Wednesday, May 17, 2023

            How would you like to take a “faith test” personally administered by Jesus?  Sounds daunting, right?  Peter took such a test and without any notice or warning.  A little more than mid-way through Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gathered with His disciples in the area known as Caesarea Philippi—an area not too far north of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus popped a question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13b).  We can almost hear the groans and sighs.  Or the question might have been met with silence—similar to a group of high schoolers stumped by a pop quiz in Calculus class.              
             Soon, the disciples began to answer—perhaps trying to fill that awkward silence or dispel the appearance that they really did not know how to answer this most important of questions.  Matthew says, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets’” (Matthew 16:14).  Maybe these disciples were thinking if we just throw up enough possibilities one of them is bound to be right.  Surely, something will stick and the tension will melt.  Their initial reaction was not unlike the way young children eagerly raise their hands and toss out all kinds of answers when a question is asked by a teacher or someone who has the courage to lead a children’s sermon.  Have you ever noticed how you can almost always work the name of Jesus into an acceptable answer for practically any church-based question?  Kids seem to know this distinctively.
            Jesus was not satisfied with any of these answers from the disciples.  So, He pushed His disciples a bit further.  Jesus asked them, “’But what about you?’” he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (Matthew 16:15).  Rather than a collection of reports from the public at large, Jesus wanted to know their response or take on Him.  And at last, we have Peter’s answer.  He had been silent for long enough.  He had heard Jesus teach.  He had seen the miracles.  He had watched the reaction of the crowds around Jesus.  He had felt Jesus’ love and call firsthand.  The Bible says, “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).  What a flash of faith!  Peter nailed the exam!  It was the faith equivalent of a touchdown at the Super Bowl or a big basket at the Final Four.  Peter declared that Jesus was, is and always will be everything we could hope for or need.  He is the Messiah.  Folks today often speak about having the faith of a Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther or John Newton.  But the faith of a fisherman would be just fine.  Peter covered all the bases.
            Jesus affirmed Peter’s answer and told him that he had just passed this crucial test.  The Bible says, “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.  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. 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’” (Matthew 16:17-19).  Peter got an “A” on this test. 
            But there was much more to be seen than just Peter’s moment of excellence.  Jesus said that He would build His Church on the kind of faith that this disciple showed.  The faith of Peter was a no-holds-barred, bedrock, heartfelt surrender to Jesus.  It was the kind of faith that can move mountains, calm storms and even walk on water.  Remember when Peter had that special moment where he did walk on water—and all because he kept his eyes on Jesus.  In his own words, this fisherman confessed his faith in Christ and surrendered to Him.  A surrendered faith is not a watered-down, culturally compliant, see you one-Sunday-a-month kind of faith.  Oh no, a surrendered faith is one that has pulled up every root or stake that has bound us to someone or something else.  We have made our decision for Christ and there is no turning back.  Peter was certainly not perfect.  His three denials the night before the cross remind us of his imperfection and humanity.  Though not perfect, he did grasp the meaning of a faith that saves, a faith that follows and a faith that drops everything for the sake of Christ and Christ alone.
            Peter answered Jesus’ question with the words “You are.”  There was no doubt.  And there was no turning back.  “You are” means out of all those who have lived and will live, You alone, Jesus, and only You, are the Messiah.  Now that is a line in the sand and that is a faith worth living for and dying for.  May we live just as clearly and as decisively today.  We will have our own tests to take and to pass.  Life has a way of calling us back to the first things and the highest things of faith.  In a pinch or a pout, will we find the faith of Peter to say, “You are the Messiah?”  Have a great Wednesday.     
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