Who Do You Say I Am?

questionsWho Do You Say I Am?
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
24th August, 2014

Matthew 16: 13 – 20; Romans 12: 1 – 8

Imagine if Jesus were to come into this church in person this morning. If he were to say:Hey guys I am taking questions.

I wonder what question you might think of to ask him?

For that matter, if he were to come into the church in person, I wonder what question he might ask of you?

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus asked his  disciples a challenging question:

Who do you say I am?

What was Peter’s reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And what was Jesus’ reply?

Your answer is divinely inspired Peter.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, intend to build the new messianic community i.e. My Church.

The words Christ and Messiah both mean “anointed” or “anointed one.”

The term Christ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, and the equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach.

This term is transliterated in the New Testament as messias

and has come down into modern English as “messiah.”

Now most of us would know that there was a longstanding biblical expectation, proclaimed repeatedly by the prophets, that one day God would raise up a messiah, a Christ, from his chosen people, to execute God’s justice and righteousness in the world.

At the outset of his ministry, when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, he deliberately evoked this messianic expectation, by defining his own ministry and mission in terms of:

  • bringing justice to the oppressed
  • and relief to the poor.

Remember the story in Luke 4:16 – 20:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

During his ministry, Jesus enacted this mission statement of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor, wherever he went:

The Gospels tell us that He proclaimed, the kingdom of God was at hand. By this he meant the long awaited reign of divine justice on earth was getting underway here and now. He unpacked this further by explaining that the dawning of the kingdom of God, was good news for the socially disadvantaged in that it brought to them, both the comfort of learning of God’s acceptance of them, and the reassurance that God was at work in Jesus to end their suffering and to restore them to community.

Jesus maintained the position that because ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone, God’s justice must be the measuring rod against which the exercise of all other institutional and human power is to be evaluated.

He summoned his hearers to put the claims of God’s royal justice ahead of all lesser concerns.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”

It is impossible to read the Gospels without sensing Jesus’ profound hostility to materialism. He strongly believed that as an alternative source of security, surplus wealth creates a barrier to radical submission to God’s authority.

We can be in no doubt that Jesus was oriented towards the poor and the marginalised which includes the destitute, the weak, the social outcasts, the demon possessed, children, women, the sick and the disabled.

For three years he went about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, delivering the demonized and welcoming the marginalised until his ministry was cut short by his untimely death on the cross.

And in that time he challenged the dominant religious and political systems that excluded or oppressed them.

In particular, Jesus criticized the wealthy elite for accumulating unneeded surpluses, for ignoring the needs of the poor and for exploiting the weak.

You see contrary to what is often taught about Jesus, he was a messiah in every sense of the word.

He incarnated our world in its entirety and so He was not only a messiah in the sense of being  a spiritual teacher, he was also a messiah who challenged the inequitable social structures of his time and who reached out to people who were marginalised and victimised by the social and political systems of this world.

He was in this sense an agent of radical political and social kingdom change. He challenged the religious authorities, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees as well as the gentile Roman rulers with the demands of God’s righteousness and justice for all people and that was why they hated him.

So what does all this mean for us as the Church,

the messianic community of faith, today?

As the messiah, God’s anointed One, Jesus called together an alternative society which would live out the reality of God’s reign here on earth, continue his work, be his hands and feet in the world. On this rock I will build my church. He says.

When in the beatitudes he blessed the poor, the hungry and the mourning, he was reassuring them that God intended to reverse their situation. God would do this through the influence and work of the Church.

So Jesus assembled a new, inclusive community of followers in which the poor were to be given preference.

Through Jesus, a new messianic community would be created which would work against poverty, hunger and misery.

This community would include you and me.

Furthermore, in this community a whole new attitude towards material possessions would prevail.

It would be a community that was committed to a lifestyle of sharing and sacrifice for the needy.

It would be a community that would be vigilant against the deceitfulness of excessive wealth and corruption.

His discipleship community would  turn prevailing patterns of power and greatness upside down.

In this community there would be servant leadership,

the first shall be last. As we read in Matthew 20:

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant…”

His radical change to society would be built not on a foundation of power, but of sacrificial love.

Jesus refuted violence as a means of bringing about the kingdom of God. Instead he chose the way of non- violent sacrificial love and required the same of his followers.

See Matthew 5: 38-44.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

Jesus chose the option of radical unconditional love for himself and for his messianic community, the church.

Hence the church must embody in its own life the characteristics of justice and generosity made known in the life and activity of Jesus.

In Romans 12 we read today

Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.

Today as we his church, consider our stewardship of the Great Commission, we realise that discipleship is more than worshiping Jesus as the Messiah on a Sunday.

It is living a radically different life from the prevailing world view from Monday to Saturday as well.

Again in Romans 12 we read:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Were Jesus to enter our church this morning in person he might well ask of us:

Who do you say I am?

We would  reply?

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

And then Jesus might well say to us as he did to Peter?

Your answer is divinely inspired.

It is on this insightful answer and on this kind of faith that I, the Christ/the Messiah, am building a messianic community in Devonport i.e. My Church.

But then I think he might well go on to say:

So what are you doing with the resources that I have given you to carry out my messianic ministry of bringing justice to the oppressed and relief to the poor in the world today?

I wonder how we would answer him.

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