11th Sunday after Trinity
Jonah 2; Mt 16:13-20
St Barbara’s 23.8.2020
I bake my own bread. That sounds rather grand. What I actually do is to load the ingredients into a bread maker, press go and “hey-presto” a few hours later there is a loaf. A few months ago I forgot to add the yeast and the result was a dense brick-like mass that I had difficulty extracting from the machine. It was not at all like the risen loaf I had been hoping for. A few grains of yeast was all the difference between an appetising loaf and a barely-edible floury brick. A little bit of yeast goes a long way. It works throughout the entire ball of dough and the carbon dioxide it produces expands the dough to give us the less dense and rather more edible loaf.
A few verses before the today’s gospel reading, Jesus warned the disciples against the yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees saw Jesus as a threat to everything they stood for and they took every opportunity to denigrate him before the people and to undermine him. Their slander was their yeast and it was working on the people. After a period of general popularity with the people, the slanderous pushback came from these religious leaders and the people were confused. They saw Jesus’ miracles and they heard his teaching but they also heard their respected religious leaders telling them that Jesus was a Sabbath-breaker, a blasphemer, even demon-possessed. No wonder they were confused.
Thus when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” None of those answers really hit the mark. But when he asked the disciples, that band of men who had lived with him for some time, 24/7, their answer as voiced by Peter was, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” They had seen, and to some extent understood, something about Jesus that was effectively hidden from the general population.
Who do people today say Jesus is – that is if they ever think about it? Most people who look into it generally do not have a problem with Jesus as a genuine historical figure and they will go on to say things like “he was a good man, a teacher, a mystic, a faith healer.”
But what about us? What about me? What about you? Who do you say that Jesus is? That is probably the most important question we can ever ask, for on the answer hangs life itself and life in all its fullness. As Christians we can answer in the present tense – “Jesus is,” rather than “Jesus was,” and we can go beyond good man and teacher.
Let me read you some descriptions of Jesus from the bible, mostly from the New Testament. Whilst I am doing that, consider each name or description and ask yourself “Is that my experience of Jesus, or perhaps, do I need to know Jesus as that right now?”
- Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end)
- Almighty One
- Supreme Creator Over All
- I Am
- Son of Man
- Son of the living God
- Beloved Son of God
- Head of the Church
- Great High Priest
- Lord of All
- King of Kings
- Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
- Judge of the living and the dead
- The Word become flesh
- The Door
- The way and the truth and the life
- True Vine
- Lamb of God
- Sacrifice for Our Sins
- Risen Lord
- Resurrection and the Life
- One Who Sets Free
- Good Shepherd
- Holy Servant
- Immanuel – God with us.
- Indescribable Gift
- Bread of Life
- Light of the World
- Author and Perfector of Our Faith
- Our Hope
- Our Peace
- Our Rock
I think each of us will have experienced Jesus as some of those, but probably not all of those. Think back to Peter’s response. He did not rattle off a theologically complete list. His response was simply “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In being with Jesus the disciples had come to the point where they knew him to be the Messiah – the anointed one of God – someone they simply had to follow. That was a good start and Peter was commended by Jesus. But what did it actually mean that Jesus was the Messiah? It is clear that Peter and Jesus thought quite differently about that. If you read on only a few more verses you will find Peter attempting to dissuade Jesus from completing his earthly mission and that provoked a strong reaction from Jesus and a dressing-down for Peter. Peter had a long way to go before he could grasp more fully what Jesus’ ministry was about. And can we consider ourselves to be any better than the disciples? Of course not – even with the help of two millennia of hindsight and the weight of Christian history. We can be spot-on in our understanding of Jesus in some aspects and completely wrong in others. Just as it was for the disciples, the more we follow Jesus and pay attention to him, the deeper will be our experience and understanding of him. As a result, we will change. Our view of who Jesus is will change over time and different aspects of who Jesus is will assume greater importance.
So, going back to the original question, “Who is Jesus?” It is not so much a question to be answered as a question to be lived.
I would like to leave you with my all-time favourite summary of who Jesus is. It comes in Philippians chapter 2 where Paul exhorts his readers, in their relationships with one another, to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.