The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 16:13-20

AS JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES RETURNED TO GALILEE FROM THE REGION OF TYRE AND SIDON, THEY PASSED THROUGH THE DISTRICT OF CAESAREA PHILLIPI. THIS WAS THE AREA OF THE CITY BUILT BY THE SON OF HEROD THE GREAT TO HONOR HIS BENEFACTOR TIBERIUS CAESAR. IT WAS SITED AT THE BASE OF MOUNT HERMON, AND WAS A FAVORITE VACATION SPOT FOR THE ROMANS AND GREEKS BECAUSE OF ITS COOL SUMMER CLIMATE. ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CITY, ALONG SIDE THE MAIN ROAD, WAS A SERIES OF SPRINGS, WHICH WE VISITED ON OUR TRIP TO ISRAEL. HERE THERE WERE SHRINES TO VARIOUS PAGAN GODS, INCLUDING PAN AND DYONISUS. ON THE TOP OF THE HILL, THERE WAS A LARGER THAN LIFE SIZED STAUTE OF THE EMPEROR TIBERIUS, PAINTED WITH LIFE LIKE REALISM AND GOLD OVERLAYING HIS MILITARY ARMOUR. SINCE THE STATUE FACED SOUTH, THE SUN ON THE GOLD MEANT ONE COULD SEE THE EMPEROR A LONG WAY OFF. HERE, IN VIEW OF THIS MONUMENT TO THE POWER AND MAJESTY OF ROME, JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES, “WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT THE SON OF MAN IS?”

HIS DISCIPLES ANSWERED HIS QUESTION BY TELLING HIM WHAT THE PEOPLE WERE SAYING ABOUT HIM; SOME SAYING THAT HE WAS JOHN THE BAPTIST, OR ELIJAH, OR JEREMIAH, OR ONE OF THE PROPHETS. WE OFTEN OVERLOOK THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS ANSWER. THE PEOPLE DID NOT SEE JESUS AS AN ABBERATION, OR DIVERSION FROM GOD’S WITNESS TO ISRAEL, BUT AS AN INTEGRAL PART OF GOD’S HISTORICAL CALLING TO HIS PEOPLE NOW COME ANEW IN THE PERSON OF JESUS. THUS THE EXCITEMENT OF THE COMMON PEOPLE, AND THE LARGE CROWDS WHICH FOLLOWED HIM IN GALILEE, IS EXPLAINED BY THEIR SENSE THAT, AFTER LONG CENTURIES OF SILENCE, A PROPHET OF GOD HAD COME TO THEM.

THEN, JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES THE ULTIMATE QUESTION, “BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THIS POOR RABBI, COVERED IN THE DUST OF THE ROAD, AND THE GLOWING STATUE OF THE RULAR OF THE WORLD COULD NOT HAVE BEEN GREATER.

SOMEHOW, SIMON, IN A MOMENT OF DIVINE INSPIRATION, SAW BEYOND THE CONTRAST AND SAID, “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.”

OUR WORD, MESSIAH, COMES FROM THE HEBREW HA MASHIACH, OR THE ANNOINTED ONE. ALTHOUGH THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND AND SOME OF THE PHARISEES WERE LOOKING FOR THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH, THE ANNOINTED ONE, THERE WAS REALLY NO SINGLE UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THAT MEANT. KINGS WERE ANNOINTED ONES, AS WERE PROPHETS, AND THOSE WHO HAD A SPECIAL MISSION FROM GOD. JESUS’ QUESTION, ASKED UNDER THE STATUE OF CAESAR, AND SIMON’S RESPONSE, CLEARLY HAS POLITICAL OVERTONES, YET THEY DIFFER GREATLY.

IN CHOOSING THIS PLACE TO ASK HIS QUESTION, JESUS IS MAKING A STATEMENT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN FROM THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD. SIMON’S CONFESSION THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH IS CORRECT, WHICH IS WHY JESUS PRAISES HIM AND CALLS HIM BLESSED. SIMON, HOWEVER, IS THINKING OF THE MESSIAH AS A POLITICAL LEADER WHO WILL CHALLENGE ROME AND RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF DAVID. WHAT JESUS ADDS TO HIS PRAISE OF SIMON DEFINES THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AND THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD. FIRST, HE CHANGES SIMON’S NAME TO PETER, THE ROCK. THIS CONFESSION, THIS AFFIRMATION THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, IS THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH THE OLD SELF IS MADE NEW AS A CITIZEN OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. THIS CONFESSION IS THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH JESUS WILL BUILD HIS ECCLESSIA; NOT THE CHURCH, AS IT IS USUALLY TRANSLATED, BUT THOSE CALLED OUT OF THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. TODAY THE WORD ECCLESSIA IS SYNONEMOUS WITH THE CHURCH, BUT ITS ORIGINAL MEANING WAS THOSE CALLED OUT.

THIS KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD, BECAUSE THEY ALL END IN DEATH. THE GLORY AND MAJESTY OF ROME WILL COME TO AN END, BUT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS ETERNAL, AND NOT EVEN THE GATES OF HADES, DEATH ITSELF, WILL BE ABLE TO DEFEAT IT. MOREOVER, IN LIVING IN THIS NEW ASSEMBLY OF THOSE CALLED OUT, THERE WILL BE A NEW RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH, AND THE POWER THAT COMES WITH CONFESSING JESUS AS THE MESSIAH OPENS THE DOORS OF HEAVEN IN THE LIFE OF THE DISCIPLE. THE POWER OF FAITH IN JESUS CONNECTS THE LIFE OF THE DISCIPLE HERE ON EARTH WITH THE ETERNAL LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

ALL THIS WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED NOT WITH ARMIES AND THE PRIDE OF GOLD ARMOUR, BUT WITH THE MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY OF THE SON OF MAN. HE WILL TURN THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN, BUT NOT IN THE WAY PETER AND THE REST EXPECTED; WHICH IS WHY HE STERNLY ORDERED THEM TO TELL NO ONE HE WAS THE MESSIAH. THEY WERE NOT YET READY TO UNDERSTAND HOW JESUS WOULD OPEN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TO THE WORLD.

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION REMAINS, “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” SOME PEOPLE TRY VERY HARD TO PROVE THAT JESUS NEVER REALLY EXISITED, THAT HE WAS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER MADE UP BY THE EARLY CHURCH. SOME CLAIM THAT HE WAS A GREAT TEACHER AND MORALIST, BUT THERE HAVE BEEN MANY GREAT TEACHERS AND MORALISTS SO HE WAS REALLY NOTHING SPECIAL. SOME WILL CONCEDE THAT HE IS A SON OF GOD, BUT NOT UNIQUE. FOR THOSE WHO CONFESS THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD, THAT CONFESSION IS A LIFE CHANGING EVENT. WITH THAT CONFESSION, WE ARE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD INTO A NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIVING GOD THROUGH HIS ONLY SON. BY THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE SEE BEYOND THE LIMITATIONS OF THIS LIFE, AND IN THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS, WE ARE BORN FROM ABOVE AS THE CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

WE REMAIN IN THIS WORLD, BUT NOW WE ARE NO LONGER CONSTRAINED AND OPRESSED BY THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD. WE CAN LIVE WITH THE POWER AND THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IN OUR LIVES. THE POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE OF KINGS AND EMPERORS ARE MEANINGLESS TO US, BECAUSE WE HAVE SEEN AND EXPERIENCED THE AWESOME POWER OF THE LIVING GOD EXPRESSED IN A WAY BEYOND THE ABILITY OF THE WORLD TO GRASP; WE HAVE SEEN THE LOVE OF GOD FOR US IN JESUS. THE MESSIAH OF GOD IS NOT ONLY OUR SAVIOR; HE IS OUR MODEL FOR OUR LIFE AS CITIZENS OF HEAVEN IN THIS WORLD.

IN MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY, WE CAN LIVE A LIFE OF SERVICE TO EACH OTHER AND TO ALL. WE CAN LOOSE THOSE BOUND IN CHAINS BY THE WORLD, AND BIND OTHERS WHO HAVE HEARD THE CALL OF JESUS TO THE LOVE OF GOD THROUGH OUR LOVE FOR THEM. WHAT WE DO ON EARTH HAS HEAVENLY IMPLICATIONS, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NOT FAR OFF, BUT IS PRESENT IN THE LIVES OF THOSE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD. KINGDOMS AND EMPIRES WILL CRUMBLE INTO DUST, BUT THERE IS ONE THING WHICH WILL STAND FOREVER AND CAN NOT BE DEFEATED BECAUSE IT IS MORE POWERFULL THAN ANYTHING IN THIS WORLD. IT IS THE SIMPLE, QUIET, CONFESSION THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.
AMEN

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