13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
12 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked Him, “Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge - to the great amazement of the governor.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
The Internet can be a fascinating place at times. The other day I searched Google to find out how many decisions the average person makes in a day. Some researchers estimate around a hundred, while others say in excess of 35000. If that’s correct then by the time you reach your 80th birthday you will have made in excess of a billion decisions. I wasn’t really expecting a definitive answer, as some questions are more important than others. Should I go to work today? What should I wear? What shall I eat? Those are important decisions, because they have a knock on effect on the rest of your day. On the other hand, my nose is itching, so should I scratch it is hardly a life-changing decision, but a decision nonetheless…
Most people, by the time they reach early adulthood will have to answer some really important questions. What career should I choose? Should I take this job? Should I marry this person? Should I buy a house? These questions (and there are many others) and how we answer them can have lifelong effects, because a major decision can change the course of our lives for good or bad. Sometimes we choose well, and sadly there are many decisions we make that we regret, but you can’t go through life just shrugging your shoulders with a ‘whatever’ attitude. Every now and then we have to make our minds up. The comedian Tommy Cooper once said, “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure anymore.”
But come to think about it, none of these so-called big questions of life will have any effect after our lives are over. Today we’re going to be considering a couple of questions of infinite importance.
In our second reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is on trial, standing before Pilate, the Roman governor.
He has been dragged there by the mob of Pharisees and the Jewish people, and so Pilate questions Jesus about the charges brought against Him, and after questioning Jesus, Pilate goes out and addresses the mob that is baying for blood.
He asks them a question, a very crucial question, and that question still echoes through time to today. “What shall I do with Jesus?” That was not just a question for the people in Jerusalem that day. It is a question addressed to every person. It is a question addressed directly to you.
What will you do with Jesus? Of all the decisions you make in your life, (and yes there are some big ones), this is the biggest. It is the most important question you will ever consider. How you choose to answer this question is infinitely more important than who you marry, where you work, or what you do with your money. What will you do with Jesus?
Generally speaking we only hear sermons based on the trial of Jesus during Holy Week, but the question Pilate asked is too important to ignore on 51 out of 52 Sundays each year, so today we’re going to look at how several different people answered this question.
As we look as these people today, remember that you too need to have an answer to the question, “What will you do with Jesus?”
Firstly Peter. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. He was part of the inner circle, and was the one to whom Jesus asked a very similar question in Matthew 16. It’s all very well asking others what they think about Jesus, but the point is that we need to make up our own minds and decide for ourselves just who He is. Jesus turned to Peter and said to him, “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
Peter’s profound answer is “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter knew who Jesus was. He was a believer. He had seen what Jesus had done, he heard the things that Jesus claimed about Himself, and he believed. But then when we turn the clock forwards to Matthew 26, the night before Jesus was crucified, we find Jesus and His disciples sharing a meal. Jesus tells them that He would soon be arrested and that the disciples would scatter. But Peter said he wouldn’t, no matter what. But in verses 70, 72 and 74 what do we see Peter doing? Denying that he even knew Jesus. So what did Peter do with Jesus? He denied Him. He disassociated himself with Jesus. When he was in a crowd of people who had rejected Jesus, he acted just like them. What will you do with Jesus? There are many people just like Peter. They are Bible-believing Christians who, when in the presence of other Christians will take a stand for Jesus. In Church on Sunday mornings they’re strong Christians. It’s very easy to come into a building like this and say boldly and with conviction, “Jesus is Lord.” In fact, if you think about it, it’s kind of expected, but many leave Church buildings after an hour a week and deny Jesus with their lives. They go out into the world and look like the world and act like the world and talk like the world. As the old saying goes, if being a Christian was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
It is hard sometimes to see that Jesus has any real effect on some Christian’s lives. What do they do with Jesus? They leave Him in the Church on Sundays and in so doing they deny that He can make a real difference in their lives. The Christian faith becomes nothing more than a philosophy or a belief system, instead of the living relationship it is meant to be. What will you do with Jesus? Will you be like Peter? Of course, Peter was restored. He was treated with grace and forgiveness, and that same hope is ours too.
Secondly we have Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was intrigued by Jesus. Matthew 27:14 tells us that he was amazed. There was something about Jesus that Pilate had not seen in anyone else. In John’s account of the trial Pilate was afraid, because somehow he knew that the claims Jesus made about Himself were true.
But things were beginning to spiral out of control. There was a very good chance that sooner or later a riot would break out, so Pilate had to make a choice: choose Jesus or deny Him to save himself a whole lot of trouble. So Pilate made his choice. It was either Jesus or the world, and Pilate chose the world. The world is full of people just like Pilate. They have been face to face with Jesus. They have heard the gospel, and they know deep within themselves that Jesus is indeed who He claims to be. They have felt the Holy Spirit tug at their hearts. They’ve seen the power of Christ changing lives of people in the most incredible ways. But they also see the world. They have been pulled by the attractions of the world, and just like Pilate, they have rejected Jesus. Having Jesus in their lives would just cause too much trouble, so they have seen Him, but walked away. What will you do with Jesus? Will you be seduced by the world? Is having Jesus in your life too much trouble? Will you be like Pilate? What will you do with Jesus?
Thirdly, we have the crowd that day.
They were standing before Pilate, and things were turning nasty. Because of the lies and false charges brought against Jesus by the Pharisees, mob violence was threatening to take over, and they had built themselves up into a frenzy. Pilate, in a last ditch attempt to try and keep the peace offers them a choice. They can choose Barabbas. We know that Barabbas was a murderer and a robber. Surely the people would rather have Jesus walking the streets than this notorious criminal? And so now the crowd has to answer this vital question: What will you do with Jesus?
They need to decide – Barabbas or Jesus.
Just a few days earlier, they had sung the praises of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
They had seen Him heal people. They’d even seen Him raise the dead. They marvelled at His teaching, and seen His sinless life. And now they had to make a choice. Barabbas or Jesus. A man of sin or a man of God. Evil or good. And so they made their choice. They rejected Jesus. Today we are still surrounded by the multitude. When given the choice of a life of sin or Jesus, they reject Jesus. The temporary life of sin and all it’s lusts and pleasures is more important than eternal life with Jesus. Everybody else is doing it, and so they want to do it too. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The crowd lives for the moment, without considering the end. What a sad, empty way to live this precious gift of life. What will you do with Jesus? Are you going to be one of the multitude - going down the same road that comes to an abrupt end, with no hope beyond the grave? What will you do with Jesus?
The fourth person we’re looking at this morning is the thief on the cross.
We pick up the story from Luke 23:39. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don't you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Here we have a sinner dying on a cross. He was a man who knew he was a sinner, but still it took staring at death to open his eyes. He knew he was getting what he deserved. But he saw Jesus and he recognised Him as the Lord of life. He confessed with his mouth that Jesus was Lord. He cried out to Jesus, and Jesus heard him. When Jesus saw his faith He gave him the gift of eternal life. There are some of us here today that know what the thief knew. We know we are sinners, and because of that we deserve eternal separation from God. But we also know He is the God of grace. We know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We know He died for our sins, and we know He loves us. And because of who He is and because of what He has done, we have cried out to Jesus. We’ve confessed Him as Lord, and we have been saved and we know Him.
What will you do with Jesus? Will you keep denying Him like Peter, even though you should know better? Will you choose the things of the world like Pilate? You’ve seen the truth, you know it to be true, but your life would have to change too much, so it’s easier to just walk away. Will you follow the crowd and choose the easy way out? Are you going to allow others to make up your mind for you? Or will you be like the thief on the cross? Will you take a long, honest look at yourself, admit you are lost without Christ and turn to Him? Will you allow Him to change your life forever?
What will you do with Jesus?
Each of us has to decide how we are going to answer that question for ourselves. And shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘whatever’ is not an option. As CS Lewis famously wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse, but let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
I want to go back to the conversation Jesus had with His disciples in Matthew 16: “He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?”
When Jesus asked them who others say He is, they gave an academic reply, a bit like writing a test at school where your only responsibility is to report what you’ve read but not to accept or reject it. Jesus’ followers gave the answers everyone else gave, but that wasn’t good enough for Him. He asked one of the most important questions of human history and eternity: “What about you? Who do you say I am?”
He called for a personal conclusion and commitment, not an academic answer. You can read every book that has ever been written about Christianity and not be a Christian. You can learn the Bible’s original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. You can memorise every verse in the Bible, and still not be a Christian. You can be baptised, join a Church, give money and get involved in every ministry the Church offers and still not be a Christian.
The question to the disciples that day is the same question for us now. Jesus still wants a personal answer: “Who do you say I am?”
Others can have their opinions of who Jesus is. Some of them may be right, and some can be way off the mark, but the only thing that really matters for you is how you choose to answer His question: “Who do you say I am?” No one else can answer that question for you. Being brought up in a Christian home, going to Church Sunday after Sunday for 80 plus years, having a grandfather who was a missionary, being a nice person and treating others the way to would like to be treated – all of those things are of no eternal significance whatsoever.
Every day we are faced with having to make decisions. Some are important, and most are not. But if you haven’t done so yet, you are going to have to deal with the most important questions you will ever face, and how you answer them will affect you forever. “What about you? Who do you say I am? What will you do with Jesus?”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 16:13-18
Most non-Christians feel that Jesus and the principles of the Christian faith are of no real consequence to them. The attitude of many non-believers is “if that’s what you want to believe, that’s fine, but it’s just not for me.”
Scripture teaches us that such an attitude is fundamentally flawed.
Discuss in your group why it is crucial that every person needs to answer Jesus’ questions for themselves.
On Sunday we looked at 4 different attitudes to Jesus: Peter, Pilate, the crowd and the thief on the cross.
Discuss the differences we see in each case.
How have you been each of these four types of people in the way that you have lived your life?
In his own inimitable style CS Lewis wrote “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse, but let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Someone once said that Jesus backs us into a corner and forces us to decide who He is. Why do you think there is no neutral ground in answering the greatest question of all: Who do you say I am?