Sunday, March 10, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “The Question and the Promise”

“The Question and the Promise”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 10, 2019 :: Matthew 16:13-20

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography.

And the key question of any biography is WHO, right?

For the last several months, we’ve said, “In the Gospel of Matthew, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball. And the ball is the question of Jesus’ identity. Who is this Person?”

We’ve seen that again and again, haven’t we?

Well, this time, Jesus flat out asks the question Himself!

“Who do you say I am?”

Our title for this message is “The Question and the Promise.” Looking just at verses 13 through 20 this morning. “The Question and the Promise.”

Jesus asks the question.

And then after the question gets answered, Jesus gives a great big promise that is based on the answer to the question.

That’s all I want us to look at for today, and to think about what that question and the promise mean for us in 2019.

First, the question. Matthew 16:13

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’”

There’s the question.

This event takes place in the north of Israel in primarily Gentile country.

The city of Caesarea Philippi had recently been named that by Herod Philip in honor of himself and in honor of Caesar. It was about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.

He is pretty far from Jerusalem at this moment. About as far as He gets, I think, in the Gospels.

Pretty soon, He’s going to start moving towards Jerusalem.

But right now He’s miles north of the Sea of Galilee in Caesarea Philippi, and takes a moment to gather His followers and ask them the key question of this whole theological biography.

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

“Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite name for Himself. It emphasizes both His humanity as well as His divinity when you realize the Old Testament background for that name.

But it’s also pretty enigmatic. “The Son of Man.”

“Who do people say I am?”

What’s the word on the street?

By the way, this question is super important, and it’s always being asked.

And it’s being answered.

Go out onto the streets of a big city and ask that question, and what kind of answers might you get back?

Who do people say that Jesus is?

Some people say, “A good moral teacher.”

Some people say, “A renegade Jew.”

Some people say, “I don’t really know.”

Some people say, “There’s no way to tell.”

Some people say, “The Christian’s god.”

Some people say, “A great example.”

Some people say, “A revolutionary.”

What have you heard people say?

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned His disciples to guard against the bad yeast, the false teaching, of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

They were answering this question wrongly.

Terribly wrongly!

A few chapters ago, they had said that Jesus was in partnership with Beelzebub.

They refused to consider that Jesus might be the Messiah and instead claimed that He was in league with Satan himself.

There’s a lot of ideas out there about Who Jesus is.

What have you heard?

Well, the disciples had been listening to the crowds, and they tended to think that Jesus was some kind of prophet. V.14

“They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”

Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead. He wasn’t, but it was a popular idea. John was quite prophetic, and so is this Jesus. And they both had the same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”

Others said, “Elijah.” Elijah was promised to return. We saw before that it turns out that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of that promise. He was the “Elijah who was to come” so to speak. So, close, but not cigar.

Others said, “Jeremiah.” That’s different. I’m not sure why Jeremiah was often gloomy. He was the weeping prophet, and He had a message of judgment to come.

“Or one of the [other] prophets.”  “You seem very prophetic to people, Jesus.”

And that’s right! He is prophet, priest, and king! He is the prophet promised back in Deuteronomy 19.

But He’s more than just a prophet, isn’t He?

Jesus asks the key question. And He makes it personal. V.15

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’”

That could be the key question of the whole Gospel of Matthew.

And how you answer that question determines so much!

How do YOU answer that question?

What do you think?

The classic choices put forward last century by people like C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell are:


If you read the Gospel of Matthew, and you see Who Jesus claimed to be.

Do you think He was telling the truth?

Do you think He was crazy?

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity, 55-56).

Some people don’t believe that Jesus ever said these things or did these things.

So that’s another option. That Jesus is just a legend.

But the evidence is against that. If you have questions about that, I have some really good books about the historicity of the gospels. How trustworthy they are as historical sources. Like this one by Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

I don’t think that “legend” is a viable option either.

What do you think?

It’s important what YOU think.

What’s most important is Who He truly is.

But it matters whether or not you believe it.

Jesus cares. He asks you the question, too.

“But what about you? ... Who do you say I am?”

I’ve noticed that some people answer the question, “Jesus is God. Jesus is my Shepherd. Jesus is my Savior. Jesus is my friend.”

But they don’t really say, “Jesus is my Lord. Jesus is my King.”

They are happy for Jesus to love them, and they “love” Him, too.

But they don’t necessarily want to do what Jesus says.

They don’t want Jesus to call the shots.

Because Jesus likes to get all up in our business and call us to do things we don’t necessarily want to do.

Remember, if you decide that Jesus is Lord, that means that you are committed to living out His Sermon on the Mount, from the inside-out.

Remember what He said about lust?
Remember what He said about anger?
Remember what He said about prayer?
Remember what He said about money?
Remember what He said about how we would treat our enemies?

Remember what He said about what kind of people will flourish?

What about you? Who do you say that He is?

That’s the question.

I think the answer is obvious.

And, I think the disciples had been getting there, too.

They had been thinking about this, an awful lot.

And now their never-timid spokesman, Simon steps up to answer it. V.16

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”

That’s the first time in Matthew’s gospel when one of the disciples puts this into words.

They’ve bowed before Him, they’ve asked the question. They’ve even said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

But they haven’t said, “Messiah” yet.

They haven’t it in Greek, “Christ.”

“You are the Anointed One. The One promised by the whole Old Testament.”

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

How’d he do?

I almost titled this message, “Peter gets an A+”

[But then next week, we’d have to title the message, “Peter gets an F-” when you see what happens there!]

But here he hits the nail on the head. V.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.”

You’ve got it right, Pete!

That’s the right answer to this key question.

You’ve kept your eye on the ball, and you’ve knocked it out of the park.

And so you are blessed.

Do you see that blessing?

Same word as in the beatitudes. “Makarios.”

How blessed you are!


Way to go! Way to be! “Good on ya!”

“Now, don’t get a big head about that.

That wasn’t something you came up with all by yourself.

And it wasn’t even given to you by your earthly daddy, Simon son of the fisherman named after the reluctant sea-going-prophet.

You got that from MY Father.

It’s a divine gift that you know Who I am.”

And that’s true for us, too, isn’t it?

If we know Who Jesus truly is, it’s all grace!

For which we should be so grateful.

Now, I’m sure that Peter didn’t really understand the implications of what He had just said. In fact, it will be clear in just a few verses that He didn’t understand what He’d just said.

But what He’d just said is the right answer to the question.


And the proper response to that is to believe it and to build your life on its truth.


This is what all need.

We all need to answer this question, and then build our lives on this truth.

Don’t believe that anything else is the Christ. That anything else is the Messiah, the Savior.

Everybody is looking for a rescuer.

That’s what’s behind all of these superhero movies, right?

I love ‘em. I’ve been a big fan of Marvel Comics since long before it was cool.

My favorite characters were Spiderman, Captain America, and Hawkeye.

And I never thought I’d ever see Hawkeye in a movie!

But why are these characters so popular?

Because they are saviors, right?

What’s the point of every superhero movie?

What’s the point of every good cowboy movie?

Rescuing right? Saving the day. Saving the town. Saving the world.

That’s one of the reasons why politics are so heated right now.

People are looking for saviors.

They are looking for someone to rescue them from whatever they perceive as the dangers. And that’s true on the right and the left.

People are looking for Messiahs left and right.

But Jesus says that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

He’s the rescuer. He’s the Savior.

We need to build on our lives on Him.

And interesting, Jesus says that He’s going to build His church on Peter and His right answer to the big question.

That’s “The Promise.” V.18

“[You told me who I am.] And [now] I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

That’s the promise.


Jesus has a great pun here, doesn’t He?

“Simon, I’ve renamed you Rocky (that’s what Peter means, Rock, wonder if he can do the eyebrow), and on this Rock (you and your correct answer to My big question) I will build my church, and nothing will stop it.”

Jesus will build his church.

I’ve preached that sentence before all by itself.

I (Jesus and nobody else). Will (most definitely, unstoppably). Build (Atop this Rock). My (and nobody else’s). Church (called-out people of God).

What a great promise!

By the way, this is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament.

Here’s where Jesus first promised that we would come into existence!

Jesus will build His church.

Notice that He does it on Peter.

Not that Peter is the first pope or anything like that.

This isn’t saying that Peter is super special and gets special powers that get passed down from pope to pope to pope until it reaches the guy in Rome.

I don’t see that anywhere in the Bible and certainly not here.

Peter is special because He was first and representative, and He was given the right answer by the Father.

So it all starts here with Rocky and on this Rock, this foundation of Peter and His right answer, Jesus will build His church.

I don’t know about you, but that is very encouraging to me.

As a pastor, I can get to thinking that it’s my job to build the church.

And I just can’t do it.

I can’t make the church grow.

I can’t make the church get bigger.

I can’t make the church get stronger.

I can’t make the church mature!

All I can do is just be faithful to my calling to shepherd it.

To preach the gospel, to the do the work of an evangelist.

To equip the saints of the work of the ministry.

But I don’t build it.

If I built it, they wouldn’t come!

But Jesus said that He would build the church.

I build my life on the right answer to the question.

And Jesus will be the church on the right answer to that question.

Do you see why it’s important to keep your eye on the ball?

That is so reassuring for me.

It doesn’t mean that we sit back and don’t do anything.

We do everything that the Christ, the Son of the Living God tells us to do!

Including putting on a Wild Game Dinner to introduce people to Him!

But ultimately, we aren’t responsible for the church being built.

Only Jesus can do that.

And He has promised that He will.

He has promised that He will!

What are these gates?

I think the gates of Hades are the doors to the prison house of death.

My sense is that it means that death will not prevail against the church.

Death will lose in its fight with us.

I don’t think it’s about Satan or about demons so much as it is about death.

Death does not win.

It’s like 1 Corinthians 15.

When Paul jumps to the end of the story and says, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The church will be victorious.

The resurrection will guarantee it.

That’s what I think Jesus is talking about here.

And invincible, unstoppable, death-overcoming church.

Jesus will build it, and it will be glorious!

I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that.

Because the church often doesn’t seem that way.

The church seems so fragile. So fickle at times. So breakable.

Careful with how you touch it; it might break!

But no, that’s not the reality of the true Church.

The Church is an unstoppable force from Matthew 16:16 on.

Built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets and the right answer to the big question about Who Jesus is, Jesus promises to build an unbeatable church.

And we’re along for the ride!

Jesus promises Peter even more. V.19

“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.’”

And a lot of ink has been spilled by scholars arguing over precisely what that means.

It sure sound important!

Those are important keys that Peter is going to wield.

The keys to get into or be kept out of the kingdom of heaven!

This isn’t a joke about St. Peter at the pearly gates.

This is the deep authority given to Peter in chapter 16 and, think implicitly to the rest of the disciples there, and then to the whole church in chapter 18–we’ll see that when we get there, the keys are the deep authority that goes with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The authority to tell people the good news about Jesus.

Who He is and what He has done.

And the authority and responsibility, to guard the gospel and keep it pure.

And the authority and responsibility to determine who has believed the gospel and who is not believing the gospel.

These keys are the authority and responsibility to be the gospel-proclaiming church that Jesus is building.

To live out the mission of sharing the gospel with the nations.

And to those who believe the gospel, the doors to the kingdom become unlocked, and they are ushered in!

But to those who deny the gospel, the doors remain shut, and they are locked out, judged by how they truly answer the big question that Jesus was asking.

And there will be symmetry between heaven’s verdict and the church’s verdict because there is ultimately only one right answer to the question, “Who do you say I am?”

In verse 20, Jesus tells them the exact opposite of what He is telling us today. V.20

“Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.”

How come?!

That was the right answer!

It’s because they didn’t really know what that meant yet.

We’ll see that next week. In the very next verse, Jesus begins to explain what it really means for Him to be the Messiah.

And in a word, it means the Cross.

They didn’t get that yet.

And none of the people they would tell that Jesus is the Christ would get that yet either.

So they were supposed to keep it quiet.

But you and I are not.

We know.

We know the question.

We know the right answer to the question.

And we know the promise that is now built on that right answer.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And Jesus will build His Church.

So let’s go tell some people!


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees