Who do you say that I am?

Matthew 16:13-20

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


            Who is Jesus?  There is some debate about this, but I believe that most people believe that there really was a historical person named Jesus who lived in Palestine, born to a woman named Mary, who was killed by the Roman government on charges of insurrection.  Most of the world’s religions recognize that Jesus lived, some call him a prophet and some believe him to be divine.  Even prominent atheist Richard Dawkins believes that it was very likely that Jesus did exist (see The God Delusion, pg. 97).  But just who was this man?

            We all have different understandings of who Jesus was and is today.  In part, this is why we have different denominations.  We tend to worship with other people based on what part of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we emphasize.  Some examples I got and adapted from a pastor named Kevin DeYoung: There is the self-help Jesus who wants us to have a good life, make more money, and have a bigger house.  There is the Republican Jesus who is against higher taxes and is for family values.  There is the Democratic Jesus who is against big-business and is for healthcare reform.  There is hippie Jesus that goes around talking about peace and love.  There is guru Jesus who goes around giving spiritual advice on how to be at peace with yourself.  There is touchdown Jesus who helps our favorite team win the game.  There is revolutionary Jesus that shows us how to beat the system and stick it to the man.  And to be honest, many of these ideas about Jesus have biblical grounding. 

I like the way that DeYoung ties it all up:

And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. (Adapted from Kevin DeYoung http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/06/10/who-do-you-say-that-i-am/?comments#comments).


Today I want to explore the confession of faith made by Peter when he was asked who Jesus is.  But before we get to our text for today I want to look at what led up to this point.

In the text leading up to today’s scripture we find Jesus being tested by the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  They come to Jesus demanding that he show them a sign from heaven.  They want to put Jesus to the test, to question his credibility, and to prove once and for all that he is nothing but a phony.  But Jesus refuses to do what they are demanding of him and instead he tells them that he will give them the ultimate sign: he is going to die and rise again three days later.  You want a sign that I am who I claim I am?  Oh, just you wait.  I’ll give you a sign!

            Jesus tries to warn the disciples that the Pharisees and the Sadducees are trying to lead them and everyone else astray.  And just as he at times uses the metaphor of yeast to describe the way good things spread throughout the population, he says that the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees can also spread throughout the population like yeast.  To put it a little stronger, Jesus is warning the disciples to not believe the lies that the Pharisees and the Sadducees are spreading against him because those lies can spread like yeast as well.  The lies will spread greater and greater, more and more if the disciples and others begin to believe them.

            So after Jesus warns his disciples to not believe these lies, he comes out and asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  He seems to be putting out his feelers to see how much the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees have influenced the people around them.  He is asking the disciples, “What are you hearing about me on the street?”  It is a bit of a 1st century straw poll, if you will.

            Evidently, the people are saying all sorts of things about Jesus.  Some are saying that he is John the Baptist, others that he is Elijah or Jeremiah.  For some reason, people seem to think that he is one of these dead prophets, back from the dead.  But Jesus then turns to his disciples and asks them personally, Who do you say that I am?  I’m not asking about what other people are saying, what do you believe?

            Only one of the disciples is brave enough to answer that question, and surprise, surprise, it is Peter.  But this time, Peter gets it right.  He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus applauds Peter for his answer.

            Let’s break that down.  You are the Messiah, or the Christ.  These words mean the same thing, but Messiah is a Hebrew word and Christ is a Greek word.  They both mean, “the anointed one.”  You are the anointed one, the chosen one, says Peter.

            In the biblical days when a person was being chosen for a special task they were often anointed with oil as a way of showing God’s blessing upon that person.  Anointing was a symbol of a person or an item being set aside for a special task from God.  Kings like Saul and David were anointed as a symbol of God choosing them for the specific task of being king.  The High Priest was anointed for his service to God and the people in the temple.  The prophet Elijah anointed his successor Elisha as the next great prophet of God.  Anointing, especially in the Old Testament, was a way of setting aside someone or something for a specific task or roll.

            Peter then says that Jesus is the “Son of the living God.”  That is awesome, but aren’t we all sons and daughters of God?  This is a metaphor used throughout the Bible in a couple of different ways.  The Bible speaks of all human beings as being the sons and daughters of God as people created in God’s image.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the peacemakers will be called the children of God.  In Romans 8, Paul writes that those who are led by the Spirit are God’s children and have received the Spirit of adoption and therefore are co-heirs with Christ.  So is it really that special that Peter would refer to Jesus as the son of the living God?  Half of us are sons of God and the other half are daughters of God.

            I think that we can gain some insight today by looking at the way the apostle John describes the sonship of Jesus.  1 John 4:7-8 tells it like this, “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  So according to John, those who love one another are God’s children.  That doesn’t make this any clearer, does it?  So again, what is Peter talking about when he says that Jesus is the Son of the living God?

            Let’s go one verse deeper in 1 John 4 to verse 9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  God sent his one and only son into the world.  Okay, now it is really getting confusing to me, especially when I look at all of the other times that the New Testament refers to all of the other children of God.  Come on, John, you just said that everyone who loves is a child of God and then you go and refer to Jesus as God’s one and only son!

            Perhaps the King James Version makes it a little bit clearer when it translates this as God sending his “only begotten son” into the world.  This differentiates between us as God’s adopted children and Jesus as God begotten child.  But I still think that we can get a little more clarification by looking at the original Greek text.

            The Greek word that John uses here is monogenes (μονογενὴς).  This is also the word that John uses in John 3:16 when he talks about God loving the world so much that he sent his one and only son.  Jesus is God’s mongenes son.

            Monogenes is actually a compound word, made up of two different words.  Mono is a prefix that we use in English, which means one.  A monogram is when two or more letters or symbols are combined to make on symbol.  Monophone is when sound is combined in one speaker (as opposed to stereo).  A monopoly is where one person or company controls all of a product and they are therefore the only seller of that product.  Mononucleosis is one nucleosis, which must mean you can get it from just one kiss.  Mono means “one” or “only.”

            Genes is a bit of a misleading word.  In English it looks like our word “gene” but it would have more of the connotation of the word “genus” like in taxonomy when we refer to the genus and species of an organism.

            So when John uses the word monogenes to describe Jesus’ relationship with God, he isn’t saying that Jesus got one of God’s genes.  John is saying that Jesus is unique, one-of-a-kind, or in Latin, sui generis.  Jesus is the unique son of God, the one-of-a-kind son of God.  So while we all are in one sense a child of God, Jesus is the Son of God in a unique, one-of-a-kind way.

            So we put it all together and Peter’s confession sounds a little something like this.  When Jesus asks his disciples who they believe he is, Peter replies by saying, “You are the anointed one, set aside by God for a specific purpose; for you are the unique, one-of-a-kind Son of the living God, unlike any other person to ever walk the face of the earth.” (See Shane Hipps The Dune is Heavy) 

            If you were to walk into a large chain store, like Wal-Mart or Lowes, here in Staunton, you probably would know about where to find the things that you would need.  Lowes has the Home and Garden items to your right, plumbing and bathroom fixtures to the back on the right, lighting right in from the entrance, appliances behind, and so on.  Now the cool thing is that if I go into a Lowes in Ohio, I still know right where to find the things that I am looking for, for the most part.  This is intentional.  It makes it easier for a shopper to find things no matter what store they go to, no matter what city or state you are in.  The stores are alike.

            Now the interesting thing to me is that these large chain stores also look alike on the outside.  I am sure that there is some psychological reason for this.  Perhaps there is a sense of comfort in seeing the same store in another place that you are used to seeing in your home town.  Perhaps it is just for the sake of recognition.  If you see the golden arches in Ohio, you know you can get the same Big Mac as you could get in Virginia.

            But this last week I was in Colorado and they do things a little different in Colorado.  Colorado is mountainous and covered with trees.  I absolutely love the architecture of Colorado.  Many of the houses that I saw were made in a cabin-style with cedar stained siding and green roofs, large windows to let in the sun, and stone veneer pillars and walls.  I thought it was simply beautiful, and evidently, so do many of the Coloradans. 

            However, something caught me off guard.  The big chain stores and restaurants that we find around here are also found in Colorado.  Lowes, Wal-Mart, MacDonald’s, and so on.  And though I am used to seeing one Lowes that looks like every other Lowes, these stores looked different in Colorado.  They had the cedar siding, the large beams, the green roofs, and the stone veneer like the houses in Colorado.  Just like the houses were trying to capture that cabin look with their architecture, so too were the large chain stores.

            I thought that this was something unique, something special.  I even went into a Wal-Mart, which was the first time I was in a Wal-Mart in years.  And do you know what I found?  Inside, this Wal-Mart looked like every other Wal-Mart Supercenter that I had ever been in.  The greeter met me at the door, the food was on one side, the other items on the other side.  I knew where I would need to go for sporting goods, men’s clothing, and a bunch of bananas.

            I am not trying to say that this is a bad thing.  What I am trying to point out is that even though these big chain stores in Colorado looked different in Colorado on the outside than they do in Virginia, on the inside they were very much alike.  They may have looked unique on the outside, but inside, they were much the same.  A Big Mac was still a Big Mac at MacDonald’s, the Pharmacy was still off to the left at Wal-Mart, the Garden Center was still off to the right at Lowes.

            When we look at Jesus, we clearly see that he was different than other people on the outside.  He was so unique that people took notice of him and began to follow him.  But Jesus was more than just a little different on the outside.  Jesus, in his very being, was unique.  He was the unique, sui generis, monogenes Son of God.  Nobody had ever been just like Jesus, and nobody ever will be just like Jesus.  We are to try to follow Jesus, but we will never be another Jesus.  He is one-of-a-kind.

            Peter recognizes that Jesus in not simply like the prophets that came before Jesus and Jesus praised him for this.  Then he goes on to say something a little confusing in verse 18, where he says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  Remember that Peter’s given name was Simon.  Peter was a nickname.  Peter is a masculine version of the Greek word for rock.  But when Jesus says that he will build his church on “this rock” I don’t think he is saying that he is going to build his church on Peter, but on the confession that Peter has just made.  The church is to have the foundation of Jesus Christ as the unique, chosen Son of God.

            So I come back to that list of Jesuses that I began with.  The self-help Jesus, the Republican Jesus, the Democratic Jesus, the hippie Jesus, the guru Jesus, the touchdown Jesus, and the revolutionary Jesus.  Surely there are many other versions of Jesus out there.  If you begin your understanding of Jesus with the foundation of Jesus being the unique, chosen Son of God, then I will call you brother or sister to me and I would call you an adopted brother or sister to Christ.  Jesus is to be our foundation, none other can be laid.  This is the role he was chosen for, a role that only he can fulfill.  He is unique.  He is one-of-a-kind.  He is sui generis.  He is the Christ, the monogenes Son of the living God.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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