8/25/02, P14A

“Simon Steps Up To The Plate”
Matthew 16: 13-21

"But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered,
'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
(v. 16, NRSV)

This incident in the story of Jesus' life asks the question of the Apostles, what will you do with Jesus? It is an inescapable question that confronts all humanity.

It certainly marked a turning point for the Big Fisherman. Jesus even changed his name because of his bold confession. "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (17-18). Simon stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun!

In his "Broadcast Talks" to the British people during the bomb and missile attacks of WW II, C.S. Lewis put the question concerning what Christ should mean to every one who claims to be a Christian, ever so bluntly. He was trying to deal with those who will only say that Jesus is merely a great moral teacher, but will not accept His claim to be God. Here are his immortal words from the compendium of his radio addresses entitled, MERE CHRISTIANITY, "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 on 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."

This event, sometimes called "The Great Confession," also marked a turning point in Jesus' life. From that moment on He began to talk about His death and resurrection in more direct terms. His demeanor became more confrontive toward those who would soon crucify Him. Those who heard Him did not grasp the fullness of what He was saying, but after that first Easter Sunday it all came together for them. The central teaching of Christianity is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. His sacrifice has captured our hearts and allowed us to experience the fullness of God's forgiveness.

Best selling author Dr. Scott Peck says that he finally became a Christian because Christianity has the only way of dealing with sin. "Christianity says that we cannot not sin, but when we do God forgives us." This is good news for fallen creatures like us. No matter how vile our confessed sins were God washed them all away. The thing that appealed to Dr. Peck, an M.D. Psychiatrist, is that repentance does for troubled people what many years of psychotherapy cannot do as well. We typically call it, New Life in Christ, or a new lease on life that involves killing off our rebellious past. New believers are still responsible for the consequences of their past, damage done and relationships hurt, but God is faithful to lead us into new vistas every day as we begin to walk with Him. He put a little of His love into us and we are able to form new friendships and break old habits. (see, FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED)

This bold confession of faith is why Simon got a new name. Peter means "rock," and it has been on this solid expression that Jesus has built His Church; and indeed, for two-thousand years the missiles and bombs of evil have not destroyed it. In fact, polls tell us that Jesus is more popular today than ever. As He is lifted up folks still flock to Him.

The most controversial aspect of today's story is "The keys to the kingdom," and who controls them. Since Jesus had found so much hypocrisy among the Pharisees one would assume that He did not intend to give the keys to fickle humans. As it has turned out, those who have thought that they alone held the keys have sometimes kept the wrong ones out. It seems to me that what Jesus is pointing out is that the community of faith would have the opportunity to evangelize, and in that way enable individuals to respond to the claims of Christ. Keys to the Kingdom represent our advantageous opening to break into individuals lives with the gospel. We are the keepers of the keys.

The calling of the Church is not self service but service to those outside the doors. We have the opportunity to do this so many ways: TV, advertising, website, but more effectively, our lives bear testimony to what Christ has done for us. The Apostles were initially brought to Jesus by His character; and only later were they affected by what He said. It's the same with us as we take charge of the keys of the Church: What matters is who we are, not so much what we say. But, what we say does eventually matter. It's not how fluently we can articulate Christian doctrine; what has more impact than anything else is our sharing our own story. Peter had a powerful personal story to share.

The thing that believers throughout the centuries have loved about Simon Peter is his vulnerable raw humanity. Bold and impulsive he is not so much honored because of the authoritative robes he is typically pictured in, but for the fact that the Spirit could make so much out of such a plain beginning. He boldly professed his faith but later waffled. Many folks can identify with having done the same thing as young believers. It took a lot of God's Grace to remold him into an instrument that was usable in the Kingdom. In Peter we see hope for ourselves to be one that God can use. We all know that it was not because of Peter's own natural ability that he became a leader. After the day of Pentecost he remained always faithful. Infused with a fresh wind of the Spirit he had a new willingness to boldly go preach the gospel in the Mediterranean world and leave behind clusters of believers wherever he went. The secret of his success was his reliance on who t! he Son of Man was and not on who he was. I am sure that he never forgot that day with Jesus in Caesarea Philippi when he received a new name and became a new man. Today could be our day of new beginning.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

8/25/02, P14A