"The Blessed Confession"
(Delivered Sunday, June 10, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, we're gathered together to hear a "confession".
Now that I have your attention; I should tell you that I don't mean a "confession" in the sense of an admission of guilt. What I'm talking about is a "confession" in the sense of a formal statement of essential doctrinal truth.
(And let's face it. If I told you at first that we were going to hear "a formal statement of doctrine", I probably would have lost your attention right away! But now that I have it; I promise I'll try to hold it.)
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I suppose that, in our day, a good way to scare people off at the beginning of a sermon is to tell them that we're going to talk about a particular “confession of faith”. Most people think that only preachers could possibly be interested in such things.
But I hope you know that it wasn't always so. It used to be that most Christians within the protestant tradition were well-taught in one of the great "confession of faith". There have been many great ones. If you were raised with a Dutch Calvinist background, for example, you would have been taught the Heidelberg Confession. If you are from a Presbyterian background, you would have learned the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many Congregationalists learned the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order; and many Baptists learned the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. And of course, for many centuries Christians all around the world recited "the Apostolic Creed".
But this morning, I ask that we look at the greatest “confession” of them all. It happens to be a very short one. I think you'll have it memorized before our time this morning is over. But short as it is, it is also a remarkable one. It would be right to refer to it alone as "the blessed confession"; because it is the only "confession" that had the direct endorsement of God's own blessing placed upon it immediately after it was first uttered.
This confession is the confession upon which all others absolutely must be based. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the one confession--above all others--that it is essential to believe in order to be saved.
This "blessed confession" was first uttered by the apostle Peter; and is found in Matthew 16:13-19. It's there that we read;
There's much to be found in this passage--more, in fact, than we can deal with in just one week. In this passage, we have one of those rare occasions--one of only two in the New Testament--in which our Savior spoke in during His earthly ministry of the church that He promised to build. The church that He shed His own precious blood to redeem is, obviously, a subject that is near and dear to His heart. And my hope is that, if He so wills, we will reserve some of our future times together to talk about some of the remarkable things He says in this passage about the church: such things as the solid foundation upon which the church is built, or the certain security it is given in this world, or the great authority He has granted to it.
This is one of the most crucial passages in the Gospel of Matthew. It is a passage to which so much in this Gospel has been leading to. It is truly one of the great passages in the Bible. There are vital truths revealed to us by our Lord in it; and we dare not rush through it.
And so, today, I ask that we just focus in on the important "blessed confession" of the church that it contains--the confession that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God".
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Now; this "confession" was first uttered at an important juncture in Jesus' earthly ministry.
He had been receiving increasing opposition from the religious leaders of the day. Most recently, they came to Him along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and "tested" Him; demanding that He give them a "sign from heaven". Jesus had been performing many signs that were more than sufficient for anyone who truly wanted to know the truth about Him. But the Pharisees and Sadducees were not satisfied. They wanted to set the terms, and have Him to prove Himself in accordance with their demands--even though they were clearly not interested in believing in Him at all.
Jesus, of course, refused to do as the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded. He told them that the only sign they would receive from Him is "the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 16:4); that is, that "as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (12:40). He then gathered His disciples into a boat; and together, they departed to the other side of the sea.
Now; I believe that Jesus was wanting to get His disciples away from all of this opposition for a while. Once the boat reached the shore, they traveled a journey of twenty to twenty-five miles northeast; and came to Caesarea Philippi. It was a city that rested near the gentle slopes of Mount Hermon; and it would have given Him and His disciples a beautiful place of retreat from the fights and pressures they had been experiencing. It would have given His disciples time to relax, and to reflect on the things that they had been learning about Him.
And it would also have given Jesus the chance to solidify in them the great, essential truth about Himself that they needed to know before He led them to Jerusalem--and to the place of His crucifixion.
In Mark's Gospel, we're told that that this conversation took place "on the road" (Mark 8:27). Luke tells us that it happened when Jesus had been alone in prayer, and when the disciples came to Him and joined Him (Luke 9:18). And so, we can imagine that as they journeyed on their way to this place of rest, they stopped and had a time of quite and prayer along the roadside.
It is my belief that the Great Teacher was praying for His beloved students during that time. He was about to give them a 'final exam'--and wanted them very much to pass it. They did pass the test; and as a result, we have this great, "blessed confession" preserved for our edification today.
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Before we look at it in greater detail, let's first consider the first question Jesus asked His disciples. It's there that we see . . .
1. THE POPULAR ALTERNATIVES TO THIS CONFESSION (vv. 13-14).
We read, "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (v. 13).
Jesus, of course, didn't ask this because He lacked the information. He knew very well what people were saying about Him. Rather, He asked His disciples in order to encourage them to think. That is always a great question to ask people, by the way; "Who do you say that Jesus is? What is your opinion of Him?" It's a question that reveals much about person. It sets him or her to thinking about the greatest theme of all.
Clearly, the disciples were aware of popular opinion about Jesus. For example, they knew that some folks thought He was "John the Baptists". We've already encountered this opinion in the person of Herod the Great--the one who had John murdered. Perhaps Herod thought this because Jesus had preached the same unwelcomed message that John the Baptist had been preaching; "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17; see also 3:2). Or perhaps it was because Jesus preached with the same sort of fiery boldness that characterized John. But whatever the reason, Herod had heard the reports about Jesus, and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him" (14:2). Apparently, this false conception of Jesus had spread from Herod's paranoia to popular opinion.
But then there were other people, the disciples said, who thought that Jesus was "Elijah"--the great prophet from the Old Testament era of the Kings of Israel. Perhaps people thought that Jesus could be Elijah because, according to the Bible, Elijah didn't die a natural death on earth. He was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind upon a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And perhaps the people of Israel misunderstood the last great prophecy of the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5; where God promises, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful dayof the LORD." That was, as you might remember, a promise concerning John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13); but perhaps the people were mistakenly applying it to Jesus.
Still others, as the disciples say, thought that Jesus was the great Old Testament prophet "Jeremiah". Some of the Jewish people put great stock in a supposed 'prophecy' that was recorded in some of their non-biblical writings; a prophecy that Jeremiah would return to them. In one of these 'apocryphal' books, it was said that the Lord promised to raise Isaiah and Jeremiah and send them to the people1; and in another of these books, a priest was described as having a vision of Jeremiah coming to minister to the people of God in Jerusalem2. Perhaps some of these people, who had placed confidence in these non-biblical writings, saw how Jesus preached about the coming judgment on Jerusalem--just as Jeremiah of old had done. And perhaps they thus took Him to be Jeremiah raised from the dead, and sent to them by God.
And still others, according to the disciples, were saying that Jesus was "one of the prophets". Perhaps they thought Him to be yet another prophet in the line of the great prophets of old. Or perhaps some remembered the promise that God gave to the people of Israel through Moses; "The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear . . ." (Deuteronomy 18:15; see also v. 18).
Now, if some had thought that Jesus was that great promised "Prophet"--as many clearly suspected (John 1:45; 6:14; 7:40), then they would have been right. The Bible teaches us that Jesus truly was this "Prophet" (Acts 3:22-26). But even if they trembled before Him, and said that "a great prophet has risen up among us" (Luke 7:16; see also Matthew 21:46), they would have been wrong if they had thought that He was merely "one of the prophets".
In fact, if you look over the list of misconceptions that people had about Jesus at that time--these "alternatives" to the "blessed confession" that Peter gave--you'd see that the all have one thing in common. That one common feature causes the truth affirmed in the great confession of our passage this morning to stand out in stark contrast. All of these alternatives assume that Jesus was 'just a man'. Perhaps they viewed Him--as many do today--as one of the truly great man of history; a man of great spiritual insight and power; a great teacher and philosopher. But all of these alternative views ultimately see Jesus as only a man--and nothing more. They do not see Him as Peter here declares Him to be: “the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
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Dear brothers and sisters; do you ever stop to listen to what the people around you say about Your Lord? Everyone, it seems, has an opinion of Him. As much as people try to ignore Him or push Him off to the margins of life, He still proves Himself to be the central figure of humanity, the most controversial Person in human history. But do you ever notice this common factor in their opinions about Him?--that whatever else He may have been, He was just a man and nothing more?
I believe that Jesus faced this assumption about Himself in His day. In fact, He clearly challenged it head-on. He once forced the Pharisees to come to terms with the impossibility of their assumption about Him. They were gathered around to question Him—trying to trap Him. But He turned the tables on them and asked them a question.
Don't you love it when Jesus asks the religious experts a question? He wanted to know how it could be that, if the Messiah is the offspring of David (which, of course, He is), that David humbles himself before his own offspring and calls Him "Lord". They couldn't answer that one. They didn't dare try. They knew the implications of it--that the Messiah would have to be more than just a man if David--the greatest of the kings of Israel--would call Him "Lord".
So you see; Jesus asked the Pharisees a great question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” We need to ask the people around us that question as well. We need to challenge the "alternatives" to this great confession; and show that the Jesus who walked upon this earth was not just a mere man. To say that He was would be to contradict the clear testimony of Peter and the apostles, and Christ, and even the heavenly Father Himself.
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Now; Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about Him. He asked this in order to set them thinking about who He truly was. And it's then that Jesus turned to the disciples and asked, "But what about you?"
In fact, in the original language, it is emphatic--as if to draw out the contrast against all the other opinions that were floating around about Him--"But you; who do you say that I am?" And the answer that was given is one that we know from the Scriptures is the correct one: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
So then; let's next consider . . .
2. THE ESSENTIAL COMPONANTS OF THIS CONFESSION (vv. 15-16).
First, Peter affirms that Jesus is the Christ. The word “Christ” means “the Anointed One”--the One set apart by God and marked-out for a unique purpose. It is to say that He is "the Messiah". It is to say that He is the promised King of the Jews—the promised descendant of King David; and it is to see Him as the fulfillment of the promises of the Scriptures. It's to see Him as the One that the Scriptures spoke of—and that He clearly proved Himself to be—when it says;
And I note that, in the original language--just as Jesus spoke to the disciples in an emphatic way--Peter also speaks emphatically with reference to Jesus. Peter says, "You--You are the Christ". Peter emphasizes Jesus in his answer to the question; as if to stress that there is no other. Peter does not say that Jesus is merely "a Christ". He uses the definite article; saying, "You, Jesus--it is You and You alone are the Christ--the only Christ; and there is no other Christ but You!"
That's the first great essential in this confession--that Jesus is the Christ.
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But it's not enough to only believe Him to be the promised Messiah—the Christ. That speaks of His human title. In the second essential of this confession, we see that Peter affirmed something about Jesus' divine nature—that this One who is the Christ is no one less than “the Son of the living God”.
To designate God as the "living God" is to distinguish Him from all the false gods that men have made for themselves--gods which are not living, and which are not gods at all. Our God is "the living God"--the One who made all things, and gives life to all. He is the God that Paul spoke of when he told the pagan people of Athens:
To affirm Jesus as the Son of "the living God" is to affirm Him as the Son of that God whom Paul described. And to affirm that Jesus is "the Son" of the living God is to affirm the Trinity. It is to affirm that Jesus pre-existed in eternity as the second Person of the Triune Godhead; and that a relationship of eternal love existed between Himself and the Father. It is to affirm what the apostle John said of Him; that “[i]n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). And it is to affirm that this same Word “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
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And let me pull out just one more important essential element from Peter's confession. You'll notice that, when Jesus asked the question, “But who do you say that I am?”, He asked it of the disciples as a group. But the answer was given by an individual—namely Peter. We often find Peter stepping forward in the Bible, and responding as the representative of the group; and here we see him doing so again.
And I'd like to suggest that this was something intentional on the part of God. It was by the Holy Spirit's leading that just one man--just one individual--answer this question for the group, and express this “confession” in a personal way. It illustrates that this great, blessed confession must be a personal on the part of each individual that makes it, in order for it to be a confession of saving faith. As individuals, we must personally place our faith in Jesus Christ as the beloved sinless Son of God who became a Man, took our sins upon Himself, and died on the cross in our place.
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Dear brothers and sisters; every element of this confession is absolutely essential. Unless Jesus is the Christ--the promised Messiah, born into the human family through the lineage of King David in accordance with the Scriptures; and unless He is also the sinless Son of God--the Second Person of the Triune Godhead who condescended to become the sacrifice on our behalf for our sins; then He cannot save us. And unless we personally, individually, and intelligently--from the heart--confess with Peter that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" and place our trust in Him for our salvation, then we cannot be saved.
As the great Bible teacher Harry Ironside once wrote about this "confession":
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This, then, is the confession that Peter made of Jesus—that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
And very briefly, let me close by pointing out just one more, very crucial thing we discover from this passage . . .
3. THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THIS CONFESSION (v. 17).
When Peter spoke these words, he received a hearty endorsement from the Lord Jesus. I can almost see Jesus smiling broadly upon Peter, and rejoicing over his answer. He said, “Blessed are you , Simon Bar-Jonah . . .” That must have been a thrill to Peter, and a great encouragement to the others.
I believe that Peter based his answer on the evidence that He had seen of Jesus—evidence that testified clearly that He truly was the Son of God in human flesh. And the fact is that it wasn't the first time that Peter had made this confession. Earlier in Jesus' ministry—when so many others had turned away from Him, the twelve did not. And it was Peter who said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). And what's more, Peter wasn't the only one to have expressed this confession. When Jesus came to Bethany to raise His dear friend Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus' sister Martha met Him and testified to her faith in Him; saying, “I believe believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27).
By this time, this “confession” had matured in the hearts and minds of Jesus' disciples. It had become proven to them with unmistakable certainty. They were able, when tested, to express it confidently and clearly. But then, after this confession is uttered, look at the startling thing that Jesus says. Jesus blesses Peter for his confession; saying, “[F]or flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17).
This confession has the highest possible authority. It was not a product of human discovery or of human disclosure. "Flesh and blood" did not reveal it; because it could not have been known by human means. Rather, Jesus affirms that it was revealed to Peter by the Father Himself.
On another occasion in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus prayed;
If a man or a woman is able to say, "I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God", then they are speaking words of the most profound truth. But they are not speaking words that come from mere human insight. They are repeating a truth that, when first uttered, was declared to be the revelation of God the Father to men concerning His beloved Son.
That means that this confession truly is "the blessed confession". To be able to say it is an act of grace on God's part. These words possesses the greatest possible authority. It is the only confession that received immediate divine endorsement and approval after it was uttered. It has the blessing of the One about whom it speaks.
And as we will see in weeks to come, it is the confession on which Jesus Christ promised to build His church.
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Dear brothers and sisters; let's each be sure that this confession is the confession of our own hearts before God. And let's be faithful to declare it to the world--that this Jesus whom we worship is "the Christ, the Son of the living God".
12 Esdras 2:18.
22 Maccabees 15:12-16.
3H. Ironside, p. 204-5.
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