Jesus, Much More Than a Nice Guy

Matthew 16:13-20  – 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And 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. 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.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

  1. Start with what we are doing – searching for truth in our Christian faith. We find the principal truths of our faith. Look at the bookmark card or turn to page 881 of our hymnal and read with me the Apostle’s creed.
  2. Here is how the Apostles Creed can guide and strengthen our faith: 
    1. The Apostles’ Creed centers us on God
      1. When we live our lives with God at the center, we remain grounded and balanced, whole and holy.
      1. When God is at the center of our lives, we can put everything else in its proper perspective.
    1. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us of the commitment undertaken in baptism
      1. The Creed is part of the ritual of initiation into the faith.
      1. By identifying what we believe, we are reminded of the commitment of our baptism.
      1. These beliefs, identified and affirmed, guide and direct our steps in living our faith.              
    1. The Apostles’ Creed invites us to live relationally
      1. We are part of the body of Christ. We are part of the Communion of Saints and connected to the lives of those who have gone before us. 
    1. The Apostles’ Creed assures us of the guidance of the Holy Spirit
      1. The creed assures us that the Holy Spirit is with us on this journey as our advocate and steadfast guide. The Spirit is at work in the world and in our lives. 
    1. The Apostles’ Creed connects the cross and the resurrection
      1. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us that in light of the resurrection, death does not have the final say. We can trust in God to be at work in helping us to trust, forgive and love anew in each hardship and loss we endure as well as in each joy and blessing we encounter.
  3. Last week we worked with the question: Is There a God? And we concluded that given all of the natural evidence of unseen forces – gravity, electromagnetic waves, the emergence of life — we have to conclude that there is a guiding hand behind all of this.
    1. Furthermore, we come to believe that God is not some distant old man sitting on a throne pulling puppet strings, but, in fact, a personal God – through Jesus Christ that is with each of us.
  4. This thought – this belief — is what triggers the next question about Jesus. 
  5. Let’s begin with our scripture in Matthew 16:13-16. Jesus asks his disciples a pointed question: “Who do you say that I am?”
  6. That is the question that comes to us today in our search for truth.
    1. Who do we say that Jesus is?… Jesus is the most recognized figure in human history. A third of the world’s population calls him Christ, Savior, and Lord.
    1. The Muslim world says that Jesus was a great prophet and teacher but less than Muhammad.
    1. The Jewish world says that he was a great rabbi but not the Messiah. The Jews are still waiting for the return of the Messiah. That is why we constantly read in the Gospels, questions about John the Baptist or Jesus – are you Elijah? Elijah will return before the Messiah returns.
    1. And the rest of the world religions say that Jesus was a teacher and a reformer.
  7. So, what do each of us say about who Jesus is?
  8. Talk about the title of this message, “Jesus, Much More than a Nice Guy.”
    1. I asked this question, Who is Jesus?,  of a confirmation class more than 20 years ago—and the answer that I got was – “A nice guy!” I was devastated by the response and felt like a pastoral failure.
  9. I’d invite you to consider your answer to his question, “Who do you say that I am?”… 
  10. Some people say there is no evidence that Jesus actually existed. For many years, theologians have been searching for ways to recover the historical Jesus. The efforts have been in vain!
    1. Actually, other than the Gospels in the Bible there is no other historical record of Jesus — But, there is a very early Roman historical record (about 50AD) of a group of people called The Way who believed that there leader, Jesus, was resurrected from the dead.
    1. Bart Ehrman, an agnostic and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina wrote a book about the historical evidence for the existence of a man named Jesus. He concluded, to the chagrin of his humanist friends, “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.”
  11. The earliest written document we have that speaks about Jesus is likely Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Scholars date it to around AD 50, twenty years after the death of Jesus.
  12. First, let’s see how this came about.
    1. Explain the story from Acts about the Damascus Road experience. Paul is about 25 years old and a persecutor of the Christian Jews.
      1. As he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.[a] It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So, he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul rose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
  • By AD 35, Paul is converted by a profound encounter with the risen Christ—just five years after Jesus’ death.
    • 15 years later he writes the earliest Christian document in existence. Galatians: In the letter to Galatians, Paul describes how he had persecuted followers of Jesus. Paul writes: Here’s what Paul says in the opening words of his letter to the Galatians, written before any of the gospels: “Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”
  1. Notice the titles or statements Paul makes about Jesus:
    1. JESUS IS LORD, — Lord means – in charge – like “Lord Mayor” – in charge of the city.
    1. JESUS IS THE CHRIST – Greek for the Messiah
    1. JESUS GAVE HIMSELF FOR OUR SINS and TO SET US FREE FROM THE PRESENT EVIL AGE, — the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins.
    1. GOD THE FATHER RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD. – the key defining point of our belief – the resurrection from the grave. – it is our hope that death is but a transition.  
  2. So, in the earliest Christian document, dated likely 20 years from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying essentially what Christianity has claimed of Jesus ever since.
    1. Paul is describing what he has believed from the beginning. He’s offering his answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” …   
    1. Christians see the story of Jesus as our defining story,
      1.  The story that shapes how we see the world, and answers some really big questions:
      1. What is the meaning of life?
      1. Is there purpose to our existence?
      1. Is there life after death?…
  3. So, let’s go back to the scripture from Matthew:
  4. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Jesus puts the question directly to his disciples. After asking what the crowds say about him—the onlookers and “hangers-on”—Jesus directs the light on those closest to him. “Who do you say that I am?”
  5. It is a probing question that forces us to ask where we stand with this Jesus and how far we are willing to travel with him.
    1. It is a question that gets to the heart of the matter.
    1. Who do we believe this Jesus to be? How we answer this question makes all the difference in the world. It does not change the reality of who Jesus is; rather, it shapes and defines who we will be.
  6. If we believe Jesus to be a wise teacher or just a nice guy, then we may believe that discipleship of Christianity is merely a matter of our assent to a list of principles or propositions.
  7. If we believe Jesus to be a great moral example, then we will understand Christianity to be primarily about our adherence to a set of ethics or ideals.
  8. But what if we really live and believe that Jesus, our companion, and friend, is the Messiah, the Son of the living God?
  9. The words we find in Matthew 16:17-19 are unique to the Gospel of Matthew.
    1. Only Matthew links Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, with the church.
    1. In fact, this is one of only two occurrences of the word church in the Gospels. So, for Matthew, the church, the community of Jesus’ followers, is somehow related to the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
    1. Church is the community of the Messiah, the fellowship of the Son of the living God.
      1. It is not a social club,
      1. a religious institution,
      1. a moral society,
      1. or a building.
  10. Church is a people whose life together is defined by the reign of God manifest in Jesus the Messiah and Son.
  11. But affirming this about Jesus does not mean that we fully understand the implications of such a confession.
  12. Saying the right things does not always equate to living them out. We can say the right words about Jesus and still not know their full implication for our lives.
    1. The disciples certainly did not appreciate fully what such a confession might mean. Peter himself would discover that saying the words, uttering the confession, as important a first step as that might be, is not the same thing as living the words or embodying them in the life of the kingdom.
    1. Following Jesus is a holy adventure, and it often left the disciples dazed and confused as the hard road of discipleship opened before them.
    1. Following Jesus is a way of life that demands active faith, not just belief. As Peter would discover, discipleship means that one day we might be led to places we’d rather not go.
  13. Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is our daily, prayerful struggle with God in which we learn the full implications of being the church, of being a people whose life together is shaped by the confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16).
    1. This can be a difficult journey. Being friends with Jesus is not easy; the way this confession leads is costly and demanding. But it is also a great gift; the way of Jesus leads to full and abundant life.
  14. In asking “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus invites us into a relationship, to walk with him the often hard and demanding road of discipleship. Through this question, Jesus invites us to let go of our attachment to all the other “lords” that demand our allegiance— ideas, ambitions, and relationships—and to become friends with him.
  15. Jesus says things we don’t want to hear about the nature of his messiahship and the character of those who would be his friends: “Go sell your possessions”; “Take up your cross”; “Deny yourself.”
  16. As we come to understand who this Jesus is, we may believe that embodying Peter’s confession is frankly impossible.
    1. And it is, unless we also acknowledge that we are never alone.
    1. Christ walks the way before us and alongside us.
    1. Christ is our constant companion.
    1. Just as he did with Peter, Christ continues to come to us, pulling, prodding, guiding, nudging, calling, and being with us.
  17. “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer this question, with our lips and with our lives, defines the shape of our life together.
    1. We make this confession, not by heroic acts of will, but by grace, by a transforming relationship with the God who has come to us in the flesh, who walked the way before us, and who joins us on the road even now.
    1. This confession is not our possession; it is not the result of our cleverness or the fruit of our brilliant deduction.
    1. It is a blessing to be able to say, and even more to live, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
    1. It is a gracious and costly gift. It will determine everything about us; it demands all our heart, mind, body, and soul. It leads to the cross and to giving ourselves sacrificially for God and for neighbor.
    1. But it is also the way that leads to life.  
  18. Jesus is far more than just a nice guy — Jesus is our savior and Lord.
  19. Thanks be to God.