Welcome back to our exciting adventure through Matthew’s Gospel.
Today, I want to preach the simple message, “Who do you follow?
Before we begin, let me share with you a true-to-life horror story.
One day, I met a woman who sold her soul to the devil. Like literally. After many years of desperation, she prayed to the devil and said, “I’m selling my soul to you. Make me rich!”
And soon after that, money flowed into her life like the Niagara Falls. She met evil people and they became her business partners. All across the United States, this Filipina bought businesses and mansions. She had so much money, she didn’t know what to do with it.
But one day, it hit her. She felt she was already in Hell. She was as miserable as Fork (I don’t curse, so that’ll do). She was so tormented, she wanted to kill herself and she attempted many times.
But in one of her rock bottom moments, she finally turned to God. She said, “God, if you’re real, help me!” And she started renouncing the devil. Pretty soon, she lost all her businesses and mansions. And she ended up buried in debt.
But she happy with her new relationship with God.
I share you this wild story with you because today, God is asking you, “Who do you follow?” And I know that for most of us, the choice is not “A. The Devil” and “B. Jesus”. We’re religious people, for crying out loud.
For most of us, the choice is “A. Our Version of Jesus” or “B. Jesus”.
That’s what our Bible story will be about today.
Many People Still Don’t Get Jesus
A little background before we read. We’re now at this juncture in Matthew where Jesus will spend more time with His inner circle—his 12 disciples—before His final showdown in Jerusalem. I would probably do the same. If I knew that my days were numbered, I’d double down on the guys who will carry my mission when I’m gone.
But Jesus was in a tight fix: Because up till this point, His guys still didn’t get His mission. Crazy, right? But what’s different today? Many follow their own version of Jesus.
Choose Who You Will Follow
Let’s begin: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” (v.13-14)
Where this conversation happened—Caesarea Philippi—was significant. Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic theatrical backdrop. Because this area was like a Lazada for pagan gods. It was littered with many temples of Syrian “Baal” gods, had a long colorful history of Greek gods, plus a huge white-marble temple to worship the Roman Emperor as a deity.
So this was the place to pick your god. And amidst this plethora of idols around them, Jesus asked them, “Who do you follow?”
Today, do you notice? The world has become like Caesarea Philippi. People worship many gods. And we must choose who we follow.
Only You Can Choose
After asking “Who do people say I am?” and listening to His disciples share the juicy gossip they heard, He asked them the more important, question: “But who do you say I am?” (v.15, emphasis mine) I love this question. Because when you follow God, it must be personal.
Only you can choose to follow Jesus. Not your parents. Not your friends. Not your neighbors. Not your leaders. Only you can sacrifice your life for God. No one can do that for you.
“You Are The Mashiyach”
Back to the story. When Jesus asked this piercing question—“Who do you say I am?”—I imagine the usually chatty disciples stumped. Awkward silence hung in the air like a knife, some of them gazing at their muddy feet, others glancing at the trees, to avoid looking at Jesus looking at them.
Peter saved the day by declaring, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v.16) The word he used, Mashiyach, was an emotionally-packed and
historically-loaded word. Mashiyach meant the “Anointed One” which means “Christ”. (Some people think Jesus was His first name and Christ was his family name. Nope. “Christ” means “Messiah” or “Anointed”.)
What does it mean to be the “Anointed One”? To be anointed meant oil was poured on your head. Only Kings and Priests were anointed that way.
So read this carefully: The Mashiyach was the New Moses—a Priest figure— who would free the Jews the way God liberated them from Egypt; And the Mashiyach was the New King David, the greatest king in their history, who united Israel as a world superpower.
Man, those were out-of-this-world expectations.
And Peter planted his flag on the ground and declared, “That’s you, Jesus. You’re our New Moses. You’re our New David.”
Plant Your Flag On The Ground
I love what Peter did.
When it comes to non-essential issues, it’s okay to sit on the fence. You can waffle between peanut butter or jam. Kdrama or Telenovela. Marvel or DC. Bo Sanchez or Hyun Bin.
That’s okay. But when it comes to what is essential, we must have the courage to plant our flag on the ground and choose sides. If Jesus asks you today, “Who do you follow?” what will you answer?
Peter Is “The” Man
Jesus honors Peter for his answer: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.” (v.17) I love His reply. God is not playing hide and seek. God isn’t leaving esoteric clues that requires people with IQ’s above 180 to decipher them. God is a loving Father who longs to reveal Himself to you. Listen to Him. He’s speaking to you every single day.
Jesus then does something surprising: Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (v.18-20) As Catholics, we believe Jesus established Peter’s role as head of the early Church—and the leaders of that early Church believed that in this verse, He also established the authority of the Pope as head of the universal Church.
The story takes a shocking twist after this…
After Honoring Peter, Matthew Dismantles Him
This is where Matthew does something unexpected: After showing Peter’s wisdom, he show’s Peter’s foolishness.
He didn’t even give him 6 minutes to bask in the spotlight. After one sentence, Matthew demolished Peter to dust. He showed what an idiot he was. I’m not exaggerating. Let’s read: From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. 22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (v.21-23)
What just happened? There was only time Jesus called another human being “Satan”, and he just happened to be our first Pope.
Before I give you the main message of this story, may I give you a little pastoral lesson? You and I fight temptations daily. When you’re fighting temptation, learn from Jesus. Don’t argue. Don’t debate. Or you’ll lose. Jesus said, “Go away, Satan. I’m not talking to you.”
Just get rid of the temptation.
When I watch an action flick, I see this formula play at every climax: The hero will throw away his gun so he can have a 23-minute long drawn-out slugfest with his enemy. It makes the movie exciting. But it’s a horrible strategy when you fight temptation.
Dear friend, if you’re being tempted right now, end it quickly. Get a nuclearpowered bazooka and destroy the temptation now.
Okay, back to the main message…
Peter Was, Uh, Confused
He knew Jesus was Mashiyach. The Anointed One. New King and Priest. Hooray! But what do they all mean?
Peter was a product of his culture. So his expectations for the Messiah was exactly the same as everyone else: A political leader who would drive out the Romans and reestablish the nation of Israel as a world superpower again.
And to be fair, Peter was not wrong. His definition of Mashiyach was spot on, based on other Jewish literature, even the Old Testament. The past Mashiyachs were violent. They picked up the sword, led armies, and cut the throats of their enemies. Read Judges and Maccabees in the Bible.
But Jesus’ idea of Mashiyach was just weird. Every other Mashiyach sheds the blood of his enemies to win. But the Mashiyach of Jesus will do the very opposite: He sheds His own blood so that others will win.
Do You Really Know Jesus?
Matthew wanted us to see ourselves in Peter.
Peter got the title of Jesus right, but he didn’t get His heart.
Like we know who Jesus is. We call Him Savior, Healer, Blesser, Provider… And oooooh, we love that very much.
But here’s my million dollar question: Did Jesus come to just follow us around, so He can answer our prayers and bless our needs? If so, Jesus is no different than the perennially-waving golden cat to bring us good luck.
“Come And Die!”
This is how this story ends with a bang: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (v.24-25)
When we hear the phrase, “Take up your cross”, many people think of their husband or mother-in-law or arthritis or pimples as their cross.
But if you were a first century Jew, and you heard the words, “Take up your cross,” that meant only one thing: You’re dead. Because frequently, they saw guys carrying their cross on the streets followed by a phalanx of Roman soldiers. They knew that in a matter of hours, that guy’s dead body would be thrown to wild dogs outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Friend, Jesus is NOT asking, “Come and live a comfortable life.”
Jesus is asking, “Come and die.”
Friend, who do you follow?