Theme: We are reminded that Jesus is building his Church and our dependence is on him, not “human” leaders.
and Isaiah 44:1-8
“Sitting at the feet of Jesus”. That’s the title I am giving to a three-week mini sermon series. I hope it’s a mini-sermon. I am sure many of you are hoping it’s a mini sermon too. But each week I have been thinking about texts that cause us to sit at the feet of Jesus. Last week we looked at John 15 and heard God’s word through Jesus’ command: “abide in me”, rest, remain in me. Today, even though it’s not in the text that I am about to read for you, Jesus in essence is saying depend on me, in all of life’s circumstances and it’s a classic text. It’s one that encourages us to depend on the Lord. But first before I read it I want to set the context. Jesus is nearing his passion. The leaders of the Jews are plotting his death and he feels the need to get away with his disciples before this final chapter of his life. And he pulls away to a little place called Caesarea Philippi. The original name of the city was named after the Greek God Pan, the city was the center of Pagan worship. In fact, there were 14 different temples to the god Baal. In the cliff outside of the city was carved a base relief of the God Pan and since the city was a Roman colony people often would be heard saying, “Caesar is Lord.” Even more, there was a hillside outside Caesarea Philippi where a spring came that would eventually flow into the Jordan River. And so symbolically it’s as though the Jewish mind is springing forth in the midst of all of these different and various beliefs. And it’s in this context that Jesus tries to focus his disciples on what it is that we really ought to believe. I’m reading from Matthew 16:13 to the end of the chapter.
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the son of man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you”, he asked. Who do you say I am? Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven. 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. 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. And he warned his disciples not tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never Lord” he said. “This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” And Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for me, will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the son of man is going to come in his father’s glory, with his angels and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the son of man coming in his kingdom.”
Jesus asks two piercing questions. “Who do people say that I am?” Right in the middle of all of this religious variance and he gets an answer. The disciples answer and then he asks one of the most piercing questions in all of the Bible, “But what about you; Who do you say that I am?” And that question is as real and is important to be answered today as when Jesus asked it. Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “Thou art the Christ. You are the one anointed by God, the Messiah. The one sent from the father. You are the son of the living God.” If he could express what the Epistle to the Hebrews expressed later he would be saying, “You are the exact representation of who God is.” And so look in this text with me and think about four ways that it encourages us to depend on the Lord in the midst of changing times.
First he says, depend on me to bless those who recognize me as God. In Verse 17, Jesus said, “Because of your answer Simon, blessed are you for recognizing me as God.” And the point today is to depend on Jesus to bless anybody who recognizes him as God. Whenever we recognize Christ as God in our life, for the first time or the 50th time, we are the ones who will be blessed. There are two great truths involved in recognizing Jesus as God. Jesus is more than just a great prophet. He’s more than an idea. He’s more than a figure of history. The highest human categories are inadequate to describe Jesus Christ. In fact, when they went to describe him and give the answer, the first answer was some say that you are John the Baptizer. Jesus himself said of John the Baptist, “No one born of women is greater than he.” Jesus is greater than John the Baptist. Jeremiah, some people say you are; Elijah say others. Two of the greatest prophets ever in salvation history can’t be compared to the Lord Jesus.
Henrietta Mears, famous Christian Ed director, I believe it was in the Hollywood Presbyterian Church 50 years ago, influenced some of the greatest Christian leaders of the second half of the 20th Century. Often she would use this illustration: she said if a person came in to our midst such as a prime minister, a president or a king, we would stand and recognize that person. We would honor that person. We would rise to our feet. She went on to say, but if Jesus himself in all of his glory were to come into our presence, we wouldn’t stand. We would fall on our faces before him, because he is Lord and God. Jesus was even more than the Jewish person thought about what the Messiah would be and Peter says that, “You’re the son of the living God.”
The subsequent truth in recognizing Christ as God is not only can no human category describe him, but that it must be a personal recognition, a personal discovery of understanding Jesus as the revealed Son of God. Christianity never consists simply in knowing about Jesus. It always consists in knowing Jesus personally. Isn’t that what Peter’s relationship with Christ indicates? Isn’t that what Peter’s answer indicates? And when Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon” doesn’t his response indicate that we are talking about a relational situation. You don’t tell people about yourself, deep intimate things about yourself, unless you want to be in relationship with that person. And so the very questions and answers indicate that Christianity is about much more than knowing about God and about Jesus. It’s knowing him personally. God isn’t going to reveal himself to human beings, just to satisfy our egos or our curiosity. He reveals himself to us so that we might engage in a personal relationship.
Many years ago, I met Ellen DeFazio and I thought I would hang around with her and learn about her personally. In fact I could, on the basis of my knowledge of Ellen, write a book about her and I would title it “All About Ellen.” The first chapter would be “Ellen’s winning personality”. The second chapter would be “Ellen’s kind ways”. The third chapter would be “her love for children and animals”. The fourth would be “her excellent choice in men!” No, I would eliminate that one. Chapter five would be “her wonderful hospitality skills”. You see, I could give you that book and you could read all about her, but I could tell you that for almost 29 years of being married to her, all those things are so because I know her personally. I interact with her almost daily, unless there is some unusual circumstance.
Depend on Jesus to bless those who know him personally; that must be the cornerstone of every church’s leadership and decision-making. I am ecstatic that it’s the first core value of Central Presbyterian Church, to know Christ personally as Savior and Lord. And any church would be blessed, when elders make decisions based on a leadership that yields to Christ as Lord, not to what others want, but to what he wants.
Secondly, not only can we depend on Jesus to bless us when we recognize him as God, but we can also depend on him to build his church. He said, “I will build my church” in Verse 18 “and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” You know Verse 18 is a very controversial verse. The Catholic Church on the basis of verse 18 claims that Peter is being described as the first rock or as the Pope, the first head of the church. There is no question in this text that it speaks of Peter as the rock. But does the rock mean Peter as a man of faith, or does it mean that he is the first religious monarch? I think most of us would say that we believe that he is a man of faith, a great man of faith, who would be the first person to preach to the Jews, to the Samaritans, and to the Gentiles within the space of only weeks. The first ten chapters of The Book of Acts describes Peter speaking to each one of those people groups; but the main point is that Jesus says that I am going to build my church. I am the head. As I am the head, you can depend on me to build the church. It doesn’t matter what happens from chapter to chapter. And this church is one that is on the offensive attacking the very gates of hell. You know the gates were where the enemies attacked. The gates were where the elders sat and thought about how to make decisions for the good of the city. That was the place of strategy and vulnerability. And Jesus said, “My church is going to attack the gates of hell and go on to the offensive.” And if that is true then the church that is following Jesus should be making a difference, just like an army that’s fine tuned is going to make a difference if it has to move and take on a certain mission.
The first sermon I ever preached here as interim pastor two years ago, I quoted Rick Warren from the Purpose Driven Church. He says that the strength of any army isn’t seen in how many people you can get in to the mess hall or how many bodies you can count. The strength of an army depends on how many of those soldiers are equipped for battle. He goes on to say that a Christian not in ministry is like a soldier not in battle. Depending on Christ calls each of us to find our place in the church with our gifts and our abilities.
Wayne Cordero who is pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country, The New Hope Church in Hawaii, was giving a message. We saw him on a simulcast a couple of weeks ago and he said that he was once invited to take the helm of a battleship; he stood on this massive ship and he looked out at all of the sailors. They were called out to their post and everybody was scurrying around and finally stood at their posts, their battle stations. He looked out as though he were the captain and he saw 800 people. He was almost amazed that each one knew exactly where they should be, exactly what they should do, exactly when they should do it. A few weeks later he said that he had the pleasure of going on a cruise and he again went up along where the helm would be and he just kind of walked around the different decks and he started thinking about the difference between his experience at the battleship and the cruise ship. Now I ask you, what kind of church do you want to be part of? You want to be part of a battleship church? Right. That said, there are some who want to be part of a cruise ship church, that is they want to go wherever they want to go, do whatever they want to do, take the six o’clock or the eight o’clock meal. Jesus says, “I am going to build my church in which everybody knows it’s place and it’s going to make a difference in this world.” Depend on him to do that. You know sometimes a pastor will slip and say, “My church is at 7308 York Road” or “My church is somewhere else.” Our pronouns give us away. It’s not my church. It’s not any pastor’s church. It’s Christ’s church. Pastors have the privilege of being stewards for a while, to build Christ’s church but can be tested by the pronouns they use.
You know that Murray left and went overseas and Ron left and went to Dallas and others that have pastored here have gone other places, and even very soon Jerry will leave and I will leave. When these events occur boundaries can be tested. I was talking to someone who was the head of a search committee for an interim pastor in another congregation and I won’t tell you what state or where it was, but this person said that in the course of a 15 minute conversation that a pastor who had been there 20 years ago was still being contacted by one of the leaders and being asked advice about congregational needs. Now there is a pastor who has forgotten whose church it is. The Lord calls us to remember that Jesus is the head of the church not the pastor, and you know what else, it’s not your church either! It’s not any person’s church, it’s not even the elder’s church, its Christ’s church and he says, “Depend upon me to build my church.” Christ will do it.
And thirdly, he says, “Depend upon me to use ordinary people.” Actually in Verses 18 and 19, he talks about giving the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples. He says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven”. Binding and loosing are Hebrew concepts for forbidding and permitting and the verb structure reads this way – “Whatever you forbid to be done, shall have been bound already in heaven”. Jesus’ intent here is not that God would obey what we do on earth, but that we should do on earth what God has already willed in heaven. That’s what the Lord’s prayer is that we say every time. The church doesn’t get human will done in heaven, it obeys God’s will on earth. But the idea is that God is going to get it done through people using God given authority. Why does God use people? Why doesn’t God just use angels who don’t screw it up? They know everything, they are trained to obey God’s will, why doesn’t he just use them? Not only that, why does God use the people that God uses? I mean it’s a stretch to think when you think about it, how a guy with the last name of Antonakos could pastor a church with Scottish roots. It doesn’t make sense. Who would imagine God using the staff that he has put here? Wonderful people, but they are ordinary people just depending on Jesus. Each one preaches a sermon just when you look at them. So Jesus says, “Depend upon me to use ordinary people.” God wants to use you, ordinary as you are, with his authority to affect people’s lives.
And then lastly, Jesus says, “Depend upon me to reveal to you newer and higher truth as you walk with me.” In Verse 20 to 28, this comes through. In Verse 20 first of all Jesus says, “Don’t say anything about who I am.” This is a truth that’s hard to grasp. In Verse 21, he tells them the unimaginable, that he will die and be raised again. And then look at Peter who supposedly is the Rock Man. He grabs hold of Jesus, that’s literally what it means, he catches hold of Jesus and he says, “Oh no Lord, God forbid this must never happen to you.” “You can’t have this happen to you.” Jesus’ greatest temptation, his most severe temptation and I believe it was continual, came through Peter who worded it just the way Satan might have worded it in the wilderness, “You’re the Son of God remember. The Son of God shouldn’t have to have this happen to him. You should be able to do all these things and have all this. Not do this.” Jesus looked right at Peter, a man he loved deeply and he looked him square in the eyes and he said, “Get thee behind me Satan.” He called one of his best friends Satan. Peter your place… and Jesus is saying that to us too… “Your place is behind me, not in front of me.” You are to listen, you are to depend upon me. It’s your place to follow me in the way that I chose, not to try to lead me in the way that you chose or that you want me to go.
You know often times if we follow the Lord, even if his plan seems momentarily disappointing, we will be led to see newer and higher truth that we never would have seen or understood had we not followed him. You know it’s real easy to get caught up in the world’s message. The world’s message is live for yourself. Jesus in this text says, “Deny yourself”. The world’s message says ignore the cross. Jesus in this text says, “Take up your cross”. The world says, save your life. Jesus says, “Lose your life for my sake and you will find it.” Depend upon me and I will show you newer and higher truth. It’s easy when we are tuned in to the world’s way to forget or we miss out on the truth that God wants to teach us.
So there it is – four important things: Depend upon Jesus as you recognize him as God and Lord. Depend upon Jesus to build this church congregation and depend upon Jesus to use you to build the church and to take Central Church to a newer and higher level in the months ahead. In a year or two, it will be “George who?”, “Jerry who?”; just don’t forget to depend upon Jesus who never changes, the One called the Christ, the Son of the living God. Let us pray.
Lord, we bless your name because you have blessed us. You have revealed to us the deepest truth that anyone could know, that you are the one sent from God to bring us back to God, not only in this life, but for eternity. Lord I pray that you would reveal that truth even to the heart of anyone who has not yet understood it, and even to those who have Lord, to reveal it in a way that allows us to follow you more clearly and more deeply. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.