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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: Who Do You Say That I Am?

Matthew 16:13-20

Not long ago, Alene Baker was surfing the net and stumbled onto a little story which she then passed on to me. She said: “Perhaps you can use this some time.” Well, I can use it and now is the time. Listen:

Written by Danny, age 8 from Chula Vista, California for his third grade homework assignment to “Explain God.” Here is what Danny wrote: “One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die so there will be enough people to take care of things here on earth. He doesn’t make grown-ups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way, He doesn’t have to take up His valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers. God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or T. V. on account of this. Since He hears everything, not only prayers, there must be a terrible lot of noise in His ears unless He has thought of a way to turn it off. God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere, which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting His time by going over your parents’ head asking for something they said you couldn’t have. Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren’t any who come to our church. Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of Him preaching to them and they crucified Him. But He was good and kind like His Father and He told His Father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK. His Dad (God) appreciated everything that He had done and all His hard work on earth so He told Him that He didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So He did. And now He helps His Dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones He can take care of Himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important, of course. You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to hear you because they got it worked out so that one of them is on duty all the time. You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God. Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong! And, besides, the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway. If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared in the dark or when you can’t swim very good and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids. But you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and He can take me back anytime He pleases. And that’s why I believe in God.”

Eight-year-old Danny from Chula Vista, California provided his answer to what many scholars believe was the most important question Jesus ever asked. You know the question I mean. Jesus and his disciples were in Caesarea Philippi in northernmost Israel and Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” Now Jesus didn’t ask that because His memory was failing! He knew who He was. But what He wanted to know was what other people were thinking about Him. And so the disciples then listed some of the things they had heard other people saying. But then Jesus turned the question from a generic one to a personal one. He then asked what may be the most important question He ever asked. He said to His disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a question they had to answer and it’s a question each of us must answer as well: Who do you say that Jesus is?

You see, how we answer that question determines our behavior, both private and public. It determines how we view and relate to our families and our friends. It determines how we respond to the needs and the challenges of the world around us. It determines how we shape our sense of values and morals. Early this week I had just filled the gas tank of my car and was pulling away from the pump. As I was doing so, a man in a pickup truck was pulling away from another pump. He must have felt that I was going to try to beat him to the street because suddenly he laid on his horn and shouted obscenities that were so loud that I could hear them even though my windows were up and my air-conditioning was running. Not wanting him to have a stroke at the wheel, I quickly pulled over and allowed him to pass. As he did, he continued to shout and make rude gestures. What caught me by surprise was the bumper sticker on the rear of his truck. It read: “Praise the Lord.” But I tell you I have to wonder who his Jesus is! You see, the way we live, the way we work, the way we play, the way we treat people, the way we treat the earth all reveal something of who we think Jesus is. Jesus understood that and that is why He asked: “Who do you say that I am?”

Of course, it was Simon Peter who answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s firm grasp of the fact that Jesus is the Messiah set him apart from the uncertainty and the confusion of other people and thus enabled his kind of faith to be the rock upon which Jesus would build His church. That which Peter experienced can be something we can experience too if we recognize Jesus to be the Christ—the Lord and Savior of our lives. Who do you say that He is? It’s the most important question you will ever answer in your life.

Jesus shows us what is the best in life.

Jesus came in part to be the model for what humanity ought to be. God chose to wrap Himself in human flesh and by so doing reveal to us in the purest possible terms what it really means to be a human being in our world.

C. S. Lewis describes it in terms of those cliff divers in Acapulco—you know, the young men who climb up the sheer face of rock cliffs and then from great heights leap out and in a graceful curve descend to the water below, piercing the emerald-green surface and plunging down to the icy darkness of the depths. Then they touch the muddy bottom. Then with lungs reaching and stretching for air, they come surging up to the surface again. Well, just so C.S. Lewis says, Jesus plunged down into the icy darkness of this life, staying not just for a moment or two, but for 33 years, never once losing the beauty and the excellence that was His. Look at Him and you will see what is the best in life.

If you want to know about love, look at Him and see the children crawling up on His lap and running their fingers through his hair. If you want to know about forgiveness as He takes into His own hands the rough, crude, profane hands of the big fisherman who had denied Him and says: “Feed my sheep.” If you want to know about courage, look at Him standing before Pontius Pilate in what could only be described as a splendid, heroic silence. If you want to know about anger and when to use it, look at Him driving the moneychangers out of the temple and learn that anger is to be leveled only at the forces of evil. If you want to know how to live, look at the way He lived. If you want to know how to die, look at the way He died. If you want to know when to laugh, look at when He laughed. If you want to know when to cry, look at when He cried. If you want to hear words that will thrill your soul and lift your spirit and lift before you a challenge that you will never reach but you will never get tired of reaching for, then look at Him. If you want to know what life is supposed to be like and if you want to know what your life is supposed to be like, then look at Him. Jesus shows us the best of what life ought to be.

But Jesus not only shows us what is the best in life. He stirs us to be the best in our own lives.

Jesus not only embodies for us what life is supposed to be, He also empowers us to live that way. Does it surprise you that when Jesus asked the question “Who do you say that I am?” it was Simon Peter who answered? Remember please, that the Simon Peter we see portrayed in Scripture is one who was rash and impetuous to a fault, one who took his foot out of his mouth only to put the other one in, one whose flawed character led him to deny even knowing his Lord. If Peter was a rock, he was a shaky rock, a poor foundation, an unsteady base for the future building of the church. Yet here in this decisive moment in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus declares Peter to be the one who has received divine revelation.

I don’t know what that says to you, but for me it is a word of great hope. If Peter, faulty in his faith and limited in his understanding, can confess Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God and therefore can be empowered by God, then there is hope for me—and for you—that God is Jesus Christ and can empower us to do great things for the building of His kingdom on earth. What happened to Peter proves that God can and does choose the most unlikely folks to be messengers, prophets, witnesses and heroes.

I read not long ago about a man named Marion Wade. He had a job mopping floors for minimum wage. Talk about feeling insignificant, inadequate, unimportant, unappreciated and powerless. He didn’t have an education—he never finished high school. He didn’t have all the social graces to help him climb the ladder of success. All he had was a mop in his hand and a bucket of water at his feet. But wait, he did have something else. He had faith. He believed that Jesus Christ could help him to do something worthwhile in his life, even if he was very plain and ordinary. And so what he did was to really pay attention to what he was doing. He didn’t fantasize about doing something else or being in another place. He didn’t spend time wishing he was someone else or envying what others seemed to have. No. He just paid very close attention to what he was already doing as a person mopping floors. He paid attention to the different products he would use. He paid attention to the mixture of the detergent and the water. He paid attention to the effectiveness of the different kinds of waxes. He paid attention to how different kinds of mops worked on different surfaces. After a few years of finding ways to do his job better and better he decided to make a faith move. He decided to start his own little cleaning business. It wasn’t much at first, but it did grow. Each time he reached a new level, he would start working toward the next one. Today Marion Wade’s little business has become the largest home-cleaning, lawn-care business in the world. It brings in three billion dollars a year, and it provides employment for thousands of people. It’s called the Servicemaster Corporation, and Marion Wade devotes enormous resources to furthering the cause of Jesus Christ in the world.

God does use the most ordinary people to accomplish the most extraordinary things in life. So no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done or not done, if like Peter we truly confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, then like Peter, we shall be blessed by God and used by God to do His work in the world. Christians are those in whom God has confidence, but it all hinges on how we answer the question: “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

Well…

The hymn “Just As I Am” has been called the world’s greatest soul-winning hymn. No doubt that is true in part to Billy Graham and his crusade. You see, when Dr. Graham was a young man he walked to the altar in his conversion to the singing of that hymn and ever since, his crusades on every continent have used that hymn as the invitation hymn.

However, I think the real power of the hymn comes from the story of the one who wrote the words. Her name was Charlotte Elliott. She was born in England in 1789 and for the first 32 years of her life she was a vivacious, energetic young woman who gained success as a portrait painter and a poet. But then her life fell apart. She was stricken with a rare illness which left her bedridden for the rest of her life. She sank into great despair and rebellion against God. It was at that point that her father invited a famous minister from Switzerland, Cesar Malon, to visit her. Discussing with her the love of God, he said to her: “Just come to Him as you are, Charlotte.” The words hit her like a bolt out of the blue and turned her life around. For the rest of her life until her death at age 82, though she remained for 50 years a bedridden invalid, she always celebrated as her spiritual birthday the day she recognized who Jesus really was—the Christ—her Christ. And out of that experience she wrote the words:

Just as I am without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Long ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Today here in Orlando, Jesus asks us: “Who do you say that I am?”

How will you answer?

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