temple, which is a picture of the true church. He writes:
 
“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
 
Several writers point out that if the Roman Catholic Church hadn’t used Matthew 16:18 as a basis for their teaching that Peter was the first Pope, then virtually everyone who reads the text would take it at face value: The Lord did build His church on Peter and the other apostles, and He did so in a remarkable way.
 
We see that unfold on the Day of Pentecost. Who preached? It was Peter, and by his preaching he held the keys of the kingdom, as about 3,000 believed and were brought into the kingdom, while others continued to scoff, saying that Peter and the apostles had too much to drink. 
 
Although Peter was used in that unique way at Pentecost, he never had the infallibility that the Roman Catholic church ascribes to the Pope. At the council of Jerusalem it was James who had the last word (Acts 15:13), and in Galatia Peter erred in what he taught to the point that Paul had to oppose him to his face (Gal. 2:11). And in the next section of this chapter we find our Lord rebuking Peter, and saying, “Get behind me, Satan.” (Matt. 16:22)
 
It is truly amazing that Christ, who is the cornerstone of the church and its true foundation, uses fallible men to be a vital part of his church, even Peter and the apostles in the first century, and people like you and like me today. The Lord builds His church on those who by His grace have the same confession of Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
 
The Gates of Hell
   
Another statement of Jesus that has led to much discussion is in the last part of verse 18 where Jesus describes how the gates of Hades” – “the gates of hell,” as the ESV and most other translations put it – “will not overcome it”, that is, the true church.
                      
There are at least two ways of looking at this statement. You can look at it both “offensively” and “defensively.”  Often it is looked at defensively, meaning that we look at the forces of evil in this world, led by the devil himself, intent on destroying the true church. And as we see the animosity and the hatred of the world and the evil one against God and His people, we take great comfort in this promise of Jesus that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (ESV) that is, the true church.
   
But you can also look at this statement of Jesus offensively. You can see it as a promise of Jesus that the gospel will overcome the evil of this world. The keys of the kingdom will be used to open the doorway of heaven to a great multitude and the gates of hell will wither before the power of the advancing gospel. Both views have merit, and we as believers in a hostile world are to take great comfort and encouragement from the truth that not even the gates of hell can prevail against Christ and His people.
   
Whenever we have a series out of the Old Testament and the New, I am always surprised – though I shouldn’t be – at how both work in harmony. I’m always amazed at the clarity of the sixty-six books of Scripture being one message from our Lord. For example, in a recent series on God’s grace in David’s life, we saw that the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, was not merely against his father David. His rebellion was against the Lord who had decreed that the throne would belong to David. He opposed God and came to a terrible end. In that way he is an example of those who oppose the Lord, and His people.
 
Even though the church is severely persecuted, tried, ridiculed and mocked, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Those who oppose the Lord and His church will come, as did Absalom, to a horrible end, if not in this life, then in the life to come.
    
The Keys of the Kingdom
 
Verse 19 gives us a third statement of Jesus about which there has been much discussion. He says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
 
“The keys of the kingdom of heaven” refer to the preaching of the gospel and to church discipline. The key to your house unlocks the door and locks it again. The preaching of the gospel and church discipline work the same way. The keys of the kingdom unlock the door leading to salvation, and the keys lock that door of glory to those who reject the Lord without repentance.
 
That the preaching of the gospel both opens and closes the door to the kingdom of heaven is clearly taught throughout Scripture, including 1 Corinthians 1:1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 
 
Two people can hear the same message, one of them takes it to heart and has saving faith, the other finds the preaching of the gospel to be foolishness. It comes back to God’s sovereign grace. It comes back to God’s electing love; it comes back to the words of Jesus to Peter in verse 16, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” 
 
The same is true with the key of church discipline. When Jesus speaks of the keys of the kingdom – “whatever you bind…whatever you loose” (v. 19) – He is referring to the authority God gives to church leaders – specifically our elders and pastors, to exercise loving but firm church discipline.
 
Admittingly, discipline is not a popular topic in most churches today, but it is a popular topic in the pages of Scripture. The reason it is, is that God disciplines those whom He loves, and He does so to bring us to repentance.
 
The preaching of the gospel and the faithful exercise of church discipline are the keys that open and close the kingdom of heaven. To some people preaching is foolishness; to others it is the power of salvation. In a similar way, some people, when disciplined, are thankful, recognizing as Hebrews 12:11 states that “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Others are angered by discipline, and with hardened hearts, turn themselves away from the church and her Lord. As such, they lock themselves out of the kingdom.
 
We read of that truth throughout the Scriptures, and we also read of that truth through the lens of Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Question 83 asks: “What are the keys of the kingdom?”, and is answered with: “The preaching of the gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.”
 
The door has been opened through the preaching of the gospel and the corrective discipline of the Lord for those who have been trained by it. Have you and I gone through that door? Have we gone through just in our motions and traditions? Or have we gone through that door with the heartfelt confession of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”?
 
The answer to the question of Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” is the most important answer that you and I can give.  But it is not enough to have the right answer in our head. The knowledge of who Christ is must result in a response from our heart, from the center of our being. Only then will it transform our life.  
 
If by God’s grace you know the true identity of Jesus, then respond by living to the praise of His glorious grace, always confessing and rejoicing that He who is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” came to this earth to redeem sinners from their sins. Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
                                                                              Matthew 16:15
 
                           “Who Do You Say I Am?”
                                 Matthew 16:13-20
 
I. The answers to the two questions Jesus asked (13-17) reveal:
    1) Most people don’t know the true identity of Jesus (13-14)
 
 
 
 
    2) Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16)
 
 
 
 
    3) It is by God’s grace we have a saving knowledge of Christ (17)
 
 
 
 
II. There are many different views on what is meant by Jesus’ words:
     1) On this rock I will build my church (18b)
 
 
 
 
     2) The gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome it (18c)
 
 
 
 
     3) The keys of the kingdom of heaven (19)
 
 
 
 
III. Since it is by grace that we know the true identity of Jesus (16-17),
      we are to live to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-12)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Ted Gray

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