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Who Do You Say I Am?

BY REVEREND RYAN MASCHHOFF

February 7, 2016

 

Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 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.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 

SERMON

 

In today's Bible verse we are going to look at a very specific point in Jesus' ministry. Jesus had been with the disciples for some time and they were beginning to be more open about who he was, and the religious establishment was beginning to take notice. And not in a good way.

 

The verse says that Jesus and the disciples were in an area called Caesarea Philipi, which was located in the northern part of what is now Israel. When they arrived there, Jesus asked his disciples are very direct question. He says "Who do you say that I am?"

 

This may not sound that important. Basically, it sounds like Jesus was just trying to get everyone on the same page, right? Seemingly, every once in a while he needs to pull his followers together and make sure they all get it, so the whole “class” is learning and advancing at the same pace.

 

But that is not what is going on. Jesus picked this place, Caesarea Philipi, specifically for a very important reason, and he did it after the Pharisees had been questioning him as to who he was.

 

To give you some background, right before Jesus and the disciples arrive at Caesarea Philipi, the Pharisees question Jesus. They basically corner him and say:

 

"IF, if you really are the Messiah, show us a sign. Seriously, let us have it. Do anything to prove who you are, Mr. So-Called Messiah." Jesus responds to the Pharisees by saying that only a wicked and adulterous generation would look for a sign. But no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah (which refers to Jesus's death and resurrection.)

 

Jesus is saying: because you are so corrupt there is no sign that will convince you, and if there was, your faith would only be based on a sign. Not on faith. Not on wanting to be a part of God's kingdom. But instead their approach is one of "What can God do for me? If God will give me this or that, then I will believe."

 

After this exchange Jesus takes the disciples to Caesarea Philipi and asks them who he is. He turns the table on them and asks, "Who am I?"

 

Caesarea Philipi is an interesting town. It was a town well known for pagan worship, and there was a large temple there dedicated to the Greek god Pan.

 

 

 

 

You'll notice he is half goat/half man and he has a flute. This is actually where that type of flute gets its name. According to Greek mythology, Pan fell in love with a nymph, and as he was chasing her she tried to get away by turning into a reed along a river. Since he couldn't tell which reed she turned into, he took several of different sizes and turned them into an instrument to play music for her.

 

There were several other pagan gods worshiped in Caesarea Philipi and each had its own little area of worship. There was a temple to Pan over what was a large cave and natural spring deep at the bottom.

 

 

 

The cave back then was bigger and deeper. The large natural spring come up through it, and the Greeks thought that it was bottomless. To them it was dark, and they couldn't see the bottom so it must have been bottomless. They also thought this could be a gateway into hell because of it being bottomless and the whole area looking a little scary.

 

One of the ways they would appease the gods was to sacrifice humans or animals at this site. What they would do is take the sacrifice to the back of the temple and throw the person or animal into this "bottomless pit" that water came out of. The way they knew the god accepted the offering is if no blood came out of the spring as it flowed from the cave. If blood came out with the water, the god did not accept the offering, and they would have to throw someone else into it.

 

Also, the god Pan was the involved with fertility so there were a lot of sexual practices involved in his worship at the temple, as well.

 

In this same area there were other small caves and even areas they cut out of the stone that they used to worship other gods. Pan was the chief deity they worshiped there, but as I said there were several others. What is interesting about the pagan gods is that, for the most part, you could pick which one best suited you. Whichever one you liked best was the one you could worship. If you wanted rain for your crops, you worshiped that god. If you wanted fertility you worshiped another god.

 

So this whole area is the backdrop for Jesus asking his disciples who he was. All these gods and all these religious sacrifices (throwing humans and animals into a cave with a spring, temple sex cults, etc.) centered in this one city of Caesarea Pillipi.

 

As I stated when I began, Jesus had just had an interaction with the religious leaders during which they demanded a sign. "IF you are the Messiah, show us. Will you be the god that gives me what I need? Will you answer me when I ask for things from you?"

 

Then Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philipi. Standing in front of the temple of Pan, along with the other minor areas of worship for the other multitude of gods worshiped there, he asks them a very specific question. "Who do you say that I am?" In the face of all this environment of picking any god you want and of doing these horrible things to appease those gods. Who do you say that I am? Am I the Messiah?

 

Jesus took them to the heart of pagan worship, had them stand facing all of it, and asked them to make a choice. "Who do you say that I am?" Because if they were going to follow Jesus, they were going to have to stand firm in the face of pagan worship.

 

Remember, the people who worshiped these pagan gods weren't weirdos. They weren't outsiders who live on the outskirts of town and had no influence in society. These were the normal, everyday people who worshiped these other gods and performed these human sacrifices. They were going to be the people the disciples bumped into every day--the carpenters, the shepherds, the government officials.

 

And on top of that, the Jewish religious leaders (priests and Pharisees) were on the other side of the coin--pagan worship on one side and Jewish religious leaders on the other. The disciples were going to be walking in a no-man's land of sorts. And they were going to have to do it openly. They were going to have to challenge the beliefs, not only of their neighbors and government officials, but also the religious establishment.

 

This was no small thing. Jesus was rightfully preparing them for the hard work, the unpopular work that lay ahead of them. And he brought it down to one simple question: "Who do you say that I am?".

 

This is a question every Christian must answer. You cannot get around it. Even not answering the question is still an answer. Think about it that way. If you avoid the question and don't say in your heart who Jesus is, you have still answered the question.

 

Think about the disciples. What if when Jesus asked the question, all but one answered. The twelfth one just looked down at the ground, looked at his watch, or pretended to answer a text message on his phone. Right? If we stood there and watched it happen, we could all tell who answered that question and who did not.

 

So today. I am going to ask you that same question. Who is Jesus? Is he the Messiah? Is he your Messiah?

 

Remember, there are only three answers to that question: yes, no, or refuse to answer (in which case you have still made a choice.) So, right now, say it out loud. You don't have to shout it, and there is no extra credit for getting charismatic and jumping up and down. Who is Jesus? He either is the Messiah or he isn't. And here is the great part. If he is the Messiah, than all those other gods are false. They are made up. If Jesus IS the Messiah, then the forgiveness he brings is real. The salvation he brings IS real. You have that salvation by saying with your heart and your mouth that Jesus is the Messiah.

 

This is the message Jesus gave to his disciples two thousand years ago. This is the same point he brought them to two thousand years ago that I just brought you to: the realization and declaration that he is the Messiah. And in that statement is the hope all people search for. It's the reason those civilizations came up with those gods to begin with. They were searching for truth. They were searching for a place in God's kingdom. They wanted to be found and listened to and wanted their god to participate in their life.

 

And here is what is so scary about the gods they worshiped. Each time their god did not answer them, what did they figure they needed to do: something more extreme to get his attention. They needed to “up the ante.” They probably started off with prayers. When that didn't work, they moved to gifts, likely foods or other valuables. When that didn't work, they probably moved up to money. When the god didn't answer or seem happy, they switched to sacrificing animals. When sacrificing animals no longer worked, they sacrificed human beings. And when sacrificing one human being didn't work (i.e., blood came out of the cave in the spring water), they sacrificed more people.

 

How confusing and desperate that would be? If you didn't like sacrificing to that particular god, pick one of the many others and start all over again. This, this is where the beauty and simplicity and righteousness of Jesus really becomes obvious. I know we don't use that word righteousness very often, but with this backdrop I think it makes much more sense.

 

Jesus simply asks "Who do you say that I am?" If I am the Messiah then you don't need any of that. No more searching, no more multiple gods, or do this or do that. Just declare with your mouth that He is Lord.

 

And since we have been talking about the pagans trying all different sorts of things to please their gods, what pleases our God? What does He want us to do? He wants us love Him with all our heart, to obey his laws (which, if you look at them clearly, make us better people), and then he wants us to love others. To love them and share that message with them.

 

That is the God for me. That is the Messiah about whom I boldly declare out loud, "He is my Messiah and I will follow him."

 

May the Lord be with each of you, and may you always have the courage to boldly say, "Jesus is Lord".

 

AMEN

 

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Ash Wednesday

By Reverend Ryan Maschhoff

February 10, 2016

 

ISAIAH 59:12-14

For our transgressions before you are many, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we know our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance. Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.

 

SERMON

 

What exactly is “Ash Wednesday”? Where does it come from? It’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but the idea behind it is.

 

In the Old Testament, even before the time of Jesus, the Israelites would dress in sackcloth and put ashes on their head, or in some cases even cover themselves with dirt. They would do this as a sign of mourning, to show repentance, or to show outwardly their disgrace, disgust, or sadness. It was a way for them to express how unclean, how unworthy they were compared to God.

 

There is a story in the Old Testament book of Exodus in which Moses spoke face to face with God. And when he returned to the camp of the Israelites, Moses's face shined so brightly they put a veil over his head.

 

This begins to give us an idea of how holy God is compared to us, how different and lowly we are when we stand next to him. So this idea of putting ashes on your head was meant to be just a big visual reminder of our unholiness next to God.

 

Long ago people who did this would frequently fast at the same time, and the goal was to lower yourself spiritually, to become humbled, so you could begin to atone for your sin.

 

During sixth and seventh centuries, this practice caught on in Christian churches, as well. People, in private, would sprinkle ashes on themselves as a sign of repentance. Eventually, this became a public practice. As time went on, instead of sprinkling the ashes on your head, the ashes would be rubbed onto the forehead in the shape of a cross. This was a sign of repentance and of how unworthy you were of the grace God has given you through Jesus. The ashes would usually be taken from the palm branches from Palm Sunday, burned the year before. Some churches today have retained this practice, while others have let the practice go.

 

There really is no right or wrong way to do it, and it is not wrong if you don't do it. The focus is always to make us more humble and bring us to proper repentance, and you certainly don't require ashes to do that. But for churches that do have Ash Wednesday service, it can be quite valuable and be a special time of reflection for those who participate.

 

What’s really important, though, is not whether you have ashes on your forehead. What's important is what's going on in your heart, what's going on in your soul.

 

For every Christian, ashes or not, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the somber season of Lent: the 40-day span of time from now until Easter. During this time we focus on Christ’s battle with sin and Satan that he waged in order to win our salvation.

 

Why is Lent 40 days? Right after Jesus was baptized, the Bible tells us he went out into the desert to fast and to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days. For Jesus, those 40 days were a time of trials, a time when he battled the temptations of the Devil and emerged victorious.

 

For us, Lent is a time when we make that journey with Christ in our hearts. We think about OUR temptations, our sins, and our need for repentance. Lent is a time to evaluate yourself in light of God's desire for us to be perfect and for us to return to him. It’s a time to abandon the sins you have grown accustomed to. It’s a time to receive God’s forgiveness and strength to lead a Christian life. It’s a time to renew our desire to serve God and to be the Christians that God has made us to be.This evening, let’s take a look at a few Bible verses that describe sin. We'll start with Isaiah 59. In verse 12 it says, “Our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us.”

 

What if you were to count all the sins you have committed in just one week–and remember, sins include not just your deeds, but your thoughts. Sins include not just the things you do, but the things you don’t do, but should. If you were to count all these sins, your offenses would be many.

 

In another Bible verse, Romans 3:23, it says "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Lent is a time when look you at yourself and acknowledge that there are some things that need to be changed. There are some things about me that are not perfect, things that need to be changed, things that need to be adjusted. My attitudes. My lifestyle. Take a close look at yourself and ask yourself some hard questions. What are my sins? Where am I “not so Christian” in my life? What kind of person am I? Am I really loving? Do I show in my words and actions that I am a follower of Jesus Christ? Am I really patient? Do I really love God more than anything else in my life? Do I make sacrifices for Him? Do I really turn the other cheek?That is the first part of repentance, the first part of Lent: to look at yourself and to recognize your sins, where you fall short. And then comes the second part: to turn away from your past and turn to Christ.

 

The book of Isaiah talks about this. In chapter 59 this is what it says: “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene.” Then towards the end of the chapter is says something that speaks of the salvation to come through Jesus: "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins."

 

Christ did this for us.

 

Listen to the 'battle gear' that Christ wore for us: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”

 

Everyone pictures Christ wearing a robe, and it’s true; that is what Jesus wore. But do you see what else he wore as he went into battle for us? He wore righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head. He was wrapped in a cloak of zeal, and he would take vengeance against Satan for all the evil he had done in our world.

 

Judgment Day is talked about in these verses too: “According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.” These are the people who refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

 

But what about those who do repent, who take a look at themselves, and acknowledge their sins, and turn to Christ for forgiveness and to live a new life? The Bible tells us: "To all who receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave theright to be called children of God.” John 1:12 If you believe, if you repent of your sins and turn towards Jesus Christ, it is your right to be called a child of God.

 

The beauty of Lent is that its a time when you do some “spring cleaning” in your soul. You look deep within yourself and acknowledge your sins. And then you look to Christ, who won the battle for you, and you will receive his forgiveness.

 

The other great thing about Lent is that not only do you become more aware of your sins. But you become more aware of just how much your Lord Jesus loves you, that he would do all these things for you.

 

These next 40 days, what I suggest you do is this… If you want to give up something for Lent, give up a half hour a day and during that half hour, read a half a chapter from any one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Just a half a chapter, and do it for 40 days. Read the verses slowly and think about the words you are reading, and take them to heart. Think of your sins, and then rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness. Let God strengthen you through his Word this Lenten season.

 

That is the beauty of Lent.

 

Amen