THE GREAT CONFESSION
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
11-6-66 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are invited to turn with us in this First Baptist Church in Dallas to the First Gospel, Matthew, chapter 16, Matthew chapter 16; and we shall read from verse, from verse 13 through verse 19. Matthew chapter 16, beginning at verse 13 and reading through verse 19. And share your Bible with your neighbor and all of us read out loud together, Matthew chapter 16 beginning at verse 13. The title of the sermon tonight is The Great Confession; and you will see its text and background as we read together. Beginning at verse 13 and closing at 19, together:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?
And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
As you would instantly recognize, this is possibly the most famous of all of the passages to be found, to be read in the Word of God, the great confession.
Jesus asks His disciples a question the answer to which, on that answer, He will build His church and found His faith and establish His religion. And we are overwhelmed in surprise at the nature of that question, for it pertains not to the teaching of the Teacher, but the question refers to the Teacher Himself. Would you not have supposed that if the Lord propounded a question, upon whose answer He was to build His church and found His faith and establish His religion, that it would have been some question about the nature of God, or possibly a question about the law and the great commandments, or possibly a question about the atonement or theology, or a question about the temple, and its ritual, and its worship, and its significance? Would you not have supposed there would have been some question that He would have asked about the teaching, and the law, and the commandments, and about God, or something of that theological nature?
But when the question is propounded and the question is asked, it has no reference to theology, no reference to ethics, no reference to the law or to the commandments, but the question refers to the Teacher Himself. And what you would have thought that was extraneous, beside the point, not pertinent, namely the Teacher, He makes the very foundation and center of His new religion. This is an astonishing and a surprising thing. "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" [Matthew 16:13]. And upon that answer, He will build His church and establish His religion [Matthew 16:18].
Now the answer of Simon Peter, he is transfigured, there is in him the divine presence, he is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so much so that the Master replies, "This answer came not from men but from God, flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but the Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 6:17]. And in that inspired, transfigured, transported state, Simon Peter replies that, "Thou art the Christ, the incarnation of God Himself" [Matthew 16:16]. And Peter here becomes the spokesman, not just for himself or just for the disciples, but for all believers of all ages of all times. "Christ is God; Christ is the Lord incarnate [Matthew 1:23]; Christ is heaven itself in flesh, walking among men [John 1:14]; the way, the truth, the life [John 14:6]; the all in all; Thou art the promised Messiah, Christ the Son of God" [Matthew 16:16]. And when Simon Peter says that, the apostle is at his best, he is at his finest, he is at his highest, he is at his noblest; and any man is like that, any man is at his finest and at his best in acknowledging the deity, the lordship of Jesus Christ. When I am low and when I am ashamed of myself, I am filled with doubts; all kinds of spiritual problems overwhelm me. I am at my lowest, I am at my sorriest, I am at my poorest when I am filled with doubts and hesitancies and perplexities. But when I am at my best and at my finest, it is when this acknowledgement of the sovereignty and the deity of Christ is most superlatively realized and most gloriously confessed.
And that’s true with you. You do not rise to your highest until in faith you seem to grasp the very reality and presence and nature of God. When the Lord seems the realest and the nearest and the dearest, that’s when we’re at our finest. But when God seems far away, and Christ seems to us somebody who lived thousands of years ago but He is not here by my side now, and when our prayers seem to rise no higher than our heads, and our confessions become words and breath and syllables and language, that’s when we’re at our poorest. When faith expresses itself and avows itself, when we commit ourselves to God, that’s when we’re at our best. And this is Simon Peter. Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16]. And Jesus commended him and us when we make a like commitment and a like avowal.
Now may I speak of that great confession for this moment? The Christ of history, and the Christ of the Bible, and the Christ of the New Testament, the Christ of prophecy, the Christ of this Book is ever and always deity, the Son of God. I can see that expressed in the method, in the didactic procedures of our Lord. He ever presented Himself, Himself, Himself; so much so that the scribes and Pharisees, as they listened to Him, they said, "This Man blasphemes" [Mark 2:7]. No wonder they said that. He arrogated to Himself the power to forgive sin [Mark 2:10-11]. He said of Himself that He was the answer to all of the prophecies and the visions and hopes and dreams of the people, in the forgiveness of their sins, in the destiny to which God had called them, and in the glorious life that was yet to come. And the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the doctors of the law and the scribes, as they listened to Him, they said, "This Man, being a man, makes Himself God and He blasphemes" [Mark 2:6-7]. And they were correct: if Jesus was a man, He blasphemed.
All you have to do to see the unusual, different, and unique didactic method, the teaching method, of our Lord is just to compare Him with any other great man or servant or prophet who ever lived. Compare Him with Moses, or with Isaiah, or with John the Baptist, or compare Him with Plato, or Aristotle, or [Marcus] Aurelius, or any other of the great teachers of mankind; without exception, they said that they pointed to the truth; Jesus said, "I am the truth" [John 14:6]. Without exception they looked upon themselves as being the messengers of enlightenment; He said that He is the message [John 6:45-]. Without exception they looked upon themselves as torch bearers to the human race; He said, "I am the light of the world" [John 8:12]. They were conscious of pointing to God the Father; He said, "He that hath seen [Me] hath seen [the Father]" [John 14:9]. "No man ever spake like that Man" [John 7:46]. Sometimes they would say that they were discoursing on the problems of immortality; He said, "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25]. No man who ever lived – philosopher, prophet, teacher, leader – ever said things like Jesus said.
What an amazing thing to listen to our Lord. To a man who is lost in the world He will say, "I am the way" [John 14:6]. To a man seeking heaven He will say, "Follow Me" [Luke 9:23-24]. To a man engrossed in this life and lost before the complexities of the problems that he faces, He will avow, "I am the truth" [John 14:6]. What an astonishing way to teach! These things that we seek, the answers we want to know, the way that we would find – all of it is in Christ, in the Man Himself; not in something He teaches, not in something to which He points, not in something that He presents, but in the Man Himself.
And not only did He present that method in His teaching, in His didactic discourses, but in Himself, in His person, there is a plentitude of abounding power that substantiates every claim that He makes. In the Lord Himself there is an abundance, there is a fullness that is, that is abounding, that is illimitable, that is unfathomable. In Himself He is sublimely, supremely, illimitably holy and pure and divine.
And for others, for us, He is able and all-sufficient. He will say, "Let him that is athirst come unto Me and drink" [Revelation 22:17]. He will say, "All ye who labor and are heavy laden, come unto Me and find rest" [Matthew 11:28]. And in His voice and in the touch of His hands, there is infinitude of power. It seems that the very seen and unseen world is subject unto Him. He can speak, He can speak and the very dead rise out of their graves [John 11:43-44]. He can touch with His hands the eyes of the blind, and they see [Matthew 9:29-30]. He can speak, and all heaven and earth and the spirit world seem to give heed and hearing and ear. There seems to be no limit to His power. He just says the word, and it comes to pass. He just speaks, and it happens. It’s not by effort, it’s not by toil, it’s just by fiat. In the roaring of the wind, He will say a word and the wind will be still [Luke 8:22-25]. In the dashing of the sea the waves will quiet; no effort, just the word, and it is done [Mark 4:39]. There is in our Lord an infinite infinitude of abounding power, grace, mercy, blessing.
And we cannot escape the verdict of our minds and of our hearts and of our souls that this Man, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Thou art deity Himself" [Matthew 16:16]. In the days of the first preaching of the gospel, Tacitus the Roman historian dismissed the Lord Jesus in one sentence. One sentence in Tacitus and one sentence in Suetonius is the only historical reference to Christ in the whole first century. And Lucian, the Greek satirist, bowed the Lord out with a sneer; but the verdict of the centuries has been this: it was a blind civilization that failed to see in Jesus the superlative, incomparable Son of God, the Lord walking among men [John 1:12]. When you read, when you read the name of Jesus listed in so many a categories as the religionists of the world, or the great philosophers of the world, or the great men of the world, and they’ll start with somebody like Gautama the Buddha, and name Confucius, and all through these years and finally come to Joseph Smith, and you read the name of the Lord in all of those lists, you have a feeling that it is not so much a violation of orthodoxy and theology as it is a violation of decency and a judgment. For the Lord is separate and unique and apart from all of the others that one could name. You could say "Alexander the Great," and that’s fine, what a tremendous influence he had upon civilization; and you could say, "Frederick the Great," what a grand influence he had in building the Prussian empire; or you could say, "Charles the Great, Charlemagne," who built the holy Roman empire; or you could say, "Napoleon the Great," who reshaped the boundaries of Europe; but who would ever say "Jesus the Great"? It is just not said, it is not thought; for the Lord is unique, separate, apart, distinct [Hebrews 7:26].
There are two great criteria by which the greatness of a man can be judged. One is his influence upon humanity, and the second is – for no man could ever be really great who is not also really good – second, by the purity and virtue and nobility of his life. And in both categories there is none that can approach the Son of God – the illimitable, tremendous influence He has had upon the human family and the superlative worth and nobility of character of His life. There is none like the lowly Jesus. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16]. I haste now in just a few words.
I have spoken of the Christ of history, the Christ of the Bible, the Christ of the New Testament, the Christ of the Book, the Christ of the two thousand years ago is the Son of God [Matthew 16:16], deity incarnate [Matthew 1:23], walking among men [John 1:14]. I have a second avowal, the Christ of today, of this moment, of this hour, of our experience is no less truly, nobly, wondrously, gloriously the Son of God. He steps out of books, and out of sermons, and out of theologies, and out of philosophies, and out of dissertations. He steps even out of the argumentative confrontation of the churches through the centuries, and He stands before us lofty, and towering, the Savior of the world. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16]. The Christ of human experience is no less God than the Christ of the Bible and of the Book.
Sometimes I have said to a young man who’ll be sent to me, and his head is filled with all kinds of doubts and all kinds of questions and all kinds of rejections, most of which he learned in some book somewhere or in some class in some college, and he will say to me, "Why, I don’t doubt possibly that Jesus lived, I don’t doubt that. I’m sure that there’s a historical character sometimes ago like Jesus. I’m sure Caesar lived, and I’m sure Alexander lived, and I’m sure Aurelius lived, and I’m sure Charlemagne lived, I’m sure Washington lived, I’m sure Lincoln lived, and I’m sure Jesus lived, I’m sure there was somebody like Jesus. But I do not believe, and I will not accept any such thing or idea that He is beyond any other man, except maybe He was finer, or better, or wiser, or smarter, or in some way more gifted; but He is not God and He is just like any other man."
Well, I say to him, "Now let me ask you something, let’s just test that, let’s just test that. Suppose you and I get down here on our knees and suppose we pray to and you name anybody you want to name, name anybody you want to name; well, let’s start with the gods. Let’s get down on our knees and pray to Jupiter." In the days of the Lord Jesus the whole Roman Empire, Greek and Roman, prayed to Jove in the Greek language, Jupiter in the Latin language, and if they weren’t praying to Jove or to Jupiter, then they were praying to Neptune or to Venus or to Adonis or to Isis or Osiris. Get down on your knees and try it, just try praying to Jupiter or to Venus, just try it. You’d feel ridiculous, you feel silly. It just is. Well, then let’s try any of these great men; let’s get down on our knees and let’s pray to Alexander the Great, or let’s call upon Julius Caesar, or let’s get down on our knees and let’s pray to Washington or to Lincoln or to any other great man whoever lived, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Euripides, Aristophanes, Kant, Emerson, anybody who ever lived. Just get down on your knees and call on the name of Emerson or Lincoln or Washington. You feel ridiculous. You feel silly. It is unthinkable! But get down on your knees, and bow your head, and humble your heart, and call on the name of the Lord, "Blessed Jesus, precious Savior," and it’ll fit, it’ll work, it’s God.
I’m not talking about God of two thousand years ago only; I am talking about God today, this moment, this hour, this minute. It’ll fit. There will be an appropriateness in it, there will be a spirituality about it, there will be a holy benediction attending it that is indescribably real and precious; try it, anywhere, anytime, in any language, in any place. Call on His name, lift up your heart to the Lord Jesus, and there’ll be an answer by fire.
He is not only the Lord of yesterday and the Lord of this Book, He is also the Lord of the now and the present, today, your heart, your soul. And this great question of the Lord Jesus, "Whom do men say that I am?" [Matthew 16:13], turns into, "What shall I do with Jesus?" [Matthew 27:22]. There is a moral perturbation that comes from a confrontation with Christ that is inevitable. You can talk about Washington, talk about Caesar, talk of Alexander, talk about Plato, talk about Kant, talk about Schopenhauer, talk about Bacon, talk about Shakespeare, talk about any one in the earth, and it’ll be a matter of literary discussion or philosophical perception, or some kind of aesthetic or literary taste; but when you talk about the Lord Jesus you begin talking about moral decisions and commitments, and the call of heaven. You can’t escape it, you can’t escape it. "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" [Matthew 16:13], becomes, inevitably, in every life that will seriously consider Jesus, "What shall I do with the Lord? [Matthew 27:22]. Shall I accept Him and believe in Him, or shall I reject Him and crucify Him?"
"Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:13, 16]. Thou art the Lord of my conscience, and Thou art the Lord of my conviction, and Thou art the Lord of my commitment, and Thou art the Lord of my conversion, and Thou art the Lord of my Christian experience, and Thou art the Lord of my hope, and the Lord of my salvation; and Thou art the Lord of my life, and Thou art the Lord of my death, and Thou art the Lord of the days that are in Thy gracious hands. And Master, into Thy care and keeping I entrust my soul, and my destiny, and my hope for every tomorrow.
And when you avow such a commitment of life to Jesus, man, we’re in the kingdom! It is a gift from heaven. "Blessed art thou; flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but the Father which is from heaven, in heaven" [Matthew 16:17]. The commitment of your life to God is a gift from glory [Ephesians 2:8-9], it’s a revelation from above, it’s the granting of repentance unto life [Acts 11:18]. It’s writing your name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], it’s being saved. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16].
Would you make that commitment tonight, would you? "The best that I know how I open my heart to the Lord Jesus, I ask Him to come in and to reign supreme in my soul. And I make public that confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, and here I come, here I am." One somebody you, "Tonight I will take Jesus as my Savior, and here I am." In this balcony round, on this lower floor, down here to the front, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am, tonight I take the Lord as my Savior." Is there a family you to come into the fellowship of the church? "I want you to know my wife, and these are my children, and all of us are coming into the fellowship of the church"; would you do it tonight, would you make it tonight? "All of us are coming, pastor, and here we come." Is there a couple here; is there one somebody you here who’ll put his life with us in the church tonight? You come. Is there somebody you tonight that would answer God’s call in your life? "I feel that God wants me and calls for me in a precious work, and I want to answer with my life," maybe to a full-time ministry for Christ, abroad or at home; maybe to accept an assignment here in this dear church. How ever God shall say the word, would you answer with your life tonight, would you come? For any reason that the Holy Spirit would press the appeal to your heart, come tonight. "Pastor, I’m giving my heart to Jesus, and here I am"; or "Pastor, I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church, and here I come"; or "Pastor, I feel God calling me, and I’m answering with my life tonight." As the Lord shall open the door and lead in the way, make it now, come tonight, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GREAT CONFESSION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Jesus propounds a question to the apostles(Matthew 16:13)
1. The answer will be the foundation upon which He will build His church
B. The surprise of the question
1. Pertains not to the teaching, but the Teacher
2. Not theological or ethical, but personal
C. Peter is inspired by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:16-17)
1. His answer is the witness of heaven itself
2. Deity of Christ the foundation upon which the faith is built
II. The Christ of the Bible, the Jesus of history, is the Son of God
A. His method and manner(Mark 2:7)
1. Compared to other great figures (John 7:46, 8:12, 11:25, 14:6, 9)
B. His own spiritual resources substantiate the marvelous words He spoke(Revelation 22:17, John 7:37, 11:43-44, Matthew 8:17, 9:29-30, 11:28, Mark 4:39)
C. His essential, inherent greatness and deity
1. Greatness of a man estimated by two things
a. Extent of his influence upon humanity
b. Holiness, purity, dignity of his character and life
2. There is none like Him
III. The Christ of experience is the Son of God, Savior of the world
A. Stands before us, more than historical fact
B. "What shall I do with Jesus?"
C. Blessing of a commitment to Christ (Matthew 16:17)