Lesson for March 4-5, 2017
Most people at one time or another have experienced the thrill of doing something very well, followed by the horrible feeling of failing or doing something stupid immediately after, or vice versa. This phenomenon is shown very prominently in the careers of certain actors and actresses. For example, Keanu Reeves was on top of the world in 1999 when The Matrix came out. The movie was a smash success and Reeves was solidified as one of the biggest A-list actors in Hollywood. However, after the success and acclaim of the Matrix, Reeves put out a series of high-budget flops that made his status as a big-time actor rather dubious. This probably culminated in the disaster that was 2013's 47 Ronin, a high budget CGI spectacle that received a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (a site that aggregates critic reviews of movies). Reeves is a great example of someone who goes from hero to zero depending on the movie. Good news for Keanu Reeves fans however, is that he has achieved success again with 2014's runaway hit John Wick and a sequel that just came out in theaters. Our passage this week tells us about a time in Jesus' ministry when Peter's stock resembled Keanu Reeves' movie career. He goes from hero to zero in a very short period of time, but reading this account gives us the ability to examine our own lives.
1) God wants us to start with a correct view of Jesus:
13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 They answered, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!
This portion of the passage clues us in to an incredibly important conversation that the disciples and those following Jesus' ministry were having: who exactly is this guy? There was no doubt to those observing Him that Jesus was unique, if not odd. He was teaching in an authoritative way, He had the power to heal people and cast out demons, and He even claimed the authority to forgive sins. But in this passage, Jesus takes aim at perhaps the most important question that the disciples need to answer: 'who do you say that I am'?
When He first asks the question, 'who do people say that I am', the disciples are able to repeat the answers and rumors that they have heard from others. 'Maybe he is Elijah, or John the Baptist, or one of the prophets.' It makes sense that people would talk about Jesus this way, because His ministry was truly prophetic, in that He was speaking truth that went against the grain of the power structures of 1st century Palestine. However, Jesus was much more than a prophet, and He wanted to hear his disciples vocalize it, so he presses the question, 'who do you say that I am?'
Peter, in one of his shining moments, boldly answers 'you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' As Christians, when we hear the term Son of God, we have been correctly trained to understand that this refers to Jesus Himself being divine – the second member of the Trinity. However, based on some of Peter's words and actions later in the story, it seems pretty clear that at this point in the narrative, Peter still has not quite come to grasp fully who Jesus is. What we know for sure is that when Peter says that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, it means at the very least that Peter is affirming Jesus' place as God's chosen Messiah who will bring God's kingdom into the world. Peter may not have everything right (as we will find out in the verses immediately following), but he has done the right thing by putting His faith in Jesus as the Messiah and God's chosen one. Later on, Peter will come to understand in full how amazing his decision was to put his trust in Jesus.
Peter clearly did not understand everything about Jesus and His ministry yet, but starting from the basis of belief in Jesus as the Messiah puts Peter in the correct position to follow Jesus closely. Jesus goes on to commend Peter in verse 17 because this correct belief and proclamation are so important.
Those of us who are Christians for the most part know the right things about Jesus: that He is the Messiah, that He is God, that He died for our sins and rose again, that He will return again, etc. However, we still must daily take up the challenge of truly believing that Jesus is who He claimed to be. It is one thing to say that Jesus is Lord, but it is another thing to truly believe it and to act on it. When you examine your life and your priorities right now, do your choices reflect the fact that Jesus is Lord if your life? This is incredibly important for us to act upon, because correct knowledge of Jesus (and more importantly) correct belief in Jesus provide the baseline for finding God's will for our lives.
2) A correct view of Jesus gives us a purpose and a call
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven." 20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Why is it so important for Peter to have a correct view and belief in Jesus? The reason is that this faith sets Peter up for the future that God set aside for Him. Upon Peter's declaration of faith and belief, Jesus goes on to say 'you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.' A few need to be noted here:
TEACHERS: This passage is used particularly by the Roman Catholic Church to say that Jesus was setting aside Peter as the first head of the church. Hence they believe that Peter became the first 'Pope' after Jesus' death. This passage leads the Roman Catholic Church to believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth (because they are in apostolic succession from Peter) with the 'keys to the kingdom' and the authority to act on behalf of Christ. This is a short description of RC doctrine regarding the pope, but you might have people who ask about this in your class. Needless to say, our church certainly does not interpret the passage this way. Jesus was affirming Peter's important role in the future of Christianity, and He was making a statement about the importance of faith in Him, but it is quite a stretch to assume this passage means that Peter must then become the first in a line of many pope's who speak on behalf of Christ.
A great example of someone finding God's call on his life after having a correct view of Jesus is our pastor, Dr. Young. At Beach Retreat, Dr. Young will often tell students stories about his life as a young man. When he was in college, Dr. Young was studying to become an engineer, but in many ways his life was fairly aimless. He didn't have a clear direction and passion for what he should do in the future. However, he did always have a way with words. At one Beach Retreat, I essentially heard him tell the students that in his heyday he could manipulate his words and out-cuss anybody (which obviously drew laughter from the students). It wasn't until Dr. Young completely gave his life over to Christ that it became so clear that he must use his gifts to help build God's Kingdom. All of us who are part of Second Baptist Church have been positively impacted by Dr. Young's leadership and service to the Lord. But our pastor was only able to have this impact for the Kingdom because he came to proper belief and faith in Christ. And that is now how our church is modeled: we seek to reach people who don't know Christ, bringing them to faith and belief in Jesus and empowering them to use their gifts to build God's Kingdom.
3) Even after we come to faith in Christ, we must be humbly aware that we don't have all the answers
21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: "God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!" 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but on man's." 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?
After Peter's shining moment, and Jesus' commendation of him, he turns around and must immediately put his foot directly in his mouth. Jesus begins to explain to the disciples what will happen to him in Jerusalem with his arrest, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection. Peter proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus went on to explain what that will mean in the coming days. Peter doesn't like what he hears, and tells Jesus 'You are wrong! This must never happen to you!' Jesus proceeds to call Peter Satan, to tell him that he has become a stumbling block to the Messiah, and that he is thinking with man's interest instead of God's. Ouch. Talk about a major turnaround. Peter goes from being the hero of the hour to being the loser. What happened? Peter rightly declared that Jesus is the Christ in verse 16, but he clearly had incorrect expectations about what the Messiah would do. Jesus was telling him that Messiah would suffer and be killed, but Peter didn't like the sound of that. Obviously, Peter still had a lot to learn, and with time Peter became an amazing leader of God's people, but in this instance he was so incredibly wrong.
There are many things that can be learned from this passage, but here we will focus on the simple truth that believers must be humble. Peter is one of the great heroes of the faith, but stumbling, bumbling moments like these should remind us all that none of us have all of the answers, no matter how 'great' we are in God's Kingdom. Whether you are a person who is naturally tentative or someone who is naturally confident and self-assured, it is important that you learn to hold loosely onto opinions and beliefs that are non-essential, because it is very possible that you are very wrong. In addition to this, humility will give us the ability to recover and move forward when we are inevitably proven wrong about something. Mistakes and blunders are part of being human, but pride and unwillingness to humbly accept correction go against what it means to be a Christian.