The Crises of the Christ: Coronation For An Unlikely King
Have you ever felt that you were coming to a crossroads experience in your life, where everything hung in the balance, where everything you had hoped for and lived for was up for grabs, where everything in your future hinged on how you made your choices? Jesus came to a moment like that in His life. If you have ever felt the tightening in your throat or the tug at your heart or the knot in the pit of your stomach then you know something of what He felt when He came to that critical and decisive moment at Caesarea Philippi. We shall look at it together, in a moment, after we have prayed…
In his autobiography River of Years, the great preacher, Joseph Fort Newton, declared that there are four ways that people can live their lives. First, people can run away from challenges and responsibilities in their lives. Second, people can run along with life, hunt with the pack, think with the herd—”since everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?” Third, people can take hold of life with singleness of purpose, submit to discipline, and run toward some specific goal. Or fourth, people can give themselves to some great cause or purpose and let that cause or purpose take control of their lives. Newton believed that the secret to truly significant and victorious living was to be found in taking the fourth option. I couldn’t agree more. And frankly I think that’s what this decisive moment at Caesarea Philippi was all about.
Understand, please, that Caesarea Philippi was the most religious city of its day. It was a seat of government and a hotbed of activity for all of 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 and their constituency, a place where every block contained some religious altar laden in gold. It was there, surrounded by these reminders of all the world’s religions, that Jesus put to His disciples what I believe is the most important question in the whole Bible. “Who do you say that I am? Everyone else says that I am just another prophet, just another priest, offering just another item on the religious smorgasbord. But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
I don’t believe the answer came without an uncomfortable moment of silence, without a gulp of shock at the enormous implications of that question, without the shuffling of feet and the darting of eyes. Finally, Peter spoke up—and I can’t help but think that there was a hint of hesitancy in his voice: “Here’s what I think You are. I know it sounds a little crazy and I know it may be a radical idea. But I think you are the Christ, 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, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” In other words: “Peter, you didn’t just dream this up. You didn’t get this out of a book, you got it from God.” Then Jesus went on to say that what Peter said was a truth as solid as a rock and that upon that truth He would create a movement of faith like nothing the world has ever seen, before or since. It was right there and right then that Jesus was crowned King and Head of the Church. And that decisive moment has changed the course of all subsequent human history. So freeze-frame that picture in your mind and let’ s draw from it three great affirmations.
First, the Church is based on Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Now when Jesus replied to Peter by saying “Upon this rock”, He was not highlighting who Peter was, but what Peter said. Peter had declared: “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus then said: “Upon this solid rock, upon this solid base of that confession of faith, I will build my church.” The Church is not based upon Peter but upon Peter’s confession of faith in Christ—not upon the power of Peter but upon the power of the One to whom Peter was pointing. The Church is based on Jesus.
You see, the Church cannot be founded upon any man or woman, not ever, not at any time or in any place. My friends, never, never, never allow yourself to be caught up in a movement that is based upon a personality—never, never, never go to a church just because of a preacher or a program or a doctrinal position. Go to a church because there you can gain a living and vital faith in Jesus Christ and there you can become an active agent for Jesus Christ in the world. To try to center Christianity in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ is to court failure. What the Church must reclaim in our time is the cornerstone of our faith which, if it has not rejected, it has at least ignored. What the Church must possess again is a vital, living relationship with a vital, living Christ. The evidence for that is incontestable.
Hear what Jesus Himself says. He claims to be the center of our faith. He does not say: “I’ll offer you a string of pat answers for your questions.” He says: “Follow Me; I am the answer.” Look at what Paul says. He was a brilliant man, perhaps the most brilliant of his day. His intellect was enormous. Yet where does Paul focus his life? Upon his defense of the faith and his grasp of the issues? No. He says: “For to me to live is Christ. It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” Or what about Peter? He was vitally concerned about the problems of the 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? Not at all. He says: “Christ is the cornerstone. There is no other name by which we may be saved except Christ Jesus.” Or think of Martin Luther. He was a great scholar but did he build his life upon his scholarly pursuits? No. Luther said: “I begin my belief and I base my life upon the wounds of my Jesus.” Come closer to our time and 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 else in life rests. As Peter said: ‘There is salvation in no one else.’ “
My friends, remember that preachers are going to come and go; doctrines are going to come and go; church buildings are going to come and go. But the one immutable factor of the church, which is the same yesterday, today and forever, is Jesus Christ. First and foremost, the church is based upon Him and upon our confession of faith in Him. We dare not forget that.
Secondly, the Church is built by Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Think about it. This is the only task which He didn’t turn over to anyone else. “I will build my church.” Sometimes we say: “If you want something done right, you do it yourself.” Jesus didn’t assign this responsibility—He didn’t delegate this job. He wanted it done right so He said: “This one I handle myself. I will build my church.” And that is precisely what has happened.
In Acts 2, there is a wonderful description of the work and the nature of the Church. Then the last sentence of that chapter reads: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought? When someone comes to Christ and the church, it’s Christ bringing that person to Himself. It’s not someone else doing the work. It’s not a preacher or an Elder or a missionary or an evangelist doing the building. It’s Christ Himself. He is the Master Contractor. He is building His Church by bringing people in and adding them to the number in the Church.
That’ s why I can say to you that the Church is the oldest institution on the face of the earth. No other group or organization or institution can come close to matching its 2000 years of history. And the Church is not going to go away. The Church is in every nation on the face of the earth. It is in every state of the Union. It’s in every city, every town, every country village. There are over one billion people on this earth who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ—and these numbers are increasing every day.
To be sure, not all of those people take the church seriously in their lives. And they muster up all kinds of 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 just can’t stand to be in a crowd.” Go figure. Of course best of all was the woman who said: ” The reason I don’t go to church is that if I go some of the time it makes me want to go all of the time. And since I can’t go all of the time, it makes me feel guilty when I miss some of the time. So I don’t go any of the time and that keeps me from feeling guilty about wanting to go all of the time.” Boy, she had to work at that one!
But for all of our human weaknesses and our human excuses, Jesus keeps bringing people to Himself in the Church. He keeps adding to the number of those who are truly committed to Him. He keeps on building His church. We dare not forget that.
Then thirdly, the Church belongs to Jesus Christ.
Jesus says: “Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Do you remember when the risen Christ confronted Paul on the Damascus Road and He said to Paul: “Why are you persecuting me?” Remember, please, that at that point in time Jesus was no longer in the flesh and Paul was engaged in attacks upon people who belonged to the Church. Why then did Jesus ask: “Paul, why do you persecute me?” Clearly the answer is that 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. It belongs to Him. It’s His folks, His and His alone. The Church is not perfect, but it is His, and because it is His, it is unconquerable.
People have always been prophesying that it would die. In 1812 John Keats said: “It’s going out like an old lamp.” One hundred and seventy-nine years later, the lamp has never burned brighter 1 Voltaire said: “It won’t last another 50 years”—and fifty years later the house in which Voltaire uttered that sentence was owned by the church and was being used as a distribution center for Bibles! Hitler said he would crush the church because it was “hollow and rotten within.” Yet, Albert Einstein, himself a Jew, would say after the war that the only institution in Germany which never fully bowed the knee to Hitler was the Church of Jesus Christ! The Church is inevitable. Nothing can ever stop it or kill it. Its unswerving march through human history will continue because it is not yours or mine—it is His. And because it is His, it will never die. We dare not forget that.
I suppose it all comes down to this.
I come to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday 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 call you today to claim Him as your own. I don’t care how you do it. It may take minutes. It may take hours. You may write it out. You may talk it out. You may pray it out. But however long it takes and whatever way you choose to do it, I call you to surrender to Him. Break your sword. Haul down your flag. Commit your life anew, all of it, to this vital, living Christ. 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. Immerse yourself in His Word. Look again and again at 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 which is based on Jesus Christ, which is built by Jesus Christ, and which belongs to Jesus Christ.
Today, I believe that we stand at a decisive crossroads in your life and mine. Our spirits are haunted by our Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” Let us answer with Peter of long ago:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”