August 21, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[Jesus] said to [His disciples], ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 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.’”
Who is Jesus? That is the question posed to the twelve disciples in Galilee. Who is Jesus? That is a question that can be asked on the streets of South Central Pennsylvania, just as it was asked in Caesarea Philippi. Who is Jesus? That question has been asked through the centuries, answered in many different ways. It has been the source of great controversy and contention. But it is a question that Jesus’ followers have answered correctly, as they have had His identity revealed to them through the people whom the Lord has authorized to speak.
Jesus asks the question about His identity: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The question is asked first of the general population. Jesus asks His disciples to report what the people in Galilee were thinking. He had done great works in their midst—healing the sick, feeding crowds, casting out demons, making the paralyzed walk, even raising the dead. He had preached many times in their hearing, speaking about the kingdom of heaven with such vigor and authority that people wondered where He had received such wisdom. So what did people think about Jesus?
The disciples answer Jesus’ first question: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” It’s an interesting answer. The people were thinking that Jesus was unique, special, sent from God. The people had witnessed what Jesus said and did. His words and actions were different than the ordinary Israelite; they even surpassed what the religious leaders had been doing. So they come to the conclusion: Jesus must be some sort of prophet, a person sent from God to His people. But not only that—the people’s thoughts about Jesus’ identity had even caused them to think that He was a dead prophet who had come back to life. That’s how extraordinary Jesus must be.
But as amazing as the people’s thoughts about Jesus were, they were not quite right. And Jesus isn’t as concerned about their ideas as He is about what His disciples were thinking. They were the chosen ones, the Twelve selected by Jesus to be His students, His followers who would take up the way of life He was teaching. They had seen and heard what the people witnessed, but they had been audience to more. Jesus had told them: “I will make you fishers of men.” The Twelve had witnessed Jesus calm a storm, causing them to ask: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?” He had sent them out to the cities of Israel to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Jesus had taken them aside and told them other parables about the kingdom of heaven. They had seen Jesus walk on water, leading them to worship Him and say: “Truly You are the Son of God.”
So after all that, Jesus poses the question to the Twelve: “But who do you say that I am?” The question is asked to elicit the public confession of faith. Jesus knows what is in His disciples’ hearts and minds. But the opportunity is given for them to spit it out, to make plain what their belief, their faith, their thinking about Jesus is. And so Simon Peter gives the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That is the conclusion reached through the witness of what Jesus said and did. It is the answer drawn from the witness of Jesus’ words and works. For these are the means through which knowledge and faith are given, as Jesus says in response to Simon Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
But Jesus mentions something else connected to the confession that Simon Peter makes. Jesus says that it is not only for him, but will have effect and results for others. Following His approval of Simon Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus makes the statement: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus’ being “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the foundation for the Church that He establishes. His identity is to bring salvation to sinful humanity, including the Twelve and you. He is the One promised from of old, who fulfills the statements that His Father in heaven made about Him—the Redeemer who will deliver from sin, the Living One who will remove the curse of death, the Conqueror who will defeat mankind’s great enemies. And those who are brought to belief in who Jesus is become part of His Church, part of the entity that even hell cannot withstand or defeat.
Simon Peter speaks the truth about Jesus’ identity. Jesus declares that He establishes His Church on that identity. But then He speaks one more thing; Jesus promises to give to Simon Peter, the one who rightly spoke about His identity, an authority that will benefit others: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What Simon Peter confessed about Jesus will unlock the kingdom of heaven. Sin and imperfection broke the fellowship that God and mankind had at the beginning. The gates of heaven were shut closed. But Jesus’ actions—what He accomplishes as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”—opens Paradise. Through death and resurrection, the sin and imperfection of mankind are atoned for. That is what the Lord promised about His Christ. As people are brought to faith in Jesus’ words and works, they are given entry into the kingdom of heaven.
But how is that faith given? Remember Jesus’ statement to Simon Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is heaven.” The faith is given through the word of Christ. He has the words of eternal life. He speaks and things happen. This is the power and authority that Jesus carries as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is what the psalmist extolled: “I bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.”
Yet, Jesus did not keep that authority and power for Himself. No, He bestowed it to Simon Peter and the Twelve. That is what is wrapped up in the statement: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus sends out His apostles with the authority that He possessed, so that they could speak those same words of eternal life. That is what happened when the Crucified and Risen Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything that I have commanded you.” It took place when the Crucified and Risen Jesus said: “As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you bind the sins of anyone, they are bound.” This is the binding and loosing power that Jesus grants to His apostles, His sent ones, those who were brought to faith in the truth about His identity and delegated to carry that truth to others.
Handed down from generation to generation in the Church built on the foundation of Jesus’ identity, words, and work, the same confession of Simon Peter has been delivered to you. You also have come to know that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” You believe that He has fulfilled the promises made by His Father in the Old Testament. You believe that His Church built on that foundation endures forever and that nothing can overpower it. You believe that what Jesus’ words and works bring to you is the eternal salvation that the Lord described: “the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die like gnats; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will never be dismayed.” These are not ideas that come from flesh and blood, human intellect and logic. No, this is what the Father in heaven has revealed to you about His Son. But through this, the kingdom of heaven is unlocked for you and your sin and guilt are removed.
So you can answer the question: Who is Jesus? Your answer will not be based on what other people say—that He is a prophet or a great teacher or a very moral man. No, your answer will be what the Scriptures declare about Him, what the Lord has spoken, what flesh and blood has not revealed. Who is Jesus? Jesus is God who became man to reconcile me to His Father. Jesus is the revealer in word and deed of the Father’s good and gracious will toward me. Jesus is my Redeemer. Jesus is my Savior. Jesus is the source of my life. Jesus is my Lord. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Ultimately, your answer is the same as Simon Peter’s answer, the rock on which Jesus built His Church. Who is Jesus? He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And to you who confess that truth about Him, He says now and forever: “Blessed are you. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is heaven.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.