The Cost of Confessing Christ

Everything about Jesus inspired curiosity. Everyone had questions:

“Where did he come from?”

“How can he teach like that?”

“How can he heal like that?”

“How can he talk to the Pharisees like that.”

The question that everyone wanted an answer for was, “Who is this guy?”

Jesus puts the question to his disciples in Matthew 16:13:

[13] Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

The disciples have answers, lots of them. People had no clue what to make of Jesus so they started comparing him to prophets, miracle workers, even his cousin, John the Baptist.

This question resonated with people and everyone had an opinion. But Jesus wasn’t stopping there. Asking “who do other people say that I am?” wasn’t his goal – he was setting up his next question:

[15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

This is a more pressing question. Jesus moves from general information to personal application. The difference between “Who do they say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” is the difference between information and salvation. And Jesus knows it.

The trouble is that people want to answer the question of “Who do you say that I am?” however they want. Consider the following examples from Adam Ford:

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The trouble is that none of those caricatures of Jesus work. There’s always an embarrassing passage to contradict an individual version of Jesus. Cool Dad Jesus really struggles with Christ Jesus saying to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. John Lennon Jesus is offended by Jesus saying that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. Richard Simmons Jesus would pass out at what Christ Jesus says about the cost of discipleship.

All of these answers, all of the answers the people of Jesus’ day fell short. But Simon Peter gets it right:

[16] Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus isn’t who we want him to be: Jesus is who he is. We don’t get to pick and choose which version of Jesus we like best, expecting him to conform to our wishes. He picks and chooses us and then has the audacity to expect that we would conform to his wishes. That’s what all his talk about the kingdom of heaven is meant to help us understand. That’s why we have an Old Testament and a New Testament: because we need to be brought to the point that we see this life isn’t about us – it’s about Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God. Nothing else matters outside of that. Nations rise, nations fall, people are born, people die, but that – that confession, that Jesus is the Christ, is a rock we can cling to!

And we don’t get that answer on our own – God has to reveal it to us:

[17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Christianity is not based on human logic. Note that I don’t mean it doesn’t make logical sense: it does. God is not a God of chaos but of order and we see that order in everything true. What I mean is that Christianity does not arise merely from human logic. In other words, if you sat down to create a logical religion, using human intellect, Christianity is not what would come out. People accuse Christians of making it up, of using religious logic to control people. They say that Jesus’ disciples invented this religion after Jesus was crucified in order to gain power over people.

Not so! But assume for just a second that it is true…

…If the disciples had made it up to gain power, let’s just conclude that they weren’t very good at it. What kind of power comes from asserting that when someone strikes you on one cheek, you turn to them the other as well? What kind of power comes from saying that the greatest among you must be the servant of all? This isn’t a religion of power, it’s a religion of weakness! And if that makes you cringe or repulses you, good! Because our human nature loves power and runs from weakness. The only way any of us would know the truth of the gospel, of Christianity, a religion of weakness, is if it was revealed to us not from our flesh and blood, but from God.

Some people take this reality of divine inspiration as a carte blanche that whatever they “feel” spiritually must be correct. Not so! The work of God’s Holy Spirit is not generic revelation but specific: he reveals the truth of salvation through the truth of the Father’s revealed Word and Son, Jesus Christ.

Several things happen when we recognize and make this confession that Jesus is the Christ:

1. Identity redefined and defined.

[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock

This passage has been interpreted and misinterpreted throughout church history. Catholics claim that Jesus was saying that Peter was the rock and would be the first pope and that the succession of popes is the mark of the true church. Others say that Peter wasn’t the first pope, but that this instituted the bishopric and that without the bishopric, you don’t have a true church.

But there is a crucial distinction in the original Greek that is not so apparent in translation. Many know that Peter means rock and conclude that since Jesus says “on this rock” he is refering to the same person. But there are two different, though related words used here. Jesus says “And I tell you, you are Petros, and on this petra.” Petros was used to denote a chunk of rock hewn from a larger mass and petra was used to describe a mass of “living” rock, i.e. a mass of rock rising from inside the earth. In other words:

Petros: “You are Peter,” you are a piece of the living rock”

Petra: “on this rock,” on the confession of Christ that makes the scattered peoples of the earth into a mass of living rock, the confession that changes individuals from self-centered, self-seeking, self-deceived egos to God-loving, others-loving, disciple-making world-changers, no longer separate, but united.

The confession of Christ simultaneously redefines individual identity and defines the church.

And just like the confession is revealed not by flesh and blood, so this mass of living rock, the church, is being build not by flesh and blood, but by Christ…

2. It’s Jesus’ work, not ours.

I will build my church,

It’s Jesus’ church. It’s not my church, it’s not your church, it’s Jesus’ church. That means that our congregations aren’t something that we get to control, they’re something that Jesus is sovereignly in control of.

I recently presented a vision plan to the church that I pastor and it was affirmed by a nearly unanimous vote. But that “nearly” gave me pause. I shared with those gathered that, while I understood that the proposal passed by our constitutional rules, I recommended that while the Vision had been affirmed, we would wait to implement it until we had given more time to share and discuss it as a church. Many were shocked and saddened that we weren’t going to implement it straight away.

But I saw the hand of God in this vote because I had failed to communicate the vision adequately. I made the mistake of assuming that just because I had talked about it a lot that others would have heard it a lot. But the more I think about it, I realize that most of my conversations were with small groups within the church, not with the entire congregation. I didn’t give enough time for people to ask questions or seek clarity on it.

So taking some time before implementing the vision gives me and gives the church time to remember this: it’s Jesus’ church. He doesn’t need a cool logo, catchy name, or a vision plan. Those things are great as tools, but rotten as essentials. If the goal is simply to pass a vision, I shared with the church, we aren’t on the right track. Instead, the vision has to be subservient to the goal: Jesus using us to glorify God by expanding his kingdom through our loving efforts. I do think the vision is helpful and right, but I’d rather scrap it than move forward without the guidance of Christ.

A vision is simply a tool, a way to help a church get to the point where it is not run by a pastor, or by special interest groups, or by power players, or by anything or anyone other than Christ. How does Christ build his church? He does so through his teachings, by his example, by his death and resurrection. He tells us to Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples. It’s that simple.

Jesus will build his church. It has a common confession, he promises to build it, and he assures its success.

3. Assurance of mission success

Let’s be honest, I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect. That means that our churches will never be perfect. The only way it would be is if none of us were a part of them, which kind of defeats the purpose, right? But the amazing thing is that when Jesus builds the church, (not the building, not the programs, but the people) even when we’re imperfect, we are assured that we will succeed in our mission. What is the mission? Make disciples everywhere we go in defiance of Hell.

and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The strange thing about this statement is that Jesus uses active language to speak about a passive defense. If you talk about something prevailing, it is usually an active thing: i.e. one army prevailed against another. But here the term “gates” is by nature a passive defense, not an active offense. So for this passive object to prevail, all that would be required is that the active object, the church on mission, cease to attack. Jesus says that won’t happen. Yet we see it happening everywhere in our own country. We see churches get so wrapped up in pettiness, so concerned with making sure that certain individuals are mollified, so concerned with making sure that no one disturbs the status quo, so concerned with comfort and ease and making sure that church “feels right” that they will ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and let the gates of Hell stand unassailed.

A church that fails to engage in the mission of Christ doesn’t make Christ a liar, but it does make itself not a church. In other words, failure to engage in the mission we’ve been given doesn’t mean that Jesus was wrong: it means that we are.

After all, he gives us the mission and then gives us the authority to carry it out:

4. Authority to engage on behalf of Christ

[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

People get hung up on this statement, but I think there is a simple way to understand it: Jesus gave us commands, he gave us a mission, he assures us that it will succeed, and he gives us the authority we need as a church to make sure that it gets done. If there is something in the church that is bound that would help the church, Jesus says we have the authority, his authority, to loose that, to set it free to do the work that he has given. And if there is something that would hinder us from fulfilling the mission, Jesus says that we have the authority to bind it, to keep it from getting in the way of the mission.

It’s a simple statement of mission authority: Do whatever it takes, within the mission parameters, to complete the mission.

Think of what Jesus has entrusted his church with: finishing the work that he started. Fulfilling the Great Commission. And he’s not holding us back: he’s saying, “You have all the authority that you need to make this happen.”

Which makes this next verse potentially confusing:

[20] Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Why? He just praised Simon Peter for the right confession, he just told them they couldn’t fail in assailing the gates of hell, and then he says, “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone.”

Why? Because the Jews were expecting a christ. First century Palestine was rife with supposed messiahs, men who would make extraordinary claims about themselves, gather a group of followers with promises of restoring the glory of Israel, crushing the Roman occupiers, blah, blah, blah. And followers would come, deceived by the promise of worldly power and glory alongside this latest messiah. And then the leader would say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or make an attack on a Roman outpost, and the next thing you knew, he and all his followers were beaten and hung on crosses.

Jesus tells his disciples not to say anything about his being the Christ, because Jesus wasn’t a charlatan like those others. He didn’t want to attract people with vision of grandeur, he wanted them to see the whole picture. And they couldn’t get the whole picture yet. Because as important as Jesus’ teachings and healings were, Jesus’ mission as Christ wouldn’t be complete until after his crucifixion and resurrection.

So he tells the disciples why they can’t share the good news about him being the Messiah yet.

[21] From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

This doesn’t sound good to the disciples. Peter especially doesn’t think so.

[22] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter, who just made the confession of Jesus as Christ, who just had Jesus exclaiming with excitement, who has been given this new identity and this new assurance, that same Peter, says, “Um, Lord, you need to cool it with the whole dying thing. We ignored it the first couple times you mentioned it, but it’s getting embarrassing. Stop it.”

And Jesus calls him Satan.

And we want to as well: “How dare you, Peter?”

But before we come down to hard on poor Peter, let’s think about why he said it. For one thing, it didn’t fit his expectation of what the Messiah would do and who he would be. Peter was a Jew. He expected the conquering hero just like everyone else in his country. And Peter wanted to be a part of it. That’s the second, and related, concern. Peter wanted to be the faithful disciple who serves in the revolution and is richly rewarded in the kingdom that comes. He wanted the position, the power, the comfort, the ease that comes with being on the winning side.

But he didn’t understand that those things don’t come immediately. They come, the kingdom comes, but not on our timetable.

Peter didn’t understand that the rewards of Jesus’ Kingdom are only available to those who have paid the price of discipleship.

If we’re honest, we don’t want Jesus to suffer and die either. Because we know that if Jesus suffers, we will suffer. We are like those Jews running after false messiahs. We want the blessings of the Kingdom without the pain of crucifixion. We don’t want a crucified messiah because we don’t want to be crucified disciples.

But the joy of resurection is only available to those who have been crucified.

[24] Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [25] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [26] For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? [27] For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

We don’t want to go through the painful process. We don’t want our service in God’s mission to involve change or pain or discomfort. False messiahs promise the kingdom but end up leading their followers to the cross.

Jesus promises the cross and ends up giving us the kingdom.

Persecution, sacrifice, even death are going to come. Following Christ costs you everything or you’re not following him. But the flip side of the coin is the blessed truth that in giving up everything for Christ, you are really gaining everything.

If your confession of Christ hasn’t cost you anything, you haven’t confessed Christ. And if you haven’t confessed Christ, you won’t see the kingdom. But if you have, even though that confession costs you everything, the kingdom is yours and you will see it.

Oh for the day when that’s all we see!

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