13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.Matthew 16:13-20
“Open Sesame!” Ali Baba said to the entrance of a secret magical cave. And, as soon as he said the magical words, the cave opened to reveal treasure. The story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves comes from One Thousand and One Nights by the French writer, Antoine Galland, from the eighteenth century. Galland heard the story from Hanna Diyab from Syria. The basic premise of the folk tale was that a poor man named Ali Baba overheard a group of forty thieves talking about a secret cave that hid their treasure and it could only be opened with the magic words, “Open Sesame!” The folk tale sparks the imagination and has had many adaptations over the years, even Disney had a version of the tale. It sounds thrilling to discover a hidden cave filled with treasures, but in reality, there are no magic words to open up hidden passageways to treasure.
In the real world, words only get a response when they call out to something real. A phrase like “Open Sesame,” does not work in the real world to replace a garage door opener or hide-a-key. Instead, words like “I love you” have power. For example, a mother can tell her son that she loves him after being bullied at school, and her son will feel better. The words have power because the real love of a mother backed up the words spoken to her son. In our relationships with others, our words must be backed up by something real, or they are useless. And, the same is true for our relationship with God. In Romans 11, Paul wrote out praises to God, 33 “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” These words praise God for his greatness, but they would be useless if God was not wise beyond comparison or the Creator of all that exists.
In order for you to praise God, you must be able to answer the question, “Why does God deserve praise?” And, one of the best ways to answer that question is to explain who Jesus is and why he came to this world. Jesus himself asked this question in our reading from Matthew 16 saying to his disciples, 13 … “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And, the people were not sure what to say as revealed by the disciples’ response; 14 … “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” These popular ideas of the day about who Jesus was were not true. If someone praised Jesus for being John the Baptist or another one of the prophets come back from the dead, their praises would be useless because that was not who Jesus was.
After hearing the disciples’ response to his first question, he made the question much more specific, 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” It was important that the disciples understood who Jesus was, so he asked them. And, the same question is important for you to be able to answer. Answering correctly is not so easy though because you are surrounded by wrong answers. Like the disciples, you live in a world confused about who Jesus is and why he walked the earth. Some feel Jesus was just a man, some feel he was a man who became a God, some feel he was God dwelling within a man, or God simply appearing as a man or that he was part God and part man, while others consider him fully God and fully man. Those views are not the same. And, mistakes about who Jesus is as a being, inevitably lead to mistakes about his purpose in this world. Some would say that Jesus’ mission was to show us how to live and love, others to show us how to face adversity with courage and grace, while others something much greater.
False ideas about who Jesus is leave people believing in something that does not exist. If someone believes Jesus was just a man, then when he died on the cross, he remained buried because people do not come back from the dead. If Jesus is just another example of good morality to follow, then he is no different than a popular self-improvement book, tv personality or podcast today. If Jesus was just God appearing as a visible ghost or spirit appearing to be a man while having no real physical body, then he did not live a perfect life to trade for your sinful life on the cross freeing you from hell and opening the doors of heaven. If Jesus did not suffer for sin, then sin and how you live your life is not really all that important to God so you can do whatever you want and when you die you will just go to a better place. False ideas about Jesus mean believing in someone that does not exist, believing in a world that does not exist and believing in a life after death that does not exist. Believing in a false Jesus leads to death and hell without hope. Jesus is not someone we invent; he is who God revealed to us.
Jesus asked the disciples to say who he was so that he could encourage them in the correct answer and teach them in areas they did not fully understand. After asking them who he was, 16 “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’” The answer to who Jesus is does not come from what we think, it is revealed to us by God. God alone tells us who he is, who Jesus is and gives us the correct reasons to praise him. Peter’s answer to Jesus revealed God is alive. God is not an idea, a feeling or movement. He is a living being, and Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is fully God and he is fully man. His purpose was to be the Hebrew word Messiah and Greek word Christ, meaning the anointed to set apart one. Jesus was set apart for a unique purpose to save us. The name Jesus means “he saves.” Jesus is not a magic word in a folk tale. Jesus is the real Savior you need.
God revealed his power to save throughout history. Dealing with the people of Israel, God showed that his name was the source of real power by keeping his promises. The people of Israel, the Jewish people of today, began with one man named Abraham. In Exodus 6, 2 “God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners.’” Hundreds of years before God appeared to Moses, he had appeared to Abraham, but he did not just give him a name to praise. God also make a covenant, which is a promise or agreement, that Abraham would become a great nation. God made good on that promise allowing Abraham and his wife Sarah who had no children and were decades past the age of having children, to have a son, Isaac. And, Isaac had a son, Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. And Jacob or Israel had twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel, a nation of millions of people. This nation was enslaved in Egypt at the time when God appeared to Moses, and God again made a great promise. God told Moses he would free Israel from slavery and give them the land of Canaan, not to live in as foreigners, but to have as their own homeland. At the end of his promise to Moses in Exodus 6, God said, 8 … “I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” God’s promise to Moses was guaranteed because he, the Lord, had made the promise.
Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God made you a promise. Jesus promised to save you. As the Son of the living God, Jesus came to give you life when you were lost to death and hell because of your sins. Jesus’ work to keep his promise to save you is recorded in Bible passages like 1 John 2, 2 “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus is the sacrifice that put you at one with God, that took your place for the penalty of sin, which is death. And, after taking your sin away, he replaced your record of sin with righteousness, with goodness and perfection as recorded in Romans 5, 17 “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” These promises are proved right by Jesus’ power displayed most clearly in his resurrection. He proved his power over death and power to give life through his resurrection as testified to in 1 Corinthians 15, 6 “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Jesus’ resurrection was real and visible. He appeared to hundreds of people. And before he went back to heaven, he said in John 14, 3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus stacked up promises to you and he kept them because he is the living God.
Jesus’ promise of to save comes down to his promise to forgive. This promise to forgive us is the message we live in each day. This promise of forgiveness unlocks treasures for us and others. After Peter gave the clear and true answer for who Jesus is, the truth that the church is built upon, that unites all believers, Jesus said, 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The key Jesus spoke of is forgiveness, it is also called the gospel, the message that Jesus saved us from our sins. When this message is shared with hurting souls weighed down by sin, it is the gift of eternal life. At the same time, when this message is shared and rejected by those who love their sins, we must share the terrible news that rejecting Jesus and his forgiveness means death and hell. We use these keys, this message, throughout each day of our lives to build up the church and point people to Jesus. We rejoice with those who hear the good news of forgiveness and believe. We pray and continue to share Jesus with those who reject, hoping that someday God would give them faith in Jesus.
“Open Sesame!” will not get you any real treasure in this life. And, the name, “Jesus” is not a magical key to get into heaven, as if you just say the magic word and the door to heaven is open. Heaven is open and your sins are forgiven because the one true living God gave his one and only Son to die for you. There is only one Jesus and the promise he made that saves. There is only one Jesus who deserves praise, the Jesus who is the Son of God and Son of Man, who lived, died and rose to save you from your sins, gave you a perfect record before God and opened the doors of heaven. This Jesus and his promise of forgiveness is the one Jesus, the one message, to hold onto everyday of your life. When your sins weigh heavily on your heart and others try to share false hope, turn to the Word of God alone for the answers to what God has done for you. Then, give praise to Jesus with all the details of what he has done for you as if counting out the golden coins of a rich treasure. Give thanks to God because there is only one Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God! Amen.