Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Who Are We?

I don't know about you, but there have been more than a few times in my life, when I was up against something very intimidating, that I needed a strong boost of confidence.  That's probably true for all of us.  Maybe that moment came when you were enrolled in a really tough course in high school or college.  Perhaps it came when you or a loved one were suddenly faced with x-rays that revealed a frightening illness.

For some, it might have been as simple as all that snow we had to shovel just a few weeks ago!

In moments like that, we wonder how we will get through the situation. And to a large degree, we get through it by simply remembering who we are and what we are capable of.  The irony of tough times is that the moments that most intimidate us are often those moments when we can be reminded of our identity and capability in the most powerful ways.

This is what we talked about in yesterday's message.  We are in the midst of a series entitled "We Are Covenant," and we spent the first week of that series taking an honest look at the world we are called to love.  That was an intimidating picture!

And in many ways, our situation is similar to that of the disciples in Matthew 16  This is a transitional part of Matthew.  Prior to this, the focus of the book has been on Jesus' miracles, His choosing of the disciples, and mostly His non-stop talk about the Kingdom of God.  (The concept is mentioned more than 80 times in the first three Gospel books alone!)

But at this point, Jesus has pulled His followers out from ministry for a brief retreat.  And it is here, in Caesarea-Philippi, that we learn through them where our confidence comes from to accomplish the mission He has given us to fulfill together:

We Wear the Identity of Jesus.  "Who do you say that I am?"  This is the most eternally significant question Jesus ever asks.  But answering that question in the right way is about far more than a ticket to heaven.  Peter's answer; "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" is the beginning point for all legitimate ministry.  As the church, we receive the totality of our identity in the person and work of Jesus.  This is where it all begins.  The church doesn't exist without this, and God's Kingdom isn't extended without this.  Conversely, the authority Jesus will speak of later in this text is given to us from only one place:  a dead man rose from the grave, triumphant over death, evil, and all those things that surround us today.  When we stand in His identity, we can have no greater confidence!

We Move Under the Guidance of Jesus.  Just after Peter's powerful confession, Jesus reminds him--and us-in verse 17 that this revelation doesn't come from our intellect or abilities superior to others who don't know Him.  It comes as a result of Divine revelation.  Its a statement suggesting that we need guidance--the constant kind.  I don't think there has ever been a more important time to remember this, because I think we are entering a day when confessing Jesus and living for Him is going to get harder.  We have to remember that we are not smart enough or savvy enough to know how to navigate all the unprecedented things that are most likely coming our way.  So we need to walk under the same Divine guidance that led us to understand who Jesus is in the first place.

We Work in the Power of Jesus.  Too often, verses 18 and 19 are misunderstood in ways that keep us from tapping into what the Lord promises us here.

First, a thousand-year debate has existed regarding what Jesus means when he refers to building His church "on this rock."  Entire church hierarchical systems have been built off of mere assumptions about what this means.  I admire Pope Francis in many ways, but the very office he claims to hold is based on an understanding of this verse that is shaky at best.

Now, before we think too highly of ourselves compared to our Catholic friends, let's remember that Protestants haven't always gotten this one right either.  And most of our error for the past 500 years can be credited to our over-reaction to things about Catholicism with which we disagree.  Our Catholic friends are right to identify Peter as the "rock."  But it isn't Peter's persona, or some specious office that is the foundation for Jesus' words here.  It is Peter's confession.

Simply put, Jesus asks Peter who He is.  Peter answers correctly, and Jesus says in response; "I can build my church on that!  And I will!"

A second misunderstanding comes in verse 19.  When Jesus speaks of "Hades" in this passage, He is speaking of the "realm of the dead" that surrounds the disciples at that moment.  As we discussed yesterday, Caesarea-Philippi was a highly pagan area filled with pagan worship and pagan lifestyles.  As Jesus speaks these words, He and His disciples are quite literally "in" the realm of the dead.

But His promise here is powerful.  If we who follow Him are true to His identity and message, and we faithfully communicate that message under His guidance, the darkness that surrounds us will ultimately not prevail!

Why is this important?  Because in case you haven't noticed, you and I are also ministering in the "realm of the dead."  Just this past week our first responders in Berkley County were overwhelmed by the number of Heroin overdose calls they received in just a 12 hour period.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that our enemy seeks to "steal, kill and destroy," and in our area, he mostly uses Heroin to do this.  Additionally, you will hear more over the coming weeks about the plague of human trafficking that is happening in our own back yard.

But let's be honest, most of us don't have to look that far to see darkness.  Sometimes we even see it in our own homes.

Here is the promise of Jesus.  Stay faithful to Him.  Live and work and love under His guidance, and these dark things that surround us will eventually fall.  Covenant exists because Jesus wants the darkness to fall in the eastern panhandle.

That is who we are--sons and daughters of the most high God, empowered by His Spirit to invade the realm of the dead, and take back what rightly belongs to Jesus!

In the coming weeks, we will be looking at how to do this as we continue our series.

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