8/21/05, P 14 A, Campmeeting Worship during August

“What’s He to you?”
"But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered,
'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
(Matt. 16: 15-16, NRSV)

his event marked the turning point for the Big Fisherman. Jesus even changed this man's 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).

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 confrontational to 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 has somehow put us right with God and has given us a fresh start. He has captured our hearts and allowed us to experience the joy of true forgiveness.

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 has to forgive us." This is good news for us. No matter how vile our sins are God can wash 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. Christians typically call this experience, New Life in Christ, or a new lease on life that involves eradicating guilt for our rebellious past. New believers are still responsible for the consequences of our past; such as, damage done to relationships, but God's Spirit is faithful to lead us into new opportunities as we walk with Him. He puts a little of His love into us and we are able to form new friendships and break old habits. ( Further Along the Road Less Traveled)

Simon's bold confession of faith is why Simon got a new name to go along with his new life. There are still places in the Christian world where new believers change their name following their conversion experience. Peter's new name means "rock.” On this solid rock expression Jesus' Church has been built. A common experience of the many leaders of the Christian Church throughout the centuries has been this same experience of forgiveness. Most of us talk about Jesus as if He is someone that we know, a friend. Indeed, an unusual aspect of our religion is that we treat Jesus, not as a historical figure, but as someone that we still know and are friends with. Don't we go around during the day talking to Jesus as if He is living in our hearts?

Another sometimes misunderstood part of today's story is the expression, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom." Jesus is pointing out that the community of faith would have the calling to evangelize, and through that process extend to persons the opportunity to respond to the invitation to accept Jesus' Kingdom. Thus, the image of Keys to the Kingdom represents our fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples. We are the keepers of the keys as we bring in new believers and church members. This is why we say that evangelism is the “main thing” that we are called to do as the Church. There are other activities that are also important such as: biblical and spiritual education, personal growth, worship, fellowship, missions, child nurture, and much more. Church growth is the master key to the Kingdom.

We win new converts many ways: advertising, web sites, radio, television, but more effectively, our own 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. It's not how fluently we can articulate Christian doctrine; what has more impact than anything else is our sharing our own story. The Apostle Peter had a powerful personal story to tell. As a local church invites new people to visit and as we make room for them we are unlocking the doors of the Kingdom.

The thing that believers throughout the centuries have loved about Simon Peter is that he was the first to assume leadership in using the Keys to the Kingdom in bringing in new converts. Bold and impulsive he has been honored for the example that the Spirit could make a great leader out of an ordinary man with such an ordinary background. 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. The key that unlocked his power was the sense of Jesus' continuing to empower his life and ministry. After the day of Pentecost he remained faithful. Infused with a fresh wind of the Spirit he had a new willingness to boldly preach the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world and to leave behind clusters of believers wherever he went. The secret of his success was Christ in and through him. 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. Likewise the question comes to us as to what we will do with Jesus? C. S. Lewis shared his own experience in 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."

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
8/21/05, P 14 A, Campmeeting Worship during August