The scene is one of the most dramatic in all of God’s word. The Galilean Carpenter stands on a massive outcropping of rock, 1150 feet above sea level, dwarfed by the gigantic cliff which towered above it.
Just a short distance away stands the brilliant white marble temple built to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, Caesarea.
Nearby is the cavern where the Greeks said their god Pan was born.
Scattered around the hilly countryside are fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite god where the Syrians worshipped.
And nearby is one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river to his own people, the Jews.
In the midst of such religious traditions and fervor, surrounded by every kind of god known to his culture, he asks his rag-tag band of peasant followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Carpenter says, “On this rock I will build my church.” And the Church is born.
A few years ago our family went to Washington, D.C. on summer vacation. The highlight of the trip for me, I was sure, was going to be our visit to the White House. I’ve long been fascinated with presidential history, and have read with interest the stories of many of our presidents and the remarkable House they occupy. Now, at long last, I would see its storied rooms and historic halls for myself.
Not really, as it turned out. After waiting in the rain an hour the night before to buy tickets, and two hours the day of our tour, finally we entered the most visited site in America. And left nearly as quickly. Four rooms, and a souvenir shop at the end. That’s all the White House tour sees.
So we cannot see the office of our president—perhaps we can call him. Again, not really. The White House switchboard answers over 5,000 calls every day, and this number doubles in times of crisis. Not to mention the thousands of letters which are delivered each day, and the hundreds of people who try to get a personal appointment with the president. Of all these requests, the president personally sees only a small number, and of these he actually deals with only a few.
Billy Graham was thirty, and already a well-known evangelist, when he came to a crisis of faith. Could he believe the Bible to be the word of God? His friend Chuck Templeton and others were raising doubts in his heart. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, he tells the story of what happened next.
He took a walk in the moonlight of the San Bernardino Mountains in California. He dropped to his knees in the woods, opened his Bible and put it on a tree stump before him. He prayed, “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”
Finally he was able to say, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
This morning we begin with life-changing facts: the shortest war in history was fought between Zanzibar and England in 1896; Zanzibar surrendered after 38 minutes. Dueling is legal in Paraguay so long as both parties are registered blood donors. Donald Duck cartoons were banned in Finland because he doesn’t wear pants. If the population of China walked past us today in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction. A snail can sleep for three years. You share your birthday with at least nine million other people. Women blink nearly twice as much as men. And the electric chair was invented by a dentist.
Sometimes we know more than we want to know. And sometimes we know far less. No topic has generated more debate among Christians of this generation than ours today. Typically the result has been more heat than light.
Today we close our series on the Christ you never knew: eight pictures of the real Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. We do so with this text, because it makes the other seven pictures of Jesus urgent and vitally significant for your soul and mine. Right now.