Sermon notes 08-23-20       The Most Important Question You’ll Ever Answer   Pastor David King

Romans 12:1-2:  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

 Matthew 16:13-20 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 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. 18 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. 19 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.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (ESV)

If I were to ask you what is the most important question you have ever been asked, or that you have ever answered, what would you say?  Some of you may have to stop and think about your response; others might be able to answer right away.  I think perhaps for some of you the question is or was, “Will you marry me?”  That is certainly a potentially life-changing question, depending upon your response.

Some of you might think of a different potentially life-changing question, such as, will you accept a scholarship to attend this university; would you be willing to relocate to accept this job promotion; will you accept a nomination for public office, will you serve in a position of leadership in an organization such as this church?

We have probably all been asked, or we will be asked to consider similar questions at some time in our lives. The way we respond to questions like these can go a long way toward setting the course of our lives.  They are important questions because our answers have consequences that can last a lifetime.  But in our Scripture text today, Jesus asks his disciples an even more important question.  It’s a question that has consequences not only in this lifetime, but also for eternity.  Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question that, sooner or later, all of us will have to answer for ourselves.  Who do you say that Jesus is, to you?

Actually, I am sure you noticed that Jesus asked two questions of his disciples in our Gospel passage.  Before Jesus asked the disciples who they say he is, he asked who others say he is.  We will consider their answers in just a moment but first we should take note of the occasion Jesus chose to ask these questions.  I’m guessing that when you consider the most important question you have ever been asked, there are two things you remember about it: when it was and where it was.  For example, if the most important question you ever asked or answered was, “Will you marry me,” I am pretty sure you remember exactly when and where it was.

So, what do we know about the timing and the location of these all-important questions Jesus asked his disciples?   As for the timing, Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry on earth.  In fact, in the verses immediately following the ones Sandy read in our Gospel passage today, Jesus informs his disciples that he is on the way to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and on the third day be raised.  The time of his departure is drawing very near.  As for the location, the Scripture says Jesus had led his disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi, which was a fortified Roman city.  This means Jesus and his disciples were not in Jewish territory; in fact, Caesarea Philippi was a place where many different religions were practiced.  There were numerous temples and shrines built for the worship of different gods, and there was a great marble temple built to honor the namesake of the city, Caesar, who was himself regarded as a god by the people.  So there was Jesus, whom we know to be truly God, nearing the end of his ministry on earth, surrounded by these shrines to false gods, and he had to be wondering, “Are these people ever going to realize who I am?”

So Jesus questions the disciples, first with a less personal question.   He asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  The term “Son of Man” is Jesus’ most common way of referring to himself in the Bible.  The disciples give Jesus various answers.  They say that some people believed him to be John the Baptist raised from the dead, others said he was Elijah, still others said Jesus was Jeremiah.  Now, we should realize that these persons, John, Elijah and Jeremiah, were no slouches in the eyes of the people.  For Jesus to be put in the same company as those three meant that the people thought highly of Jesus … but just not highly enough.  They thought Jesus, like John, Elijah and Jeremiah, pointed to the coming of the Messiah; they didn’t realize he was the Messiah.

So having heard what the public was saying about him, Jesus asks his second question, a personal one for the disciples, the question that has been called the greatest question ever asked: “But who do you say that I am?”  It was time for Jesus to put the disciples to the test.  He had been with them for many months, teaching and instructing them about who he was and why he came.  He was preparing to leave them in the near future, and then it would be up to them to carry out his mission and his message in the world.  In order to do that, the disciples would need to have a clear understanding of Jesus’ identity.  So he asks them, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter gets credit for being the first to answer.  He might have blurted out his answer based on a sudden realization, or maybe he had realized who Jesus was before the question was even asked.  At any rate Peter answered first, and he answered well: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Because Peter answered well, Jesus tells him that he is blessed and will be given the keys to the kingdom.  This, by the way, is the passage in the Bible that has led to all of those jokes about St. Peter standing guard at the pearly gates —I know you’ve heard them.

But there is something else I want you to notice in Jesus’ response to Peter’s answer.  Jesus says to Peter, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  Friends, I believe those words should be a source of great encouragement to all of us.  They tell me that we do not have to figure out on our own the answer to the most important question ever asked.  Our Father in heaven is constantly working through the power of the Holy Spirt to make Jesus known to us …. if only we would pay attention!

But it is oftentimes the case that our minds are too unsettled to pay attention.  If your mind is unsettled as to your answer to the question of who Jesus is, you will be tempted to conform to the world’s view of who Jesus is, and the world will likely lead you away from being a follower of Jesus.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  I want to suggest to you that our minds are renewed as they settle on the answer to the question that Jesus asks his disciples: who do you say that I am?  But if that seems like a daunting question to you, or if you have not yet settled on the answer, the really good news is that Jesus is constantly working in the world and in our lives to help us realize who he is.

If we were paying attention we would realize that the Lord reveals who he is in numerous ways, all the time, in our lives and in the world, but we are often oblivious.  We are too distracted to see the evidence all around us.  Things that give the illusion of importance divert our attention, so we fail to notice the Lord’s presence or his activity, and thus we are unable to adequately answer the question of who he is.

Sisters and brothers, the Lord is constantly working in the world and in our lives to help us realize who he is.  He reveals himself most clearly in his Holy Word, the Bible.  But we also get glimpses of who Jesus is in the created world and in the events of our lives.  It may be in the birth of a baby, or a view of the intricate details of a flower or a snowflake, or it may be mountains or oceans or sunsets, or it may be the smile of a stranger or the hug of a friend or the transformation of a life.  Our Lord is at work in countless ways, revealing who he is, and someday we will all have to answer the question, who is Jesus, to you?

I am going to bring this toward a close now and I want to do so by addressing the “why” question.  It may seem obvious, but why is the question of who Jesus is to us so important anyway?

I said earlier that when Jesus asked the question of his disciples, it was because he knew he would soon be leaving them and it would be up to them to carry out his mission and his message in the world.  In order to do that, the disciples needed to have a clear understanding of Jesus’ identity. Friends, the same is true of us.  In order for us to be a part of furthering Christ’s mission and spreading his message in the world, we need a clear understanding of who he is.

And this is where it gets even more important for us: It is not enough for us to identify Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.  There are several places in the Gospels where even demons and unclean spirits were able to identify Jesus as the Holy Son of God.  What is more important than identifying who Jesus is identifying who he is to us.  Is he merely someone we know about, a biblical, historical, spiritual figure whose name we could come up with in a trivia contest?  Or is he the Lord of our lives, our Savior, whose will we seek in this life and in whom we are trusting to receive us into his heavenly kingdom when this earthly life is over?

The Bible tell us, and we were reminded in our opening songs, that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  No one will be excluded from bowing and confessing.  Not one knee will be unbowed; not one tongue will fail to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  When we are fully in God’s presence, with nothing in between, nothing veiled, no more earthly illusions or diversions, on that day, every knee will bow before our Lord.  I don’t know about you, but I would not want that day to be my first time of bowing before him.  It will be good for us on that day if bowing before him is something we have been accustomed to doing.  And we will be accustomed to it if we pay attention to the evidence all around us and allow our minds to be renewed so that we realize who Jesus is, and we are able to say who he is to us: the King of kings and Lord of Lords, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Amen.