Words of Faith 7-10-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"
 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
A time of retreat, away with God, can be so wonderfully refreshing. Retreats are a great time to get away and gain some perspective and sort things out with God. Jesus got His staff away on this retreat for some specific reasons.
Matthew and Mark tell us the location of this retreat was at a place called Caesarea Philippi. It is a place about 15 miles northeast of Bethsaida. It was in a Gentile region near the headwaters of the Jordan River. This is where the waters coming down from the snows of Mount Hermon gather to feed life into the region. It is the image of the very source of life to Israel.
Interestingly, this was also a place that was about as far from removed as you could get from Jerusalem both geographically and spiritually. The area had been used for many years for pagan Roman worship. No crowds would follow to this place. Nearby there was a gaping cave where waters fed toward the river.
This place was sometimes called the "gates of hell" because the Romans had carved niches into the stone to worship various gods. This place literally symbolized the battle between life and death, light and darkness. It was in this region and from that point of retreat that Jesus asked several critical questions.
Today we would say that the disciples had a lot to process. They were called from their nets and places of work to follow Jesus as He preached and ministered. They had witnessed Jesus drive out demons and heal the sick. They had seen two people raised from the dead. Several were cleansed of leprosy. Paralyzed people were walking. They had heard Jesus teach in ways so that for the first time ever some things made sense.
They had learned that the Sabbath was actually made for man-- not man for the Sabbath. They had also accompanied Jesus to parties. They watched Jesus calm a terrible storm on the sea. They saw Jesus confront a legion of demons. Then they had set out on their own adventures doing many of the same sorts of things. God was at work through them in powerful ways. Then massive crowds came and thousands of people were fed miraculously.
But one question was still in the air. What is all this about? The disciples had been asking "Who is this that he even commands the winds and the water?" Even Herod was taking notice saying, "I beheaded John... who is this?"
A good retreat always has some discussion questions. On this retreat Jesus had a few. Jesus asked just a total of three questions of the disciples. These were not ice breakers or get acquainted questionnaires. This was critical. They boil down to one crucial determination in life.
"Who do the crowds say I am?"
Now we know that the second question is coming. It is more personal. Many treat this as just an introduction to the topic. But this question is vital or Jesus would not have asked it. After all that had been said and done, who do the crowds say that I am? The answers came back: John the Baptist, Elijah or a Prophet that came back to life. These were the possibilities in the time of Jesus. Perhaps the point was that the crowds are always confused.
It is a key question for us as well. "Who does the culture say that Jesus is?" There are probably different answers in each culture and each generation. Things are strange in our culture today. Turn on television at the holidays and you will hear so-called "scholars" say that Jesus either didn't exist or was a little known political agitator with no supernatural significance. Go in a bookstore and you will see popular books that say Jesus was a lying philanderer who ran off with one of the women he healed in order to create a secret society.
Others say that Jesus is a sort of magical genie that we can command to work for us toward our personal enrichment. Pretty confusing, huh? But this question helps us to understand is to understand how easily misunderstood Jesus is and helps us to understand just how lost the generation we are living in is. We cannot follow the crowd on this one.
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" This is THE critical question. Some have suggested that this is the only question that really matters in all of time and eternity. It is in many ways like a midterm examination question for the disciples. No multiple choice or short essay. Just one question, right or wrong. Pass fail. How you answer this question "Who is Jesus of Nazareth?" very well determines our understanding of God's plan and marks our eternal destiny.
Peter answered, "The Christ of God." This is the foundational truth upon which the healing of the universe is based. This is it.
Matthew reports that Jesus replied to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 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. 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" (Matthew 16:17-19).
Jesus had gathered His disciples literally at a place called the "gates of hell" to make clear that the coming of the Christ of God was to batter down the gates of hell and set free those who have been bound by sin. From this point He will begin His journey to the cross. It is upon the rock of this confession that the church is built and the Kingdom of Heaven is opened. How we answer this question could not be more critical or foundational.
At some point we must hear these questions directed to us personally. Who does this culture say that Jesus is? Now, who do you say that He is? Is Jesus just a seasonal celebration to you? Is He a character in an adventure novel? Is He and occasional friend when needed?
We need to confess Jesus, the Christ of God. Nothing is more important. We need to know Him as the absolute turning point of history and life. He is all that really matters in eternity. He is the victor who has won our freedom. He is the Savior who has set us free. He is the One who has opened the Kingdom of heaven to us. He is the One who has battered down the gates of hell in order to set you free. He is the One who has trampled sin and death under His heel.
Lord Jesus, today I confess You as the Christ of God. Build Your Church upon this confession. I confess that You are the victor who has made me more than a conqueror. Thank you for setting me free to walk in Your victory. In Jesus' name.