Weekly Bible Devotional
“Come, Follow Me: Confessing”
January 23, 2022
Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 16:13-27
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
Notes on the Text:
As we continue the “Come, Follow Me” sermon series, we focus on the importance of our confession/our words and thoughts about Jesus for discipleship. Even though discipleship is a way of life and a journey, it matters what we think and say about the one we are following. Our thoughts and reflections often change over time, but it is important for us to be aware of them and their implications. To help us with this, we will consider the example of Peter’s confession of faith about Jesus.
Jesus and his disciples were traveling to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This was a city built up by Herod Philip after the death of his father, Herod the Great. Caesarea Philippi was about 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee at the base of Mount Hermon. This is a mountain cluster that I used to see often when we went from Damascus to the village where my dad was born. It is often snowcapped and majestic. The snow melt from the mountain would collect in a system of channels eroded into the mountain. These channels fed several springs and waterfalls which eventually gathered into tributaries that fed the Jordan River. Caesarea Philippi was built around the Banias Spring which is one of the main tributaries forming the Jordan River. All of this to say that the location of the dialogue and confession of Peter could be seen as significant. One can imagine that Jesus was taking them to the source of the waters of the Jordan in order to remind them that he was the source of living water of life.
This is a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is finishing up his ministry in Galilee and is beginning to focus on heading towards Jerusalem. Caesarea Philippi was also a city built on the site of an earlier city, Paneas, named after the Greek God Pan. Herod the Great dedicated the temple there to Caesar Augustus. It was a temple dedicated to the emperor cult of Rome which supported a vision of peace through violence and oppression as blessed by the gods. At this turning point and in that location, Jesus asked the disciples to tell him about their understanding of his ministry. First the question was about who the general public understood Jesus to be. Then the question turned to the disciples about their understanding of Jesus. When Peter gave the definition of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus praised him, but gave him a strange title, Peter son of Jonah. Jonah was a fickle kind of prophet. Jonah defied God but eventually learned to do the right thing. When Peter disagreed with Jesus about his coming suffering, Jesus rebuked him for saying that. This makes it hard for us as the readers because the word Messiah is the Hebrew word for the Greek word “Christ” which means, “the anointed one.” To us, the title Christ indicates that Jesus was the one sent and blessed by God to lead the people of Israel to renewal of the covenant. Why would Jesus react so negatively to Peter’s designation of him as the Messiah? Why would Jesus call Peter Satan for saying that?
Some interpretations have been given by saying that Jesus was too humble to accept the title. Others say that the author of Matthew was trying to show us that the identity of Jesus was kept secret until the end. But the key to understanding the word Messiah/Christ in this passage at the time of Jesus is to look at its political connotations. The title Messiah was given to the kings of Israel and Judah. Just like we call our president, “Commander-in-Chief,” the Hebrew people called their kings the Messiah. The title, Messiah, was used for the one who held political, economic, and religious power, as a ruler of the people. In later centuries, the term became associated with the understanding of the Messiah as the “once and future king” in a purely spiritual way. No wonder Jesus rejected the title of Messiah because the model of such leadership was that of violence, manipulation, and control. He did not accept the title because it would have implied that his mission was that of a king and a ruler who would just change the political system of his day. Jesus had bigger fish to fry. His mission was not limited to changing the top. He wanted to change the whole of his society. He wanted to change hearts and minds. He knew that real transformation could not come from using the same tactics of power and violence. Instead, Jesus preferred to use the term, “Son of Man” to describe his ministry. The “Son of Man” was a direct reference to scriptures in the Old Testament. The simple meaning of this term is a male human being as found in Numbers 23, Job 35 and Ezekiel 2. But the significant meaning of this term comes from its use in the book of Daniel 7:13-14, “I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One (that is, God), and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” This “Son of Man” was also described in a Jewish religious book that was written around the time of Jesus called Enoch. This book is highly respected by the Jews. The description of the “Son of Man” in it is very significant in light of what Jesus said about himself. Enoch’s “Son of Man” is the Elect One who will sit on the throne of glory in order to “try the works” of the righteous and the holy (Enoch 45:3). His concern will not be the accumulation of power and wealth, but the building of justice and equity (chs. 46-48, 62-71). He will remove from their thrones any kings or priests who have persecuted or worked against the poor or weak (46:4-8). He will call forth the practice of a politics of justice, an economics of shared wealth that will eliminate poverty and the building of a people in relationship with God (chs. 46-48). And this will include, not just Jews, but Gentiles, as well. In fact, the Son of Man is called a “light to the Gentiles” (48:4). Most significant, the “Son of Man” will not be a conquering Messiah, but rather a suffering one who will be killed by the systems but will rise triumphant to “sit on the throne of his glory” (62:2-5). It is very clear that it is Enoch’s model of the Son of Man that most captured Jesus’ understanding of the ministry to which he was called far more fully than did the more triumphalist image of “Messiah.” That is exactly why we see Peter not liking Jesus’ definition of himself as the Son of Man.
Peter was expecting Jesus to be a leader like all the others who would eventually lead a revolt against the Romans. Peter and the rest of the disciples needed to be challenged to understand that Jesus’ model for social change did not depend on the typical tools of power and violence but on the vision of the kingdom of God for empowerment, justice and love. The spring of water of Banias was a better image for understanding Jesus. He was the Messiah who would bring about the water of life.
Pondering who Jesus is for us is an essential part of discipleship. With centuries of interpretation and even misinterpretation of the ministry of Jesus, we need to renew our understanding of Jesus as the humble one of God who brings about the water of life with love instead of force. In most popular Christian culture, Jesus is understood to be otherworldly or heavenly figure that is concerned with the salvation of our souls only. For some Christians, Jesus is also seen as a powerful being that gives them prosperity, wealth, and protection as a reward for believing in him. To these Christians, the image of Jesus coming back as a triumphant king or a lion, is taken literally to mean that Jesus will use force to end the battle between good and evil. Another dominant image of Jesus as Messiah is that of a sacrificial offering to satisfy the anger of God against the sinfulness of humanity. That is why we need to reclaim Jesus’ own understanding of his ministry. We need to reclaim the title of the “Son of Man” and the “the Living Water” with a focus on service and love instead of power and violence. And when we use the title of Messiah, we have to be careful to associate it with the real ministries of Jesus which cannot be domesticated by our heavenly aspirations for spiritual salvation. Like Peter, we have to be challenged to see that Jesus as the one concerned about the pain and suffering of the world. We are called to join him through ministries of love and self-giving and not through power, control or domination.
For our prayer this week, I share with you a confession of faith that I hope will help you in confessing your faith, not as a static doctrinal statement, but as a living expression of love and focus on the way of Christ. You may also check out our church’s statement of faith at https://fpcbatavia.org/who-we-are/.
A Confession of Faith by Margaret Silf:
I Believe . . .
“. . . That what I see is not all there is and that underpinning all that I call reality is a mystery infinitely greater and wiser than I am.
“. . . That this mystery causes all things to unfold in wisdom and toward the greater fullness of life, that this mystery means well with us and strives constantly to bring the more life-giving outcome from all that happens, drawing our poor to better and our better to best. I call this mystery God. Yet I see the effects of the opposite dynamic also at work, dragging our best down to mediocre and our poor to worst. Everything in the story so far convinces me that life will prevail over death and light over darkness.
“. . . That we are all invited to cooperate in this great adventure we call life, as partners in the ongoing creativity of God on planet Earth, and that we have the power within us to choose, continually, the drawing of God over the drag of the darkness. I believe this is what discernment means.
“. . . That two thousand years ago a child called Jesus was born to humble parents in the Middle East, that in his life he revealed what the fullness of God’s unfolding dream looks like in human form when it is fully evolved, showing us the way to live so that our lives, too, reveal and incarnate some small but uniquely precious fragment of God’s dream for humanity.
“. . . That Jesus was killed on the cross because he lived absolutely true to God’s dream for life on the earth and thus challenged the powers of darkness and the systems of domination of his time, and that those same powers of darkness and domination destroyed his earthly life. I believe that this is the cost of living true to God’s dream, that the dynamic of darkness lurks both within us and beyond us, and that anyone who tries to live true to God in his or her own life will also encounter a cross in some form.
“. . . That although Jesus died, he transcended death in ways we cannot understand, and that his Spirit lives on and flows through the lives of all who are willing to be channels for that transforming power.
“. . . That it doesn’t matter so much what I believe about Jesus, as it does that I am willing to follow in the path he models, knowing what it may cost. I believe that if I do try to follow him, his Spirit will constantly guide, energize, and shape my journey and that of the whole human family.
“. . . That, although I am an individual, called to give expression to some fragment of God’s dream, I have no meaning except in relationship. I believe that the relationship among God the source of all being, Jesus the one who reveals this mystery in human form, and the Spirit who brings the source of life into our everyday living is a model of a relationship in which all of us are called to participate, a dance of life we are invited to join.
“. . . That, at the end of the day, ‘to believe’ means to trust the mystery I call God and not try to define it.
“Try writing your own ‘I believe . . . ‘ “