“Who do you say that I am?” Southwestern President Paige Patterson, preaching at the J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies in Houston during their spring convocation service, Jan. 23, identified this question, posed by Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 16, as the most important question anyone has to answer in this life.

“Everything else takes a backseat to that,” Patterson said to the new and returning students and faculty at Southwestern’s Houston campus, “because if you get a wrong answer on that, you’re not going to get any right answers anywhere else. If, on the other hand, you get the right answer there, it’s a long step forward in determining how you will live your life and how you will spend eternity.”

Patterson focused his sermon on Jesus’ response to Peter’s correct answer to the question—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16). First, Patterson examined verse 18, wherein Jesus tells Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Acknowledging the different ways in which this statement has been interpreted, Patterson, working from the Greek text, noted that “Peter” refers to a small rock that can be thrown, while “this rock” refers to one that is immovable and will never change. Patterson thus argued that, by “this rock,” Jesus was referring to Himself.

Then calling attention to the next phrase—“and the gates of Hades will not overpower it”—Patterson said, “This depicts a constant picture of conflict, and you and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, must understand that conflict is forever.” While acknowledging that Christians have made mistakes throughout history, the Christian faith nevertheless “demands love for the enemy and prayer for those that spitefully use you. … And yet, Christians, who are famous for their generosity, famous for their kindness, famous for praying even for the enemy, are the most hated group on a consistent basis in the whole world.

“Why is that? Why does that happen? Because Satan is against you.”

Patterson noted that Reformer Martin Luther displayed a heightened awareness of the ongoing conflict between God and the devil, with one biography even stating that he saw Satan “behind every bush.” Though Patterson clarified that the end of this “cosmic conflict” is not in question, he said believers still must endure spiritual warfare with the devil prior to Christ’s return.

“I want to say to students today that as you study and as you prepare for the ministries to which God has called you, you must be as Luther was: constantly aware that you are in the crosshairs of the devil,” Patterson said. “He will do everything he can to terminate your ministry.”

Proceeding to verse 19, wherein Jesus refers to the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” Patterson said this refers to the Gospel itself. He explained, “Every time you share the Gospel with somebody, you have taken the keys of the kingdom of heaven from your pocket and you have unlocked the gates of heaven. You have made it possible for an individual to gain access to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Patterson concluded by returning to Jesus’ question, stressing once again the grave importance of answering correctly the question of who Jesus is. Noting that many people are distracted by current world events—such as the transition into office of President Trump—Patterson pointed out that “in the end, it won’t matter.” What matters, instead, is whether people acknowledge Jesus as the “Son of the living God,” a rock that cannot be moved even by the devil himself, and whose message opens the gates of heaven for those who put their faith in Him. “That’s why we keep saying we must evangelize the world,” Patterson said, “because the only hope for our world is Jesus Christ.”