catches the villain; it never fails! Bond may be chained up and dangling upside down over a pool of man-eating sharks, but you know he will escape. He may be strapped to a wall with a laser beam aiming to slice him in half, but he will get out. Someone poisons Bond at a poker game, but you know he will somehow live. James Bond is the good guy! He must win! The villain must lose!
That old adage goes for just about any movie. The hobbits (from the Lord of the Rings series) will always make it to Mordor, toss one powerful ring into its fires, and rescue Middle-Earth from the clutches of goblins, evil wizards, and orcs. Spiderman will always defeat Green Goblin, Doc Oct[opus], and Venom. The American Allies will always crush the evil Axis Powers. John Wayne will always bring rustlers to justice. The nice guy will always beat out the jerk to win the girl’s love. Even in those tense moments when our hero faces some insurmountable challenge, you know that he will succeed some way, somehow. You know that you will leave the movie feeling happy because the good guy always wins.
But is that always true? Does he always win? Consider the presence of Christianity in America; do you see victory? A recent [Pew Research] study concluded that 67% of those born between 1925 and 1945 say religion is important in their life. Fifty-one percent of those born between 1925 and 1945 worship every week. So, half of those age 72 to 92 years old sit in a pew every Sunday! Compare that with the Millennial generation. Of those born between 1980 and 1995 only 38% feel religion is important, and only 28% actually worship every Sunday. So, three out of every four people under age 35 find little reason to worship God. Does it look like Jesus is winning?
Or, consider that since 1969, the Reformed Church in America has lost 62% of its membership. The Episcopal Church has lost 49%. The Methodist Church is down 33%. The same study reveals that the members of congregations are getting older and the number of young individuals in worship is decreasing. Does this look like victory?
Maybe you don’t need those studies to tell you what you already know: your society is growing increasingly God-less. You try to share Jesus. You invite friends to worship— and they come— maybe for one or two services (and then they stop coming). You share events on Facebook, you advertise Christmas Eve service in the newspaper, you send out postcards, but no one responds. Your fellow believers get older and move out of the area and you fight to regain lost volunteers and supporters. Look around at this Christian landscape; does it look like things are getting better? Does it look like Jesus is winning? Or, Are you on the losing side?
Jesus holds the answer to that question. The answer is found by him asking you a question: Who Do You Say Jesus Is? That question searches for the (1) identity, (2) characteristics, and (3) actions of Jesus.
The disciples share what many concluded about the Son of Man. “Some say [you are] John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” All four of these characters have one thing in common: they point people to God. Their preaching exposes the smug arrogance of the human heart. They announce how no one can live such a good life that God is compelled to love them. They only declare: “You are separated from God!” And still, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and the prophets point the world to the Lamb God sends to remove sin (John 1:29). They point people to Jesus.
So, when Jesus comes on the scene, many think he is just another great prophet. The Jewish nation waits for a political Savior. They expect a “Christ,” but a “Christ” who would free them from Roman captivity! They expect “Christ” to become their earthly king and restore independence and wealth to the Jewish nation. They expect “Christ” to make life perfect— with food and security and guidance! (John 6:14-15) Since the masses do not see Jesus filling this role, they conclude: he [Jesus] is not the Savior.
Is it really any different today? What do so-called scholars claim about the identity of Jesus? History Channel labels Jesus as just another great rabbi who rallied the Jewish nation together, but died before he made any sweeping changes. The Smithsonian Channel questions if Jesus actually existed; maybe he was nothing more than a mythological fairytale. You go on Facebook, and what kind of God do your friends share? A God who promises perfect health and immense wealth to Christians only (even though this thought is found nowhere in the Bible). A God who loves everything everyone does— regardless of their sexuality or the way they treat authority or the way they worship their money (even though God has a few words on those issues).
Part of the reason your society stays out of worship is because they see Jesus as just another great teacher. If Jesus is just another great teacher, then it means he is just a human being. If Jesus is only a human being, then you can (1) accept his teaching or (2) reject his teaching—and face no divine punishment. If there is no divine punishment behind Jesus’ teachings, then you have the freedom to change his teachings. You can make Jesus into whoever you want him to be. If you fail to see Jesus as God, then you find very little reason to trust Jesus as God.
So, Who Do You Say Jesus Is? We can easily fail to see Jesus as the God he is. When that happens, you try to make him fit your worldly expectations. So, you start by wanting more people in worship so that you can feel successful and popular. Yet, when worship attendance decreases, then you wonder what’s wrong with Jesus… or, what you have to do to win in the eyes of the world. You may expect your society to praise your beliefs and pass laws in your favor. What you have then done is made Jesus an earthly king who is to give you pleasure in this life alone! When you expect something God has not promised, then you change what Jesus actually does. You have changed the person of God. Then you will feel like you are on the losing side. In reality, you have this wrong perception of Who Jesus Is.
Peter pushes to the front of the disciples, looks at Jesus, and announces: “You are the Christ! “You”—that is, finger pointed right at Jesus. “Are”— present tense verb— right here, right now, something is uniquely special about Jesus. “The Christ.” “Christ” is a special name. “Christ” is the Greek word for the Old Testament Hebrew name: “Messiah.” So, both “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “Anointed One.” To “anoint” someone means to “set them aside” for a special mission. Jesus is set aside for the special mission of rescuing the world from the consequences of sin.
Look at Jesus and what do you see? Someone greater than an earthly king. You see the Savior God promised Adam and Eve. You see Jesus, the child promised to Abraham and Sarah, focused on serving God with his entire life. You see Jesus born on Christmas Day for the sole purpose of opening the kingdom of heaven to you!
Who Do You Say Jesus Is? He is the Christ! He is set aside to suffer for your needless despair and self-pity. His mission is to cleanse the selfish arrogance of our human hearts. He comes to make complete payment on your behalf. Jesus, the Christ, has completed his mission of rescuing you from the hell you deserved.
Who Do You Say Jesus Is? In the midst of an increasing God-less society, you confess: Jesus is the Christ. As God’s appointed Son, he continues doing what God expects of him. Jesus lives as the Protector of his Church. “Church”— not a protector of your church building. This is the [big-C] “C”hurch you heard about last week. The [big-C] “C”hurch (or the Holy Christian Church) is the total number of believers. Jesus lives to Protect his Church, to protect you— a believer!
Peter himself confesses: “You are the Son of the living God!” Jesus still lives today! Since he lives, it means he functions! He pays attention to the troubles in this world. He hears your cries of distress and gives you relief. He still protects you, guides you, and leads you through this life and into heaven. This is what Jesus is sent to do.
You can be sure Jesus still remains with you because he himself says so. “[…] on this rock I will build my church.” What’s this rock? It’s not Peter— as though Peter is the leader of all believers on earth. (Both the Greek grammar and much of Scripture does not support this point.) The “rock” is Peter’s rock-solid confession of faith. Peter confesses that Jesus comes to save him.
You have made this same rock-solid confession of faith. You admit that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet. You confess he is the Son of the Living God!
This God makes sure [T]he gates of Hades will not overcome you. The “gates of Hades” refers to the attacks the devil makes on your faith. He tries every day to discourage you. He will point your eyes to statistics and say, “Look, more are staying out of church. Jesus is losing; he is worthless!” He will point at your emotions. “If you feel sad that more people do not love God, then quit!” He will point at your society. “Look, so many people live happier lives than you. They have more money, better health, and tighter families. Why bother with Jesus?”
But remember this: Christ has already won. When he died on the cross, he broke you out of the gates of hell. When Jesus rose from the dead, he announced that you will live with him (John 14:19). Nothing will ever take that away! The devil can never undo Easter. He cannot declare more power than God. You who cling to Jesus by faith live on the winning side. You have won for all eternity.
And so Jesus replies, “Blessed are you!” Not: “Blessed are you, now go get more numbers.” Not: “Blessed are you, now earthly life will be perfect.” Not: “Blessed are you, you will never be discouraged again.” Rather, “Blessed are you, because your faith relies on me. I will never fail to bring you into heaven.” Blessed are you, even when people say horrible things about your faith. Blessed are you, even though society separates itself from the Word. Blessed are you because your faith rests on the work Jesus did to save you. No matter what happens in your world or in your congregation, nothing will remove the royal reign of your Jesus.
Our grim statistics may only increase. In fact, 50% of the American population could be God-less in the next 20 years. Worship attendance could drop even more. Perhaps the United States will even outlaw public worship. Does it look like Jesus wins?
Yes. The government cannot lock Jesus in heaven. An unbelieving generation cannot change the fact that Jesus will come again. No one will topple Jesus off from his throne of authority. The living God is on your side. That means, the good guy always wins.
You already know how this movie will end. Your Christ will continue gathering believers into the mansions of heaven. Nothing will stop that. Your Christ will always remain in the Word and sacraments to strengthen your faith and protect you from every evil assault. Who Do You Say Jesus Is? He is the Christ. He is the Protector of his Church.