Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 24, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Persistent, Confident Prayer in Faith) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus kept on asking, "But what about you? Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven."
Christ has died, He has risen, with faith in Him we have abundant, mercy-filled life now and forever. Amen.
Will the real Jesus stand up? Will the real Christian witness of Jesus please speak up? Who is this Guy? Is He God? Is He the Messiah? Is He the One for all? Is He the One for me? What is the answer? Is He the answer?
If you read the Bible at all, you will realize very quickly that these questions are the defining ones upon which everything else in the Bible rests. In fact, all those questions boil down to this one, "Who is this Jesus?" And this question is the most important one of all because when the Bible's answer to that question becomes yours by faith, life changes for you forever! When Jesus the Christ is the answer to the questions of your life, life and salvation are yours in His Name.
That's right, this question about Jesus is vital because the right answer changes everything. Why, because the answer is not about a human philosophy, it is not about some temporal lifestyle changes that only impact you for a moment; it's not about some secret wisdom that puts you at the head of the line in life, this answer is about a Person, who He is, what He has done for you, and that changes everything.
Now, most of us are uncomfortable saying that a "person is the answer." In life, people usually can't live up to such titles for themselves, let alone for others. And, we don't like saying "that someone is the answer" to our deepest questions and yearnings. For when you say that a person is the answer to the questions that are vital to you, suddenly you are vulnerable. Suddenly you aren't in control of things. Suddenly, your allegiance to them means that your destiny is bound up with their destiny. Your life is in their hands!
So, people can't live up to the title, and we don't like our destiny being bound to another. Case in point: there was an incredible guard in basketball named Allen Iverson. Now, he was incredible because he was very talented on the court (off the court that was another matter entirely). But on the court, though small in stature, 6' tall, 165 pounds, yet he played with a big heart and an unrelenting tenacity to win. He was one of the smallest players to win the scoring title in the NBA and when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him, he was an instant solution to their playoff dreams. In his first seasons as the shooting guard of the 76ers, he was given the nickname, The Answer, because when the team needed a score, needed a play to win the game, Iverson was the answer to their need, the answer to their problem. And, early in his career, he led them to their first NBA finals in almost 20 years.
But that title became a bit of an albatross around his neck too, because he wasn't always the answer that they needed. Off the court, he wasn't the answer, he was the problem. And, in spite of his talent, his life is very much a struggle even today. But when Philadelphia fans nicknamed him "The Answer," their hopes and dreams were bound up in this unique talent for good or for ill because when a person is the answer to your question, your life, your dreams, your hopes are bound up with them too!
And that's what's going on in our text for today. That's what's happening when Jesus calls the question, "Who am I? Who am I for you?" He's not concerned with the myriad of questions; He is concerned about these disciples getting the answer correct! And when Peter says, "Jesus, you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God," Incredibly, Jesus doesn't shrink back, He doesn't chastise Peter for overstating the case, nor does He arrogantly assume the title like so many try to do today. He accepts the title of being the answer, because He is for our life and our salvation.
This is the lesson, this is the verse of the Bible that you need to know and need to deal with if you are to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
For as Jesus kept on asking them, He will continue to ask you and me, "But what about you? Who do you say that I am?"
The answer. We don't like talking about the answer because we'd rather keep on asking Jesus questions. Even if He is the Messiah, the Son of God, we want to know what that means for us on our terms. If He is the Answer, then even our questions have to change. Ravi Zacharias, in "Questions I Would Like to Ask God," writes: I have often referenced the quote by the talk show host Larry King, in his response to a particular question: "If you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?" Mr. King's answer was that he would like to interview Jesus Christ. When the questioner followed with, "And what would you like to ask him?" King replied, "I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin born. The answer to that question would define history for me."
Zacharias also writes that when he requested permission to use King's quote, Larry King sent word along with his permission, saying, "And tell him, tell Zacharias, I was not being facetious." You've got to give King some credit. Many today would try to avoid the Biblical Jesus at all costs. But even in his interest, he keeps Jesus at bay; he's asking the questions he wants answered. He's defining the fulcrum of history on his own terms, his own way. In that regard, King is like so many, even many who believe in Jesus.
We would like to keep Jesus on the most admired list while keeping His actual influence in our lives at bay. We like to keep the questions coming, so that the answer that Jesus is the Answer to all our questions; remains murky, generic, and disconnected from the way that we live now and forever.
The New Testament won't let you get away with that if you are a disciple of Jesus. We all have questions, but even those questions find their ultimate solution in the Person of Jesus Christ as the Answer!
Each synoptic Gospel has this event as the centerpiece for their testimony about Jesus because Jesus asks the one question that matters for our eternal lives. There are all kinds of questions in life that matter, but this answer is the one answer that matters most of all.
But have you ever noticed how much we like to avoid answering His question? Have you ever noticed how smug we can be today when we try to keep Jesus at bay with our questions of Him? People like to think that their questions about God keep Jesus in His place. Evil in the world, "Hey, what's going on God, how do you expect me to believe in You when I have this problem with You"? Unanswered hopes and dreams, "Hey God, what's up with that, aren't you supposed to be in the blessing business; if you want my allegiance, shouldn't I have a few expectations?" Questions and answers like this abound.
We surround ourselves with our questions, our answers to avoid the answer that can change our lives.
English journalist, Steve Turner, in a work entitled, "Creed" sums up our modern security pretty well when he says: We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin. We believe everything is OK as long as you don't hurt anyone, to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that everything's getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there's something in horoscopes, UFOs and bent spoons; Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher although we think His good morals were actually bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same - They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, hell, heaven, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes nothing or if there is a heaven, it's compulsory heaven for all except perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan (and of course we're not like anyone of those).
We believe that man is essentially good. It's only his behavior that lets him down and that's the fault of society, not people. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds, and the flowering of individual thought. Even though the flowering of individual thought in itself is a creed!
Amidst all the sound and fury of what I call the white noise of these many answers people continue to try to keep Jesus, the Answer, at arm's length.
But Jesus will have none of that for the disciples of that day, and He will have none of that for any one of you who is listening today. Why, because He loves you. He above all cares about you, your life now and your life forever.
As our text says, "Jesus kept on asking, 'But what about you? Who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,' and Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you Simon. Blessed are you.'"
Can you hear the plain talk of Jesus today? When Peter gets the answer right, Jesus doesn't mince words. He tells him, this answer is the one that blesses. This answer is the one that connects you to God the Father. This answer matters now and forever.
I know it's a bit frightening. When He is the Answer, then all of our questions and answers are in His hands. When He is the Answer, our lives, our destinies are in His hands too. That frightened Peter too. When Jesus taught that the Messiah must suffer and die for him, he couldn't have that, he actually chastised Jesus. But later, even Peter would learn the joy of being a disciple of the Answer, the One who lived and died and rose again for him and for us. He said in 1 Peter 1, "3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1).
There is no more important question or answer than this; and because of that, today is a day for me to keep things as straightforward and as simple as I can. Because when it comes to the most important thing of life, there should be no misunderstanding or confusion.
Have you ever noticed that kids have a way of keeping the truth simple and straightforward? I am finding lists of "truth telling from the mouth of babes" insightful because the point is often so clear. Listen: * Like Patrick, age 10, saying, "Never trust a dog to watch your food." That's true. * Or, Michael, 14, saying, "When your dad is mad at you and asks you, 'Do I look stupid?' don't answer." There's a lot of wisdom there. * Then there's Randy, 9 years of age, who says, "Stay away from prunes." Hmmm, I wonder how he learned that one. * Or, how about Naomi's horse sense where she says, "If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse." * Or Lauren's fashion sense already at age 9, saying, "Felt markers are not good to use as lipstick." * But Eileen, age 8, says it best, "Never try to baptize a cat." Baptism is for people! Out of the mouth of babes, simple, straightforward, to the point, no misunderstanding. But maybe you think I'm being a bit naïve today. Maybe you think I'm being a little childish to keep it so simple. Don't misunderstand my simplicity as if it were simple-mindedness. The Bible claims that this answer, the answer that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that answer is the key to everything for your life.
He is the Answer to life's meaning, life's purpose, life's direction, life's power, life's joy, life's strength in struggle, life's hope for the future. In Him, there is identity for life, capacity for life, and without Him, you'll never know who you are, you'll never find peace in what you do, and you'll never experience the joy that you were meant to have now and forever.
I know many of you out there think that Jesus was a made-up Guy. Maybe you think of Jesus as an urban Myth or as a cultural Myth, as another Teacher among the many religious teachers before and after.
But it's Jesus who won't let you have this opinion of Him. That's what this text is about. He is the One who He says who He is. He does what He says must be done. He enters this world not to be an answer among many, but to be the Answer sent by the Father into the world so that whoever believes in Him might be saved.
Not only that, Jesus keeps it real for us today when He says to Peter, to you, to me; this answer matters for your life now and forever! Because this answer means that you are blessed and by faith in this answer you have a relationship to God the Father through His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit! This answer will change your life.
I want Jesus, the Answer, to be your answer today so let me also clear the clutter, let me challenge the claims that Jesus is a Myth, or a Creation of a few fisherman, or the projected dreams of humanity hoisted on a simple rabbi of the first century; no, He is the Answer for you and me.
No myth grows from the things that this world thinks are nonsense. No myth grows from a Savior who goes to the cross for victory and calls His followers to take up their crosses for others. No myth comes from something so contrary to what the world has always valued and believed.
Jesus claims to be the Answer, and then He defines further what that answer really means. In fact, as you get to know Him better, you'll understand that He turns everything upside down so that we might have real life and salvation!
Leonard Sweet points out that who Jesus is and what He taught was nuts to the world, then as now, unless, unless He is God in the Flesh, the Answer for salvation. Just listen to what Jesus, the Answer, taught, you ready? In Him, by Him, through Him: * The way to be first is last * The way of success is to serve * The way of attainment is relinquishment * The way of strength is weakness * The way of security is vulnerability * The way of protection is forgiveness (even 70 x 7) * The way of life is death - death to self, society, family * Want to get the most? Go to the place of the least. * Want to be free? Give complete control of your life to the God who loves you. That's it, it's that simple, it's that pointed. Jesus is looking at you and me in the eye, or should I say, in the heart today and He's asking us the question "who do you say that I am?" For when He is the Answer to your life, your life is abundant, it's secure, it's eternal in Him.
Don't let anything in this life prevent you from answering His call. We do live in a world that is endlessly dealing with the trivial and the mundane! Many of us love to surround ourselves with answers that keep Jesus at bay; but our lesson today says, Jesus will keep on asking you until you answer. "Who do you say that I am?" With Peter, I pray that your answer is, "You are the Christ, and You are my Christ, the Son of the Living God for me." I hope that you see your life in Him because He is the Answer for you. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 24, 2014 Topic: Persistent, Confident Prayer in Faith
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, in Matthew, chapter 15, Jesus meets a woman who was very persistent in her prayers to Him, even when Jesus seems to put her off; why was she that way?
SELTZ: Mark, I think our listener is pointing out that Jesus, at first, seemed to ignore her, then He seemed to compare her societal position to a dog at the master's table....tough words indeed.
ANNOUNCER: I guess in that society, to be a Canaanite and a woman meant that she was powerless.
SELTZ: In fact, it often meant that such a person would suffer in silence. In fact, her persistent call to Jesus was a public taboo. When Jesus spoke about dogs and children at the master's table, He was merely pointing out what many around Him were thinking about her station in life at that time.
ANNOUNCER: But she kept at it anyway. Why do you suppose she did that?
SELTZ: Well, first it was her situation, she was desperate. Her daughter needed deliverance from demon possession; and no one else could help. She had a desperate need.
ANNOUNCER: But to keep coming to Jesus, who was, after all, a Jewish teacher, in spite of His initial response, I guess that means she knew that He was uniquely capable of somehow dealing with her needs, don't you think?
SELTZ: Yeah, I think you're correct. In fact, I don't think Jesus' initial responses deterred her at all. She knew He was special. She called Him Lord three times and referred to Him as the Son of David, One who had access to God the Father. But, she also had "faith" in Him as Jesus later points out. Faith that trusted that He could deal with all the things she was up against. Incredible as you think about it; since she had so many things working against her in this world.
ANNOUNCER: She had a need. She had knowledge, and she had faith. What can we all learn from her example?
SELTZ: First of all, we can learn to pray like that no matter the circumstance. We've all got needs, many needs. We have physical needs, health issues, relationship issues. And Jesus wants us to bring those needs to Him in prayer. We also have spiritual needs, like faith issues and guilt issues. In all these things, Jesus desires our confident, persistent prayer, even if the answer doesn't seem as forthcoming as we'd like. She is a great example of trusting in Jesus no matter what!
ANNOUNCER: Would you say she shows us a way to pray?
SELTZ: Not really a specific way, but an attitude about prayer. She prays in faith; in persistent confidence. So, prayer is conversation with God with that attitude. It can be done by just thinking it or saying it out loud. It can be spontaneous or formal. It can be about specifics or general needs. It can be from the heart, or written out in your own words, or a disciplined prayer with prayer books that help organize our thoughts beyond the needs of the moment.
ANNOUNCER: All right, so not so much a form of prayer, but here she shows us something about Jesus as well.
SELTZ: I think that is the greatest blessing from her. She's saying, "I know that you are the Christ, God's Son, my Lord; and because of that I can be confident that You will hear my plight and will answer me." So, we, of course, can be even more confident, because we've seen even more clearly what Jesus has done for us all when He died on the cross and rose again. He's always got our best in mind for all things!
ANNOUNCER: Christ has reconciled the world to God and thereby He gives us access to the Father. That's why we can be confident and even persistent when we pray.
SELTZ: That's why we often end our prayers saying "In Jesus' Name we pray." Prayer itself is putting that blessing to work in our lives. This Canaanite woman shows us how that is done; her concern was to bring her issues to Jesus, no matter what!
ANNOUNCER: And finally, any other lessons?
SELTZ: Well, in another part of Scripture, Jesus heals 10 lepers, and there we learn that faith is not just having a confident attitude with God, it is also being thankful. That wasn't pointed out in this lesson, but I'm very confident that the woman in our story was overjoyed and thankful. That's another way that we can acknowledge that God has our best in mind, always! We say "thank you" no matter what!
ANNOUNCER: Certainly a lot to be learned from this Canaanite woman and her example. And much we can put into practice in our prayers. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. And we thank our listener for that question. We hope you'll join us again next time. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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