Matthew 16:13-28 Common English Bible (CEB)
13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.
“This Is Your Life” Simon son of Jonah: Side One: We are introduced to a strong, bold, and capable fisherman. He is a little impulsive, and a regular “take-charge” kind of guy. Jesus calls him from his fishing and he followed. Peter was in Jesus’ inner circle. He was privy to many miracles and occasions that others were not. We see Peter in leadership in the Book of Acts. Many turned to him for wisdom and guidance in their journeys on “The Way”. Peter himself did many miraculous healings and even raised Tabitha from the dead. Side Two: Here we are introduced to a different facet of Peter. He shows he is weak, shifting, and easily distracted. The biggie- the most devastating flaw we find is his denial of Jesus in Jesus’ darkest hour. Sure, he was just trying to save his own skin, but three ties I denied even knowing him. Maybe more revealing of his weaker side are the instances where exhibits both sides in close proximity. Let’s look at three stories from Peter’s life. First, while he and the other disciples were on the Sea of Galilee during a huge storm, Jesus comes walking to them on the water. Peter steps out in faith, asking Jesus to call him out on the water. Things are going well until he realizes the precariousness of standing on the water and sinks. Jesus had to save him. Second, Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. At first, Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet – not truly understanding what Jesus was doing. But then Peter begins to understand and asks Jesus to wash his head and hands as well. See he can change for the better, too. The we come to our passage today, a perfect example of Peter’s vacillation. Peter steps out boldly and declares that “[Jesus is] the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But it is only three verses later, as he is rebuking Jesus about the prediction that he would have to suffer, die and on the third day be raised again, that Jesus has to say to him, “get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” This is your life, Peter. And this is the rock on which Jesus will build his church?!
In the encounter at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” This question is really just a foil for the second question. Our Tuesday Bible Study folk we recognize that the Disciples answers echo what is said in the story of Herod relating to John the Baptist in Mark 6:14-16. “Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” 15 Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” Jesus second, however, is an invitation to express their faith, their belief. Peter is the bold one. With Peter’s answer comes a new name. Originally he is called Cephas in Aramaic. The meaning is a bit ambiguous, just like Peter. At times it means a movable stone, while at other times it refers to an immovable rock. Out text has the name in Greek. Initially Jesus refers to petra, which is a stone, but then renames him as petros, the rock … the bedrock foundation of the Church to come.
This renaming has implications for us today. Flaws and all, Jesus chooses Peter to be the rock on which he will build the church. For us, God can and wants to use us to build the church of today and tomorrow. Each of us is necessary to God’s plans for the people following Jesus Christ.
“On this rock …” - The question becomes, ‘The rock of what?!’ Is it the rock of Peter’s shifting sand? No. It is the rock of Peter’s belief – imperfect as it is – as human as it is. So let’s look at what Jesus would see in Peter, and therefore see in us.
First, Peter was open to forgiveness. Note the contrast between Peter and Judas Iscariot. When Peter denies even knowing Jesus, he remembers Jesus’ prediction, and weeps bitterly. But then, as John’s Gospel relates the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we get to witness Peter’s “reinstatement” to confidence and usefulness to spreading the Gospel. Three times Jesus inquires about Peter’s love for him, and three times Jesus says, “feed my sheep.” Peter could have given up, discounting his usefulness to God. But he experienced amazing forgiveness and became a powerful tool for God in the Kingdom. Judas, on the other hand, was not open to forgiveness. In light of his betrayal of Jesus, he went to his death by his own hand.
To be good tools of God’s Kingdom, we need to be open to forgiveness when we fall short of what God needs. We need to take our confidence from the forgiving love of Jesus, and step back into our roles of bringing the Kingdom.
Second, Peter was able to learn and change. In Acts 10, we get to see the transformation of Peter’s beliefs about the Gentiles. As Peter is challenged in his “dream” to get up, kill and eat of things considered unclean to the Jews, God “Reveals” to him that the Gentiles are included in God’s people. Matt. 9:17 echoes that “revealing”. Jesus says, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you.” Seeing the evidence, Peter learned and grew, and became the Rock that Jesus needed. Was he perfect? No! Could God use him? Yes!
I would point to a reminder of Jesus words to his sleepy disciples on the night he was arrested. They were in the garden, and Jesus asked them to sit and pray with him. He went on a little further and prayed. When he returned (on two occasions) he merely stated, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We are human, God knows that, he chooses us anyway. One of my favorite passages is in the Upper Room with Jesus in John 15:16. “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” This is not just a message for the Twelve. It is a message for us all!
We are fabulous flawed foundation for the church of today and tomorrow. Without us the church would crumble.
Consider the reaction of those who heard Peter testify in front of the rulers, elders and scribes, including Annas (the High Priest), Jonathan, Caiaphas and Alexander (of the high priestly family) in Acts 4:13 –“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” Think about it, the boldness of common people was building the church – the Body of Christ.
So, what can get in the way of our fulfilling our foundational role? Jesus said it in Matthew 16:23. We miss the mark when we keep our mind on human things instead of divine things. When we see our inabilities and fail to see God’s ability through us, we are limiting our usefulness to God. Consider Moses and his experience of God in Exodus 3:11and following. It is his calling through the burning bush. Moses’ response was, “but, but, but… .” Five times Moses puts it out that he is insufficient for the task. God answers all five times in ways that remind Moses that he will provide what is necessary. Moses left all and followed.
This is mirrored in Peter’s call in Luke 5:8. Jesus boards his boat to speak to the crowds. At the end he tells Peter to go out into deep water and cast his nets. Peter’s response is that they had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but because Jesus said it he did it. The catch was overwhelming! Peter said, “go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In response to Jesus’ words of encouragement (“Don’t be afraid. From now on your will be fishing for men.”) Peter left all and followed.
In response to our humanness, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
We are to embrace God’s acceptance of us as instruments of his grace and let him make the “rock” out of our “sand”, and use us for the good of the Kingdom! Amen!!
Pastor Paul Grossman