TEXT: Matthew 16:13-18
In our summer series we are looking at “Building Blocks of Worship” and the various components of our worship services. Why do we pray? Why do we sing? Why do we pass the peace? Why do we have an offering and celebrate communion? What exactly IS worship? In this series we are looking at the biblical basis for how we worship as well as how each element of worship helps us grow in our worship and service to the Lord.
Today we are looking at the particular element of professing what we believe. We most often do this with the Apostles’ Creed, but we’ve used others as well, like the Westminster Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, and others. We could do this with our own words or by reading or quoting scripture, and sometimes we do. But the great benefit of Creeds like the Apostles’ Creed is that it is grounded completely in scripture, it organizes and summarizes many key themes of scripture, and it binds us together with Christians of many denominations, times, places, and cultures. Hopefully you get a sense of how it is rooted in scripture by the responsive readings we are using today. There is an even fuller list of references for each phrase of the Creed on the back page of the bulletin and Jim Hinton’s Sunday school class dug into some of that. And even that very long list of biblical references is just scratching the surface. I included it in case you wanted to dig into the phrases of the Creed on your own.
Today, however, I am not going to preach through the Apostles’ Creed. There is just not enough time for that. Instead, I’d like to focus on the importance of belief in scripture, using as our primary text the interchange between Jesus, the Apostles, and Peter in Matthew 16.
Confessing Belief (Matthew 16:13-18)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but 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 Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:13-18)
Let’s start there in Matthew 16. It began with Jesus asking the indirect question, “Who do others say I am?” (v.13) And they gave a range of responses which are not so different than what you might hear today: a teacher, a holy man, a Rabbi or prophet. (v.14) Many people have some level of regard for Jesus even today, even if they don’t consider themselves Christian. But it was Peter’s answer that is so distinct. Jesus asked him directly, “Who do you say I am?” (v.15) And for all the times that overeager Peter got things wrong or missed the mark, he got this one just right: “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” (v.16)
What does that mean? That Jesus is the Christ means he is the Messiah or anointed one that God promised to King David and through the prophets, the one who would sit on God’s eternal throne and usher in the Kingdom of God. The “Son of the living God” is both kingly and divine language, recognizing further the promise to send the Messiah through the descendants of David, who was also called a ‘son’ of God. Jesus is more than Rabbi, prophet, teacher, or a “good man.” He is the promised and anointed One God sent into the world and seats on the throne of Heaven.
Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he is blessed and that “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (v.17) Scripture teaches us that faith itself is a gift from God, and one God delights to give.
When I think about faith or belief, I think of at least several components. There is what we believe in our heart of hearts. Jesus taught that “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) and are demonstrated in our lives (v.19). We began in Matthew 16 with Peter’s words, his profession of faith about Jesus and to Jesus, but it came from what God had been doing in his life for some time before that. Romans 10 describes this in some more detail.
Heart Belief (Romans 10:8-11)
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 10:8–11)
Romans 10:8 quotes Deuteronomy 30:14 in the Torah/Law to say “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Paul, the writer of Romans goes on to identify that Word as “the word of faith which we are preaching.” (Ro 10:8) And then listen to what Paul writes about faith and belief:
9 … if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 10:8–11)
Did you hear that language of confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart? What’s the confession here? It’s that Jesus is Lord! And what is the belief of the heart? It is that God raised Jesus from the dead… that’s shorthand for Jesus is who he said he is… the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Savior. Our heart-faith and willing declaration of Jesus as Lord and Savior results in our salvation and righteousness. It is a gift of God that is born in our heart and is shared out through our profession and witness to that faith.
Remember the last few weeks talking about Pentecost? Jesus said we would be his witnesses… the ones who tell out the story of God’s faithfulness in our lives!
And finally, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This is a quote of Isaiah 28:16 which we used as our Call to Worship today. The Hebrew of Isaiah helps us understand the word ‘disappointed’. It’s not that you will never be disappointed in this world, but that our hope in Jesus Christ, the cornerstone God has established as our foundation and salvation, it is fixed and cannot be disturbed or removed. No one is going to undo the work of Jesus or his foundational place in God’s salvation of the world.
And that’s a good place to return to Jesus’ conversation with Peter.
Living Faith (1 Peter 2:4-6)
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
In his exchange with Peter, Jesus concluded by saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18) What rock? Catholics and Protestants have disagreed for centuries. ‘Rock’ was a wordplay on Peter’s name, which translates as ‘rock’. Is Peter the rock, the first Pope in a succession of Popes to anchor the church in confessional faith? Is the TRUTH of Peter’s confession the rock, so that the church must always stand on the truth of Jesus Christ?
I say, “Yes, yes, and yes.” Peter was a leading disciple and one of the first leaders of the Christian church. The truth of his confession was not only what the church was built on, but also what the bishops, and later Popes, were supposed to safeguard. But I believe the most important understanding of ‘rock’ is Jesus himself. Peter would later write two letters which would be included in the New Testament. Listen to what he wrote in 1 Peter 2:5-6…
…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house… for this is contained in scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed.”
Peter quotes that same passage from Isaiah 28:16 that is our Call to Worship. For Peter, Jesus was the cornerstone around which the church formed. Jesus was the Rock to which God’s people were called from the world. Jesus announced and brought the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is faith in Jesus Christ alone that constitutes God’s family on earth.
In a moment of God-inspired clarity, Peter revealed to us the foundational truth of belonging to God. We must trust in and put our hope in the one God has sent, His only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
And the whole point of Peter’s message in 1 Peter 2 is that our faith and belief are not just held privately within our heart or declared in worship with our mouths, but lived out faithfully in the world as followers of Jesus Christ.
That’s the image of “living stones built upon the foundation of Christ.” God is including us in the work He is doing in the world – the work of salvation, love, service, justice, compassion, and more.
Today is the national observance of Juneteenth, which recognizes the end of slavery in the U.S. It is not the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which legally ended slavery, but the recognition of one of the last hold-outs after Emancipation in a community in Galveston, Texas, nearly two and a half years later (1865). The army had to be sent in to free the slaves there, to enact in practice what was already declared in law. It is all history well worth reading because it is part of our collective history in this country. One of the things that connects it to today’s scripture is that it highlights that simply changing behavior does not change the heart. Until the army came to make it so, Texas kept on with slavery, even though the war was over and freedom was enacted legally. It’s like the reverse of what we are looking at in today’s sermon. It is not enough to now say “there are laws against racism”; as long as there is racism in the human heart we will continue to struggle with it in our country.
That’s why this seemingly political and cultural topic belongs in the church!
To be clear, it is absolutely necessary to have laws, particularly when hearts have not changed. But it is one of the unique powers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change human hearts. That’s why this seemingly political and cultural topic belongs in the church! It is God who re-shapes human hearts formed by racism into the heart of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God that transforms, re-creates, and makes new the many warps and distortions of His image imprinted on our hearts. And it is those repentant and renewed hearts that change our speech and our behavior, not to mention our seeing, hearing, and knowing in the deepest ways.
When we say “we believe” we are giving public witness to what we believe about God in our hearts and we are declaring ourselves part of God’s church, called to serve the world in love.
So when we say the Apostles’ Creed we are declaring ourselves in agreement with a rich summary of what scripture teaches us, agreeing with the shared belief and commitment of Christians across the world and the centuries, and we are acknowledging our part in God’s mission to the world through the Church. That’s a lot for something that can easily be said automatically and robotically. I challenge you to see that creed or others we use as an opportunity to answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?”
Some Music Used
- As We Believe
- I Believe this is Jesus
- Is He Worthy? (Peterson)
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- Good, Good Father
- King of Kings
- SOLO: “I’ll Walk with God” – Lisa Honeycutt, soloist
- Spirit of the Living God
- Lifting Those with Heavy Loads