“Can you have praise teams and worship leaders?”
“Can we clap or raise our hands?”
“Can women participate on this stage?”
“Can worship be “organic” or “in-organic”—you'll get it in a minute!?”
There are also all of those endless debates about denominations.
“Are we one?”
“What is a denomination anyway?”
“Why isn't the church “one” the way Jesus and Paul described it in the New Testament?”
“Who is ‘in’ the church and who is ‘out’?”
“Who is ‘liberal’ and who is ‘conservative’?”
“What does it mean to be a member of the ‘Church of Christ’?” and “Does that matter anymore?”
“Did it ever matter?”
Keeping up with our lists of questions can make me tired! Sometimes, after having “one of those discussions,” I wonder, “Is this what religion is all about?” “Is this the purpose God had in mind for us?” Sometimes, in these tired moments, I wonder what it must have been like to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Looking on as He called His first disciples; in the crowd when He raised Lazarus from the dead; in earshot as Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount; at the foot of the cross when He breathed His last breath; or, at the empty tomb on the first Easter morning! What must it have been like to see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to know Jesus, before we became so entrenched in our “questions”…
Sometimes I feel like a member of the Corinthian congregation. You know, they battled with their many internal questions too…
“Can you eat meat that was destined for altar sacrifice?”
“How should you cope with so many spiritual gifts?”
“What should communion look like?”
“What role should women take in worship (I guess some things never change)?”
I imagine some of those people in that congregation felt like many of us do on occasion. In the midst of their questioning and doubt, Paul brought to them the message that has always had to power to center the church again. When all they could see was the “stuff” of religion, Paul reminded them of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed. (I Corinthians 15:1–11)Sometimes, we simply need to be reminded why we are here. Why does all of this exist? For what purpose has God placed us here?
So, setting our other questions aside, I want us to fix our minds on one fundamental question: Who is Jesus? You know, Jesus Himself asked that question of His disciples on their way to Caesarea Philippi.
Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13–20)I love the way Jesus starts this dialogue with His disciples. He asks them: “Who do people say that I am?” If Jesus was here today and He asked you that question, how would you answer? Do you think those outside these walls see Jesus like you do? How would our world answer that question? Well, let’s find out?
Well, that is how the world around us would answer this pivotal question. But, the reason Peter’s confession in verse 16 is called the “Great Confession” is because he said something the world did not and the novelty of Peter’s claim did not come where you think it might. Some of us look at this text and say Peter was the first to call Jesus “Son of God.” But actually, he wasn’t. Just two chapters earlier, in Matthew 14:33, we see that disciples were already calling Jesus “Son of God.” And this title, “Son of God,” might not mean as much as you think it does. His disciples could have referred to Him as “Son of God” and never meant He was literally God’s Son. David was called “Son of God.” Most Kings of Israel were called “Sons of God.” This title could refer to anyone specially appointed by God to do a great work. After Jesus walked on water in chapter 14, His disciples called Him “Son of God.” But in that context, they could have simply meant Jesus was a great man… like David! Or, they could have been ready to make Jesus their “king.” No, the novelty of Peter’s “Great” Confession came with his first pronouncement: Jesus is the Christ! Peter was the first to come right out and publicly call Jesus the Messiah.
The word “Christ” or “Messiah” simply means, “Anointed one,” and there were many anointed people in the Old Testament; prophets, some kings. What set Jesus apart was this: He was the Christ & the Son of God. Peter’s confession was important and unique because he not only said Jesus was a good man. He said Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Peter’s confession was different from that of the world. He was not a forerunner like John the Baptist. He was not just another prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah. Peter confessed that Jesus was the unique, Son of God.
You know, many other people in the ancient world claimed to be this Messiah. Many other world religions have come and gone. But I stand before you this morning as a follower of the Christ and I tell you this man/God is different. I cannot say it any better than did Gamaliel, a first-century Pharisee. Early in the Christian church, Peter and the other apostles were preaching in the temple courts. The Jewish leaders were outraged at their message—the very idea that Jesus was the Son of God! They had the apostles arrested. They were ready to kill them! And then Gamaliel spoke to the assembly…
One council member, a Pharisee and teacher of the Law named Gamaliel, well-respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be taken outside for a few moments. He said, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you intend to do to these people. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and some four hundred men joined him. After he was killed, all of his followers scattered, and nothing came of that. Afterward, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and got some people to follow him in a revolt. He was killed too, and all his followers scattered far and wide. Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” The council was convinced by his reasoning. (Acts 5:34–39)
Two thousand years later, history speaks for itself—Jesus is who He claimed to be!
In the midst of our discussions about the “stuff” of religion and the questions about religion let’s not forget why we are here. Let’s not forget the heart of the gospel. Jesus was and is the Christ. Jesus was and is the Son of God.
Church, I believe that. Many of you believe that. The greater question is this: So what? What does it mean to you that Jesus is the Son of God? How does that change your life? How does that truth make you a different person? If you believe with all of your heart that Jesus is the Messiah, then you have to make Him Lord of your life. That means you have to live like He lived. That means you have make it your life’s ambition to be as selfless and as giving and as loving as He was! That means you don’t always have to get you way when you get into those religious discussions! But more than that, it means you’ll go out of your way put someone else first; in your marriage, with your children, with your siblings, with your parents, with the cashier you see at Wal-Mart and the guy holding the sign outside of Wal-Mart and with the lady who cuts you off when you leave Wal-Mart! It means standing up for people who do not have a voice in our society. Why? Because that is how the Messiah lived. You were made in His image and your life’s mission is to show this world what He looks like, in the flesh! Now, church, there is a mission!