“Where’s My Jesus, and What Have You Done With Him?” August 23, 2020

“Where’s My Jesus, and What Have You Done With Him?”

Matthew 16:13-20

I’ll never forget my first job. I had somehow managed to get my Junior Lifesaving certificate from the YMCA and so, at the age of 14, I figured I was more than qualified to be a first class, bona fide life guard. As luck would have it, we lived close to an old run down dance hall and resort called Greter’s Lake. Now, this place had seen better days, but folks still came out in the summer and paid their money to bask on the beach while their kids splashed and played in the not-so-pristine waters of this 5 acre reservoir. I never questioned why they would hire a 14 year old kid to be responsible for the lives of their customers, but hey – at 50 cents an hour, I was willing to give it my best shot. I figured if I could last the season, I’d be rolling in dough.

Now my boss was a guy named Ray, and Ray fashioned himself to be somewhat of a ladies man. He wore his hair all poofed up like a Southern Baptist preacher and by the smell of it must have went through a bottle of cologne every week. One day, he came by to chat with me looking especially dapper: white polyester shirt on black polyester trousers and the shiniest  shoes I’d seen in a long time. “So tell me,” he said, “ain’t your boss about the best looking guy that ever walked the planet?” I was speechless at first, but I recovered and told him that, yea, he looked pretty doggone sharp, which was not quite the truth. Truth is, I thought he looked kind of ridiculous. Anyhow, we chatted for a while longer then he had to take off for some important something or other. And he had a big smile on his face. I always felt bad that maybe I had sent him off feeling like a million bucks when all I saw were cheap pants and a bad hairdo.

Now, if you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, our theme for this day is “identity.” We’ve all got them. We all have some kind of identity that we identify with; some sort of self-awareness of who we are and what makes us tick. And by the same token, we’re bound to judge those around us – how they dress, who they hang out with, how they talk. We look to understand how they identify themselves. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it’s just what we do. So when Matthew tells us about Jesus casually asking his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” we’re right there. We can relate; we can identify. If you’ve ever been involved with sales, you know the value of a well-placed compliment now and then. But let’s be clear: there is no way that Jesus, God incarnate, is fishing for compliments here. It goes much deeper and that is why this particular passage is so important in the life of the church and how we relate – how we identify – with the Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer.

I’ll let the words of a man named Howard Hendricks continue to make my point, where he said, “There was no identity crisis in the life of Jesus Christ. He knew who he was. He knew where he had come from, and why he was here. And he knew where he was going. And when you are that liberated, then you can serve.”

So we have to wonder why he would ask such a thing? “Who do people say that I am.” This is like junior high stuff. But actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. The disciples answered him.

 

They told him what “was the word on the street:” (vs. 14) “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets,” which was entirely plausible. For a people that lived by the words of the prophets, this was high praise indeed and there’s no doubt that the disciples were thinking along the same lines. But then Simon Peter opens his mouth. Good old Peter. It’s safe to say he was never the brightest bulb in the box. He was impetuous, short tempered, and a little on the rough side. But as we have learned, God doesn’t always speak to those of us who are on our best behavior. “You are the Christ,” he said, “the son of the living God,” and this confession has rang out in the halls of the church for over 2000 years.

But here’s the thing, and here’s the part that gets missed so often in this beautiful passage. I mean, why would Peter say such a thing? Was he just taking a stab in the dark hoping to get lucky? Was he looking to score points? Not hardly. Jesus, in fact, answers these questions in vs. 17 when he says God has blessed you, Simon, son of Jonah, for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source. Peter, for all of his faults, had one good thing going for him: he didn’t give a hoot about public opinion. Peter, the Rock, was tuned in to the heart of God. And it is for this reason that Jesus declared, (vs 18) You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church.

We find ourselves in an historic time right now. The fact that an itty-bitty virus can throw a monkey wrench in the gears of this great society just goes to show us how fragile the whole thing can be. For people of faith, it has been a trial. Most of us have avoided our buildings for fear of spreading the disease. Others have taken the chance. Either way, the flow of our methods of worship have been thrown topsy-turvy; but I have to tell you, this makes me hopeful. This makes me hopeful because it is times like these when we can no longer fall back on the comfort of structured worship. It is times like these we are inspired by the word of God more so than the words of some preacher. It is times like these that we will care less about who the people say is the Christ. I am hopeful that in times like these we might go looking for the Jesus we thought we knew and find so much more. I am hopeful that when Jesus comes to each and every one of us and asks the question, “Who do you say I am,” we might find something remarkable – we might find that the son of the living God is at the very core of who we are. Because when we are that liberated, then we can serve.

Amen & Shalom

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