Matthew’s Messiah: His Coronation
It is, I believe, the single most important question in all of the Bible…
I refer to the question Jesus put to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Understand, please, that Caesarea Philippi was the most religious city of its day. It was the seat of government and it was a hot-bed of activity for all the major faith systems of that time. It was a place dotted with colonnades and temples of all varieties, a place filled with practicing priests of every kind, a place where every block contained some religious altar or worship center laden in gold. It was there, surrounded by these visible reminders of all the world’s religions, that Jesus put to His disciples this, the single most important question in the Bible. Jesus said: “Who do you say that I am?”
Now I don’t believe that the answer came without an uncomfortable moment of silence, without a gulp of shock at the enormous implications of the question, without the shifting of feet and the darting of eyes. Finally, Peter—good, old, blustery, impulsive, tell-it-like-it-is Peter jumps into the silence and says: “Here is who I think you are. I know it may sound a little crazy, and I know it may be a radical idea, but I think you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus must have smiled. The angels must have celebrated. The devil must have trembled. Jesus looked at Peter and said: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.” In other words, “Peter, you didn’t just dream this up and you didn’t get it out of a book. You got this straight from God.” Jesus then went on to say that Peter had spoken a truth as solid as a rock, and upon that truth Jesus would create a movement of faith like nothing the world has ever seen before or since. Dear friends, don’t miss the significance of this moment. This was the coronation day for the Messiah. It was right there and then that Jesus was crowned King and head of the church. And that decisive moment has changed all subsequent human history. So, freeze frame the picture of what happened at Caesarea Philippi in your mind and let’s draw from it some powerful affirmations.
Affirmation number one: The church is based on Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “On this rock, I will build my church.”
Now, when Jesus said to Peter, “.. .on this rock…”, Jesus was not highlighting who Peter was, but what Peter said. Peter had declared: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Peter was declaring his faith in Jesus and therefore, Jesus responded by saying that it is upon that kind of rock-solid faith that He will build His church. The church is not based upon the power of Peter, but upon the power of Peter’s Messiah. The church is based upon Jesus Christ.
Listen to Jesus. He claims to be the center of faith. He does not say: “I will offer you a string of pat answers for your questions.” No. He says: “Follow Me. I am the answer.” Listen to Paul. He was a brilliant man, one of the most brilliant of his day. His intellect was enormous, yet, where does Paul focus his life? He says: “For to me to live is Christ. It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” Listen to Peter. He was vitally concerned about the problems of this world. He wanted to take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm and build the kingdom on earth at the same time. But does he declare that the answers to the world’s problems are to be found in some social theory or program? No. He says: “There is no other name by which we must be saved except Christ Jesus.” Listen to Martin Luther. He was a great scholar, but did he build his life upon scholarly pursuits? No. Luther said: “I begin my belief, and I base my life upon the wounds of my Jesus.” Or listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was so concerned about the terrible problems of this world that he gave his life in an effort to solve them, yet listen to what he writes in a book called Christ, the Center: “On our coming to grips with Jesus Christ depend life and death, salvation and damnation. This is the principle upon which everything in life rests. There is salvation in no One else.’”
Dear friends, over the last 125 years, this church has been blessed with some great preachers, people like Norris, McNair, Belk, Dendy, Kadel, Anderson and Chadwick. It is a distinguished line in which I now stand. But remember, please, preachers are going to come and go. Church leaders are going to come and go. Church buildings are going to come and go. Even denominations are going to come and go. But the one immutable factor of the life of the church- that which is the same yesterday, today and forever is Jesus Christ. The church is based upon Him and upon our belief in Him as the world’s Messiah. For 125 years this church has held fast to that belief. We dare not forget that now!
Affirmation number two: the church is built by Jesus Christ.
Jesus said: “On this rock I will build my church.”
Think about that. Do you realize that this is the only task which Jesus didn’t turn over to someone else? Sometimes we say: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Jesus must have believed that, because Jesus didn’t assign this responsibility. He didn’t delegate this job. He wanted it done right, and so He said: “This one I handle Myself. I will build my church”, and that is exactly what has happened.
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? When someone comes to Christ in the church, it is Christ bringing that person to Himself. It is not someone else doing the work. It is not a preacher or an elder or a missionary or an evangelist doing the building. It is Christ Himself. The Messiah is the Master Contractor. He is building His church by bringing people in and adding them to the number of the church. And as a result, today the church is all over the world. It is in every nation on the face of the earth. It is in every state of the union. It is in every city, every town, every country village within these golden shores. There are nearly two billion people on this earth who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and those numbers are increasing every day.
To be sure, not all of those people take the church as seriously as they should. Occasionally they muster up all kinds of elaborate excuses for not making it to church. It’s the weather, or their golf game, or their out-of-town company, or their weariness from work. I remember a fellow in a church I served who never made it to church the whole time I was there, but I kept running into him at crowded basketball games or crowded theatres or crowded malls or crowded parties. He would always apologize for not being in church and then he would say: “You know, I have a problem being in crowds.” Go figure!
Yet, for all of our human weaknesses and all of our human excuses, the fact is that Jesus keeps bringing people to Himself through the church. He keeps adding to the number of those who are truly committed to Him. He keeps on building His church. For 125 years, He has been building this church. We dare not forget that now!
Affirmation number three: the church belongs to Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “On this rock I will build My church.
Do you remember when the Risen Christ confronted Paul on the Damascas road and He said to Paul: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” It seems a strange way to put it. After all, Jesus was no longer on the earth in the flesh and Paul was engaged in attacks upon people who belonged to the church. And yet, Jesus asked: “Why do you persecute Me?” Clearly, Jesus equated the church with Himself. Therefore, when we persecute the church, we persecute Christ. When we ignore the church, we ignore Christ. When we disparage the church, we disparage Christ. When we oppose the church, we oppose Christ. But the opposite is also true. When we praise, honor, support and glorify the church we are praising, honoring, glorifying and supporting Christ. The church, you see, belongs to Him. It’s His—and it’s His alone. The church is not perfect, but it is His and because it is His, it is unconquerable.
Today we celebrate 125 years of incredible life in this church. For all of those years this church has stood at the center of this city exercising a transforming power and effect over both the community as a whole and the people who live within it. Through the years this church has produced great leaders, both for the church and for the city. Through the years, this church has initiated and implemented an incredible number of programs and ministries designed to meet the deepest needs that people experience in the course of their living. For 125 years nothing has been able to stop this church and I can tell you, nothing will ever stop this church in the future. This church will be here at least 125 years more unless the Lord returns first. I can say that and know it’s true because this church belongs to Jesus Christ. It’s unswerving 125-year march through history will continue because it is not yours; it is not mine; it is His and because it is His, it will never die. We dare not forget that!
I come to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday, year after year with but one motivation. There is but one thing that possesses me, and it is to let you know about the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I am consumed by the desire that you claim Him as your own. I don’t care how you do it. It may take minutes. It may take hours. It may take days. You may write it out. You may talk it out. You may pray it out. But however long it takes in whatever way you choose to do it, I call you to surrender to Him. Break your sword. Haul down your flag. Commit your life to Him. Promise that you will stay close to Him. Never let the sun go down on any day in which you do not speak to Him. Glow in His love. Grow in His Spirit. Study His Word in the Bible. Look every day to His cross to see the height and the depth and the breadth of the love God has for you. And commit yourself to the church—the church which is based upon Jesus Christ, which is built by Jesus Christ and which belongs to Jesus Christ.
Like the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, you and I stand today at a decisive crossroads in our lives, and in the life of this church. And like the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, you and I today are confronted by our Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” Let us answer with Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”