There is power in identity. There is human pain when we do not know our identity. But a DNA test-kit from ancestry.com will not fill the existential hole in our lives. It is a decidedly different kind of identity that the human spirit seeks.
I was orphaned as a child. My father’s sister adopted me. I was put into her arms when I was nine months old. On that morning when my Merchant-Mariner-officer-father came from the sea, to get me from the police in New Orleans, and drive up to the country where his family had come from, my dear Aunt Eva was 65 years old and recently widowed. Aunt Eva did not have children before me. She never called a child, “son,” or “daughter.” I never called any woman “mother,” or “mom,” except for my wife. I called my wife “mom” for the sake of our son.
I want to tell you something of my life so that you can know me better and hear my heart as I speak to you. One day, when I was very young, something happened to me that began to heal the pain in my life of early neglect and, if you prefer, abuse. I was in church, about five years of age. I was seated, bow tie and jacket, as always, next to my Aunt Eva. It was Mother’s Day. As was the custom of the day in rural churches like ours, the pastor, Dr. J. K. Pierce, asked all the children of mothers present to stand in honor of them. When the question was asked I suddenly felt thrust onto the dock, standing before the bar of truth. I felt a knot in my stomach.
“Come on now, children” the pastor nudged. “Stand up for your mamas!” Others there knew of my father’s ordeal and had heard, at least rumors of the difficult circumstances that led to my placement by the courts as a ward of Aunt Eva (one day I will tell you more about that time). At that moment, on that Mother’s Day, I was feeling self-conscious about standing because of others. I felt conflicted: Aunt Eva was, well, “Aunt” Eva; yet, there was no doubt who was my mother. She was. But I could hear the other question in my heart, “Who did the others say that she is?” Yes, I am ashamed to say that I thought that as a little child. But what got me was the question that stuck in me like a knife: “Who do you say she is?” That was the question that gripped me in a moment that was suspended in an eternity.
The gospel reading in St. Matthew is an extraordinary section of that first book of the New Testament. Matthew began his gospel story by giving the genealogy of Jesus. It was a genealogy that was extraordinarily human. There were scoundrels, prostitutes, victims of terrible crimes, duplicitous grandfathers, and scheming grandmothers. Yet, through all the genealogy there were also very godly men and women. Mostly, they were good and they were bad, too. Like us. Matthew’s genealogy of the Lord concludes with Jesus’s adoptive father, his earthly father whose name, family lineage and heritage, Jesus would take for his own. Jesus’s identity goes much deeper than a DNA test on Mary’s side of the family. Jesus’s identity is firmly grounded in a promise. The Bible calls that promise a “covenant.” It is for that reason that I wrote a song for those struggling with identity and I called it “A Promise is Stronger than Blood.” So, in Matthew chapter 16, after a series of teachings given from a boat on Galilee to a gathered crowd on a hillside rolling down to the shoreline, after healing many, after feeding 5,00, then 4000, men plus women and children, with only a few loaves of bread and a few small fish, Jesus retreats to a quiet place to mentor his disciples. There, in the rugged beauty beneath snow-capped Mount Hermon, the Savior issues a sort of subpoena for His followers. Jesus places his disciples “on the dock,” before the “bar of truth.” There, Jesus asks his disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus was clear about his own identity. He was the “Son of Man.” He was the promised Messiah. So, this question was not a loaded question or a question designed to trip them up. Jesus may speak in parables and Jesus may speak with biting words to the scribes and the Pharisees, but his words to the disciples are unambiguous. So, Simon the son of Jonah, answers with a declaration of faith that Jesus is, in fact, much more than anything the others said. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the only begotten of God the Father. This answer forms the foundation for the powerful movement that would follow. For Jesus proclaims those glorious words, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The gates of hell represent death, if not all the dreadful hostility arising from the sulfuric lair of Satan and his fallen angels. Though they strive against the Church — the Church being the congregation of God’s people stretching from the first believer in the Old Testament to the last believer before Jesus comes again — the supernatural, God-inspired Church will continue. Peter’s confession and all confessions like his lead to a life in a destiny of ultimate victory despite struggle and even persecution. But it all started with the question of identity.
The life and ministry of Jesus Christ places every man and woman, every boy and girl as a defendant standing at the dock, before the bar of truth. Each of us must answer, not merely what others think about Jesus, who do they say that he is, but rather “who do you say that he is?”
The truth of this passage in God’s word for us today is this: Confessing Jesus like Peter leads to a new identity in Christ with God.
What does that look like? How does confessing Jesus Christ as Peter did lead to a new identity? What does this mean for us today? There are three responses to that question of “Confessing Christ and identity” in this text. The first response is this:
Confessing Christ gives us a new identity with God.
There are many extraordinary things happening at one time in this majestic passage. Jesus had brought his disciples to the district of Caesarea Philippi. That region is at the head of the Jordan River and lies below Mount Lebanon. Founded by Philip II, Phillip Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great (who has sought to kill Jesus as an infant), the governor chose to distinguish this town from the town of Caesarea on the Mediterranean by adding his own name to the town. The region, formerly “Paneas”, after the god Pan, formed a sort of “retreat” for Jesus and his disciples. The region has reverted to its pagan origins in name for it is called Banais today. Following the unforgettable time of teaching, healing and working of miracles by feeding the 5000 and the 4000 and the gathering of baskets of bread and fish that was left over from the five loaves and the seven loads respectively. Jesus had warned the disciples about the teaching of the Sadducees and Pharisees. So now in this retreat at the foot of the mountain at the headwater of the Jordan, Jesus seeks to clarify not only his identity but the identity of his disciples. For when he asked them, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They begin to get the answers about what others said. But he said to them, “but who do you say that I am?” And it was Simon Peter who replied, “you are the Christ the son of the living God.”
When Simon bar-Jonah made his extraordinary confession about the identity of Jesus Christ and when the Lord Jesus Christ confirmed that Holy Spirit inspired response, Simon became “Peter.” “The Rock,” or “Rocky,” if you will, entered a new relationship with God. This is the thing we must see first and foremost above all other things. When we confess the Lord Jesus Christ, when we name him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that He is the very Son of the living God, the Second Person of the Trinity, we enter a new relationship with Almighty God. Before that time, we were subject to the judgments of God. Before that time, we related to God as Father only in the sense that we are created beings in the image of God. But to confess Jesus Christ as Lord is to enter God’s holy family. It is to become a son of the living God yourself. This, of course, is not in the same way as Jesus is the Son of God. But to be certain, you have a new identity as a son or as a daughter of the creator of the universe.
I remember the first time in my life that I spoke the words, “Jesus is God.” Before I had heard the gospel presented so clearly by Dr. D. James Kennedy I certainly believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Like Peter and the other disciples, I had heard what others said. But I needed to say for myself. I had never said that “Jesus was and is Almighty God.” Yet, Jesus himself identifies as the Almighty. When he uses the phrase, “the Son of Man,” He is using the language of the prophet Daniel 7:14-15. Rather than being a description of humanity the phrase “the Son of Man,” was Daniel’s way of describing the second person of the triune Godhead.
I wonder how many people here in their heart declared, “Jesus, you are the Almighty God.” To do so to confess Christ in this way is to establish a new identity with Almighty God himself.
There is a second response to our question about confession and identity is this:
Confessing Christ gives us a new identity with others.
At the heart of the passage is also a striking challenge that is given by Jesus to the disciples. He asked them about the opinion of others. He wanted to know what the others said about his identity — and this presumably included the scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees with whom he had just debated. The disciples answered that “some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” In other words, Jesus was asking them to confess his identity before others.
Many of you will remember the Scripture in which Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. Confessing Christ gives us a new identity with self” (Matthew 10:32 NASB). There can be no clandestine believers. Will must give account before others of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the church, we do that through confessing Christ before others as we were a new believer, as we are a covenant child Richard in a believing home and taking a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ publicly. That time has historically been called a time of “confirmation.” In the Roman Catholic Church “confirmation” is a sacrament. While this is not so in the Reformed churches — for we find only two sacraments in the Bible, the sacrament of entrance into the family of God, which is baptism, and the sacrament of nourishment in our faith, which is the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion — we hold the public confession of the Lord Jesus Christ by our children as well as by adults as a necessary sign of our internal Faith.
But here is the great truth: we all have an identity with other people. We all have blind spots. Other people see things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. Some of those things are virtuous and some of those things not so much. But for a Christian, Jesus desires that our confession be set amidst others. Part of that is to a firm the strength of our faith. Yet, part of it is to encourage others in the truth of Jesus’s identity. And when we do that guess what happens? Our own identity is shaped in a remarkably beautiful mold.
Have you confessed Jesus Christ as Lord? To do so is to stand apart from all the other sayings about Jesus in this world — he was a great teacher, it was a miracle worker, it was a very wise Rabbi — and for you to stand before others and declare, “my Lord and my God.” Confessing Christ not only forges your identity forever with Almighty God, but establishes your identity in the larger community in which he lives. And this leads us to the final response I have from this passage:
Confessing Christ gives us a new identity with self.
When our Lord Jesus Christ heard the confession of that bold and brawny disciple, Jesus replied in front of all the disciples:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
While the words after that sentence have received much dispute— “the keys of the kingdom” and the “binding and loosing” —we can at least say that the kind of confession that Peter made is the authoritative foundation for the work of Almighty God in the world today through his chosen instrument, the Church.
This is a remarkable day in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus calls the Church in Revelation chapter one a “Golden Lampstand.” The Golden Lampstand is a supernatural instrument born of the Holy Spirit with all the signs and symbols of an earthly institution. Yet, because of the empowering of the Holy Spirit, there is a hidden power, a proleptic power, that is always there, ready to burst forth into her divine destiny. Trinity Chapel Charlotte Presbyterian Church is meeting in the public worship of the living God for the first time in her history. As such, this local worshiping community is becoming a golden lampstand taking its place besides many other lamp stands shining the gospel of our Lord Jesus to the world. And we pray that this golden lampstand will be shining when Christ comes again. We ask him today so the therapy many souls safe in the arms are Jesus on our error.
Confessing Christ leads to a new identity: an identity grounded in Covenant, hidden in Christ, that transforms self. And what is most glorious is this: to speak forth this confession in your heart and with your mouth is to know yourself as you never have.
I shuffled in the pew. I looked around. I saw the children from my Sunday School. I saw the old-World War I vets in ill-fitting clothes, with whom I would often gather in between Sunday School and worship service to listen to their stories and watch them spit tobacco juice. I looked at Dr. Pierce, the pastor I loved so much. So many others. And I thought their eyes were all fixed on me. Yet, during that holy moment, even at five years of age, I knew this: Aunt Eva loved me and I loved here. I had no one else in the world to care for me but her and care for me she did with unrestricted compassion and insight into my life, what needed healing, how I needed to be shaped as a boy to become a man. Now, I didn’t think all those higher metaphysical ideas at five years of age. I just knew all that in this: Aunt knew who she was. She had demonstrated her motherly love for me. And right before the pastor called on the children to stand he had called on the mothers to stand. Aunt Eva never hesitated as she proudly stood in her pretty hat, her white gloves, and looked down at me and smiled her radiant joy. She had stood for me. All I had to do was respond. So, I stood for her. Aunt Eva’s identity was clear. So, naming her identity as my mother, I had an identity, too. I was Aunt Eva’s boy. I was her son. And that changed my life.
In an infinitely more profound way, you and I must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths (Romans 10:9-10) that Jesus Christ is the resurrected and living Lord. Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. Jesus our Lord is God in the flesh. He died for our sins. He lived the life we could never live and He died the death that should have been ours. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Jesus said to tell no-one for it was not yet the time. But today is the day. Now is the time. He is alive forever more. He took a stand for you when He came to earth, when He was born in a feed trough, when He had no place to lay His precious head, when He suffered at His passion and when He died on the cross for your sins. Jesus stood for you. But will you stand for Him?
His identity is secure. Is yours?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”