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James Merritt - Magnetic Personality

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    James Merritt - Magnetic Personality

We should clarify what we think about Jesus. Now, before I get into what Jesus said, and I want to remind you of something, keep this in mind. Up until this point, he's been with the disciples three years now, and up until this point, he has taught about a lot of things, he's said a lot of things about a lot of things, but there's one thing he's never talked about. There's one thing he's never mentioned, there's a word that he's never used, and that's the word church. So, what he's about to say is absolutely unheard of. The disciples had never heard of a church. When he used this word, they didn't even know what he was talking about.

So, I want you to keep this in mind as you listen to a question that he asked his disciples. And it was all about this public opinion poll he was kind of doing, kind of a little thing he thought would be interesting, so we're starting out in Matthew 16:13. "When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, who do people say the son of man is? They replied, 'Well, some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. And still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.'"

Now every time I read that passage, I think to myself some things never change, some things are still the same just like they were 2,000 years ago. Because, if you were to go down to downtown Atlanta and stand on a street corner, and you were to ask people: "So, who is Jesus to you or what do you think Jesus... who do you say that Jesus is"? I promise you, you'd get all kinds of different answers. Same thing was happening 2,000 years ago. So, Jesus said, "Alright, you're out there, you're out and about, you're in the crowds, so you got your ears to the ground. What are people saying about me? Who do people say that I am"? And they said, "Well Jesus, some people say that you're a great preacher like John the Baptist, and some people say that you're a great person like Elijah. And there are some people who say you're a great prophet like Jeremiah".

Well, fast-forward 2,000 years ago, go out on any street of any city and say, "Okay, who do you think Jesus is"? Answers'll be all over the map. "He was a great teacher," "He was a great humanitarian," "He was a great philosopher," "He was a great example for all mankind," and here's the good news. There is some good news in this. You will rarely, if ever, find anybody that has a real bad word to say about Jesus. I mean, everybody has pretty much a positive opinion. Most everybody thinks, "Well, he was special". You know, "He was a good guy". You know, "Some of his teachings are really very new and very unique," and so the good news is, pretty much, you know, it's pretty much unanimous that everybody's got a good opinion of Jesus.

As a matter of fact, most people would think that they have a pretty balanced position on Jesus. They would say, "Look, I believe the man existed. I believe he lived. I believe he did a lot of good things. I believe he was martyred for what he believed in. I believe that his teachings were very influential, in fact, I think they were maybe even life-changing". And they would say, "I think I've got a pretty balanced view of Jesus". So, you say what's the problem? Well, the problem is if you added up all these opinions that all these people have that I just gave, and many, many more, and you put them all together, they would still be completely inadequate to who Jesus really was, to who Jesus claimed to be, and to be very honest, it wouldn't make Jesus very happy and it would be totally unsatisfactory.

One of my favorite authors that I love to read, and if you've never read anything by him, I'd encourage you to do it. It is C.S. Lewis, I'm a big C.S. Lewis fan. And C.S. Lewis really, I think, just put it best when he classically explained the problem this way. Here's what Dr. Lewis said: "I'm trying here to prevent anyone saying that the really foolish thing that people often say about him. I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing," this is what Dr. Lewis is saying, "That is the one thing we must not say. A man who is...," now remember, he's British so he kind of has a blunt way of saying things. "A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with a man who says he's a poached egg, or else, he would be the Devil in hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God, or else a mad man or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you could fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But, let us not come with any patronizing non-sense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us, he did not intend to".

Absolutely true. Never intended to do that. So, what I'm saying to us as a church today is this: we must always as a church, always clarify what we think about Jesus. Step two, we should testify what we believe about Jesus. Clarify what we think about Jesus, then we ought to testify to what we believe about Jesus. Now, we've already seen, there was no shortage of theories about who Jesus was. However, we've also seen this. There was this big gap between who people thought that Jesus was and who Jesus said that he was.

So, now Jesus does something that really kind of really shook everything up. So, Jesus looked at these 12 disciples, and now, you know, keep in mind these are 12 men who had spent three years, practically every day with Jesus. They had seen him in every circumstance. They had heard almost practically everything that he taught. They had studied him. They had listened to him. They'd spent time with him. They'd walk through some deep waters with him. They had seen him do things that no other man on, in history had ever done before, and so now he puts them on the spot. And what he basically says in effect is this: "Okay guys, school's over. You've been with me three years. Nobody's heard what you've heard, seen what you've seen, experienced what you've experienced, watched what you've watched, observed what you've observed.

You've been with me three years, now final exam time has come," and there was only one question on the test. And I'm sure that when he said something to that effect, there's this dramatic pause and everybody's kind of nervous now, wondering, you know, we all get nervous before we took tests, right? In school. So, you've got this same butterfly in your stomach. What in the world is he going to ask us? And then, Jesus asks this: "But what about you? I don't really care what the Pharisees think, I really don't care what the Sadducees think. I don't care what Herod thinks. I don't even care what Caesar thinks. I don't care what the Roman soldiers think. I don't care what the tax collectors think. I really don't care. My question is what about you"? He asked. "Who do you say that I am"?

And by the way, in the Greek language, the word you is plural. He said, "I'm asking all of you," just like right now. I'm asking all of you. I'm not just asking you individually. I'm asking every single one of you in this room, those who are watching online, those who are watching by TV, those at Millcreek, I'm asking all of you right now. Who do you say that I am? He says, "Look, you've been in my class for three years. You haven't missed one day. You've had three years to think on this and mull this over, so now, who do you say that I am"? And unlike a lot of politicians, ultimately Jesus doesn't go by public opinion. Couldn't care less about the latest Gallup poll. Couldn't care less about what the pundits on 60 Minutes think.

What Jesus cares about is personal convictions, and this is, by the way, the single most important question Jesus could ever ask, and it is the single most important question you will ever be asked about Jesus, and oh by the way, what you're about to say or what you're already thinking in your mind is the single most important answer you'll ever give to any question you'll ever be asked, because the answer that you give to that question determines a lot of things about you. Do you really know God or not? Do you really have a relationship with God or not? Are you really ready to die or not? Are you really ready to come face-to-face with Jesus or not?

To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, he would've said this about Peter, what we're about to read. This was his finest hour, because Jesus had just said, "Okay, who do you say that I am? I don't care about everybody else. What is your answer to the question"? And if you'd been there, man, they're kind of looking at the ground and they're stammering and they're stuttering, and they're kind of cutting glances at each other, and they're drawing circles in the dirt with their feet. And finally, old reliable comes through. If somebody's going to shoot his mouth off, it's going to be Peter. So Peter says, "Okay, I'll take the bait," and Peter steps out, never at a loss for words. Peter steps out, and Peter steps up and he blurts this out. He says: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God".

One sentence, simple sentence touches every base. Touches every base. You know, even a broken clock's right twice a day. Right? Peter finally gets it right. Every other time, Peter is an expert at putting two feet in his mouth at the same time. But now, Peter gets it right. He says, "Okay, I know who you are. You are the Christ". Now, that word comes from the Greek term "Christos," it's a translation of the Hebrew word, and it gives us the word messiah. Both those words together mean anointed one. Let me tell you what that word signifies. Back in ancient and eureastern cultures, whenever a person was going to be specially recognized for something that they did. Maybe it was battle on the battlefield, maybe it was a great victory in a war. There would be this ceremony, and they'd bring this man back or and this hero back, and he would kneel down, and they would take oil and they would pour it over his head.

And it was their way of saying we anoint you as a leader among us, or back in the day, whenever someone would become king, before they would put a crown on the king's head, they would pour oil over his head and they would say, "You are the Lord's anointed. You are the king". So, he looks at Jesus and he says, "Not that are a Christos, or you could be some Christos," he says, "You are the Christos. You are the anointed one, you are the messiah". Now, you need to understand. Coming from a Jew, that's a breathtaking statement and if you'd been there, all the disciples probably kind of gasped because here's what Jesus said: "I know who you are". Everybody else says, "Oh you're a great prophet like Elijah and Jeremiah and John the Baptist. You're more than a prophet. You're the one the prophets prophecize about. You're the one we've been on. You are the messiah of our nation".

Now I guarantee you at that point, Peter didn't have a full understanding of what kind of messiah he was, because he most probably was thinking politically, not spiritually. He was really thinking I know who you are. You've come to the rescue. You're going to finally give the Roman empire what's far. You're going to finally restore Israel to where they ought to be. We're God's chosen people, we ought to be the greatest nation in the world, and you're going to restore us to our rightful place. He probably was thinking more politically than he was spiritually, but regardless, here's what he was saying. "I know the wait is over, the hope has been fulfilled. God's promise has been kept. The prophecy is going to come true. The dream is about to become a reality". But, he's not finished. And he says, "The son of the living God".

Now again, you've got to go back to way Hebrews would think. Whenever you thought about a son, you would automatically think this is someone that shares the qualities of the father. This is someone that has the power of the father, this is someone that has the privileges of the father, and that's why nobody in that day, in a familial sense, would ever call somebody the son of God. That would be blasphemy. Only someone that you thought was divine in their person and divine in their power would be called in that sense the son of God, and Peter didn't say, "Well I think you're the son of God," or he didn't say this, I love this. "Well, you're the son of God for us". Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah". Let me just stop right there. If Jesus says you're blessed, you're blessed. He says, "'Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah for this," that is what you just said, "That wasn't revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven".

Now, that's a big statement. Very important. Jesus said, "Peter, so proud of you. You nailed it. You get 100 on your test". We all have one job, not two, not three, not four, just got one job. We just testify to who we believe Jesus was. That's our job. It's not my job to open the eyes of someone spiritually blind. You know why it's not my job? I can't do that. It is not our job to open the ears of someone spiritually deaf. You know why? We can't do that. It is not our job to open our heart, open someone's life who is spiritually dead. You know why? We can't do that, only God can do that. That's not our job, we just testify. We just tell the truth. We just get up here, we're doing what I'm doing just fine. This is what God's word says. You are the Jewish messiah, you are the savior of the world. You are the very son of God. That's what we tell people, look, I'm just telling you.

This is who I believe Jesus was, this is what Jesus Christ has done for my life, and I don't care whether you believe it or not, here's what I know: what he did for me, he can do for you. And then, after that, you are done. Everything else is up to God, and that's what we must clearly testify to every time we gather together. It doesn't matter if we believe anything else or everything else, if we do not believe and preach Jesus is the Jewish messiah, Jesus is the world savior, Jesus is the son of God, we have lost our greatest magnet. No? We don't know everything, we don't possess all the truth. There are a lot of things we don't know, but that's one thing we can know, that Jesus is who he said he was.

Now, what Jesus says next is why a true follower of Jesus, and I'll just be honest. What I'm about to show you that Jesus said next, when I, every time I read this, I just don't understand these people who say, "Now I believe in Jesus and I'm a Christian, but I just don't like going to church. I just don't want to be apart of church". I don't get that. In light of what we're about to read, I just don't understand, listen, I don't understand why someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus wouldn't just be excited about the future of the church. They would be enthusiastic about being apart of the fellowship of a church. I don't understand that. Now, look what he says now next. Watch this. "And I tell you," he's talking to Peter, "You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it".

Now, there's been a lot of controversy over what this verse means. This verse has started wars. I mean, they've had, you talk about, I mean, all kinds of debate, and let me tell you what I finally did, and I've read this verse, and I've studied this verse so long, and I've went back to it again. I got a bunch of my, all my Matthew commentaries out and I got all the best biblical scholars I could find, and you know what I began to realize? Same thing I know all along, really. Just let the text say what the text says. Don't try to nuance it, don't try to give your James Merritt interpretation. Don't try to say, "Oh, well, you know, we're this kind of church so I can't," you know, so okay. This is what he said. He said: "You are Peter". Peter's standing right there. "And upon this rock, I'm going to build my church".

So on the one hand, he says, "Peter, you're the rock on which I'm going to build this church". You're saying, "Oh, so you're saying Peter's the rock"? Well, yes and no. It wasn't Peter himself that was the rock. Remember the context. What had he just said? "You are the Christ, the son of the living God". What Jesus said to Peter was this: "Peter, your confession of faith in me, your statement, your testimony that I am the Jewish messiah, that I am the savior of the world, that I am the son of God," he said, "Peter, that is going to be the foundational belief of the church. That is going to be what we're going to build the church on". So, why did he say that to Peter? Real easy. Peter's the only one that spoke up. Peter's the only one that said anything. Peter's the one that stepped up and took a chance. Peter was the one that, you know, what did Peter?

You know, he might've heard. You know, you're off double jeopardy. Peter could've heard anything, right? But, he said, "No..." said Peter, "because of what you did and what you said". What you said and who you are, we're going to make you the rock. So, look what happened. In the early church, who was first among equals? Peter. Who preached the very first sermon after Jesus ascended into heaven? Peter. Who was it that saw more people added to the church in the first year of the church than we've ever seen before? Peter. Who was the go-to guy in the early church when somebody had a question or an opinion? Peter. You go read the apostle Paul, what did Paul say when he was faced with a problem? He said, "We've got to go talk to two people". Remember who they were? James and guess who the second one was. Peter. We got to go to, he is the man. He is the big cog in the synagogue. He's the guy we've got to go to.

Now, here's the wonderful news. We can all today be just like Peter. We can all have same confession, and when our focus is on Jesus and our faith is in Jesus, that is the rock upon which Jesus continues to build his church. And by the way, that leads to the most important statement Jesus makes in this whole conversation. He said, now I love this. He said: "Peter upon this rock," now listen. Hear every word. "I will build my church".

Now, let's just take that at face value. That's the first time the church has ever mentioned in the New Testament, first time Jesus ever said it in his entire ministry. It is the only prediction Jesus ever made about the church, and when Jesus said, "I will build my church," he didn't say I might, I'll try, I'll give it my best shot. He said, "I will build my church". He gave the strongest guarantee the church will succeed and the church can never die. But, notice what he didn't say. He didn't say, "I'll build your church". And thank God he didn't say, "You will build my church". He said, "I will build my church".

Now, hear what I'm about to say. Any pastor can build buildings, only Jesus can build a church. We can build a crowd, but only Jesus can build a true church. You know what the word church means? It means an assembly of people. When Jesus said, "I'll build my church," he was not saying I'll build a place, he said I'll build a people. He didn't say I'll build a building, he said I'll build a body. He didn't say I'll build a denomination, he said I'll build a church. And the reason why, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ and you really love Jesus with all of your heart, the one reason why you ought to be enthusiastic and you ought to say I want to be apart of a church is because you know you're becoming apart of what Jesus is building that can never, ever fail. Jesus is the builder of the church. We are the bricks.

Well, what is the mortar that holds us together? It's this crazy love that we have for one another. That I says, I said three weeks ago, it transcend political differences. It transcends philosophical differences. It's the kind of love that says there is nothing you can do that'll make me love you more or less than I love you right now, 'cause I love you just the way Jesus loved me. It kind of holds us together. And then, when people walk into a magnetic church, they hear this straight talk about the truth of the word of God that is real and life-changing and relevant and true. And then they walk into our church and they're received with these open hands of generosity that provides a spiritual environment for them and their families inside the church, and many needs outside the church.

But most of all, when they walk into a church, they automatically know there is a magnetic personality in this place, and let me tell you something. The magnetic personality of a church should never be the pastor, it should always be Jesus. And people walk in and they just say, "I'm telling you, there's something magnetic" because he's the focus, he's the foundation, he is the finisher of all we believe. If there's anything good about Cross Point Church, it's not because you're good and you are good people. You're wonderful people. I was telling, we have prayer time before the church. I don't think I've told you this before. We pray over every chair in this room.

And you say, "Why do you do that"? Well, look at who's sitting in 'em. So we prayed over every chair that's in this room. I told, I was telling our staff today, I said you know one of the ways you know you're saved? The Bible says you know you've passed from death into life when you love the brothers. That's, I love my church. I love our people, I love you. I do, I don't tell you enough. I love you. I love being here. I love being with you. I love that we're going to spend eternity together. But, that's not what makes me good. It's not what makes us good. You know what makes this church good? It's not the good we do and our food ministry and our clothing ministry. It's not the cars we gave away at Christmas, it's not the good we do and benevolence all year. It's not when we pay the rent, or it's not when we pay somebody's mortgage off. It's not when we tell someone, even telling somebody about Jesus. What makes us good is that Jesus lives in us. That's the whole ball game. That is the magnet.

Now, you go back to the very beginning of the early church. Think about it, we're done. At least think about this. You talk about a hopeless situation. So, what did they have going for them? They were powerless, they were weak, they were the target of scorn and ridicule. They had no money, they no buildings, they had no social status, no government approval, no influence, no respect from the educated elite, no influence whatsoever with anybody. So, what'd they have? They had Jesus, the son of God. They had truth, the word of God. They had affection, the love of God. They had compassion, the generosity of God. That's what they had, and here's the good news for us. What made that early church so magnetic 2,000 years ago and what made Christians so magnetic 2,000 years ago is the same thing we have to make us magnetic today.
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