14th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 16:13-19 Sermon
August 21, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
556 "Rise Ye Children Of Salvation"
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
438 "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee"
520 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
ONLY ONE TRUE RELIGION
TEXT: (vs. 15-17): [Jesus] said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Remember the Hollywood star named Lew Ayers? This is going back a few years, but Ayers was the first actor to play the role of Dr. Kildare on television and he was also the star of the movie titled: "All Quiet On The Western Front."
As popular as he was, most people, however, never knew the real Lew Ayers. Ayers' first love was not acting or Hollywood. This movie star's greatest interest was in religion. THAT'S CORRECT! IN RELIGION! And, as Ayers approached his 70th birthday, he confessed: "I have tried to gain some type of understanding and I have searched for the answers to the great questions of life."
Now, this endeavor by such a famous man sounds very noble, wouldn't you agree? But this statement has left a few questions in my mind, namely: How did Mr. Ayers search for the answers to life, and who did he talk to, and what were some of his conclusions?
Some years ago the Associated Press published this information and reported that, in his search for the answers to the great questions of life, Ayers had traveled to many countries of the world. He then interviewed leaders of the world's great religions including Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity, Judaism, and many others.
After his long search Ayers came to this conclusion: ". . .every religion," he said, "is a path to spiritual understanding and every religion is valid." Now this conclusion, humanly speaking anyway, sounds very appealing.
But it is totally opposite from the findings and the conclusion of another man who also spent much time and energy searching for the truth. This second man's name was Peter. He is described in the Bible and, like the movie star Ayers, Peter was also searching for the answers to the great questions in life.
Peter was a fisherman, and he also liked to talk, and he liked to express his opinions and he did this vigorously. Like many other men in Palestine of his day, Peter was always interested in teachers and others who claimed to know the ultimate truth and the ultimate religion. In fact, in many ways Peter was very much like the Hollywood actor, Lew Ayers. Mr. Ayers was an actor, but he was more interested in religion.
Peter was a fisherman, but he, too, was instantly eager to join any discussion about religion and the great questions of life. Therefore we might say that both of these men forsook their first calling and aggressively pursued a diligent search for the answers to the ultimate questions of life. But what is interesting is this: In the end, following their searches, these two men ended up with totally different conclusions.
Ayers was of the opinion that all religions are fundamentally the same and equally valid. Peter, however, had met Jesus the Christ. And after hearing Jesus speak, and after seeing the many miracles that Jesus performed, Peter was absolutely convinced that this Jesus was indeed the long-promised Messiah. It is then no wonder that, with great conviction, Peter said to Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And as the Bible says, Peter’s conclusion was the end result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Movie actors and fishermen are not the only people who have searched for answers to the great questions in life. Psychologists and sociologists tell us that never before in history have so many people been searching for meaning in life and a reliable religion to believe in. And so today, I think it would be very advisable for you and for me to consider, at least briefly, the search of the movie actor and the search of Peter in the Bible, and to see why these two men began at much the same place but ended up with totally different conclusions.
And so to begin, let's notice that movie actor Ayers traveled around the world seeking the advice of religious leaders, and these great men definitely gave him their philosophical point of view. They offered their arguments as to why they represented the true religion.
But for Peter, in the Bible, it was different—very different. Peter didn't dialogue with religious leaders. Peter had met Jesus personally. Jesus had sought Peter out and asked him to be one of his disciples. And so Peter spent much time with Jesus, the One who is the center of all faith.
Peter heard Jesus speak. The Saviour uttered profound words about the kingdom of God. But that was not all. Through His mighty miracles, Jesus proved beyond all doubt that He was indeed more than just a religious leader, a philosopher, or a guru. Through what He said, and through what He did, Jesus openly proclaimed, and publicly proved that He was the long- promised Messiah, the Christ.
Of course, I realize that for many people today, this may not be all that significant, but then let me also ask you this question. Say for example that after church today, you went out, and did something so simple as fishing; and, if you fished all afternoon and caught absolutely nothing without so much as a nibble; but then, if someone standing near you, simply by the power of his own words would enable you to catch so many fish that you could not pull them all in, would this make an impression on you?
This is what the Bible said happened to Peter. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 5 verses 4-6 we read that one day, as Jesus and Peter were together in a boat, Jesus said: "let down your nets and prepare to catch many fish." Peter replied, "Lord, we have been fishing all night and have caught nothing." But then Peter quickly added: "Nevertheless, at your word, O Lord, I will let down the net."
The nets were let down. Immediately, the Bible says, they enclosed so great a multitude of fish that the nets began to break. Peter was embarrassed that he had initially doubted Jesus. He was reminded again that this Jesus was no ordinary person. Jesus was not only a man of many words; he was more importantly a man of actions—and miraculous ones at that.
Or, if such a great catch of fish does not impress you today, then let me ask another question. If a member of your family was very sick, and a man came along and healed your loved one immediately, simply by the command of his own words, would this impress you? In the Bible, in the Book of Mark we read that one day Peter's mother-in-law lay in bed seriously ill with a fever. Jesus was informed and the Saviour came into the house where the woman lay. Jesus took the woman by the hand; He lifted her up, and immediately, the Bible explains, the fever left her. Again, even though on this occasion Jesus spoke no words directly to Peter, the miracle performed by the Saviour left a powerful impression in Peter's mind.
Or how about this: In another situation it was at the end of the Sabbath day and local people were bringing everyone who was sick to Jesus. And without question, the Bible again explains, even as Peter watched, Jesus healed the various diseases.
Now, to add to all the miracles, we must also remember that, repeatedly, Jesus told Peter and the disciples who He was. But these twelve loyal disciples, including Peter, were frequently slow to believe and often confused. This was especially the case whenever Jesus explained His coming crucifixion, His bloody death, and His soon-to-come glorious and victorious Easter resurrection.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read: After this, Jesus kept pointing out to His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem, and that He had to suffer much from the elders, the ruling priests, the religious scholars, and then be killed. Jesus explained, however, that on the third day He would be raised again from the dead.
The Bible then explains that Peter was very upset and very disturbed by what Jesus had said. Therefore, Peter took Jesus aside and started to correct Him. “Oh no Lord," Peter said to Jesus. "This must never happen to you."
Yes, this information may be surprising, but according to the Bible, this is the way it was. Even the disciples were slow to believe what would soon happen to Jesus just as Jesus had foretold it; but when Christ's prophecy was fulfilled these events were so dramatic, so forceful, and so filled with emotion, that the disciples, especially Peter, would never ever forget them.
Peter was also aware of how the enemies of Christ had the Savior crucified, how they had cursed Jesus, and how they had spit upon Him. And Peter also knew that when the earth shook and the great rocks broke and the darkness covered the entire earth that this Master of his was no ordinary man.
But the one event which totally, and forever, transformed Peter took place three days after Jesus was laid in the tomb. Three days after Jesus was crucified, Peter, and John, and Mary Magdalene were at the site of the tomb. They were downcast and they were confused. But then they looked into the tomb where the dead body of their Master was supposed to be. And it was not there. By the miraculous power of God, Jesus, the Christ, had been raised again from the dead just as He said He would be.
Jesus never lied. Jesus not only told the truth, Jesus was and still is today the Truth. And so today we have taken the time to summarize, in a small way, all of the experiences that Peter had as he searched diligently for the truth. And, just like the popular Hollywood actor, Lew Ayers, Peter could have gone to interview all of the religious leaders of his day. But, for Peter this was unnecessary. Jesus had come to Peter, and called him. Peter had met the Christ, the Messiah, and any further searching or interviews would have been totally foolish and totally useless.
This is no different for us today. People everywhere are searching for the ultimate truth in life. Many people are seeking a religion or a faith or some sort of philosophy to believe in. But for the Christian, the struggle and search has been answered by the call of the Holy Spirit though the Gospel. And so, instead of considering all of the various philosophical arguments about which religion is the true religion, we just need to examine the facts of Biblical history.
Jesus not only spoke but He also acted; Jesus not only said He would save you and me from our sins, but He himself went voluntarily to the cross. He offered His own body as a perfect sacrifice to pay for all of the sins and the bad judgment and the failures in our lives. And all of these miraculous events of Jesus, including His suffering, death and resurrection, have been recorded in the Bible so that you and I can know for sure who He was; so that you and I can know who He still is today; and so that by trusting in this Jesus you and I can have faith, forgiveness, and an unshakable, eternal hope. John the apostle writes in chapter 20 verse 31 that the Holy Scriptures were written so that we can know of Jesus and that by believing in this Jesus we might have life in His name.
When we look at the world, we see people who argue about religion or philosophy, and who search endlessly for faith. But the Bible tells us that we need only believe in the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the long-promised Messiah. For when we trust in Jesus, we then, by faith, are connected to Him—to Him of whom (as Luke writes in Acts 10, 43) ". . .all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him [in Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins."
Just think of how important that last statement is. Jesus was not some new fly-by-night guru who happened to arrive in Palestine. Jesus was not just any old messiah; He was the long-promised Messiah, foretold from the beginning of time in the Old Testament. Of Jesus all the prophets in the entire Bible bear witness; and through His name everyone who believes in Him receives the forgiveness of sins.
Ah yes, so many different religions in the world, so many different philosophies, and so many dead ends. But thankfully, our future is not grounded upon the endless philosophical arguments of speculation, but rather upon the unchanging facts of history as recorded in the Bible. God the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts and the hearts of all people through those words.
And so, through faith, we connect with Jesus who caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and even the dead to be raised unto life. This is the same Jesus of whom ". . . all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him [including you and me and everybody,] receives [the] forgiveness of sins."
This is the only one true religion. It is the religion to which Peter testifies, and upon which Christ’s entire Church is built. May God use us as his instruments to bring this light of life and truth to a world sitting in darkness.