“Who Do You Say That I Am?” – Fall Sermon Series “The Face(s) of Jesus”

September 18, 2011

Matthew 16:13-16 & I Corinthians 3:11

“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:5

The question that Jesus proposes to his disciples at first glance is rather simple to answer – who do you say that I am? You are Jesus! But a “name” rarely is adequate enough to sum up “who we are”. A name at best identifies us but falls woeful short at getting at – “who we are or what we are about”. Hence the complexity of the question proposed by Jesus to his disciples “Who do you say I am?. Earlier in the chapter Jesus had warmed them up by giving the disciples a easier question – what do people/others say – about me? There ressponse was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, other prophets……

But my sense is that the first question merely was asked to get to the heart of what Jesus wanted to hear from his disciples then (2,000 yrs ago) and wants to hear from his disciples/followers in every generation including you and I this day “Who do you say that I am?” In fact I have come to believe more and more that this is perhaps the most crucial question of our day facing the church today. Why?

1. Well first how we answer this question more than any other question of faith will have a profound implication in this life and the next? How we answer this “foundational” question is the “rock” or “cornerstone” that our faith is built upon –

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 3:11

Isn’t it amazing that even when Jesus was physically present amongst us in the world, and after 2-3 years of ministry – proclaiming good news to the poor and that Jubilee had come, restoring sight to the blind, enabling the lame to walk, etc. but Jesus recognized the need, prior to his death and his return to his heavenly home, to clarify once and for all who he was – our foundation. My sense is that our Lord Jesus knew even then, the questioning of who he was, why he had lived/died, his “true identity” would present itself generation after generation after generation….”who do you (we) say that I am?” We will return to this 1st point at the end of the message.

2. The second reason the question by Jesus of “Who do you say that I am?” is crucial because of the fact not every “Jesus” presented in our world today is the “real Jesus”. To paraphrase the Motown classic of Marvin Gaye and Tammie Terrell “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby” I want you to know that “Ain’t nothing like the “real Jesus”! Amen?

But how are we to know if we are worshipping the real Jesus, how are we to know if we are following the real Jesus? In other words “seeing” or “recognizing” the real Jesus in 2012 is as challenging as the old school game show where they have a variety of people up front but only one of these individuals is actually who they say they are…..I know that I am not alone at times when I want to shout out loud “will the “real Jesus stand up!” And though it is hard to know or “recognize Jesus” today, I would venture to guess that there is no one as popular at least in this country as Jesus – “real thing” or fake – doesn’t really matter. Over the years …..

  • I have gotten a fair share of sad faces upon telling people that I am a pastor
  • I have gotten a fair share of blank stares upon telling someone that I am Christian.
  • And I always get a puzzled look of disbelief upon telling someone that I am Mennonite!

Yet I cannot recall in my recent memory anyone giving me a sad face or blank stare or even a bad word upon mentioning the name of “Jesus”. People may not like the church or even dislike churchgoers but people like Jesus. On the surface this would appear to be a good thing, but right beneath the surface is the question that is the focus of my sermon this morning and the series of messages entitled “The face(s) of Jesus”. Right beneath the surface becomes how many people in and outside the church know the “real Jesus” (myself included)? Perhaps the reason on facebook and other places we “like” Jesus so much is because we have created a “Jesus” of our own liking, a “Jesus” of our own pleasure, a “Jesus” of our own design? But is this “Jesus”, the “Jesus” the world seems to be affirming, in actuality the “real Jesus”? You see my friends we have created so many “Jesus”s” today…..

  • There’s the Patriotic Jesus who is wrapped in our flag thereby the assumption is all that we do must be blessed by God.
  • There’s the political conservative Jesus who is against budget increases and stand for “family values” and owning firearms.
  • There’s the political liberal Jesus who is suspicious of Wall Street and Wal-Mart, yet passionate about being tolerate and “green”/reducing our carbon footprint.
  • There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes dumpster diving.
  • There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.
  • There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes run faster and jump higher than non-Christians and seemingly determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
  • There’s Red-Carpet Jesus who helps Christian actors/actresses to win prestigious awards.
  • There’s Hollywood Jesus who is meek and mild, with high cheekbones, flowing blood hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks like the guy from the 70’s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”.
  • There’s the Beatles Jesus who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, and helps us remember all you need is love.
  • There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to be happy at all cost, tells us that “bigger is always better”, and a sure sign you have been faithful is obtaining substantial debt.
  • There’s the Martyr albeit Misguided Jesus, a good person who died a cruel death not because he had too but because he wanted too.
  • There’s Spirituality Jesus who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine; and would rather have people finding the god that is within us all.
  • There’s Revolutionary Jesus who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the “man” or “stick it to “system” as long as it doesn’t inconvenience or impact our own way of life or a promised privileged inheritance.
  • There’s Guru Jesus, a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and simply wants to help you find your path in this life.
  • There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the world, and if we want become a better you.
  • (Lastly) There’s Lone Ranger Jesus who is all about first and foremost meeting your personal needs, your personal wants, your personal desires…preferably right now! (Adapted from a list by KEVIN DEYOUNG)

As one can see we have so many different “Jesus” in the world today – we wonder which is the “real Jesus, the real thing”……once again I’ll say it “will the real Jesus please stand up!” In our Gospel text from Matthew 16:16 we find and see the “real Jesus” stand up…

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

The Messiah, the Son of the living God. For Peter and the disciples they had by the Spirit of God come to life changing conclusion that Jesus was

  • Not just another prophet (John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah, etc).
  • Not just another Rabbi or teacher.
  • Not just another wonder-worker.

Jesus was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver them from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule…Luke 4

“18The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is Jesus the Christ the lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world! In that brief statement Peter – Messiah, the Son of the living God – was the Real thing! This Christ is our Lord and God. He is the God’s Son, Savior of the world.

Philippians 2:10 “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

C.S. Lewis observed in response to this revelation that, “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan, 1952], pp. 40). By the power of the Spirit Peter chooses the later….

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Matthew 16

Early in my faith walk I used to be under the assumption that this particular question of Jesus identity is a one time “shot” – “Who do you say that I am?”. That upon confessing that Jesus is Lord and answering this question correctly I would be free from having to wrestle with the answer of “Who do you say that I am?”. Well I want you to know that isn’t true. Be it the first time you have heard this question or hundredth time – we will continually have to answer in this life – which Jesus am I following? We see this truth with our dear brother Peter. In Matthew 16 he got the answer correct, but this same Peter (and the rest of the disciples) would have answer this question once again in Matthew 26:

“69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

So this morning Jesus is asking each of us for the first time or once again “Who do say that I am?

But least we forget it isn’t only individuals that struggle with the question of “which Jesus” are we following remember our 2nd reading from this morning I Corinthians 3 the Apostle Paul is apparently pulling out his “hair” because some in the church at Cornith had forgotten what the “face” of Jesus looked like. They had forgotten and gotten off track as to who they were called to follow, to worship, to serve – will the “real Jesus” please stand up! It is in this context we read:

“5What, after all, is Apollos (Pastor)? And what is Paul (Church Planter)? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow……11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 3:5-6 &11

A little later in Paul’s 2nd letter Paul is even more adamant to the church Corinth……

“4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” 2nd Corinthians 11:4

As a people they had collectively forgotten who Jesus was…they had forgetten his face, his touch. They no longer knew for sure how to answer the question of this day from Jesus:

“15But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15

Story: Back in August I was in our local Coffee shop studying for my OT class. I had all my “big books” on the table with my laptop and coffee. Then all of sudden a young man asked if he could look at one of my “big books” while he waited for his order. I assumed he was a fellow seminary student, or a pastor, or Bible teacher. After his order came he returned the book and that’s when I found out that he wasn’t even a Christian, he was a follower of the Bahi faith. The Bahi Faith’s Founder was Bahá’u’lláh, a Persian nobleman from Tehran in the mid-nineteenth century. The essential message of Bahá’u’lláh is that of “unity.” He taught that there is only one God, that there is only one human race, and that all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity – in other words he believed in the “Guru Jesus”….”one of many voices leading to the same path.” I told him I was a Christian and a pastor at a Mennonite church in the city – he didn’t even make a face! In the context of our conversation, I shared about our prayerwalk in the community that evening and he genuinely became excited about our prayer walking and indicated he was interested in joining us as a sign of unity. Initially I was okay with him coming, even if this was “a little” outside the box for me. But that moment I was reminded and convicted of Paul’s words from 2nd Corinthians 11:4

“4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

I asked myself in my spirit “How can we pray together if our “foundation” isn’t the same – Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I politely declined his heartfelt “desire of unity” to pray with for this reason and thankfully he respected my rejection – however we still chat every now and then online or at the coffee shop and he is interested in coming with me here to visit OCMC.

Recently I have been blessed and reminded by my friend Mary Theiseen-Nation in her summary of missiologist David Bosch when it comes to answering the question – Who do you say that I am? David Bosch’s deduces that our mission in this life will be faithful to our foundation in Jesus only if we live and proclaim “the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Christ, present among us in the Spirit and taking us into his future as ‘captives in his triumphal procession’ (2 Cor 5:14, NEB)” (Bosch 1991a:518). Bosch continues: Each of these impinges on all the others. Unless we hold onto this, we will communicate to the world a truncated gospel.” Like my friend I’ve been captivated by this list and find myself now testing which of the acts or scenes in the larger story of Jesus are directing me and which are being omitted when I tell the story or discern the direction for my life and our congregation and the various ministries we are blessed to be part of. I will speak more specifically in the coming weeks – birth/life, death, resurrection, ascension and return – prayerfully enabling me, enabling you, enabling our community to see the full face of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen?

Conclusion: As I mentioned in my introduction how we answer this question more than any other question of faith will have a profound implication in this life and the next? We have heard today that Jesus who was physically present amongst us in the world, and after 3 years of ministry – healing, teaching, delivering, praying, ministering he still recognized the need, the desperate need prior to his death to clarify that “Ain’t nothing like the real Jesus”! Amen?

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 3:11″

Today, you and I individually and as a people/community with guidance from the Spirit of God must come to grasp fully for the first time or once again answer….”Who do you (we) say that I am?” How you answer is crucial, how we answer will make all the difference in this life and the next.