THE GREAT (CONFIRMED) CONFESSION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-31-76 7:30 p.m.
If you have opportunity, you who are listening on radio KRLD and KCBI, we invite you to turn your Bible open to the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, and we are going to read out loud verses 13 through 18. Now, someone said, "We want to stand up and read the Bible as you do Sunday morning." So last Sunday night, we did so. This Sunday night, let us do it again. Matthew 16:13-18. Together now, may we stand and may we read out loud, all of us on radio and in this great sanctuary? Matthew 16, beginning at verse 13:
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 are the 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 Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.
And I say 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.
Thank you. Now we begin with the exposition of the passage.
Assembled there in Caesarea Philippi, old Dan in the northern part of Galilee, the Lord propounds a question to the apostles; the answer to which will be the basis and the foundation upon which He will build His church, preach His gospel, and evangelize the world. But we are astonished at the question! Who would ever have thought that the question would be about the teacher Himself? Not about the truth that He teaches, but about the personality of the man Himself. Tell me, when the Lord propounds the question upon which He is going to found and preach His gospel, wouldn’t you have supposed that He would ask about God or about the commandments, and the law, and the great moral and ethical life to which we are to be committed? Wouldn’t you have thought He would have asked a question about great cardinal theological doctrines; or, maybe about the question about the temple and about the place to worship the Lord? But there is nothing of these theological or ethical connotations or overtones in it. It is a question about the teacher Himself. It is a question opposite of what we would have thought; for you would think that the personality of the teacher was not pertinent at all. But it is the truth of the man that is taught, that is pertinent. Not so. The question concerns the Man Himself, not about His teaching, not about theology, not about ethics, not about the law, not about the life; but the question concerns the teacher Himself.
Now, when Peter answers, he is transformed. He becomes filled with the moving, quickening Spirit of God, and his answer is in behalf of all the Christians of all time and of all eternity. Peter, here, becomes the spokesman for us all. And when he speaks, he speaks a glowing and glorious confession of the deity of the Son of God. When you see Peter answer here, you see Peter at his greatest and at his finest. And, could I make an addendum there? Any man is at his finest, at his best, when openly and publicly he confesses Jesus Christ as the Son of God. So it is here. Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16]. And Jesus answered and said unto him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 16:17]. And upon this confession of the deity of Christ, this great teacher says, "I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18]; the one eternal institution in the earth that shall outlast time, outlast the universe, outlast the ages, and be Christ’s, alive for ever. Every other relationship we make in life is dissolved in death, except the relationship we make in Him.
In our Lord and in His church, in the communion and fellowship of the ekklesia, there is no death. There is no grave. There is no ending. It is for ever into the ages of the ages and the eternity of the eternities. This is the foundation upon which the faith is built, the gospel is preached, the church is quickened, and we are saved – the deity of Christ, the Son of God.
Now, I have two or three avowals to make about it. The first; the Jesus of history, the Jesus that we know in the Bible, is the Son of God and the Savior of the world [John 3:16-17]. He is that, or He is nothing else. You see that in His manner and in His way of teaching and presenting the truth of the gospel. Always, He draws attention to Himself. This question that He asks is not unique or unusual or peculiar or isolated or separate and apart. It is a piece of the parcel and the fabric of the whole ministry of Christ Himself; always persistently, unwearyingly, everlastlingly drawing attention to Himself, presenting Himself. That is why the scribes and the Pharisees listening to Him said, "This Man blasphemes" [Mark 2:7]. No other teacher ever feigned or dared to do that before or since or in the history of the world.
Now I want to show that to you. We are going to compare for just a moment the way the Lord taught and the way He presented Himself as over against, say, a Moses, or an Isaiah, or a John the Baptist, or a Mohammed, or a Confucius, or an Aristotle, or a Plato, or any other of the great figures of the world. Now, you look at them. Without exception, every one of them said that they were pointing to the truth. But Jesus said, "I am the truth" [John 14:6]. Every one of these other teachers said that, "We are messengers from God." But He said – the Lord said, "I am the message itself" [John 11:26]. All of them said that they were conscious of being light bearers and torch bearers. But He said, "I am the light of the world" [John 8:12]. All of them discoursed on immortality. But He said, "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25].
It is an astonishing thing, this unique, separate, marvelously different way of the Lord in His teaching and in presenting Himself. Look again. To a man who is lost, He will say, "I am the way" [John 14:6]. To a man seeking eternal life, He will say, "Believe on Me" [John 11:26]. To a man seeking entrance into heaven, He will say, "Follow Me" [Luke 18:27]. And to a man seeking the presence and name of God, He will say, "Look at Me; He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" [John 14:9]. No wonder those who listened to Him said, "Never a man spake like that Man" [John 7:46]. Who ever said not that He pointed to the truth, but that He was the truth? [John 14:6]. Who ever feigned or dared to say, not that, "I know God," but, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father"? [John 14:9]. Who ever thought or dared to even hint to say concerning death and life that, "I am resurrection, and the life"? [John 11:25]. He is the great unlike, the great dissimilar, the great unique; separate and apart.
Now, I want to follow that with another avowal. What the Lord said of Himself in all of these wonderful things of the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection, heaven, the way – all of that is substantiated, bolstered, bulwarked by the plenitude of holiness, and grace, and mercy, and ableness in His life. In Himself, He is holy, and heavenly, and able beyond what mind could imagine. And that same ableness was extended to others. The Lord who says that is overflowing in plenitude of grace and power.
He will say, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me" [John 7:37]. He will say, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" [Matthew 11:28]. He will say, "Bring unto Me all of the lost, and the sick, and the crippled, and the blind, and the lame, and the halt, and the unclean, and the lepers; bring them unto Me." And He healed them all [Matthew 12:15], "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet [Isaiah 53:4], saying, Himself bear our sicknesses, and bore our infirmities" [Matthew 8:17]. And He does it in a plenitude of power and grace.
He will lay His hands upon the eyes of the blind, they see [Matthew 9:27-29]; touch the ears of the deaf, and they hear [Mark 7:32-35]; cleanse the leper with a word of His voice [Mark 1:40-42]; raise the very dead with a sentence, a command, a call [John 11:43-44]; still the angry seas and quiet the wind with just a speech [Luke 8:23-25]. Never did that sea like that in all Israel, and He does it without effort. He just speaks. He just lays His hands. He just is filled with a plenitude of overflowing grace and power. There is none like Him; unique, the Son of God [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
Now, once again, the great immeasurable stature of this Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the world [John 1:29]; the Roman historian Tacitus dismissed Him with a sentence. The Greek satirist Lucian bowed Him out with a sneer. But the verdict of the centuries since is this: "It was a blind and undiscerning generation that did not recognize in Jesus Christ, the Son of God." There is none like Him; approaches Him.
There are two things that make a man great. One, the influence that he has upon humanity; and the other, the holiness and purity and dignity of his character and of his life. For no man is truly great who is not truly good. Now, let us look at both of those as they pertain to Christ, the Son of God; the greatness of the Man; the inherent greatness of Jesus. There is none like Him.
Every once in a while, as you, I will read a list of these great men of the world, and they will start with a Buddha and a Confucius; and they will end down here with Joseph Smith or someone else; and in the middle of it will be Jesus. When I look at that, I think, "That is not so much an offense against truth as it is against decency." You just do not include the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in a list of the so-called great men of the world. He is separate and apart. There is none like Him [Acts 4:12].
Do you remember the famous literary story in London? Charles Lamb and some of those giants of English literature were gathered together. And they began talking about what they would do if the mighty of the earth entered the room. And Charles Lamb said, "If Shakespeare were to walk into the room, all of us would stand in honor. But if Jesus Christ were to enter the room, we all would kneel in worship and deference." What Charles Lamb, the great literary essayist, said is true: in the presence of the great of the world, we might stand in honor and recognition; but if Jesus were to walk in the flesh into this house, without exception, all of us would feel right to bow on our faces in His presence. That is the Lord, the Son of God.
Not only was He inherently great, the unlike, the dissimilar in His own personality, but He was that in the other distinctives of a great, mighty man. He was holy and pure. All other men, however they have their fine and noble moments, all other men fall into some areas of weakness, foible, sin, shortcomings, all of them alike. There is not any man but who has feet of clay; all of them. But as that beautiful song sang a moment ago by that sweet girl, "I find in Him no fault at all."
He was holy and pure through every day and every thought and every deed of His life. And the impact of the purity and holiness of the Son of God changed those men who watched Him and lived with Him and were close to Him. And you will be that way too if you come nigh the holiness of Jesus. Did you know all of the things that have torn the church apart have been discussions, forensics, concerning the infallibility of a hierarchy concerning theological discussions, concerning things on the inside of the mechanism of the church and its organization. But you will never have anything but unity and heavenly adoration if Jesus Himself can just be seen; if we can just get a vision of the Lord. There are so many things wrong with us, but there is not anything wrong with Him. A man could preach a sermon on what is wrong with the preacher, and what is wrong with the church, and what is wrong with the people, and what is wrong with the mission program, and what is wrong – it is just endless. But a man would have great difficulty preaching a sermon on what is wrong with Jesus the Son of God. "I find in Him no fault at all" [John 18:38].
Another avowal: this Jesus of the Book, and this Jesus of history, who is without fail presented as the Christ, the Son of God, is no less so in human experience and in human history. He is just the same. As I read of Him in the Bible, and as I read of Him in books and theology and sermons and homiletical discussions, He walks out of the books, and He comes out of the sermons, and He rises out of all of these disquisitions, and He is the same Lord God in history and in human experience as He is in the pages of the Scriptures and in the published sermons of the preachers. He is still the Son of God.
In the days of the Roman Empire, He closed every door to every temple in the Greco-Roman world, every one of them. It is hard for us to realize that when the Lord was born [Matthew 1:20-25], and when the Lord died and was raised from the dead [Matthew 27:32-28:7], the whole civilized world worshipped heathen, pagan idols, and the temples were everywhere. They were in every small town. They were in every great city, and some of them were the Seven Wonders of the World – such as the one to Artemis, Diana in Ephesus. The Lord Christ, this Lord Christ, who walks out of that Bible and out of these books and walks down through the avenues of the lives of men and the history of the nations, He closed every one of those temples and cast into the rubbish every one of those false gods. And He is doing the same in human experience. He changes. He turns around. He makes new.
It is like the apostle Paul, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the Lord and against His disciples [Acts 9:1]. When finally, he came into Damascus they were leading him by the hand [Acts 22:11] – humble, broken, changed. He had seen; he had met Jesus in the way [Acts 22:6-10]. It is so with a thousand lives. Going down a road to a self-chosen goal, a man meets the Lord. He comes face to face with Jesus, and it is never the same again. He has a new vision, a new goal, a new love, a new faith, a new hope, a new dream, a new tomorrow. He is somebody else. He has met this living Lord in the way.
Look around you. You will see people like that all over this place. They are changed. They are new. They have met Jesus. This is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the Christ of my experience. He is the Christ of my childhood. He is the Christ of my manhood. He is the Christ of my old age. He is the Christ of my prayers. He is the Christ of my hopes for heaven. He is the Christ of my every tomorrow. He is the Christ of the house and the home. He is the Christ of our hearts and dreams. He is alive as much so today as when He walked the shores of blue Galilee, or when He blessed the people who came to Him for help and for strength, for comfort, for direction. And He is here tonight.
O blessed God, that the Lord would fain, would deign, would descend to call and to talk to us; we who are made out of dust and ashes. Could it be true? It is true. We have felt Him and known Him and loved Him in our own hearts; experienced Him in our own lives; prayed to Him every day. Seek His wisdom in every decision. Ask His blessing upon the home we built, upon the children we raised, upon the work of our hands; and it is the sweetest most precious of all the experiences we have in our lives.
And this is our invitation to you: to give your heart to God, to open your soul heavenward and Christ-ward, to join with us in this pilgrimage to glory. If you have listened on the radio; where you are, even tonight, would you give your heart to Jesus? Would you write us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and say, "Tonight, I have found the Lord as my Savior. I opened my heart to Him. I am writing you to let you know." And in the throng of people in God’s presence tonight, as the Spirit presses the appeal to your heart, would you make that decision for Him? And in a moment, when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle. "Pastor, I have decided for Christ, and here I am. Here I come." A family you; a couple, or just one somebody you; make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming down that way. "Here I am, pastor. I make it now." In a moment, when you stand up, stand up coming. Make the decision now in your heart. Then when you stand up, take that first step toward God; and angels will attend you in the way. A thousand things maybe we do not have answers to, but He knows all the answers. A thousand things we are not able to do, but He is able. That first step and the door is open for the rest of the way. Come now. Do it now. Make it now, 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. Not about the truth of Christ’s message, but about Himself
2. Not theological or ethical, but personal
C. Peter’s answer is the witness of heaven itself(Matthew 16:16)
1. 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
1. Compared to other great figures (John 7:46, 11:25, 14:6, 9)
B. His own spiritual resources substantiate the marvelous words He spoke(John 7:37, Matthew 8:17, 11:28)
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. Consider the miracle, wonder of the power of the living Christ
B. He lives today in convicting power