August 24, 2014 – The 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16A
© 2014 Evan D. Garner
This sermon was written for the 5:00 p.m. service only.
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
Have you ever wondered why it took the disciples so long to figure out who Jesus really was? Today’s gospel lesson comes from Matthew 16. By now, we’re about halfway through the gospel story. That means that Peter and the other disciples have been following Jesus around for more than a year, spending every day listening to his teachings and watching him perform incredible miracles. He has walked out on the water to them. He has stilled the storm. He has even raised the dead. Yet, still, the disciples can’t quite figure out who he is.
Equally puzzling to me is the fact that Jesus doesn’t just come out and tell the disciples who he is. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” he asks them. After listening to their speculations, he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” They’ve been together for all that time and still Jesus hasn’t bothered to sit down and tell them who he is. Why did he wait so long? Why did he wait until they figured it out for themselves? Maybe it’s because there’s a big difference between knowing that Jesus is the Messiah and knowing who Jesus really is.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Jesus was. I always knew. From before I was old enough to walk, my parents told me that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, who came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again so that my sins could be forgiven and so that I could go into heaven. There was never a time when those concepts were unfamiliar to me, but, still, it took me a long time to really know who Jesus was. That’s because I needed to learn who he was for myself. By the time I got to college, I knew all of the titles we give to Jesus—Messiah/Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel, Savior, Lord, etc.—but I didn’t know what it meant to see the Jesus I had been taught about for all of those years as Messiah. I hadn’t made that confession for myself. Then, one night, I went looking not for the Jesus I had had described to me for all of those years but for the Messiah, the Son of the living God, who might change my life.
“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” Jesus said to Peter, “but my father in heaven.” Peter had made a risky statement. He had said something that would change his life forever. You can’t discover who the Messiah is without owing him your life. Part of recognizing who Jesus really is is recognizing that you must yield over to him everything you’ve got. You must follow him as your master. You must worship him as Lord of heaven and earth. You must take up your cross and follow him—even if that road leads to death. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t take someone else’s word for. You’ve got to know it yourself.
At the end of this amazing encounter, Jesus sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone else that he is the Messiah. He doesn’t want the secret to get out. But that’s not because he wants to keep a low profile or because Christianity is only reserved for a few select individuals. Jesus wants people to keep it a secret because others need to discover it for themselves. If you’re here in church today, I’m guessing you’ve heard a little bit about Jesus. You’ve probably heard people like me talk about him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. But have you really discovered who he really is? Have you found him to be the one to whom you must give your whole life? Until then, it’s just someone else’s story. You’ve got to meet the real Jesus for yourself.