The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 16:13-20

 

WALKING ALONG THE DUSTY ROAD IN THE REGION OF CAESARIA PHILLIPI, THE LITTLE GROUP OF JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES CRESTED A HILL WHEN JESUS STOPPED THE GROUP AND ASKED THEM A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS. THEY HAD BEEN FOLLOWING HIM FOR ABOUT THREE YEARS, AND THEY HAD SEEN HIM DO AMAZING THINGS. THEY WERE WITH HIM AS HE BROKE THROUGH THE RACIAL, GENDER, CLASS, AND RELIGIOUS BARRIERS OF THE TIME. THEY SAW HIM HEAL PEOPLE OF THEIR ILLS, CAST OUT DEMONS, AND EVEN HEAL PEOPLE HE ONCE REFERED TO AS “DOGS.” THEY SAW HIM FEED THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES, AND WITNESSED HIS CONTESTING THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES OF THE DAY. THEY HAD EVEN WORSHIPED HIM WHEN HE STILLED THE STORM ON THE SEA. NOW, HE STOPPED THEM TO ASK WHAT THE PEOPLE WERE SAYING ABOUT HIM. “WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT THE SON OF MAN IS?” THAT TITLE HAD MANY MEANINGS IN JUDAISM, AND, FROM THEIR RESPONSE, PEOPLE HAD DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT WHO JESUS WAS. SOME THOUGHT HE WAS JOHN THE BAPTIST, SOME A NEW ELIJAH, SOME A NEW PROPHET.

WHERE HE ASKED THE QUESTION IS INSTRUCTIVE. TRADITION PLACES THE GROUP AT BANIAS, WHICH IS THE ARABIC NAME FOR PANIAS; AS THERE IS NO “P” SOUND IN ARABIC. PANIAS, OR THE PLACE OF PAN, WAS A GREAT CAVE IN A SHEAR CLIFF THAT TOWERED OVER THE ROAD. IT WAS THE SITE OF ORGIASTIC AND DRUNKEN CELEBRATIONS IN HONOR OF THE GOD PAN, AND THERE WERE MANY IDOLS TO THAT GOD CUT INTO THE CLIFF. ON TOP OF THE CLIFF, THE TETRACH, PHILLIP, HAD ERECTED A LARGER THAN LIFE STATUE OF THE EMPEROR, THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS. HERE, IN FRONT OF THE SYMBOLS OF SIN AND DEPRAVITY, AND THE SECULAR POWER OF OPPRESSION, SYMBOLS FOR THE WORLD IN WHICH THEY LIVED, JESUS ASKED HIS QUESTIONS. AFTER HEARING HIS DISCIPLES FUMBLE AROUND FOR AN ANSWER, JESUS WENT RIGHT TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER. “BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

THE IDEA OF THE ANNOINTED ONE, THE MESHIACH – OR MESSIAH, ALSO COULD MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS. KINGS WERE ANNOINTED, PRIESTS WERE ANNOINTED, AS WERE PROPHETS. WHEN SIMON RESPONS, “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD,” HE GETS IT EXACTLY RIGHT. JESUS IS THE ONLY SON OF GOD, ANNOINTED BY THE FATHER IN HEAVEN HIMSELF, AND NO ONE COULD SEE HIM AS WHO HE WAS UNLESS IT WAS REVEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. SO IT REMAINS TO THIS DAY; PEOPLE HAVE MANY DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT WHO JESUS IS, BUT IT IS ONLY BY THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD THAT WE CAN SEE HIM FOR WHO HE IS AND TRUST IN HIS WORD. THIS TRUST, THIS FAITH, IN JESUS, EXPRESSED BY SIMON, IS THE ROCK ON WHICH JESUS WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH, WHICH IS WHY HE BLESSED HIM, AND CHANGED HIS NAME FROM SIMON BAR JONAH TO CEPHUS IN ARAMAIC AND PETER IN GREEK, WHICH MEANS “ROCK.”

JESUS NEVER USED THE WORD “CHURCH.” WHAT HE SAID WAS THAT ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY “ECCLESSIA;” WHICH IS AN ASSEMBLY CALLED OUT FROM THE TOWN PEOPLE FOR A SPECIAL PURPOSE. NEITHER MATTHEW NOR THE EARLY CHRISTIANS USED THE WORD “CHURCH.” WHEN THE TRANSLATORS PRESENTED THE ENGLISH BIBLE TO KING JAMES, HE DID NOT LIKE THE IDEA THAT ANYONE WOULD BE CALLED OUT OF HIS KINGDOM, SO HE MADE THEM USE THE WORD FOR THE PLACE OF WORSHIP, THE KIRK, OR KIRCHE. THE TRANSLATORS OF THE KING JAMES VERSION WERE FORCED TO CONFORM TO THE WILL OF THE KING, IGNORING PAUL’S ADMONISHION; “DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THE WORLD, BUT BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MINDS, SO THAT YOU CAN DISCERN WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD.” THIS IS THE KEY TO WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THOSE WHO ARE CALLED OUT; WE ARE NOT TO BE SEDUCED BY THE SINS OF THE WORLD OR BY THE DESIRED FOR POWER OVER OTHERS. WE ARE TRANSFORMED FROM CITIZENS OF THE WORLD TO CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

THIS KINGDOM IS BEYOND ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD, AND BEYOND ALL TIME AND SPACE, SO THAT NOT EVEN THE GATES OF HADES CAN PREVAIL AGAINST IT; IT CAN NOT BE DEFEATED EVEN BY DEATH. JESUS PROMISED HIS DISCIPLES THAT HE WOULD GIVE THEM THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AND HE WOULD FULFILL THIS PROMISE ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST WITH THE OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM IS THE PROCLAIMATION OF THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS, WHO IS LORD OF ALL. THOSE WHO HEAR AND, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, BELIEVE ARE BOUND TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN; THOSE WHO DO NOT ARE LOOSED ON EARTH AND IN HEAVEN.

SO WE ARE CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, YET WE MUST STILL LIVE IN THE WORLD AS WE FIND IT; A WORLD OF DIVISION, INEQUALITY, PREJUDICE, ANGER, HATRED, RELIGIOUS CONFLICT, TERRORISM, AND ALL THE MANIFOLD SINS WITH WHICH MUCH OF HUMANITY IS STILL CHAINED. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS NOT YET UNFOLDED IN ITS FINAL GLORY, BUT ITS SEEDS GROW IN THE HEARTS OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRANSFORMED BY THE GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. WE, BY THE WAY WE LIVE, AND WHAT WE PROCLAIM, ARE THE AMBASSADORS OF THAT KINGDOM TO THE WORLD. WE ARE AMBASSADORS OF A KINGDOM THAT DOES NOT SEEK POWER OVER OTHERS, BUT HUMILITY. DOES NOT SEEK OPRESSION OF OTHERS, BUT FORGIVENESS. DOES NOT SEEK DIVISION, BUT UNITY. DOES NOT SEEK GAIN, BUT GIVING. DOES NOT SEEK EXCLUSION BUT INCLUSION. DOES NOT SEEK THE ROAD TO SUCESS, BUT THE ROAD TO THE CROSS.

WE PRAY FOR OUR CITY AND OUR NATION, INDEED FOR THE WHOLE WORLD, AS WE SHOULD AND AS WE MUST; BUT WE ARE NOT CITIZENS OF OUR CITY, NATION, OR THE WORLD. WE HAVE BEEN CALLED OUT TO A NEW ASSEMBLY OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN THAT IS IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF IT. THE ROCK ON WHICH THIS ASSEMBLY IS FOUNDED IS THE CONFESSION OF PETER, AND OUR OWN; THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. IT IS AN ASSEMBLY OF COMPASSION, HUMILITY, FORGIVENESS, GRACE, INCLUSIVNESS, AND LOVE; EVEN FOR THOSE WHO WOULD HATE AND DESPISE US. THIS IS NOT THE WAY OF THE WORLD, BUT IT IS THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. LIKE THE DISCIPLES OF OLD, WE MUST LEAVE BEHIND THE OPPRESSIONS OF POWER AND SIN AND FOLLOW JESUS ON THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM; THE WAY OF THE CROSS.
AMEN

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