Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Matthew 16:13-28)Pastor Jon Truax, January 7, 2018
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The weather outside certainly shows us that we are in deep winter. I was born in the deep winter, in the month of January. Did you know that January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is always depicted with two faces – one looking back and one looking ahead? The idea is that at the turn of the year, one should both look back and look ahead.
Not too many sources tell us to look back. Even the Bible discourages it in some passages – such as when Lot’s wife “looked back” upon Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. I remember hearing that this Bible lesson was taught in a child’s Sunday School class, and one little boy heard the story of Lot’s wife and raised his hand excitedly. “The very same thing happened to my mom!” he exclaimed.
“Really?” asked the disbelieving teacher.
“Yes,” said the little boy, “Last summer as we were leaving the sinful city of Las Vegas my mom turned around and looked back.”
“And I suppose your mother turned into a pillar of salt?” sniffed the teacher.
“No,” admitted the little boy, “she turned into a telephone pole.”
You always have to be careful about looking back, but it is still a good idea. One night Jesus took the opportunity to have his disciples look back.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
This is one of the key questions of life, isn’t it? The claims of Jesus Christ demand a verdict, a decision, a conclusion. At this point in his ministry, Jesus had already called the disciples, worked miracles, given parables, garnered quite a crowd, issued the Sermon on the Mount, and was dropping lots of clues to his identity. He asked the disciples to look back over the course of him ministry and consider what the people were saying about him. Who did they think he was?
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Just like today, when people are asked what they think of Jesus, many back in his day would agree that he was a good man, a wise teacher, and a fiery preacher – but that’s as far as it goes. Basically, a lot of people would like to conclude that Jesus could fit in a nice box called “prophet”.
C.S. Lewis had an answer for folks like that. He said, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept him as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”
“You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Sometimes this argument has been framed that you have three options when it comes to Jesus: you can call him a liar, you can call him a lunatic, or you can call him Lord. Based on the things he said about himself, he can’t be somewhere in the middle.
The disciples quickly realized this when Jesus put this same question directly to them.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
I love the way that the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth”, portrays this scene. The action takes place in the village of Caesarea Philippi where the disciples are all gathered around a campfire late at night. They are joking and laughing with each other, and Jesus has started this conversation by asking what the people think of him. After hearing the disciples quickly offer what they’ve been hearing, that he must be some kind of prophet like John the Baptist or Elijah, Jesus narrows the issue, looks piercingly into their eyes, and make the question quite personal, something they weren’t expecting. “But what about you – who do YOU say I am?”
Who do you say that Jesus is? I said before that what others think about Jesus Christ is one of the key questions of life. But what YOU think about Jesus Christ is THE key question of life.
Here Jesus was asking those who knew him best, who had been traveling around with him, who had been his compatriots and his friends, those who had witnessed his miracles firsthand – he was asking them for their verdict on his identity. In the movie, the disciples’ laughter and joking stop instantly, and they all stand there transfixed by the question, considering its weight, and trying to form an answer.
How would you answer this question if Jesus asked it of you? Who do you say that I am? Make no mistake, he asks this of you every day! Every decision we make is affected by what we think of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. The Bible gives us the answer.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Don’t you just love Simon Peter? When everyone else was either too unsure of himself or too embarrassed to offer his thoughts, Simon Peter just put it out there. He knew! Somehow, he just knew. And as he often did, in his big, burly, fisherman way, he just blurted it out. Often, Simon Peter’s mouth is what gets him in trouble and earns him ridicule. But here it is that same trait of brash boldness which earns him an “attaboy” from his Master. Don’t you just love Simon Peter? Jesus did, too!
Jesus replied, “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.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Peter got the question right! If there was ever any doubt as to what Jesus was looking for when he asked this question, it was removed when he honors Peter in this way. Jesus really builds Peter up here. In seeing Peter’s faith, Jesus recognized what would become the bedrock of the church. For the first time, Peter is living up to his name: The Rock. The faith that identifies Jesus as the Christ, as the very Son of God, continues to be the faith that is the foundation of the church to this day.
But, what’s this? Oddly enough, instead of the disciples getting a green light to go and proclaim to all those who thought he was a prophet that he was really God in the flesh, Jesus gave them a warning. “Don’t tell anyone who I am!” he said. The time was not yet right. A lot still had to happen until his destiny was to be achieved. What destiny is that?
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Now that the issue of Jesus’ identity is settled among his disciples, next comes the difficult teaching of his mission. The “looking back” time and coming to a conclusion about the truth of who Jesus is has been resolved – now it’s time for “looking ahead” and coming to a conclusion about the truth of what he has come to do. And what Jesus tells his disciples about his purpose is disturbing, to say the least. This is really the first time we read in Matthew’s gospel account where we find Jesus revealing the true nature of his calling, his task, his mission. It is to die.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Again, don’t you just love Peter?! Only Peter could put the word “Never” right before the word “Lord”! Those things just don’t go together – “Never, Lord!”
Now I’m sure that Peter had good intentions when he said this. What Peter is probably saying is that this one who he had just identified as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was surely not destined to suffer rejection by his people and die but rather to conquer and rule! Peter had looked back and gotten Jesus identity alright but he couldn’t accept Jesus’ look ahead to his mission. This time Jesus is not all as warm and fuzzy when he judges Peter’s comment.
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Ouch! Peter went from being the head of the class to wearing the dunce cap in the corner! Peter learned the hard way that you simply don’t call Jesus the Son of God and then decide to order him around! You don’t take to rebuking the one you’ve just identified as the Christ! You absolutely do not say, “Never, Lord!”
Jesus takes this teaching moment to explain a little more about his mission and what is expected of those who would follow him.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
IF. Jesus starts out here by saying, “if”. If you are going to follow me, then here’s what’s in store. I sincerely hope that all of you choose to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. But do it for the right reasons. As you look ahead this morning to a future with God, you aren’t promised anything but a cross. You aren’t promised riches, or health, or power, or family harmony, or pleasure, or even the saving of your own life. But you are promised the saving of your own soul.
Christians can look back and look ahead. Jesus shows us that as we look ahead in life, it may not always be rosy. Or, if it is rosy, it may also be thorny.
As you look ahead, one thing you’re not allowed to say is “Never, Lord.” Peter tried that, and got nowhere. But faithfulness to God even in times of turmoil and times of despair and, yes, times of a cross brings with it its own reward – the promise of a soul saved and a life resurrected. For if we could indeed look ahead in our own lives, we may not like everything we see. But if we could look just a little bit farther ahead than our own lives into our next one, the life that follows this life, I think you’d like what you’d see. For what you’d see, if you follow Jesus, is yourself in His presence, that is, the one you know as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
As you look back and consider God’s lifetime of faithfulness to you, I encourage you to pledge a lifetime of faithfulness to him in the future, and you will indeed find things looking up, as you look ahead.
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13When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. 21From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. 24Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 28Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (KJV)