"A Significant Opinion Poll"
Text: Matthew 16:15-19
When Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do folks say that I am?," He was conducting an opinion poll. One that really counts. It was not an idle question. Surely, in His divinity, Jesus could have asked the Father to reveal to Him anything He needed to know. But this question, like so many others, was more about what the disciples needed to learn than it was about any ignor-ance on His part. The disciples, by answering this question, would be telling Jesus how their preaching was going. Were the people getting a proper understanding of His person and mission through the proclamation of the twelve.
The results of this poll were less than thrilling. Some said He was John the Baptist revived, others that He was the son of David and still others the Great Prophet. You have to wonder what they were preaching, and if they had clarity of focus. . . what we do know is that the truth which Peter proclaims indicates that they themselves needed to be clearer themselves as to the identity of Jesus Christ! They had not been preaching "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God" even though that seems to be their conclusion as expressed through Peter, their spokesperson. What we learn by the varied responses of the folk is this: that people who vary from the Truth do vary from each other in opinion. Either we speak the truth about Him, or we are faced with a multitude of wild hypotheses and spiritual hunches. Even good thoughts about the identity of Jesus fail the test—they are not the right, or correct thought. Saying that Jesus is a great man, a marvelous teacher, a prophet is good, but plainly no substitute for the truth—only those who proclaim the truth about Jesus have any claim to heaven, the kingdom of God, or eternal life.
We can almost sense the relief that surges out of Jesus towards the twelve when Peter boldly says the truth plainly. So much hangs in the balance in the moment between question and answer: "And you. . .Who do you say that I am?" He hoped that they had a clear and distinct knowledge of the things of God—after all, they had the best tutor of all in things spiritual! What would they say? And what do we say? Are we as plain spoken? Is our proclamation as blunt, unvarnished. . .or do we quibble and equivocate? Are we convinced and convicting, or uncertain and tentative? I think that some wonder about their eternal security because they quiver in the confession of their lips: "You are the Christ, I think. . .or we present matters of the utmost concern as if they were some weakly held god hypothesis. Perhaps we are those who say weakly, I am a Christian because it makes the most sense. . .it’s a reasonable religion, it makes people good, or moral, or nice!" Perhaps we are Christian by accident of birth, or as the result of religious habit and we simply fell into it. If any of these scenarios is correct, we are apt to hear Jesus’ question as challenging. Peter is announcing that Jesus is no mere ghost but the Mighty and Eternal God, not a prophet of old replicated in another day, but the Anointed One, the Messiah Himself—the great prophet, priest and king all rolled into one. King Jesus, Exalted One, King of the Universe and of the Church!
And Jesus, for His part, far from qualifying that true confession, far from saying, "Well, no, I am not exactly God as in God of God, not really. . .flatly affirms the divinity imputed to Him by faith. Now the church is in every way supernatural! Here is a teaching we need to revive. As Jesus says, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, Peter and company, but Father God blessed them with divine favor. Peter and the others were by grace preferred to apostolic status. Friends, true believers are always blessed. . .they are, like Mary, to be hailed as "highly favored one." What a high favor it is to know Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God. Mary’s salutation needs to be a little less strange to us by proper understanding: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Oh, yes, of course. What was pronounced by Gabriel to Mary is true of every believer: if you believe it is by the favor of God, and that being a high favor. . . an amazing grace. So, we are always blessed. . . and all happiness attends right knowledge of Jesus Christ. And that knowledge comes as preferment of grace. We don’t deserve, own or achieve such knowledge because saving faith is the free gift of God. It is no respecter of person, of status or attainment—Peter’s parentage was as common, or mean as they come. He came rough hewn from the quarry, it took time, obedience and discipline to shape, turn and polish him. And being all of God, God receives all the glory of it! Let me say it again, the origin of faith, the rise of our religion lies in heaven, not culture, politics or philosophy. Paul recognizes this when he says, "not many of you were wise, powerful, or well-placed and wealthy"—indeed, most of us are all too familiar of our no-account-ness, too comfortable with discounting ourselves in the false modesty of self-deprecation.
The church is in every way supernatural. Yes, indeed. We could also say that it is divine in character, in origin and in continuance. In this passage of scripture, we receive our charter as the chosen remnant, the called-out ones, established in a body politic and incorporate. We are a community based not on the promised seed, but built upon the One who has come—we are shaped by the anticipation of the Second Coming, not by the first coming which has occurred in Jesus Christ. We bear the image of the Risen Lord, we are covered in His righteousness. We receive our charter from Him, through Peter in the transaction recorded here. The church is built supernaturally by Christ—Zechariah 6:13 "It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed in majesty and will sit and rule upon his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne." The twin offices of king and priest will be joined in Him. And it is so. Both the materials (us) and the workmanship (our sanctification) are His. Listen. His Spirit and preaching of the gospel are of Him and they produce together the living stones of that holy place—just so we are a work in progress, the church is in the process of formation. Christ, the rock, is the sure foundation, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Christ is the tested cornerstone of Isaiah 26:16. He is the strong tower to which we are to repair and find safety. We are in total agreement with the psalmist (Psalm 61:2-3) when he cries:
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint,
lead me to a rock higher that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge,
a stronghold against the foe."
Insofar as the rock refers to Peter, it refers to us all. We are to be solid, substantial and established disciples like Peter, someone Christ can depend on. Why? Because we are established in the truth. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is what the gates of hell cannot prevail