No one but Jesus himself, alone

You can listen to this sermon here.

Matthew 16:13 - 17:13

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’ 17And 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.18And 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. 19I 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.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was* the Messiah.*

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ 10And the disciples asked him, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ 11He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 13Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

The Sermon

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ …. Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  7And 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.

Like Peter, God has given us the gift of seeing that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one God has anointed to show us and lead us in the ways of life.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

In the time of Jesus, the big stumbling block for people was the idea that the Messiah might die, and it was unthinkable that he would die at the hands of the elders and the chief priest and scribes who were the backbone of the Jewish faith.

But the idea that you could die for following Jesus… was not so surprising. I suspect people who followed Jesus had a clear understanding that they might end up carrying their own version of his cross.

For us, it's different. We know the Messiah will die. Our religion is built around that concept. What's new for us, is the understanding that following Jesus will cost us our life.

This is not just an optional extra reserved for missionaries overseas, in some exotic location.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This   means   us. Us… who are used to increasing life expectancy, increasing wages, and more little luxuries in life.

We have just as much trouble believing Jesus' words as Peter had believing them, and we are a stumbling block to our own life with God, if we ignore them.

So, six days later— that's why those words are there: the story of the Transfiguration is making a point about Peter's first vision and calling that Jesus is the Messiah. Six days later, the point is rammed home. Jesus takes Peter and two others up to the mountaintop, the place where heaven and earth meet. Peter is given another vision of the Messiah.

They see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Jesus is their senior. Everything in heaven and on earth is telling Peter he was correct: this is the Messiah. And then God speaks: This is my beloved son. With him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.

Listen to Him.

And so at that moment, Peter knows. Peter sees the glory of God. He sees something of how God intends creation to be. He knows that if anyone wants to follow Jesus they must  deny them selves, and take up their cross… For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus' sake, will find it.

For a few seconds, Peter knows this, absolutely. And then… then they saw "no one except Jesus himself alone."

Do you notice the curious grammatical construction? Matthew doesn't say the vision stopped, or faded, but that they saw "no one, except Jesus, himself, alone."

It's the artist's way of telling us to think about this. There is something important in these words.

Here is what they say to me:

There are days when my world is falling apart. I have days of mourning like I have never known.

There are days when one more politician is saying climate change is a hoax, but I am wondering how much longer the planet will tolerate us; days when my background in ecology leaves me with only one question: how bad is it going to be?

There are days when Trump and others are spouting forth, and I can see only the Hitler who my father went to war to save us from; our nations seem to be imploding.

And there are days when all the certainties, and all the expectations, of the safe world of my childhood are gone. What is good, what is true, how to live— all those certainties are lost.

How will I live? What will happen? Who will look after me?  I fear for my children.

Of course, these unknowns are here every day. It has always been… that we carry fears of the unknown future. We have never known… when the Empire's soldiers will ride over the hill… into our village. We have always been… at the mercy of the planet. And fear and bewilderment… have constantly reminded us that death lurks nearby.

It has always been so, but there are times and seasons in which we feel more vulnerable.

What does God offer us then?

No one except Jesus himself alone.

Not high visions. Not certain answers. No guarantees… except Jesus, himself, alone.

And Jesus leads us down into the valley, to a demon possessed boy for whom the other disciples, without Jesus, could do nothing. He takes us back to a place of deep fear, where we are out of our depth. And then leads the disciples, and us, on the road to Jerusalem, the place of dying.

Jerusalem is the place where the see - ers and the prophets die. Jerusalem is the name for our ending, what happens to us, when we follow Jesus: the lost promotions, the poor super, the scorn, maybe even untimely death. But Jerusalem is also the city of God. Jerusalem is the symbol of that time and that place where all things are complete.

There is nothing we can argue our way to, here.

 It is beyond logic. It is not flesh and blood. It is a vision which is given to us.

It is a certainty which we will lose— there will be days when, like Peter and the other disciples, we will have no understanding.

 It is a vision we will make faint and distant if we will not deny ourselves and if we insist on remaining safe and comfortable; if we will not die to our selves.

And yet focussed on no one but Jesus himself alone— as little as I am able— I find it to be a growing certainty, and a deepening conviction, that this is my future. I am finding life.

Deny your self. Follow the Messiah. …those who lose their life for Jesus' sake, will find it.

Andrew Prior (2017)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Feedback

Add Feedback
Click to Feed Back

© Copyright     ^Top