“Survey Says vs. Spirit Says”
Rev. Michael J. Zehnder
(Saturday) August 22, 2020
There’s a popular TV program hosted by Steve Harvey called “Family Feud.” I even get regular updates from the show in my Facebook Feed. The program is completely based on surveys of people’s opinions, experiences and attitudes. Steve Harvey usually begins by saying, “Survey Says” and you have to guess what might be the most popular answers. For instance, Steve might say, “100 people were asked…”
- Name Something You Fill With Air. …
- Name Something You Do Not Learn in School. …
- Name Something People Are Afraid Of. …
- Name Something That Goes up and Down. …
- Name Something You Might Bring on a Date. …
Then come the answers through surveys. Survey says! There is no such thing as a wrong or right answer although you get no points if your answer doesn’t match other popular answers in the survey. It’s all based on popular opinion.
In today’s Gospel from Matthew 16, Jesus takes a similar survey: “Who do people say that I am?” He asks this of his disciples. They give the answers. Survey says…
- Some people say you are John the Baptist, beheaded by Herod, now come back to life from the dead. The answer is on the board.
- Some people say you are the prophet Elijah, who it was thought will return before the end times. The answer is on the board.
- Some people say you are Jeremiah or another one of Israel’s prophets who had their own tensions with the authorities. The answer is on the board. Popular answers.
But then Jesus changes the game. He doesn’t want to know what a hundred other people are saying. He asks what seems to be the question He wanted to ask all along. “But what about you? Who do YOU say that I am?”
Now it’s no longer a game of “Survey Says.” There are no points available for being a popular answer on the board that some people agree with. The game has changed from “Survey Says” to “Truth Is.” Jesus wants to know, “Do you know the Truth? Do you know the one and only, RIGHT answer? And praise God, they got it right! I mean the disciples rarely get things right in the Gospels, getting rebukes like, “O ye of little faith!” or “Get behind me, Satan” so we need to lift them up when they get it right. Peter is the first to speak up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And ding, ding, ding, Jesus says, Yes, that’s the correct answer. “Blessed are you Simon, Son of Jonah. Flesh and blood, like random surveys, has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The game is no longer “Survey Says” but “Spirit Says.” To get it right is not by guessing what others are saying, what others are thinking. There’s no end to opinions people have about Jesus — some completely inadequate – some completely wrong. Among the inadequate opinions include these: …he was a good man, he was the founder of a new religion…he was a miracle worker…he was a great teacher…all true but totally inadequate…other opinions by the Pharisees and Sadducees and people of Jesus’ day were just grossly wrong: he was a glutton, he was a wine-bibber, a drunk…his miracles were from Beelzebub, the devil, he was possessed by a demon…wow.
But Peter said You are the Christ! Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah and both mean “Anointed One.” You are the Anointed One of God. You are the long-awaited Messiah, the One for whom we’ve been waiting for centuries. Peter goes even further: You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!
Jesus points out that Simon Peter could never have gotten this answer right by correctly guessing a survey question. It didn’t matter what others were saying. You couldn’t know the answer by being highly aware of what others were saying or guessing. The answer was only known by direct revelation. The answer was Spirit-revealed by God Himself. Knowing the answer, believing the answer is in fact, a GIFT of God. Martin Luther summarized this truth in his explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed, about the work of the Holy Spirit. He said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, OR come to Him.” In other words, I cannot know the answer or believe the answer by what a survey says, by what even many other people may think. Luther continues, “BUT the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
The answer, in short, is only God-inspired, God-revealed. If you believe it you have God’s Holy Spirit living in you.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I am deadly honest with myself about my sins – what I’ve done, what I’ve thought, what I’ve said, what I’ve desired that’s just plain wrong, what I’m still doing and thinking at times, it can be just plain scary. It can go through my head, “How can I even call myself a Christian?” “How can I think that God would love and accept me if I’m doing and thinking those things? How can I do and think such bad things and still call myself a Christian?
And you know what Jesus would say to these doubts? He wouldn’t say to me, “There, there, Mike, you’re not as bad as many others are. You’ll be fine. Just hang in there, buddy. Compared to others, you’re doing OK. No, He would call me Satan!
That’s what he called Peter, just a few verses after praising him for correctly identifying His person and nature. Right after today’s Gospel, Jesus explains that He is going to go to Jerusalem to die. To die for the sins of the world. And Peter says, “No Lord, this must never happen to you.” And Jesus rebukes him by calling him Satan. Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, but he didn’t at all understand what kind of Messiah he was going to be. He wasn’t going to be a conquering King, going to overthrow the Roman overloads. He wasn’t going to set up a kingdom on earth. He was a Savior from sin. A Savior sent to die. A Savior sent to be crushed for the sins and iniquities of us all on a Roman cross.
So, even though Peter gets it right, he still, sort of, gets it wrong. I can relate to that, how about you? We might have the correct answer about the identity of Jesus, that He is Lord, the Son of the living God, the Savior, the Messiah. But it is hard for us to get everything right and faith is still a journey. Paul said to the Corinthians, “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see Him face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. The Christian faith is a journey, and an exciting journey of getting to know who God is and to trust Him in all circumstances.
In Acts, even after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter still must learn many things as it pertains to following Christ. At first, he thinks only the Jewish people and those who are circumcised and eat the right kind of foods can be saved. Eh. That’s Survey Says, not Spirit says…” Three times God revealed to Peter a sheet coming down from heaven full of clean and unclean animals. Three times! Finally, Peter gets it. “Don’t call unclean what God has called clean.”
The Holy Spirit descends on the Gentiles and Peter finally has to conclude, “If God accepts even the Gentiles unto faith and gives them His Holy Spirit, how can those of us who are Jewish not also accept them as fellow believers!” It doesn’t matter what the Survey Says. It’s what the Spirit says.
So to my fears – and your fears – that you may not be living up to your fullest Christian potential, Jesus doesn’t coddle you and me and say “There, there, after all, you’re not as bad as many others are.” No, He preaches the Law before He preaches the Gospel. He calls us Satan! Not just because we’ve sinned, “for all have sinned and are far short of the glory of God.” But that self-doubt is satanic thinking. That’s looking to inadequate self instead of looking to all-sufficient Jesus. It’s doubting the purpose and sufficiency of the cross. It’s doubting the power of the cross for your salvation. It’s the same as Peter saying Jesus doesn’t need to go to Jerusalem to die, because yes He does, because all of us are in BONDAGE TO DECAY and cannot free ourselves. We need a Savior. We need someone to take the hit that we deserve because, on our own, eternity in hell is not enough to pay for our sins. We need a Savior who is powerful enough to sufficiently pay for all our sins.
Survey says, “Try to Do Your Best and God will make up the rest.” But the Spirit says, Your best isn’t good enough. Isaiah wrote, “Even your best good works are like filthy rags.” You need a Savior.”
Survey says, if I check off these boxes, like go to church, give some money to the work of the Lord, say a little prayer at dinner, and before I go to bed, I’ll be OK. Spirit says triple wrong answer. Because you don’t know just how bad you are as Paul wrote in Romans, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh.” Psalm 14 says “None is righteous, no, not one.” But that bad truth – that LAW – is followed by Good News, for instance, the GOSPEL of Romans 3:21 which says your salvation is not dependent on your goodness. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifest apart from the law – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Survey says I need to check off these boxes to feel that I have a saving faith; and I need to have bigger faith. Spirit says, “Even faith as small as a grain of mustard seed IS truly saving faith.”
So today, Jesus asks, “But who do YOU say that I am?” This is not a theology or Bible exam. It is a faith exam. If you are amazed and grateful that God could still love you in spite of what you’ve thought, done and said, then you have the right answer. And that right answer hasn’t come from being smart. That right answer comes by faith as a gift from God! It is a revelation from God. Such insight cannot come from human thinking.
By the way, that’s what confirmation is all about. It gives young people a chance to answer the question, “Who do you say I am” out loud for themselves. And every time we witness this, we renew our own confirmation vows and say it out loud with them.
It’s not who mom and dad say Jesus is.
It’s not who my Sunday School teachers say Jesus is.
It not who the Creeds says Jesus is.
It’s not what have other people told me about Jesus.
It’s who do I say Jesus is?
As important as it is to know He is Lord, Messiah, Son of God, David’s descendant, the Promised One, God’s anointed, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, begotten, not made, and so forth – the bottom line is, “Who is Jesus and why did He die on the cross?
Survey says, A tragic ending to a good life. Nope.
Mormon surveys say Jesus is a separate god from the Father (Elohim), created as a spirit child by the Father and Mother in Heaven, and is the “elder brother” of all men and spirit beings. His death on the cross does not proved full atonement from sins and we are saved by works. Nope.
Jehovah Witness surveys say Jesus is not God and before he lived on earth he was Michael, the archangel, and salvation is limited to 144,000 anointed ones. Nope.
Scientology surveys say Jesus was not the Creator, did not die for sins and there is no sin or need to repent. Nope.
Hinduism says Jesus was a guru or an avatar, an incarnation of Vishnu whose death did not atone for sins and he did not rise from the dead and that we are saved through release from the cycles of reincarnation. Nope.
Islam says Jesus is one of up to 124,000 prophets, born of a virgin but not the Son of God and the balance or good and bad deeds determines eternal destiny. Nope.
The Spirit says in God’s Holy Word – the Bible – that Jesus is God’s Son; He has always existed and was never created. Most importantly, the Spirit points you to the grace of God on the cross and to believe and say, “Jesus, I need You; You are my Savior from sin and I repent of it! I will not be afraid of the sin and filth I see in me for this is why you died! You have overcome the world, sin, death, and the devil. I will rejoice at who you are and what you did on the cross for me. You have made me a new creation. By faith, I believe “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” who died on the cross for my sins.
Survey says, “That’s crazy talk.”
Spirit says, “That’s God-talk. Blessed are you! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Be blessed. In the Name of the Father…