First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (3rd Sunday in Lent, March 7, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Last week we saw Jesus calling His first four disciples, namely, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said. Christ’s invitation to His early disciples is a reminder of our own invitations to come and follow him. As Jesus of Nazareth invited twelve disciples to join His movement over two thousand years ago, He continues to invite us today to a life of discipleship.
Last week I pointed out that this is actually a message of hope. Jesus calls all of us to be His disciples. Despite our past failures, He calls for us to “come” and He invites us to “follow” Him. His call to discipleship is a grace–filled invitation to become participants in the continued life and ministry of Jesus. The call to discipleship is not reserved for the best among us, a certain type, or a select few. Jesus invites everyone, including ordinary men and women like you and me, to come, to follow, and participate in His extraordinary life and ministry.
I also pointed out last week that the call to discipleship is a call to community. It’s true that when we answer the call, we answer it individually, but at the same time, we are invited to join a community, the church. We travel this journey of discipleship together. Jesus did not call people to follow Him and then train them in isolation from others. Rather, He calls us as individuals to train us in community. Yes, the community gets messy at times, but we are to reprove, rebuke, encourage, and exhort each other with complete patience.
Accepting the invitation to follow Christ is not the end. It’s the first step in a lifelong journey. When we look at the life of Peter and his formation as a disciple, we get to know that “Confession” is another component, another step, in the life of discipleship. Confession is the ability to stand your ground and confess the identity of Christ as Lord over your life and over the whole universe.
Our study this morning takes us to Caesarea Philippi so what I would like to do this morning is to say a couple words about Caesarea Philippi, then we will look together at Peter’s confession and what it means to us today.
Caesarea Philippi was built up around the Banias Spring, one of the primary tributaries forming the Jordan River and therefore, the Sea of Galilee. The city was built by Herod Philip, one of Herod the Great’s sons and it’s located approximately 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee at the base of Mount Hermon.
In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then in Matthew 16:15 Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
“Who do you say that I am?” In the Greek text, that pronoun “YOU” has an enormous stress. In fact, the pronoun you comes at the beginning of the sentence. This is how the original Greek emphasizes an important idea. It is as if Jesus was saying, “But you who have followed me and have known me from the beginning, who do you say that I am?” In Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Confession of faith is important. It was important back then and it’s important today. We confess what we believe every week using the words of many creeds. In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was asking His disciples are you willing to stand your ground when it gets dangerous? Are you willing to confess your faith when a high price is expected? Are you ready for the cost of discipleship?
The gospel of Matthew doesn’t give us a specific reason for choosing Caesarea Philippi to be the location for teaching the disciples on the identity of Christ. Yet, I truly believe that Jesus intentionally took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi for this particular lesson. It was the perfect place for this lesson.
Jesus Not Caesar is Lord
We have to know that two gigantic temples stood in Caesarea Philippi: one to honor and worship Caesar, the great leader of the Roman Empire; the other to honor and worship Pan, the god of shepherds and flocks. For this reason, Caesarea Philippi was considered the “Sin City” of its day, and most Jews would have completely avoided going there. This is not the place you might expect Jesus Christ, the Jewish Rabbi, who was said to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to take His disciples to there and ask them to confess whom He really is. We might think that the Jerusalem Temple or at least one of the synagogues would have been a better place.
Yet, Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi to reveal His identity to them. In Caesarea Philippi, everyone was required to confess the lordship of Caesar. Caesar was called “Savior,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.” People in Caesarea Philippi were required to bow down to Caesar and other false gods. It was here, in this city devoted to the worship of idols and false gods that Jesus demanded His disciples’ confession of faith. In Caesarea Philippi Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God; not Caesar nor Pan, but Jesus of Nazareth.
Who do you say that I am? It is easy to confess Jesus Lord and Savior in Jerusalem. The real challenge is to do so in Caesarea Philippi. But we also need to remember that a confession of faith is just an idea. And any idea by itself is just a weak and limp and lifeless thing. Take the principle of electricity. By itself it’s just a principle. But take a man like Thomas Edison, let him meet that principle, and the lights go on around the world. Our actions should reflect our confession, otherwise, it will be meaningless. We confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Do our actions reflect that? May God help us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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