Sermon ~ Sunday, February 18, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Seven Essential Questions: Who Is Jesus?
During this season of Lent, I am going to be considering a series of seven questions are essential questions to our faith regardless of where you believe you fall on the religious spectrum. My idea for this came from a blog by Pastor Martin Thielen, who wrote What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most. Both lifelong Christians and people on the edges of the church have some of the same basic questions about life and faith. Lent is the great time to explore these questions, leading up to the big question that is answered with Easter: is there hope for life and life beyond death?
First, I have a preliminary question for you.
What do you claim as your basic faith perspective?
Hindu? Jewish? Zoroastrian? Christian? Muslim? A “none” as in no specific faith perspective?
I would hazard a guess here and say “Christian.” And if I am correct then there is a follow up question that you and I face every day as Christians: “Who will we (you/me) say that Jesus is?”
In other words, in our own minds and hearts what/who do we truly believe he is? And beyond this what sort of testimony do we offer about him through our words, through our deeds, by our lives? What will our loved ones, our congregations, our neighbors, our communities know about him because of us? This may be even more difficult to get right than saying the right words and believing the proper theological principles!
Jesus presented the question to Peter and he came up with what seemed to satisfy his teacher in v. 16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And yet finds himself rebuked in v. 23 for completely misunderstanding what that answer might mean.
This should serve as a warning to us. We, faithful followers that we are, may know that Jesus is the one who was sent, the one who took flesh, the one who dwelt with us, the one who suffered and died and was buried, the one who rose on the third day.
We declare with our pious lips and confident hearts that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), the beloved child of the most High. We know the right words.
We would be wise, however, to proceed with caution, because there is apparently no guarantee, despite the precision and sincerity of our Christological convictions, that we have a clue about what our confession, “Jesus is Lord,” actually means. I mean after all, if Peter gets it wrong? And not only did Peter get it wrong, he was rebuked in the strongest terms, being called “Satan” and a stumbling block to Jesus himself.
Peter, praised for saying the right thing,
and for his faithful testimony named the very foundation of Jesus’ church,
the rock against which not even the forces of death can prevail.
Peter, given the keys to free or to bind any and all on earth.
If this Peter gets it wrong, who are we cavalierly to assume that we have it right?
To put it another way, why, like Peter, do we find it so hard to believe that the beloved of God must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, die, and only then be raised by God to new, everlasting, and glorified life?
Surely the one known as Son of God will reign without threat,
will be honored rather than subjected to suffering,
will live, not die,
will establish a commonwealth of peace and justice,
rather than be executed as a rebel and heretic.
However, this is simply not the case. But it is also the basis for some consistent and destructive false testimony from some of the best regarded followers of Jesus to this day!
We, of course, live in a post-resurrection world. We know that what Peter could not accept was true.
We know that Jesus went to Jerusalem and confronted both religious and secular authorities with their arrogance, exploitive policies, and violence.
We know that he was arrested and subjected to both torture and capital punishment.
We know he was raised and ascended to the heavenly banquet table and sits at the right hand of God and will welcome us to the feast.
Still, we preach, more often than we ought, that the faithful will not suffer but prosper, will triumph over every adversity, will win rather than lose.
Yes, we believe that Jesus won the final victory, and death’s sting has been swallowed up. That our salvation has been wrought and cannot again be lost. Jesus’ work may have been once for all; yet we must avoid Peter’s mistake. We must not make what Mary Poppins called “pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken.”
We must not say “God forbid” that the righteous suffer, that saints are killed. Faithful discipleship cannot avoid walking our own roads to Jerusalem and there have our own confrontation with the principalities and powers. Jesus leads us in the way we must go, rather than letting us off the hook. That he is Messiah, beloved of God, makes of us members of his body, adopted children of the Most High ourselves – we are participators not bystanders in the fulfillment of the promise of his messianic life.
Unfortunately, this means we do not stroll along easy street but must march down the streets of economic exploitation to seek new means of exchange through which all may prosper.
We are to enter the halls of power where unjust policies are written and voice the concerns of the voiceless.
We are to visit those in prison while working to dismantle judicial systems that locks away so many, especially an unproportionable people of color.
We are to welcome strangers, even those we may consider scandalous to our reputation and who by their presence make us a scandal! (Look at what others said about Jesus. He hangs out with sinners; dines with tax collectors and prostitutes!)
Such was his way.
This way of this Jesus seems to say that we are wrong about something else. Jesus’ final rebuke of Peter is that he has set his mind not on divine things but on human things. And we nod approvingly. “Yes, that’s right Jesus, we’re about the spiritual, not earthly things,” we like to think. “That is what Jesus points us toward, the spiritual.”
In this too we risk further rebuke. If we trust the whole of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, is it not precisely the avoidance of tangible and material action – with its potential for suffering and threat of death – that Peter’s mistaken interpretation entails, and does not this demonstrate his all too human mind-set?
Divine things are not always ethereal, floating above the mundane, but those things that involve a vision of justice and liberation, compassion and mercy – and the ones who really seem to know who Jesus is are those who, like him, are willing to bear the burden of his suffering and death to make his vision real.
By now you may have noticed that I haven’t really answered today’s question for you, “Who is Jesus?” While this question, for anyone claiming to be Christian, cannot be avoided, I cannot give the answer as if it were a quiz and I am a teacher with the answer book. It must be answered by each of us in our own way.
How we answer though, cannot be avoided. Who will we say Jesus is?
And, truth be told, our answers may rest more with those who are watching and witnessing with our lives. As has been said many times, we may be the only evidence of Jesus some people will ever see. This being the case, what will we be saying with our lives, about who Jesus is to us?
Whatever it is, it will probably be truer to what we believe, than any pious profession we might utter with our lips. Peter found that out let us take a lesson from him.