Golgotha Bound #3
“Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question Jesus posed to the Disciples. Part of the reason for asking that question was that Jesus was readying Himself for the final leg of His Ministry. From this moment on Jesus would be more focused on the cross. Jesus knew He was ready but He had to make sure the Disciples were ready, too; at least in part. Thus the question: “But who do you say that I am?” That’s the question we’ll be looking at today. “Who do you say that Jesus is?”
I read a story sometime back about a young woman who was fairly new at her job behind the counter for one of the major airlines. Everything in her two week tenure had gone as smooth as silk. And then it was one of those days. Fog had settled in one the destination airports, so flights to that destination were being delayed or canceled. Which meant that the terminal and ticket counter were packed with irritated, inconvenienced and irate people all trying to exchange their ticket to a flight in a nearby city. The young girl was an absolute trooper, maintaining her cool in every situation.
During the middle of all of this confusion and bedlam, a well known public figure pushed his way to the front of the line. In a very self important voice he said, “Young lady, I need a ticket to so and so.”
The ticket agent looked up and said, “Excuse me, sir, I’m working with this gentleman and there are about 25 others behind him. You’ll have to wait your turn like everyone else.”
Well, this individual wasn’t any too pleased with the response he got and continued to try and get his way. Each time the young woman told him he needed to go to the end of the line and wait his turn. Finally, completely irritated the man hollered, “Lady don’t you know who I am?”
The ticket agent looked at him with a puzzled look on her face and then picked up the microphone and said: “May I have your attention please. This gentleman has forgotten who he is. If anyone recognizes him, would you please meet him at the end of the line in front of my ticket counter and help him recover his identity.” The whole place broke out in applause and laughter, and the agent went back to helping the gentleman in front of her.
That young woman knew who she was, didn’t she. She was absolutely secure in her identity. Identity is important isn’t it? It was to Jesus, too. And he wanted the Disciples to know His true identity so they could learn their own true identity. Let’s look at the passage from Matthew 16:13-26
 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Before we go any further, let me put this whole situation in context, I think it will help us understand some of the deeper issues and implications of what is going in this passage. Jesus and the Disciples have travelled, intentionally, to Caesarea Philippi which is in the far Northeast corner of Israel. It is located some 30-35 miles northeast of Sea of Galilee at the foot of Mt. Hermon. At the time it was located in the Tetrarchy of Philip, the area we know now as the Golan Heights.
When Jesus and the Disciples travelled there, it was basically a gentile or non-Jewish community. That’s significant because the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap Jesus wouldn’t set foot in that area for fear of being soiled and made unclean in there eyes of their faith. Jesus, on the other hand, sees it as an opportunity to be alone with and teach the Disciples.
Another significant aspect of Caesarea Philippi was the number of other religions represented there. William Barclay says there were no fewer than 14 different pagan temples there. Some of which included temple to Nemesis, the goddess of justice and revenge; Pan, half man, half goat; a fertility cult heavy into sacrifices. Philip, Herod’s son, even built a temple to Caesar. He built in front of the cave known as the Cave of Pan. That alone held deep significance.
First, deep within that cave is a spring which is the source of the Jordan River. We know how important the Jordan River is to the life and faith of Israel. Second, because this cave seemed to reach into the very depths of the earth, it came to be regarded as the entrance to the underworld, the abode of Hades, the god of the lower regions, and home to the disembodied spirits of the dead.
I hope you see the significance of where the events of today’s passage takes place. Here’s Jesus, a carpenter turned itinerant Galilean preacher with twelve ordinary guys, all Jewish, following him. At the very moment of this event, the leaders of Jesus’ very own faith are plotting to destroy him as a dangerous heretic.
Jesus and the Disciples are gathered in a place filled with a plethora of temples. You couldn’t walk 10 feet without tripping over one. Pagan worship dominated the landscape and polluted the very water which was central to the faith of Israel. Temple after temple caught the eye, each one more beautiful and elaborate than the other.
I think Jesus deliberately set himself against the background of the world’s religions. I think Jesus probably positioned himself so as they were looking at him, the Disciples had the panorama of all those temples as the back drop. It was there, in that setting, that Jesus questioned the Disciples
Jesus, who is the light of the world;
Jesus, who is the spring from which flows living water;
Jesus, who is the one whom even the dead obey;
Jesus, who is the one for whom and through whom everything was created;
Jesus, who preaches a message of mercy and forgiveness; turns to the Disciples and asks, “Who do people say I am.” In the face of their location, that’s not a little question.
The Disciples give all kinds of answers. But then the conversation turns personal. Jesus asks, what some would call, the money question: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus had been making Himself ready for the ministry ahead, the ministry and sacrifice of the cross but He needed to know if the Disciples were ready for that journey with Him. You see, Jesus needed them for moral and spiritual support. He needed to know, at this point, that he wasn’t alone in this lonely business of the cross.
I don’t think the responses surprised Jesus at all. I think he was probably expecting all of them except one. When Jesus asked, “Who do YOU say that I am?” The question caused them to freeze. They all choked. And this wasn’t just your ordinary “duh, I don’t know” kind of freeze. But I’m talking about one of those duck your head, I should know this answer, embarrassed kind of freezes that is immediately visible on your face, even though you are trying your best to avoid telegraphing your discomfort.
Into the midst of this dead silence comes the voice of Simon Peter. Simon Peter; who only took his foot out of his mouth in order to exchange feet; Simon Peter, the one who could act boldly on faith and 30 seconds later shrink back in fear.
Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” At that moment, Peter was as close to heaven as he would get before he joined the other early martyrs of the faith. But in that moment, Peter knew without the shadow of a doubt who Jesus was because the very voice of God whispered it in his ear.
Three times in his life, Peter would experience and stand just a stone’s throw from Heaven. The second time will be in the very near future with James and John on the mount of Transfiguration, when standing side by side with Moses and Elijah, Jesus will be seen in all of his heavenly glory, so dazzling white that they had to hide their eyes. Peter would never forget that day because it confirmed the whisper of God. God would speak aloud what God had only whispered to before. From the cloud God said: “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.”
The third time would be in the future, after the resurrection at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon Peter and the entire crowd. But here, this time, weeks before the crucial events of Holy Week, God speaks to Peter and only Peter. No one else heard the words. No one else stood as close to heaven. This time it was for Peter alone.
Jesus was ecstatic. Peter got it. The others may have had confused and quizzical looks on their faces, but Peter got it. With his arm around Peter’s shoulder, they start back to Galilee and Jesus begins teaching them about what is awaiting him in Jerusalem; suffering, injustice, the cross, death and resurrection. Jesus is ready and is Golgotha Bound. And it seems all the Disciples were ready, too.
We know they really aren’t, as hard as Jesus tried, they didn’t get the deep significance of the events until later. And to top it off, as they’re leaving the mountain Peter sticks his foot in his mouth again and tries to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. But off they go, as ready as they can be.
III. SO WHAT:
A. Whenever I’m mentoring young clergy in preaching I always ask them to answer the “so what?” question. So, what difference does it make? How does it apply? What’s the challenge? So what?
I think this passage challenges with three very important questions: “Who are you? Who do YOU say Jesus is? And Whose are you?”
The existential question, “Who are you?” is an extremely important question for us to ask of yourself. It determines our direction and purpose.
In the movie The Nanny Diaries, starring Scarlet Johanson, Annie Braddock is a young woman from a working-class home struggling to find out who she is, who takes a job as a Nanny for a wealthy couple, where she finds out life on the other side of the tax-bracket isn’t all that rosy either. At the beginning of the movie, Annie goes for a very important job interview at a prestigious firm. This is what happens.
As Annie finds out in the movie, it is extremely important to know who you are. Many of us are defined by our jobs, our family or the friends we associate with. You have to know who YOU are.
B. It’s only after we know “who WE are” that we can begin to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” If we answer with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” That answer has claim on our lives. And we can’t just discard it as a piece of trivia to be used on Jeopardy.
If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, it has to make a difference in our lives; in how we live every day; in how we treat one another. In essence, the answer to the question, “Who do YOU say Jesus is?” answers the question, “Whose are you?”
Jesus had no identity crisis. He knew who He was and Whose He was. And because of who He was and Whose He was He was enabled to set his mind and heart upon Jerusalem and what awaited him there. Was he troubled? Of course he was. Was he afraid? If his prayer in the garden before his arrest was any indication then the answer is “Yes.” But did it stop him? “No.”
When we answer question of Who Jesus is, I think Jesus helps us put life back in the proper perspective. You see, I think most of us treat life like a Cheesecake when the life of faith is really like one of Jean and Rhonda’s Very Berry Pies.
Bear with me and let me explain. I know you’ve all seen those Combo Cheesecakes with 4 to 8 different flavors. You do know that they are not baked that way don’t you? Each flavor or style of Cheesecake is baked separately, sliced and then like a puzzle all the slices are put into place with a piece of wax paper between each slice.
We try to divide up our lives like one of those cheesecakes. We have a slice for family, a slice for work, a slice for God, church, civic organization, hobbies and we generally try not to let them bleed together or even touch. But that’s not how a life of faith should be lived.
Life is really like an Every Berry Pie (Get a Picture). You see, if you tried to bake a berry pie where one slice was strawberry, one blueberry, one blackberry, one raspberry, one boysenberry, one mulberry and whatever other berries you want to add, the best that you would get is an Every Berry Pie. You see in baking, all those juices begin to simmer and bubble and run together flavoring every other kind of berry in the pie. And that’s the way it should be, that’s what makes it so delicious.
Everything in life, whether we like it or not, affects everything else. Our faith is the overarching ingredient that binds them all together or it should. Sort of like the crust on a berry or fruit pie, our faith holds it all together and keeps it from falling apart.
It’s true that cheesecake has a crust but it’s pretty much incidental to the rest of the cheesecake. It’s basically just something used to facilitate slicing and serving and to keep the bottom portion of the cheesecake from burning or sticking to the mold.
Our faith, like the crust of a berry pie, holds all the rest of life together. It allows the rest of life to be marinated in the juices of our salvation. And like the aroma of a pie fills the house while it’s baking, our lives become a fragrant aroma and an offering to God.
Like pie dough, if I push this illustration too far or stretch it too far, it will fall apart but I hope you get the idea. You see, when we know “Who we are, Who Jesus is and Whose we are” all of life takes on a different meaning and purpose as our lives are marinated in the juices of our faith.
But it all begins with a simple question, the one Jesus asked the Disciples that day at Caesarea Philippi. “Who do YOU say Jesus is?”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.