How Should Christians Understand the Pope’s Visit?
Sunday’s Message | September 27, 2015
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
By now, Pope Francis has left America, and we are still talking about him: where he went, what he said and what he meant by what he said…and didn’t say. I can imagine that this may go on for a while, especially with the latest development. Pope Francis: champion of the poor, espouser of socialist economics, promoter of environmental activism, met with a conservative icon of opposition to same-sex marriage, Kim Davis.
The Pope keeps us guessing, even after he’s gone. And in a way, this is a good thing for our faith because as Christians, we are driven to the Word of God as our rule of faith in life. As Christians, we are called to follow the Way, and him only. Only through Scripture can we know if our Church leaders are actually shepherding sheep or merely (as Charles Spurgeon said) “amusing goats.”1
On Sunday I made the case from Scripture that, while Peter probably did have some special place among the Apostles, at no point did Jesus give Peter or a particular congregation an office an authority that was transferrable. It was Jesus’ Father who revealed the truth of Jesus to Peter and it was Jesus who confirmed it and proclaimed Simon as “rock”, but Peter himself could not – and did not – pass that kind of authority to another. It is still the Father today who reveals his Son to us through his Spirit. And we, who know Christ as our shepherd, hear him in joy through the teaching of the Apostles in Scripture. When someone – anyone – champions the Apostles’ testimony of Christ, we rejoice. And, when someone – anyone – dismisses or makes fun of the Apostles’ testimony of Christ, we mourn. We do this because Jesus is our Way, Truth and our very Life. All of our life and love and passion and prayers are to be caught up in this Christ.
So what are we to do with a Pope? Especially with a really nice guy like Pope Francis, but who claims to be the leader of all Christians because of the authority he believes he inherits from Simon Peter in a succession of Roman church leaders? We go to Scripture. You and I must turn on the light of God’s Word if we are to have light in our lives and in this world. If we want to hear God speak to us, we need not wait for a Pope to come to our city. We only need to open our Bible and read it.
“O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”
Would you walk around your house for a week without turning on the lights at night and say, “I don’t need the lights every day. I just turned on the lights last Tuesday.” Of course not. Especially if you have small children – I find that lego bricks left on the floor get sharper once the room gets darker. But, how many times to we go from Sunday to Sunday not opening the Word of God and expect to not fall over the sin in our life? How many times have you heard the Word of God call for the blood of Christ to purify an attitude that “really doesn’t hurt anyone”? To know God is to know his Word, and to show Christ to the world is to be in his Word – by faith and by being discipled.
When Jesus ascended to the Father, he left us an enduring Counselor, uniting us to Christ throughout time until he returns. This was not Peter, nor Linus, nor Gregory, nor Leo nor John Paul nor Francis – he’s better, and removes the need for a figurehead leader. God gives us his own Spirit so that we may know him and his Word until Jesus returns. You do not have to settle for a long-distance blessing, or a televised nearness to God. Where two or three are gathered, he is there with them. Where the Bible is read in faith, there the blessing is given.
1 Charles H. Spurgeon, Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?
2 John Piper, The Morning I Heard the Voice of God; Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-morning-i-heard-the-voice-of-god, March 21, 2007.