"The Most Important Question For Your Life! "#78-50
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 21, 2011
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:The Scandal of Particularity!)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Christ has died, He has risen, so that you might have eternal, abundant life in His Name. Amen.
There are questions in life where the answer really matters. In fact, when people ask us those kind of questions, it's often because they care about us, or trust us, or they want what's best for us. Questions and answers help us to get to know one another, to bond us together with common experiences, common answers, even common faith. There are a lot of questions in this life, aren't there? And how we answer some of those questions can literally change our lives!
So, what might some of those important questions be? How about this? "Do you like ketchup or do you like Tabasco? Do you like vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, Neapolitan ice cream or no ice cream at all? Are you a morning person or a night person? (I think that my wife would have liked to know that answer before we got married.)" But these aren't the big questions are they? These questions and answers do help us share a bit about ourselves, but these questions and answers aren't life changing in nature. In the big scheme of things, it really doesn't matter whether you like mustard or ketchup, tap water, mineral water, or that carbonated-sugar-water that everyone seems to like to drink.
But other questions elicit answers that either reflect a changing life or they might even cause it. How about the question, "Will you marry me?"...that will change your life. If the answer is "Yes," the journey of life has just begun. It will take you to the highest peaks or see you through some of the lowest valleys together, but with a love that makes life worth living. Or, how about the question, "What should we name our first child?" Whoa, the answer to that will tell me that you are in the midst of a life-altering event. New joys, new experiences, new burdens, shaping life, not just living it. Or how about this question, "When is your surgery, I want to be there with you at the hospital?" "You mean, you'll come." You'll sit with me, laugh with me, pray with me, even hold my hand when the ultimate verdict comes? Yes! Questions like that come usually from people who love you and care about you, even people who can help you. Answers to those questions can literally change our lives too. These are the deeper questions of life, those that begin to challenge us to the core. They are questions of love and concern; they are questions about our humanity, our dignity. How we answer these can have dramatic effect on what our life can and will be.
In our text for today, there is an even more important question being asked. It's not even a "human relationship type" question, as important as those are. This is a question about your spiritual relationship with God, one that literally transforms your life with God and with others. And Jesus Himself is the One asking.
Each of the synoptic Gospels makes this "question to the apostles," the very central question of the Bible, one that all of us must answer too. Jesus wants to know what Peter, James, John, what you and I think about Who He is. This answer, my friend, will literally change your life.
Jesus wants Peter; He wants you and me to get this answer right. He won't let you hide behind other people's viewpoints. He won't let you hide behind your musings about what God should be. That's a "ketchup-Tabasco discussion" for most people. No, Jesus is God in the flesh, born into sinful man's mess of His world, a servant to a rebellious humanity. Jesus is God in the flesh, who will go to another's cross so that they might be born again through His death and resurrection to His eternal Gift of Life. So, pardon me, says Jesus, but "Who do you say that I am?"
I thank God that Jesus kept on asking those Disciples as He keeps on asking us.
"But, what about all of you? Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven."
Life's most important question, then, is "Who is Jesus Christ and is He that for you and for me?"
It's life's most important question. Because our Spirit-filled answer connects us to the living God with the dynamic relationship of faith.
"Our answer, like Peter, should be, 'You are the Christ, but You are also my Christ, the Son of the Living God, for me!'"
When you get this answer right, it's not like getting a test question right on an exam. When you confess Who this Jesus is, you are confessing who you really are in His Presence too.
It causes us to come clean before God!
Jesus asked His disciples many questions throughout the Gospels. In the Gospel of John, after teaching the crowd about Who He really was, this world's only Lord and Savior, many of them left, they stopped following Him, and so He asks His trusted Apostles, "Do you all want to leave, too." Peter again answers, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have come to know and to believe that you are the Holy One of God."
We know Who You are Jesus, and we know who we are in Your presence. We're sinful people in need of God's grace and You are God's grace in action for us.
You see, when you get this answer right, you want to repent of the foolishness of constantly trying to make God into your own image, one who does your bidding, on your terms. To mold Jesus into our own image is to miss the life and salvation that only He can bring.
In his book Soul Searching, Christian Smith summarized perceptions about God that are prevalent in the church and in our contemporary culture. He said that most young evangelicals believed in what could be best described as a "moral, therapeutic deism" (we could also call this viewpoint "the Santa Claus god").
Moral implies that God wants us to be nice. He rewards the good and withholds from the naughty. Therapeutic means that God just wants us to be happy. Deism means that God is distant, that He's not really involved in our daily lives. God may get involved occasionally, but on the whole, God functions like an idea not a personal Being actively present in our world.
According to Smith, this is the version of God that's prevalent in our culture, sadly, even in our Christian Churches, the god of our own imaginations-our American god is an obese, jolly toymaker who works one day a year.
The God of many today in popular culture is One Who is merciful without justice, loving without holiness, powerful with no real authority. He's there when we need Him and lovingly silent when we don't. What's amazing to me is the fact that we don't even love each other this way. We would never stand for a relationship in our lives that is so one-sided, so demeaning.
I've just recently read a quote from a fairly popular pop singer. She said, "I believe in a forgiving god, because that's just what gods do."
Jesus may be willing to start the discussion there, "Who do others say that I am." He may start there, but our sakes, He won't stop there. He keeps on asking questions so that He can begin to show you, not only Who He is, but what life in Him really entails. The gods of our imaginations never amount to much in the end. The God of the Scripture is beyond our imagination, but one we can know and trust; He is the One Who comes in mangers and stables, One Who rides donkeys not stallions, One Who takes on crosses and promises resurrection life not in theory but in fact, and He's the One Who is asking you today, "Who do you say that I am?"
Jesus asks this question, because getting this answer right is vital to your very lives. He's not just a great teacher who gave great practical advice for people's lives; He's not merely one with awesome authority and power; He is ultimately the Christ, the anointed One Who has come with salvation in His hands and healing in His wings.
What's so amazing about this passage is that "even Peter's correct answer" is a gift of the Father by the power of the Spirit. And that means that even our "faith life in Him" is not so much, "What can we do with God's power, strength and wisdom," but more importantly, it's what can our loving Lord Jesus do in and through us.
Too many think that answering this question "limits their possibilities," encroaches on their freedom, no! Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith in Jesus doesn't limit our life, it opens it up to the possibilities that only our Creator and Redeemer can bring.
If you've ever watched a master potter with a lump of clay, you'll know what I mean. If you've ever seen a blacksmith mold and shape molten metal into something beautiful and useful, you'll know what I mean. If you've ever seen a glassmaker literally blow life and beauty out of a sticky glob of glass, you'll know what I mean.
Are you going to go through your whole life and make of it only what you can or are you going to answer Christ's question to you today and make of life what Christ would have for you? God's grace is that Jesus kept on asking, "But what about all of you? Who do you say that I am?"
This is life's most important question because our faith-filled answer empowers our walk with Him, in Christ, we walk now with His authority, with His blessing, with His Spirit.
Jesus is the One Who says, (Blessed are you! Peter, that's the answer. You know who you are and you know Who I am for you. In fact, you will become a fisher of men. You will proclaim My Name, My teaching, My authority to the world so that they might believe in Me, too.
Have you ever really thought about Who this Jesus is and what you're believing in Him really means for you?
If you trust in Him, He is the source of your life, your salvation, your wisdom, your righteousness, your peace, no matter what you are facing at this moment.
In his book, "What More Is There To Say But AMEN," Dr. Oswald Hoffmann says it even more pointedly...at the point of someone's death, the most universal, compelling event for all humanity, he says,
"Sometimes in our humanity, we do not know what to say to grieving people. What do you say to a mother and two little children standing at the graveside of her husband, their father who has died of a brain tumor? You do not come and say, "I know how you feel." Nobody understands how they feel but God. But, one thing you can say to them without exaggerating one bit is, "Jesus Christ is Lord. I do not know how things will work out for you in your life, but I know that they will. You do not have to worry about it. Jesus is Lord. He has been raised from the dead by the glory of His Father. He is around. He will guide and govern all your works, both personal and professional."
So, let me continue to remind you, without exaggeration, of Who this Jesus is, the One Who is asking you to put your trust, your faith in Him.
Mike Hilson's poem, "GOD IS," continues to say it well...
(Jesus) He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End!
He is the Keeper of Creation and the Creator of all He keeps.
He always was, He always is, and He always will be...
He was bruised and He brought healing
He was pierced and He eased pain
He was persecuted and bought freedom
He was dead and bought life.
He is my Redeemer, my Savior, my guide, my peace, my Joy, my comfort, my Lord, my life!
When I face trials, He is with me!
When I face persecution, He shields me!
When I face problems, He comforts me!
When I face loss, He provides for me!
When I face Death, He carries me Home!
He is everything for everybody, everywhere,
Every time, and in every way.
He is God, He is faithful. I am His, and He is mine!
You see, Jesus wants us to get this answer right, don't you think? Blessed are you Peter, for this answer is your life. Blessed are you believer, you know this Jesus by faith. He is your Lord and Savior and that answer is about your life, living life in His Name forever.
This is life's most important question because our faith-filled answer empowers our walk with Him. And our faith walk with Him makes our relationships with others unique, too.
When you get this answer right, you're really talking about trusting in this Jesus in all things. And, when this is the focus of your life, you begin to look at others through His eyes and not your own. Confession of Faith to Him compels love for others. Forgiven people forgive! Graced people are gracious.
When you get this question right, you realize that God is literally coming for you to save you. His Holy Spirit literally prays for you and Jesus Himself serves you into His Heaven. When you answer this question by faith, you become a praying, serving person in Him for others. It's just that way.
You might say that faith in Christ causes Christians to even play the game of life differently, doesn't it?
Robert Roberts writes about a 4th grade class in which the teacher introduced a game called The Balloon Stomp. A balloon was tied to every child's ankle, and the object of the game was to pop everybody else's balloon while protecting your own. The last person with an intact balloon would win the game. The concept was if I win, then you lose.
The 9-year-olds entered into the spirit of things vigorously. When the battle was over in a matter of seconds, only one balloon was still inflated. And, of course, its owner was the most disliked kid in the room.
A second class, though, came in later that day and they were asked to play the same game-only this time the class was filled with developmentally disabled children. The Balloon Stomp proceeded quite differently. When the instructions were given, it seemed that the only idea they grasped was that the balloons were supposed to be popped. But instead of fighting each other off, the children got the idea that they were supposed to help one another pop each other's balloons. They formed a kind of balloon-stomp co-op.
One little girl knelt down and held her balloon carefully in place-like the holder for a field goal kicker-while a little boy stomped it flat and then knelt down and held his balloon still for her to do the stomping.
On and on it went, all the children helping one another in the great stomp and when the very last balloon was popped, everybody cheered, everybody won.
The question you have to ask is this: "Who got the game right, and who got the game wrong?"
Questions, Questions? Life is full of them. But there is one question in the Bible that supersedes all others, and Jesus is the One asking it. He says, "Who do you say that I am?"
Don't let anything in this life prevent you from answering. We do live in a world that is endlessly dealing with the trivial and the mundane! Maybe the "ketchup-Tabasco" questions are all the rage. Maybe there are enough of those questions to keep us busy, to keep us occupied. But, maybe, just maybe even the deeper life questions won't let us rest until we answer the big question that Jesus asks.
There's more to life than this life can give. There is resurrection, life and salvation in Jesus Christ, for you. There is so much more to life than even your best efforts or momentary prosperity can give. There is the life that God Himself has for you to live, now and forever in Him for others. Who do you say that Jesus is? The right answer, answered by grace through faith literally connects your life to the living God and it empowers your walk with Him now and forever.
Jesus will keep on asking the question until you answer. He'll keep asking you, "But what about you? Who do you say that I am?" With Peter, I pray that you answer, "You are the Christ, and You are my Christ, the Son of the living God for me."
Here's to your life in Him. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 21, 2011
Topic: The Scandal of Particularity!
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am." Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Well, that's an important answer to give. It's the answer our listener would give, but do all people have to answer it the same way in order to be saved?
SELTZ: Well, the Bible is pretty clear on this one, Mark. In fact, in Acts it says, "There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved." So, that's pretty emphatic and that coincides with Jesus' desire to draw that answer out of Peter too.
ANNOUNCER: And our listener is fine with that answer for himself, but he's having trouble with the idea of those who might not have heard about Jesus.
SELTZ: I think you're right. I think that's what he's struggling with. In theology, we call this the "scandal of particularity." Now that just means this: that salvation is a free gift for all people but it's offered only through the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: That's scandalous to many. They would think that God must allow for many ways to approach Him for salvation.
SELTZ: That would be "fair" don't you think? But for many, what they're really saying, I think, is that God, or at least the Bible, is not being "fair" here.
ANNOUNCER: How do you respond to that?
SELTZ: Well, first of all, you need to share with them the full extent of the Bible's invitation. It's an invitation that has been around since the time of the Garden of Eden. God has put this invitation, this promise of salvation, out there in human history in ways for all people to hear and receive. He made this promise of salvation to Adam and Eve. He built this promise miraculously into a family. In fact, the big three monotheistic religions all claim the stories of Abraham and Isaac. And then God placed that promise, this invitation, in a tiny, undeserving people named Israel so that any might or victory that they might have among the power nations would be again a clear testimony to Who God is, this God of Grace.
ANNOUNCER: It sounds like God has been trying to "keep it fair" from the beginning.
SELTZ: Well, when you look at it that way, it sure sounds like He's choosing a way of conveying His message that is radically different so that all people will hear it and prayerfully receive it.
ANNOUNCER: And then that message comes into the world through a poor Virgin Mother in the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. That's uniquely different too, isn't it?
SELTZ: It sure is. Think about it, Jesus has no connection to the powerful, He is born of parents of no influence, and yet His message gets out in a way that no other message has.
ANNOUNCER: So God's method of "inviting folks to faith" is so obviously different, it rises above the noise so that all people can hear it.
SELTZ: Yes, and not only that. The message is so different in contrast to other religious as well, even other philosophies. Think of it this way, what other religion or secular philosophy speaks of the righteous demands of God, the necessary Justice of God, and then speaks about God "appeasing" that Justice by punishing Himself in the place of those who didn't deserve His grace?
ANNOUNCER: Okay. Well, that is radical and I guess God continues to get that message out in a unique way. It's a unique message in itself that seems to answer the "fairness" question.
SELTZ: Well, yes and no. As sinful people, we still probably think that it's unfair that God is calling all people to repentance in faith through His Law, but more importantly, through His Gospel Good News of grace alone in Christ on His terms. But, the Bible is clear. God wants all people to repent and be saved on His terms alone.
ANNOUNCER: But some people don't believe.
SELTZ: And I think that is the struggle our listener is having and if that is his struggle, then we prayerfully place all of those kinds of questions in the hands of the Lord who wants all people to be saved. But, if there is a person that we know that doesn't know Jesus as Lord and Savior, we commit ourselves to serving and caring for that person in a way that we might someday share the Good News of Jesus with them.
ANNOUNCER: Sounds to me like we'll have to resolve this question on the basis of "faith alone."
SELTZ: Right, faith alone in God, with a fervent love for our neighbor who doesn't yet know Him. So, that if you think about this question, remember, that God has placed this salvation invitation uniquely in history so that all people can hear and receive it.
ANNOUNCER: And Jesus wants us to get that answer right for our sake.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you Pastor Seltz, this has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"We Believe That This Is Jesus" arr. Mark Sedio & Henry Gerike. From Safe in Your Faithfulness by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2007 Concordia Seminary Chorus) Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
"A Multitude Comes from the East and the West" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House/SESAC)
"Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good" arr. John Behnke. From For All Seasons, vol. 2 by John Behnke (© 2001 John A. Behnke) Concordia Publishing House/SESAC