Who do you say that I am? Matthew 16:13-20 by Revd Alex Pease

Who do you say that I am?

‘Oh I think there is a god but I don’t care much for this Jesus business’


‘if Jesus ever existed then he was a good religious teacher even a prophet

but not God…’


‘all religions are basically the same there is nothing unique about Christianity’

I get this a lot….

It is really the most important question of life.  It was in the first century and it is still today: from the passage we have just read, Jesus asks us now, as he asked the disciples then: ’Who do you say that I am?’

Its significant where Jesus decided to lead his disciples to have this conversation.  They were at Caesarea Philippi named by the ruler of Galilee the Tetrach Herod Philip both after Caesar and after himself…Its previous name was Paneas, as it was regarded, by pagans, sitting as it did at the foot of a cliff face, with Mount Hermon towering above, as the birth place of the god Pan, the most famous fertility god of antiquity.

It was also in Mount Hermon that the Jordan river had its source, which rushes by the ruins of this Roman town to this day.

It was in this place, surrounded by the temples of classical pagan religion, in this place of competing images of god that Jesus took his disciples alone to ask them this question of all questions, to see if any of disciples really understood him.

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus asks them who do people say that the Son of Man is or in the King James Version: ‘Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?’

The disciples tell him that some people thought that he was John the Baptist,

killed by Herod at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, someone that they knew,

who had some characteristics they recognised in Jesus, perhaps the fearlessness of authority, the call to repentance.  Perhaps they thought,

superstitiously, that John the Baptist had been reincarnated…..

Others thought that he might be one of the prophets from long ago, Elijah or Jeremiah who had returned.

In some respects, it is easier to get your head round the idea of the return

of a prophet, the prophet they knew, John the Baptist, or who they had read about, Elijah or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. These were after all men, great men, but just men….

They were less likely to conclude that the promised messiah had arrived, the promised anointed one..because they thought that the messiah would be a military leader and Jesus wasn’t that…

And then of course the messiah when he came would be God’s son…the son of the creator of the universe, born as a child and living amongst them, standing there, in front of them, eating with them, drinking with them, teaching them.  Surely Jesus couldn’t possibly be that…?

But what do we believe?

Who do you say that Jesus is?

You see so many people today, viewing Jesus amazing teaching and his huge impact on world history, despite being a penniless carpenter from an out of the way province of the Roman Empire. They say ‘what a good man!’ ‘what a wonderful teacher!’

The difficulty is…that he said that he was God.

This is clear from his trial before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate.

Quite apart from his numerous references to being ‘the Son of Man’, which is a link back to passages in Isaiah which describe the coming Messiah.

So how do we deal with this extraordinary claim?

It is said that, on one occasion, Margaret Thatcher visited a mental health hospital.  She introduced herself to the inmates; She said ‘I’m Margaret Thatcher’. 

One of the inmates replied ‘Don’t worry, they will sort you out in here, I thought I was Napoleon when I first came here’.

Was Jesus insane in this sort of way? So that, although he thought he was the Son of God, he was actually delusional?

Or perhaps he was just plain evil, He knew that he was not God, but was deliberately misleading people?

But, if so, how could he be responsible for the Sermon on the Mount, often regarded as the greatest moral teaching the world has ever heard…which the book ‘Dominion’ by Tom Holland reveals was totally at odds with the teaching  of classical antiquity.

How could he have taught this and at the same time be delusional or evil

But even if you think that it is absolutely impossible to see him as merely ‘good ethical teacher’, as CS Lewis points out in his incredible book ‘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 the 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 at 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to’

This is called the ‘Tri-lemma’ pointing out the three logical possibilities: is Jesus: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Its not just a question of what we think about him.  It matters what we say

about him.  

Who do you say that Jesus is?

I am so struck by the testimonies in the interviews that we hear at Valley Worship our third Sunday a month informal service.  The questions that I ask are always the same: Tell us about your family, home and career and faith journey; but always conclude with: ‘what does Jesus mean to you now?’

In other words ‘who do you say that Jesus is?’

It was so wonderful to hear what Penelope Robertson said last Sunday

but how she had had to think a lot about this question in advance of the interview.

For Simon, the fisherman, it was a key moment: ‘You are the Messiah 

the Son of the Living God’.  And Jesus exults in what Simon has said

(verse 17) : ‘Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in Heaven’

Only God can reveal God.  It is a huge privilege to have God, through the Holy Spirit, reveal to us that Jesus Christ is Lord….

This is a conversion moment for Peter.  The penny has dropped.  He has seen God and he has recognised him, but also the Father has enabled him to do so.

But what is the effect on Simon? What is the effect on us when we recognise

and speak out that Jesus is Lord?

We can see from the next few verses.

Simon has said out loud who Jesus is, He is Son of the Living God and now Jesus declares who Simon is:

‘I tell you that you are Cephas [meaning ‘rock’ or in Greek Petros in English ‘Peter’] and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’.

So Simon Peter recognises Jesus as Lord and Jesus recognises and reasserts the name that Jesus has given him.  He is no longer Simon

but Peter which means rock.  Peter is the foundation stone of his church.  Jesus tells him his purpose for the whole of eternity.  Hades or Hell will not overcome what Peter is building.

We have some tough times ahead, with Covid 19, with the Brexit trade negotiations with all the many other crises that the world faces.  We may well find that what we have built over a lifetime, is crumbling before our eyes….

as our businesses stagger, as our friends and relations get sick, as relationships are put under strain, as even who we are or what the purpose of our lives, seems shaken, we may find our future seems to be in free-fall, like some terrible dream where we are falling, falling, falling….

But as we acknowledge Jesus as Lord,

As we acknowledge, like Simon, that he is the Son of God,

He acknowledges, who we are: that we are foundation stones of his church, 

living stones making up his church; that whatever the Devil may throw at us, that we have a purpose which is of cosmic significance and the gates of Hell….whatever is unleashed by this coronavirus….whatever is unleashed

in this new world of terrifying possibilities, we have a name, a purpose and a significance, because we have been given it by the creator of the universe and hell will never prevail over us….



Bring before God everything that the Devil is throwing at us at the moment: 

Anxiety about our work, about our families, about the future.

Lets bring these before Jesus in a moment of silence

Lets speak out in our hearts:

in all these things Jesus is Lord!

in all these things Jesus is Lord!

and lets take that promise from Jesus that the Gates of Hell will not  prevail  over us 


Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

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, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 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. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 16:13–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


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