Come, Follow Me! Confessing
Rev. Sandy Johnson
January 21, 2018
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, much is required. There is more to it than simply speaking a few words, or attending a worship service now and again. It isn’t complicated really, in fact it is pretty simple. I think the most difficult part of being a disciple is setting our pride aside, setting aside that idea that we are masters of our own destiny. “If it is to be, it’s up to me!” To be a disciple of Jesus Christ we must be willing to do and go where God leads.
Last week we learned that the first step of the journey toward discipleship, is to listen and respond to the call from Jesus. Jesus calling his disciples was the example from scripture. Jesus approached the fishermen and offered them an opportunity to transform not only their lives, but the lives of men and women from that moment forward, to today. We learned that we must do more than listen, there is action involved. Being a disciple means we have to say, “pick me!”, I want to be on Jesus team.
We continue the journey of becoming a disciple this morning, as we read in the scripture, the story of Jesus asking his disciples who the people say he is, and then the more pointed question, “Who do YOU say I am?” The answer to the first question is quite predictable. The word about town was that there was something powerful about Jesus. People are talking and trying to guess, is he Elijah or John the Baptist? Surely, he isn’t an ordinary prophet. Perhaps he is Jeremiah?
We know they held Jesus in high esteem, because they put him with the likes of these biblical heroes. The Jews believed that Elijah and Jeremiah are the forerunners of the Messiah. Could it be that this carpenter from Nazareth was them and that he was preparing the world for the Messiah’s appearance? Not quite.
As the disciples pondered that question, Jeremiah or John, Jesus turns the question from the general, to the specific. He asks the believers sitting before him what they think. “It’s all well and good that others think I might be Elijah or Jeremiah,” Jesus said, “but who do YOU say I am?” Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty!
Why did Jesus ask those questions? Was it so he could find out who was talking about him and hear what they were saying about him? Hardly! He asked his closest followers the question to get them off the fence. It was time to fish or cut bait. Jesus knew that his time on earth was coming to an end. Soon, they would be on their way to Jerusalem and he needed to be sure his group was ready for what was to come. He had to know that someone in their group was strong enough to carry on after he was gone.
“Who do you say I am?”
The question is simple enough and it wasn’t the first time that they had thought that maybe, just maybe, Jesus was the Messiah. When they were on the Sea of Galilee, in the midst of a horrible storm, with mere words, Jesus calmed the wind. The storm was raging all around them, they were certain they were about to die at sea, when suddenly, the wind stopped, and all was calm. The disciples astounded at what they saw, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Don’t forget the time told in Matthew 8 when Jesus and the disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee and gone to the country of the Gadarenes. Two demon-possessed men came out of the tombs to meet them. The men were fierce and wouldn’t let them pass. “Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?””
Surely the disciples had heard this? They were shouting for goodness sakes!
The question hangs in the air… “who do you say I am?” It is no surprise that it is Peter who comes forward with an answer. Peter who is impulsive and proud. He is the de facto leader, spokesman of the group. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The others were likely nodding their heads in agreement.
And then Jesus responds with a blessing, reminding Peter and the others that he knows this is true because God has given him a gift, a revelation from “Jesus’ Father in heaven.” This was not something learned or achieved, it is a gift from God.
What follows is a description of the beginning of the Christian Church, the foundation being set into place. In the first chapter in the Gospel of John, Jesus first met Simon, recruited him to be a disciple and immediately called him “Cephas” which is translated to Peter, the rock. Perhaps this was in anticipation of this very moment.
Jesus gives Simon a new identity. His name is no longer just a name, but a title; he is to be The Rock, the foundation upon which Jesus will build his church. And as so often happens in scripture, with a new era comes a new name.
Peter was not a common name during Jesus’ time. There are in fact, no other “documented instances of anyone being named “Rock” in Aramaic or Greek prior to Simon.” Rock Hudson hadn’t been born yet. Jesus was very intentional in giving Simon a new name, not a name really, but a position, the foundation of something new. It reminds me of how many coaches are simply called coach (Theresa?). The title becomes the name.
Peter is synonymous with the word foundation, but let’s be clear, “Jesus is the builder of the church,” Peter is the foundation. I love the focus on stones and rocks. We can see that in the Old Testament “Abraham and Sarah were the foundation stones of the community of Israel. Later in the Gospel, Jesus himself will be designated as the rejected stone who becomes the “cornerstone” of a new edifice.” The community that is created in this scripture will be solid, secure and even “the gates of the Hades will not prevail against it.”
Jesus is putting Peter in charge, he gives him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the authority to do on earth what is done in heaven. In essence, Peter becomes the Prime Minister, the “master of the household” in the community built by Jesus.
Then, Jesus does something that makes no sense. He tells the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. I don’t get it. They have just received the best news of their lifetime and they’re supposed to keep it to themselves? Really?!
This “messianic secret was not an attempt on the part of Jesus to keep people from knowing, believing in, and following him.” It just wasn’t the right time for his identity to be revealed. He knew he had more work to do before he would be tried and crucified and if the word got out prematurely, it would change everything. Even the demon possessed men referenced that it wasn’t the right time for Jesus identity to be revealed.
There was also a concern that if his true identity as Messiah was revealed, that people would expect him to lead the military insurrection that the Jews were expecting. It’s best to keep it on the down-low.
What we can take away from this text is that “the church is not a human achievement or a fellowship of like-minded individuals who have formed a support group, ” rather it is a divine revelation that builds faith, and invites us to continue Jesus’ work right here, right now, in our community and beyond.
The church was formed upon the faith of Peter and Jesus received the assurance that his work would continue after he was gone. He was preparing the disciples well for the future before them. When Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” we can imagine him also asking us. Are we ready to confess that Jesus is Messiah? Do we believe from the tips of our toes to the top of our head that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to redeem us?
Each of us has that moment with Christ when he asks us that monumental question and we are to answer, “you are Messiah, the Christ, the son of God.” With that answer we then become his disciple and that is when the fun begins. You see, Peter represents all of us in this story and in his life. Peter is not perfect and in fact he is also known as being a stumbling block. Next week we will talk about times when we falter and need forgiveness. Peter certainly is a good example of both being the rock and being a stumbling block.
The message is that we must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and commit to following him. “Come, Follow Me!” says Jesus. “Follow me!”
 Matthew 14:33
 Matthew 8:29
 Matthew 16:18