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Sermon on Moses, Caesar, and Christ of August 21, 2005

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Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California

14th Sunday after Pentecost – August 21st 2005

Isaiah 51:1-6 Psalm 138 Romans 12: 1-8 Matthew 16:13-21

Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, Oh Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Amen. (Psalm 19:14)

During the summer I have been making a study about how the Gospels are rooted in the prophets and they are not rightly understood if the sayings of the prophets are unknown to us. Thus, in Habakkuk, the fishing nets are used by Babylon to fish for the nations in order to plunder them. The mustard bush is a humble version of the tree that represents the emperor and the empire. The emperor of Babylon is like a proud cedar of Lebanon, whose top-most branches reach up into heaven, and he will not let God be God, but is consumed with pride as the birds, i.e., the nations come and seek refuge under his branches.

I never realized how much Christ really tangled with Caesar and how Christ had the individual and the structure of society in focus. New wine needs new wineskins for new wine in the old wineskins will make them burst. You can’t sew a new patch of cloth onto the old fabric of society, because when they go through the wash, the new one will shrink and either it or the society will tear up. Thus new persons, who are not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2), also need a new community to thrive in.

This sermon is going to look at the structure of the community mostly from its head to understand what the vision of Christ was for the new covenant of the promised land flowing with milk and honey.

Moses, Caesar, and Christ

Looking up Caesarea Philippi, we find that it is a small city 20 miles north of the Sea of Galilee on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, away to the north of Israel, where the Gentiles pushed against the Jewish Galilee of the Nations. The city had been a worship center of Pan, the Roman nature god, and when Herod’s son, Philip, came to rule, he rebuilt the city and named it after himself and Caesar.

In the Gospel of Mark the context of the confession of Peter comes right after a healing miracle in which Jesus healed a blind man. Here in the Gospel of Matthew you will see that Jesus also had to deal with the problem of blindness.

Jesus had just fed 4,000 people by multiplying the seven loaves and a few small fish, which symbolized feeding the nations, because seven baskets of fragments were left over.

(Traditionally seven, because seven nations had not been completely driven from the land. See Joshua 24:11). Before that Jesus had just fed 5,000 people, representing the feeding of Israel, because twelve baskets of bread-fragments were gathered-in that were left over, signifying the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to them and in the Gospel of Luke, he sends out the seventy in the context of the nations, meaning that he is the “King” of Israel and the Lord of all the Nations.

After this miraculous feeding, the multiplication of the loaves and fish, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign! Were they blind? Where had they just been? Had they seen nothing? And then consider the disciples. Jesus says, “Beware the leaven, the sourdough of the Pharisees.” And the disciples whisper anxiously to one another, “Jesus must know that we forgot to buy bread and now we have only one loaf in the boat!” And Jesus has to bring up the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, so they understand he is speaking about the teaching of the Pharisees and not the bread, per se.

Thus Jesus has to deal not only with the blindness of the Pharisees, who were the local political and community leaders, like our state assembly representatives, or city councilors, etc., but also with the blindness of his own disciples, and my own blindness, I submit, and yours as well.

To help his disciples see his vision, he asks them, “Who do people say that the son of man is?” This expression has three meanings: “this mere human being who is mortal, who am I?” The “son of man” can also mean the end-time judge in Daniel 7:13; or this expression can mean a human being pointed toward suffering, i.e., the suffering servant. In this place it means “this mortal” or “this mere human being.”

It was as if Jesus were to say, “After these healing campaigns we have made crisscrossing Israel, changing attitudes, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and bringing hope to the coastlands, the East and the West Coast in our case, we thirteen, myself and you twelve, who do they say I am?”

The disciples answer: some say you are John the Baptist come back to life. Herod thought that was the case when he heard about Jesus. Others say you are Elijah. In the last verse of the last book of the Old Testament in most of our Bibles we read, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents toward their children and the hearts of the children toward their parents, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse!” (Malachi 4:5-6) Others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets. They probably referred to a verse in Deuteronomy (18:15): there Moses states, “The Lord your God shall raise up a prophet like me from among your own people: you shall listen to such a prophet.”

You may not know that Muhammad claimed that he fulfilled that verse. He said, “I am the prophet there foretold.” I myself, being a Christian, believe that Muhammad was not cured of his blindness about Jesus and the vision of the Gospel of Jesus, the way Peter was.

When I was taking a Sociology of Religion course with Robert Bellah, he asked us to try a thought-experiment: what if King David had not written poetry and played a harp, but had been a conqueror and mobilizing armies he had gone down into Egypt and conquered it, taken North Africa, then gone over into the East and conquered all of Asia into India, came back and tried to conquer Europe. What if the Jews had conquered the world, rather that having been booted out of so many countries, and been persecuted the way they were? Well, that is what Islam did under the sign of monotheism. But they did it with armed force and thereby forfeited the promises that had a peculiar new kingdom and covenant in mind: one predicated on life, trust, and healing campaigns, rather than death, coercion, control, and military campaigns.

To get back to the confession of St. Peter: Jesus realizes that their answers are too general, so then he moves the question into their hearts – and we also have to let Jesus move this question into our hearts as well – and Jesus asks, I don’t want to know so much who they say I am, but now, who do you say that I am?”

Peter was blind but now he could see. “Let me tell you, Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

Now that was a real mouthful! Let us break down his confession to understand it a little. What does the word, “messiah” mean? The word means “the anointed one” in Hebrew. The word, “massage” comes from the same Hebrew root. Usually a masseur uses some salve or oil to help their craft: sweet almond oil or others. In Hebrew, “massach” means “to anoint with a fragrant oil”. And the kings of Israel were so anointed. You may remember how Samuel poured the oil over the head of young David anointing him the king. Now “crissere” is the same word in Greek. So some Bibles have Peter say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Christ means the anointed one in Greek like what the Messiah means in Hebrew. Thus in the name Jesus Christ, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, as in Peter Krey. Christ refers to the one who will rule on the throne of David, as David’s son, who is also David’s Lord, as promised by God, forever and ever.

That is why directly after Peter makes his confession, Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, where he will cleanse the temple and when asked by the chief priests, “Are you the Messiah?” in the Gospel of Mark he will answer, “I am, and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:62).[1]

What does it mean to be the Messiah, to be the Christ? No king is really allowed to rule over Israel. God reigns over the people and only God can be their king. You remember how hurt Samuel felt that the people wanted a king over them like the nations. God said to Samuel, “they are rejecting me not you.” Moses understood God’s rule perfectly well and called himself, the servant of God, Ebed Jahwey, in Hebrew. The kings of Israel had to be confronted by the prophets because just their being kings contradicted the rule of the holy One of Israel and the promises of God for God’s holy people.

David was God’s darling as his name signifies. He wrote poetry, played the harp, danced naked in front of the arc of the covenant as it came up in the procession from Bethel into Jerusalem. David’s wife saw him from the window and rejected him thereafter. David is a peculiar king. And Jesus is the son of David for the royal throne, but this move goes much farther than Moses went. Jesus is not merely the servant of God, but the suffering servant, promised for the new covenant.

“Moses,” you may not realize, is an Egyptian throne name. In Hebrew they insist it means “drawn from the water,” but the daughter of Pharaoh named him Moses, but he identified with the Hebrew people and did not end up building a pyramid, but tried to take the Hebrew people into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. No one even knows where his grave is or where he was buried. But Moses had received the throne name of the Egyptian Pharaohs. “Thutmosis” means “born of the god, Thoth,” “son of the god, Thoth.” Raamses is Ra-mosis in Egyptian, and means, “born of the god, Ra” or “son of the god, Ra”. Moses had become the throne name of the Pharaohs ever since Ahmose had liberated the Egyptians from the occupation of the Hyksos (ca. 16th century BCE), and they received the name Moses after him, just like the Roman emperors named themselves Caesars after Julius Caesar.

So concerning the titles Caesar, Moses, and Christ, what does it mean to be the Christ? Peter says, “Jesus, you are the son of the living God,” he means, the only God, the one true God, whose name is too holy to pronounce. Thus Moses did not have God’s name attached to his. He did not call himself “Jahwey-Moses”. It is as if Peter said to Jesus, “You are born from the one who made the heavens and the earth. You have been given the power over Israel and all the nations of the earth and you will come riding on the clouds in the last days to judge them all,” – to see if they did healing campaigns or military campaigns, served the Prince of Peace or drowned the world in blood.

Jesus answers Peter: “Blessed are you Peter, son of Jonah.” Peter is a nickname Jesus gives him, which is as much as to call him, Rocky, (not Belboa, although that boxer’s face seems to try to show a face filled by suffering. But in Jesus’ conception of things, he could not be a suffering servant while punching another boxer out.) Jesus called Peter the Rock, the rock of faith from which we have all been quarried (Isaiah 51:1), the Rock who gathered the twelve back together when the false rulers had struck the shepherd and all the sheep had scattered.

“Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven.” This Messiah did not rule an ordinary kingdom, but one predicated on life, trust, forgiveness, expanding under a heaven of grace by means of healing campaigns. Who can see such a vision in this dark world full of coercion, control, and military campaigns, designed to tear away God from the rule of God’s holy people.

Thus we too like Peter need to receive eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Jesus is Lord. Not a “lord” in the medieval sense of lords and ladies, but in the sense of the name Adonai, the name used not to pronounce that of the most holy One of Israel. Jesus is born from the living God, who created the heavens and the earth and his “kingdom” comes when we confess Jesus to be the Christ with Peter – so that the name above every name also names us and we become part of that great healing campaign of Christ in all the promises of the gospel.

And this revelation came to Peter at Caesarea Philippi. You can forget Caesar. Christ was revealed to Peter and now to us. Caesarea Philippi, you can for get Philip, the son of Herod, ruler of Israel. Christ, the Messiah, is the anointed One of God, who is the suffering servant, lamb of God, leading us all into promised lives in a promised land composed of all the nations of the world, under a heaven of grace, full of forgiveness, predicated on love and trust and peace, flowing with the milk of human kindness and the honey of God’s grace. Amen.

Pastor Peter Krey 8/21/2005


[1] I wonder if it is possible to see significance between the place here where Jesus says, “I am.” And later in Mark (15:2) before Pilate, where Jesus says, “You said it.” I thought that Jesus might mean that Pilate does not understand the vision of the Messianic Kingdom and may have distanced himself by that remark. In Matthew, however, he also says, “You said it” (26:64) to the high priest.

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Written by peterkrey

July 26, 2006 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

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