Upon this rock

The Rock of our Salvation, Matthew 16:13-20, August 21, 2011

It’s hard to pass up an opportunity to tell a few Pearly Gates jokes when talking about Peter, so here goes:

Rodney Dangerfield At The Pearly Gates
I tell ya, he don't get no respect at all...
Rodney Dangerfield arrives at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter says to him, "Tell me what you did in life that makes you worthy of coming in."
Rodney says, "That's easy. I made people laugh."
St. Peter responds, "God gave you your looks, I want to know what YOU did."                                

Qualifying For Heaven
Recently a teacher, a garbage collector, and a lawyer wound up together    at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question.

St. Peter addressed the teacher and asked,
"What was the name of the ship that crashed into the iceberg?
They just made a movie about it."
The teacher answered quickly, "That would be the Titanic."
St. Peter let him through the gate.

St. Peter turned to the garbage man and, figuring Heaven didn't *really* need all the odors that this guy would bring with him, decided to make the question a little harder: "How many people died on the ship?"

Fortunately for him, the trash man had just seen the movie.
"1,228," he answered.
"That's right! You may enter."

St. Peter turned to the lawyer. "Name them." (Ouch!)

This is the Lord’s third departure from Galilee in Matthew 16. He departed before to avoid Herod (Matt14) and to avoid the Pharisees once before.

Jesus took his disciples to Gentile territory, the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was 20 mi. N of Sea of Galilee. The region strongly identified with various religions: center for Baal worship; the Greek god Pan had shrines there; and Herod the Great had built a temple there to honor Augustus Caesar.

It was in the middle of this pagan superstition that Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God. They may have been standing within sight of Caesar’s temple as Jesus announced He would build his church.

The Jewish religious leaders were waiting for a Messiah that would build a physical, political kingdom on earth, but Jesus said he would not yet establish His kingdom, but he would build his church. “

Jesus purpose was not that of a national restoration of Israel. On the contrary, He would create a New People.”(Ladd 111))(v.18)

Jesus says to his followers, in the shadow of the Roman temple, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). The disciples look around nervously, not wanting to attract the attention of any well-armed legionaries, and answer, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14). After all, they can’t get arrested for simply pointing out what others are saying!

“But who do you say that I am?” presses Jesus (v. 15). Jesus is addressing not just one disciple with the word “you,” but is speaking to all of the disciples in the second person plural —, “But who do you (all) say that I am?”

Or, if you’re in the South, “who do all y’all say I am?”  What others say is not important, but what I say who Jesus is is crucial. Other people’s decisions can never substitute for my personal decisions. 

Only one of them, Simon Peter, answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16).  Peter calls Jesus “Messiah,” and this is a bold confession. The Messiah is the “anointed one,” the long-awaited king who is expected to save his people from oppression.

Jesus is the Son of the “living God,” not the son of a dead god like Baal or Pan or self-proclaimed god like Caesar Augustus. The confession of Peter is not pious religious talk, much less polite church talk — it is a courageous political statement.

It’s ironic that the Sadducees and Pharisees repeatedly asked Jesus to give them a sign. Right before Jesus went to Caesarea Philippi; the religious leaders issued their fourth challenge to Jesus: “Show us a sign from heaven and we will believe you are the Christ.” (Sign—means a wonder by which one may recognize a person or confirm who he is.) They wanted proof-positive.

(vs.17) The irony is that the Spirit of God revealed Christ’s identity to a group of scruffy, non-intellectual fisherman in a pagan city outside of the “promised land.”

(vs.18) The Rock—is an OT symbol of God. The disciples would have recognized that. “Deut. 32.4) He is the Rock, His work is perfect. (Ps.18.2) For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God?”

Jesus excited by Peter’ recognition, says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (v. 18). — You are Petros, he says, and on this petra I will build my church. Jesus says that Peter is the foundation stone on which he will build the new Christian community.

But let’s look at the words the Holy Spirit led Matthew to use. “Thou are petros (a stone), and upon this rock (petra-a large rock) I will build My church. The Aramaic form is Cephas, which also means a stone.

Notice that it is Jesus who builds the church — Peter is simply the foundation. Jesus continues to have an active role in constructing the Christian community as a spiritual house, and there will be many “living stones” added to this building over the years.

Like “living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,” Peter goes on to write in his first letter, “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5).

So Peter is the rock, the foundation — and each of us is a living stone. The house that Jesus began to build with Peter continues to be constructed, and the gates of death have not prevailed against it.  

There is no evidence in the NT that an official auth was given to Peter which he could pass on to others. However, the Church is in fact “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner-stone (Eph.2.20) (Ladd 112)

(vs.18) And so Peter becomes a rock upon which God will place other stones as, over time, Christ builds a people for himself. The church is not merely a means to achieve a greater goal, nor is it just a voluntary association of like-minded individuals. It is an article of faith.

Jesus promises that he will build his church. He will protect the church he is building so that, while the force of sin and death will do its worst to destroy, the church nevertheless will prevail. …

The church is not simply an institution that arises after the resurrection of JC to promote his teachings. The church is founded, or at least its blueprints are drawn, by the earthy Jesus to be a continuation of the work that he has begun.

(vs.19) Jesus connects his church and his kingdom. The use of the words Keys, gates, bind & loose all refer to authority; JC is  creating the church as the epi-center of the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer that God’s kingdom will come, that his will may be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The church continues the missio Dei (God’s mission) that Peter recognized in the person of Jesus.

Each believer in this church is a “living stone” (1 Pet.2.5) Believers would meet in local congregations to worship and serve Him, but they would also belong to a universal church, a temple being built by Christ.

Jesus spoke about “My church.” Not just any old assembly (ecclesia), but something new and different.  For in His church, Jesus Christ would unite believing Jews and Gentiles and form a new temple, a new body. Natural distinctions would be unimportant. JC would be the Builder of this church, the Head of this church.

Gates represent, in the Bible authority and power. The city gate was to a Jew what city hall is to people in the Western world. The gates of Hades (not hell) simply mean “the realm of the dead.” Death cannot stand in the way of the church.

By his death & resurr, Jesus Christ would conquer death, so that death would not be able to hold any of His people. Christ would “storm the gates” and deliver the captives.

(Vs.19) Key – a key is a badge of authority. “the kingdom of heaven’ here is not the place we call heaven, but refers to the spiritual house of God Christ is building.

One interpretation is that Keys are used to open doors.  Peter was given the privilege of opening “the door of faith: to the Jews at Pentecost, then later to the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. The other disciples shared this authority, but Peter was the one who initially opened the door of faith for these people groups.

The key of knowledge which in the OT dispensation had been entrusted to Israel is now entrusted by our Lord to the apostles and to the Church. (Ladd 113)

The writer of gospel of Matt specifically addresses these questions of the identity and authority of church community through the revelation of Christ. The identity and auth of JC translates into the identity and therefore the auth of the church.

The focus of this passage is upon divine revelation thru Christ as the source of our identity and auth to interpret revelation for the church. The keys to binding and loosing are keys for interpretation of revelation. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus to Peter the foundation rock (v. 19) — I will give you access to my life-giving and death-destroying teachings.

 (vs.19) “Binding and loosing” is rabbinic terminology for doctrinal and disciplinary authority.  Throughout his gospel, Matt portrays Jesus as “binding and loosing” the teachings of the Torah; that is, Jesus declares certain actions to be necessary and others not to be required.  Jesus did this with God’s authority.

Matt presents Jesus granting teaching authority to peter and the disciples (and the church) because Jesus continues to be present in the community of believers he has called into being.  (p.116) The Kingdom of God does not function in a vacuum.

It is entrusted to men and women, and dynamically works through the redeemed who have given themselves to the rule of God thru Christ. (Ladd 116) and because JC, God’s Son, has chosen to be present in the church and to exercise his authority on earth through this community” (Mark Allen Powell)

Stop a moment and realize the significance of that, 2,000 years later and the church is still being built! What a miraculous undertaking by God. What confidence God has placed in mortals like us.

As ordinary people, wondering how on earth to be faithful Christians, we have this rather simple prescription: Focus on Jesus. Listen to his teachings, examine his life, notice his relationships, hear his questions and follow his invitation to be his disciple.

Ultimately, ideas about Jesus are not the same as personal allegiance to Jesus. The difference is crucial for those who seek to be faithful disciples.  

We have a powerful Messiah, a rock-solid Christian community and the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, upon this rock I will build my church. We stand on that rock together, as living stones being built into the temple of God.

In this current surge of Biblical debates, religious tolerance and intolerance, take courage, my friends; God’s church will stand. Thanks be to God. Amen.



  June 2021  
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