This text from Matthew, "Who do you say I am?" is a prophetic text: it challenges; it confronts; it calls for personal decision and radical change. By temperament, I am more drawn to the merciful and consoling texts of Scripture, but I wanted to preach this text faithfully, which meant unsheathing the sharp, double-edged sword of Scripture (Hebrews 4:12). How could I do that?
I tried to do that in two ways:
By sharpening distinctions. A prophetic text must remove the middle and the muddle. It must show in stark distinction the choice—in this case, to patronize Jesus with compliments that he's a great prophet, or to see by revelation that he is the Son of the living God. I also contrasted education and revelation, pride and humility, disobedience and obedience. I did not want to leave any gray space between the black and white.
By calling for the question. Since Jesus asks a personal question of his listeners in this text, I wanted to follow suit. I ended up making the application two such questions (one more for nonbelievers and one for believers).
My senior pastor commented after this sermon, "It's amazing what a good lead can do. It makes everything else in the sermon easier." The lead for this sermon (drawing on Michael Hart's The 100, in which he ranks the most influential people in history and places Jesus third) engaged people with the question, "Who really is Jesus?" and challenged them to answer it. That made everything else after the lead easier.
In his fascinating book titled The 100, the astrophysicist Michael Hart asks a provocative question: Who are the 100 most influential people in history? Of all the human beings who have ever lived who has had the ...
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