Matthew 16:13-20
Who do you say that I am?

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve overheard a conversation that was about you?  If you have, what were they saying about you, was it good stuff, or was it unrepeatable?  I guess it depends on your level of self esteem as to how you would react to such a situation.  I remember an exercise we did while I was at Australian Lutheran College; it was part of a course called ‘Created for relationship’.

In this situation we had to form groups of three.  One person had to sit and listen while the other two talked about that person.  Obviously in this scenario we were saying positive things about each other, but it was an amazing experience to be able to hear what other people thought about you.  It puts an interesting perspective on the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus could have been surprised when he asked Peter that same question, especially after hearing the disciples reply to the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, There were a few options, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.  Obviously the people there about were a little unsure as to exactly who Jesus was.  So what would be Peter’s reply?

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.  A pretty solid and wise answer don’t you think?  How would you answer the same question?  Who do you say that Jesus is?  If someone was to ask you that exact question would you even have an answer ready?  Many of us probably wouldn’t.  Even the group of eight young people who are receiving their first communion today might struggle to give a precise answer like Peter did.

Some of you might remember the days of a public examination before your confirmation, sitting in front of the congregation, having questions fired at you to prove your knowledge of the catechism and Scripture.  Some of you may have just broken into a cold sweat remembering that day.

Peter’s answer is perhaps a little ironic if you look at the way he so quickly denies Jesus later in his life.  In front of Jesus, the reply is rock solid, when confronted by others who might harm him if he says he is with Jesus, he immediately denies all knowledge.

There have been many Christians throughout the years who have been called upon to make a confession contrary to what they believe.  Some have been able to stand firm and others like Peter have turned away. 

I remember the first time I read an excerpt from the ancient historian Eusebius I was shocked and horrified at the tortures inflicted upon Christians by the Romans who were asking them to deny their faith and worship pagan idols.  As we’re in a G rated time slot I won’t go into the graphic details of what these martyrs were forced to endure but as I read again last week through the account of the martyrs at Lyons and Vienne in 177AD my skin crawled and I felt a little ill. 

Eusebius gives account of one man named Sanctus who when asked who he was, simply stated in Latin, “I am a Christian” even when his torture was increased as a result.  I sincerely pray that you and I are never put in that sort of horrific situation, but there are Christians around the world today who are being persecuted because of their faith.  They need our prayers and support.

Sometimes we are called upon to confess our faith, to tell others about why we go to church on Sunday instead of doing other supposedly more enjoyable stuff, or we may be the target of jokes aimed at Christians.  I was constantly frustrated during the World Youth Day celebration in Sydney, because the only publicity it seemed to be getting was cast in a negative light.  Every radio station and TV current affairs show seemed to be poking fun at something to do with the Catholic Church, the Pope or Christianity in general.  I’m sure much good came from the whole event we just didn’t see much of it from this end.

To go back to our earlier train of thought though, what would you say if someone were to ask you, who is this Jesus you speak of?  One of the questions asked in the rite of Baptism is “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord”, we answer for the infant, or the adult answers for themselves, “Yes, I do”. 

We state quite simply, in fact we confess, that we believe in Jesus Christ.  But who is he and what has he done for us?  Let’s look to the second article of the apostle’s creed for an answer:  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

We might need reminding of Luther’s explanation as to what this means for us too:
I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord.  He is truly God – he has always been the son of the Father.  He is also a real human being, the Virgin Mary’s son.

Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death.  He set me free from all my sins, from death and the power of the devil.
It cost him more than silver and gold, it cost him his life.  Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me.

Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king.  I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules for ever.

In days gone by many of us knew those words off by heart, but these days quoting verbatim is a rare thing.  Maybe it’s time we dusted off our old catechism or maybe tracked down a new one and read through it from time to time.  It outlines our faith in simple and straightforward terms, so that even simple blokes like me can understand.

But once again I digress, we were discussing Peter’s confession and his subsequent denial, at some stage in all of our lives we will probably have the opportunity to  adamantly confess our faith, but in difficult circumstances we may be tempted to deny Christ.  We know what the right thing to do is, yet our sinful human nature may allow us, like Peter, to deny Jesus even if we have the words well and truly prepared.  Thankfully we have a loving and gracious God, who forgives us for our sins.  He forgave Peter, and he forgives you freely too.

How good is that?!?  Even when we can’t get it right, we know that he has already made it right!  The one who believes and is baptised will be saved, grant this Lord to us all!

Amen.