Did you ever have to convince people as to who you really are?
I remember years ago there was at television program entitled “To Tell the Truth.” Wikipedia describes the program this way: Three challengers are introduced, all claiming to be the central character. The announcer typically asks the challengers, who stand side by side, “What is your name, please?” Each challenger then states, “My name is [central character’s name].” The celebrity panelists then read along as the host reads aloud a signed affidavit about the central character.
The panelists are each given a period of time to question the challengers. Questions are directed to the challengers by number (Number One, Number Two and Number Three), with the central character sworn to give truthful answers, and the impostors permitted to lie and pretend to be the central character.
After questioning is complete, each member of the panel votes on which of the challengers they believe to be the central character, either by writing the number on a card or holding up a card with the number of their choice, without consulting the other panelists. Any panelist who knows one of the challengers or has another unfair advantage is required to recuse or disqualify himself or herself which, for scoring purposes, is counted as a “wrong vote.”
Once the votes are in, the host asks, “Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?” The central character then stands, often after some brief playful feinting and false starts among all three challengers. …The show was created by Bob Stewart and originally produced by Mark Goodson–Bill Todman Productions. It aired, on networks and syndication, continuously from 1956 to 1978 and intermittently since then, reaching a total of 26 seasons in 2016. (See Wikipedia)
That was always a fun program to watch. I remember sitting in the living room with family as we tried to guess who the real Mr. or Mrs. was!
It would seem that this account of Jesus and His disciples has a slightly different perspective. Instead of having 3 men pretending to be Jesus, we have Jesus asking the men–who had become his disciples and had spend nearly 3 years traveling with him and being trained by him –who people really thought he was.
In Matthew’s Gospel we know that it was nearly the end of the 3 years of Jesus’ public ministry. It was just a matter of weeks before their arrival in Jerusalem. Today, we will examine 3 events that happened in rapid succession as Jesus prepared for that final trip to Jerusalem where the Cross was awaiting Him beginning with The Confession, and then moving on to the Rebuke, and the Transfiguration.
I. THE CONFESSION (Matthew 16: 13-20).
a. This was one of those times when Jesus had taken the 12 and gone to a location where they would not be so easily disturbed. They were near Caesarea Philippi, a region in Gentile territory, I’m sure that his intention was to give some in-depth instructions to the 12 and to prepare them for what lie ahead. I can picture them in my mind sitting around a campfire and talking about the things they had seen and heard. The disciples probably had some questions for Jesus, and then they were listening intently as he answered.
b. And then Jesus asked them the question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mt. 16:13.). One commentary suggested that Jesus asked this because he knew that his public ministry would soon come to an end and he wanted to make sure that His message and ministry was really getting through. Did anyone really understand who He was/is?
c. The Disciples answered with 3 or 4 possibilities that they had heard from the crowds who had sat under Jesus’ Ministry.
i. “Some say John the Baptist.” The Baptist has made quite an impression on the country of Israel. Even King Herod who had John beheaded, when he heard reports about Jesus, thought that John the Baptist had returned from the dead! And to think Jesus was John was no small compliment. But the answer was not correct.
ii. “Some said Elijah.” Remember that the Old Testament Prophet Elijah was one of the great prophets. The Jews considered him at the top of all the prophets. And we know the story of how Elijah, after defying King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, was finally taken to heaven accompanied by a chariot of fire. The implication is that Elijah never died a physical death. And to call Jesus Elijah was again a great compliment. But, again, it was the wrong answer.
iii. “Some said Jeremiah.” Jeremiah was the one whom we often call “The Weeping Prophet,” who foretold the fall of Jerusalem and lamented over the wickedness of the Jews and the atrocities that would occur because of their sin. Many Jews believed Jeremiah would return with the Messiah. And it was another big compliment to equate Jesus with Jeremiah. But the answer again was incorrect.
iiii. And Matthew says the disciples pointed out that many just associated Jesus with one of the prophets. But we know that was also incorrect.
d. And then Jesus asked them point blank: “ But what about you…Who do you say I am?” (verse 15). I suspect there was a few moments of silence as each of the men wrestled within themselves as to who they really thought Jesus was. And it was good ole Peter who found his voice and expressed what the others had come to believe:”You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16).
e. In our modern world the various answers are still being offered. Some say Jesus was a good man, an excellent Rabbi, and some even suggest that He was a prophet of God. But Jesus was more than these. Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God—He was and is the Son of the Living God!
f. And each of us must come to terms with that reality. In Romans 10: 9 we read, “If you declare with your mouth , ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And, if you consider him anything less than that you really do not know who Jesus is!
g. Jesus blessed Peter for this Great Confession, saying that “The Father in Heaven “ had revealed this to him. And Matthew 16:18 Jesus goes on to say, “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.” The Catholic Church uses this verse to declare that Peter was the first Pope. Others suggest that Peter was being designated the “Gatekeeper” who was responsible just as each of us are, to protect the Church from false teaching and evil practices. One suggested that the play on words between “Peter” which meant “pebble” or “rock” and the “Rock “ upon with the church is built, was a statement that, since Peter was the first to openly express that truth about Jesus, he was the first “living stone” in the building God was building. Peter uses that analogy in 1 Peter when he wrote about the Church. (See 1 Peter 2:5).
h. We have to admit that this was a momentous announcement. And it is a truth we must all personally grasp if we are to experience the Salvation that God offers to us through faith in Jesus Christ!
II. THE REBUKE (Matthew 16:21-23).
a. In this next passage in Matthew 16 , Jesus began to tell them what was about to take place when they reached Jerusalem. He would be persecuted and would suffer at the hands of those who intended to kill him. And, again, it is Peter who spoke up. I can see him pulling Jesus aside and putting his arm around Jesus and saying, “Don’t talk like that. We are not going to allow anyone to harm you. “Never, Lord!’ This will never happen to you.” (Matthew 16: 22). In verse 23 we read, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
b. I’ve heard several different explanations concerning this passage. Some suggested that Jesus had a flashback to the Temptations he had experienced earlier in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry. Others suggest that Jesus was accusing Peter of being possessed by Satan and that Jesus was talking directly to Satan. But the expression “Get behind me” suggests that Jesus was giving a warning to Peter. Peter was trying to take the lead and tell Jesus what to do, but Jesus reminded Peter that he was to follow Jesus and not try to direct the will of God. If Jesus had been talking directly to Satan he would never have suggested “To get behind Him,” because Satan would never be a follower of Jesus.
c. As I thing about this Rebuke and notice that it comes right after Peter’s Confession, I am reminded of how vulnerable we are. One of My religion professors once told me that it was not unusual when the college campus experienced a great spiritual revival, to have a number of students come shortly afterwards and seek counseling because of their lapse of good conduct afterwards. He said the emotional high of a spiritual revival is often followed by new Christians (and some not so new) letting their guard down and allowing their emotions to become a stumbling block. Peter must have felt very good after Jesus praised him for his strong belief that Jesus is the Messiah. And His pride at being right may have led to his failure to remain a follower for just a moment. I can tell you, we must never allow pride and self-righteousness to suppress a humble and contrite heart! Peter was rebuked—but it was a rebuke done in love to help Peter become stronger in his faith. In Hebrews 12: 6-8 we read, “’Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline–then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”
d. So, remember: Just because you are growing in your faith, you are still subject to correction and discipline from God. But don’t be discouraged: God’s discipline is evidence of His love for us!
III. THE TRANSFIGURATION (Matthew 17: 1-8)
a. This passage says that the Transfiguration occurred 6 days later. Jesus took 3 of his disciples—the ones often referred to as “His inner circle”, Peter, James, and John—and they climbed a very tall Mountain. Again the commentaries are not certain which mountain it was. Some mention Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law in the Old Testament. Others suggest Mount Tabor. But neither of these places seem likely. More probably, it was a mountain peak in Mount Hermon range—the place where Elijah had faced now the prophets of Baal and had prayed down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and prove that God was indeed the Almighty God. But whatever mountain it was, it was what happened when they were on the mountain that captures our attention. Jesus was suddenly transformed before their very eyes in a brilliant light and glistening white and was in the presence of Moses and Elijah. And the Heavenly Father spoke for them all to hear, “This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17: 5b.}
b. And Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in all His Glory!. I cannot help but believe the sequence of the events of that week have significance: The Great Confession as the disciples finally affirmed their belief in Jesus as the Son of the Living God; The Rebuke when they tried to interfere with God’s plan for Jesus to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins; And then the vision of God’s Glory resting upon Jesus. Much more can be said about the Transfiguration, but I want to simply focus our attention on the Glory of God.
In our church, I believe God is reminding us that we too need to witness the Glory of God.
Someone recently pointed out that instead of a “Seeker Sensitive” focus for our church, we need a “Holy Spirit Sensitive” focus. We need to see God moving in our midst. We each one need to experience Him in a very personal, a very real, a very intimate way.
We need more than just reading about Jesus. We need more that just hearing what others have to say about God. We need to experience Him first hand.
So I ask you the question Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do you say that He is?”
Jesus told Peter that His confession was the result of Divine revelation—God the Father revealed the truth to Peter.
Has Jesus become more than just a Friend to you?
Is He more that just a great person in history?
Is he more than just another preacher or teacher who proclaimed wonderful sayings?
Has He become your personal Savior and Lord?
Is He the Son of the Living God in your heart today?
Are you willing to accept His discipline, His rebuke when you think you know the answers without trusting Him to reveal the Way to you?
When Jesus becomes the Living Savior and Lord in your life, and you surrender your all to Him, then you are getting into position to witness first hand His Glory.
And then you will never be the same!