Welcome to Bethel! Today we will be reflecting on Psalm 121 and Matthew 16:13-28, On This Rock. Over half of the Apostle’s Creed focuses on who Jesus is. By looking at Psalm 121 we are reminded to look for our help from the Lord who keeps us from harm. Then we will move to Matthew 16 where Jesus challenges the disciples with this question, “Who do you say I am?” This question reverberates down through the centuries to us today where we are asked who we say Jesus. C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.
On This Rock
Psalm 121; Matthew 16:13-28
January 16, 2022
The Apostle’s Creed spends a lot of time on Jesus, the core of it’s teaching is focused on Jesus, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Jesus is central to our faith.
Psalm 121 is a ‘pilgrimage psalm,’ a psalm that pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing as they climbed the road up to Jerusalem. As the pilgrims walked the road up the mountain, they would keep their eyes focused upwards so they could see Jerusalem and the temple as soon as possible. For the Jews, mountains were significant places because that’s where God frequently appeared to his people; Mount Sinai and Horeb, Mount Carmel where Elijah went up against the prophets of Baal, and Mount Zion where Jerusalem is. Matthew sets Jesus’ greatest teachings on a mountainside in his Sermon on the Mount as a sign that Jesus is God. Mountains keep our eyes focused upwards, even beyond the top of the mountain into the heavens. There is something solid and permanent about mountains, which makes them a good example of strength.
This is why the psalmist turns his eyes to the mountains when he’s looking for help. He’s looking for the God of Israel, Yahweh, the great ‘I Am,’ of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He turns to the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, the one who watches over his people; a God who cares and acts to protect his people. There’s deep trust in the Lord, that he “will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life.” The Lord will keep us from harm, but not necessarily hard times; it’s in hard times that we lift up our eyes to the mountains, to the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The eternal nature of hills and mountains reminds us, as the Heidelberg Catechism does in Q & A 35, “That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God… took to himself a truly human nature so that he could become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.” Jesus is eternal.
Israel kept looking for the promised Messiah, the one who would come and lead them into freedom. But the messiah comes in humility and weakness at the foot of the mountain in Bethlehem. Jesus comes to save his people from their sin and not their Roman oppressors, to point them once again to God, and send us the Spirit. The Catechism, when asked why the Son of God is called Jesus, tells us, “Because he saves us from our sins. Salvation cannot be found in anyone else; it is futile to look for any salvation elsewhere.”
Today it’s easy to look back and, with the eyes the Holy Spirit gives us, see that Jesus is the Son of God. But it wasn’t so easy for Jesus’ disciples to see what we see. Because Jesus is so unique, both God and man, recognizing exactly who Jesus is doesn’t come easy. Israel expected the Messiah to be a king and warrior like King David. But Isaiah points to a different kind of a Messiah, but the disciples aren’t any different than many of us today, they see or hear what they want to see and hear when they read Scriptures or listen to the prophets.
Jesus is with his disciples, and he’s done a lot of teaching, healing, and miracles. Now Jesus starts preparing them for his upcoming death. Jesus turns to his disciples and asks a pretty simple question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The title Jesus uses is a title the prophet Daniel uses to describe the coming Messiah. The disciples reply, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The Heidelberg Catechism also calls Jesus a prophet. When asked why Jesus is called Christ, the first part of question and answer 31 tells us, “Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed by the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance.”
Now Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter jumps in and tells Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter, and the others, see that Jesus is much more than a prophet, that he’s the promised Messiah they’ve been waiting for. They are hearing this in terms of strength and power, mountain and Son of Man imagery, but they’re realizing that Jesus is truly from God, and is God.
Jesus tells Peter that on this rock he is going to build his church: on Peter's confession, but also on Peter, who is renamed rock and becomes one of the main leaders in the early church, on Peter’s work, life, and ongoing witness to Jesus. The church is also built on Jesus who is the cornerstone of the church. The church is built on strength, the strength of the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God; it’s built on the work and faithfulness of followers of God who are willing to die for their confession that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is our Messiah; it’s built on Jesus.
This question reverberates down to us today, “Who do you say Jesus is?”. C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”
Isaiah introduces us to a Messiah who’s going to come as a servant, a suffering servant. In Isaiah 42 the servant is concerned about justice, not power, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.” This is a servant king who is concerned about justice for the weak, the poor, and the broken. Isaiah tells us the sign of the Messiah will be that the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. When John the Baptist asks Jesus if he’s really the Messiah, Jesus points to the healing ministry he’s doing to reassure John that he is the promised Messiah.
I respect our government because God tells me to, but I sometimes wonder if the poor, the suffering, or even justice is the most important goal for most governments anymore. The Messiah brings justice for those who seldom experience real justice because he has compassion on them. We see Isaiah’s compassionate servant in Jesus. Jesus offers compassion because that is who he is, and he acts on his compassion, offering hope to those seeking justice, healing, and wholeness.
In Isaiah 52 and 53 we get a shocking picture of who the Messiah is. He’s a suffering servant; despised and rejected, pierced for our sin, and crushed for our rebellion. The Messiah Isaiah reveals to us is one who willingly sacrifices himself for the very people who despise and reject him. This is Jesus’ strength, his love, compassion, and sacrificial life for others. When I’m honest with myself, I must confess that I often reject my own cross because I don’t want to suffer, even after he suffered for me. I don’t always care most for the people that Jesus seems to care the most about, the oppressed, the broken, the poor, widows, orphans, or strangers.
Zechariah echoes Isaiah, “They will look on me, the one who they have pierced,” and goes on to describe the coming Messiah who “will cleanse the people from their sin and impurity as the Good Shepherd who is struck down.” Daniel speaks of the Messiah as one who is cut off and will have nothing, adding to the image of a Messiah who more servant than royal king. This is a Messiah that no one notices if they’re not looking. Jesus left heaven for you, he suffered his whole life on your behalf, he died for you so that your sins might be forgiven, he was even buried and went to hell for you, and he was raised from the dead so that you can also experience eternal life with God.
Jesus willingly died in your place; God raised him up as king over all creation. You’re called to bow down before him. He is the head of the church. This is the Messiah, the one who suffered and died for you and now reigns as our king.