Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sermon: "On This Rock"

Matthew 16:13-20
August 21, 2011
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost


Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.



Dallas Willard begins his book, The Divine Conspiracy, with this story:

“Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent – and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.”

Willard goes on to say:

“This is a parable of human existence in our times – not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that – but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference – or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.”

We live in a world that sometimes seems confused about Truth (with a capital “T”). We wonder: Is there a source of absolute Truth or is all truth relative? Does it all just depend on your point of view? In other words, how do we know if we’re right side up or upside down?

At the same time, people are looking for foundation on which to build their lives. No one would choose to base their life on a lie.
Yet we do try to live according to things that are less than true. But the Bible keeps beckoning us back to the Truth.

There is no greater truth than the one expressed here by Simon Peter in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Who do you say that I am?”

The answer to that question determines if we’re flying right side up or upside down. The answer’s not evident right away to many people, either then or now.

I can imagine the disciples sitting around a campfire with Jesus, maybe telling stories about what happened to them that day, when all of a sudden, the conversation turns serious. Jesus gets that look in his eye that he always gets when he’s about to put the disciples on the spot and ask a question that no one really wants to answer.

I remember being in classes in college and seminary when I hadn’t finished the reading assignment for that day and the professor would ask a question to which I didn’t know the answer. I would try to become as invisible as possible, hoping he didn’t call on me. Maybe that’s how the disciples felt, at least a little bit.

Jesus asked, to none of them in particular, “Who do people say that I am?” “Whew,” they thought. “That’s not so hard.” They heard people talking about Jesus. They knew the word on the street was that he could be John the Baptist come back from the dead; or the prophet Elijah, who’d never really died but had been taken up into heaven; or a new Jeremiah or one of the prophets. So that’s what the told Jesus.

People today still struggle to come to terms with who Jesus was/is.
Research data from a poll conducted by the George Barna group show:
• 88% believe he was real and 85% believe he was born to a virgin
• 43% of adults believe he committed sins on earth.
• 39% say he was crucified but never had physical resurrection

Many people out there would say he was a great teacher, but that his teachings carry no more weight than others like Muhammad, Buddha, or Gandhi.

Many people might believe that the answer to Jesus’ question is not all that important. It doesn’t really matter to them who we say Jesus is.

But Jesus indicates differently. If it wasn’t important, Jesus wouldn’t have asked.

But then Jesus asked the question that really put them on the spot: “Who do you say that I am?” It was one thing to report the results of the latest Gallup opinion poll, but now Jesus was making it personal.

Again, I can imagine the disciples sort of looking around, trying to avoid Jesus’ gaze, saying things like, “Um, guess I better get some more wood for the fire” or “Man, is it that time already? I better get to bed if I’m going to get up and get water in the morning.”

But Simon Peter, who never seemed to be at a loss for words, even if they weren’t always the right words, answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Peter often had a knack for getting it wrong, but here he definitely got it right.

Note Jesus’ response:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:17-19)

Would Jesus have said something like that if it wasn’t all that important? “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. The Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, etc.”

I would say there’s no more important question we can answer than the one Jesus asks: Who do you say that I am?

And if we can answer it as Peter did, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then that’s the truth that insures we are flying right side up. That’s the truth that shines like the bright North Star that lets us know we are headed in the right direction.

Or to use Jesus’ own image -- Peter’s statement of faith is a Rock of Truth, something solid that we can hold on to and in fact, build our lives upon.

We live in a world in which many people say that Truth is relative.
In essence, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere.”

They believe, “It’s true if it’s true for me.”

To these folks there’s no such thing as Absolute Truth. Everything is situational. It depends on the circumstances. What’s right in this situation may not be right in another set of circumstances.

I’m not saying that absolutely everything in the world is a matter of black and white. Sometimes there are things, decisions, moments we face in life, that only appear in shades of gray. Sometimes we have to make choices of the lesser of two evils or the better of two goods.

But the notion that there is no such thing as Truth in an absolute, unchanging, non-contingent sort of way may be one of the factors that helped lead to some of the great moral failures in America lately – the Savings and Loan collapse, Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, sexual abuse in the church, the sub-prime mortgage market meltdown, and so forth.

But is it true? Can we know what’s true, not just today and tomorrow, but that what was true 2,000 years ago will still be true 2000 years or 10 million years from now?

I believe we can. And there is no more important truth than this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

And it’s a timeless Truth because Scripture tells us…

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb. 13:8)

This is our Rock of Truth. And on this Rock, we are to build all that’s truly important in life.

Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the only solid rock on which to build our lives. People today don’t want to know so much “Is it true?” as “Does it work?”

Does it work to build our life on a foundation of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? We might ask the question in reverse: Does it work to build our life on anything else?

The world says it’s foolish to build your life on something you can’t see, something not “real,” like faith. The world tells us to build our life around what the world says is “real” – things like money, possessions, success, power…

But these things aren’t “real” either, in the sense that they will truly last – we can lose them all; they can all be taken away.

If we try to build our life on another person, as dependable as we think that other person might be, that person may not always be there for us – they may die or move away or leave us for someone else.

If we build our life on our job, well we all know how tenuous and uncertain that can be. The company that we thought we would work for for the rest of our working lives, they might just up and lay us off or “downsize” us all in the name of a downturn in the economy or in the interest of the bottom line.

If we build our life on the things we own, our possessions, we know they could all be lost tomorrow in a flood or a fire or a financial reversal.

No, that doesn’t work. It only works to build our lives on the foundation of what lasts, what’s permanent, what’s eternal. And this is what lasts:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

That’s not so much a truth that can be grasped with our mind as a truth that has to be lived with our life.

Jesus said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 16:17)

You simply have to live it and see that it works. It takes faith.

How do we live the truth that Jesus is Savior and Lord? We accept the truth that…
• We are sinners who need forgiveness.
• We are children of God who need to love and be loved.
• We are creatures of God who need to spend time growing our relationship with God through prayer, worship, reading God’s Word, and spending time with other believers.
• We are students who need to learn from the greatest teacher of all time – Jesus.
• And we are servants who are called to give our last ounce of effort, sweat our last drop of sweat, and pour out our last drop of blood to help the people around us have the kind of life that God created each and every one of us for.

Just try living those truths and see if your life goes better. I guarantee it will. It works!

We are concerned about a world that doesn’t seem to know if it’s flying right side up or upside down. But this story reminds us that there is a Rock of Truth we can cling to if everything else seems upside down: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

And that’s a truth strong enough to build a life on, a life that will last all the way to eternity. Amen.

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