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Upon This Rock

Updated: Aug 29, 2023


Matthew 16:13-20

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

13 When Jesus came to the region 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 say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


Sermon.

Imagine the scene: Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi, a Roman colony a long way from home. Here they are surrounded by various gods, various beliefs and cultures, and also, they are surrounded by diverse opinions about just who Jesus was.

Jesus starts a conversation by inquiring about the public's opinion of him. He wants to gauge the common opinions, revealing the confusion and varying perspectives that surround him.

However, Jesus takes a step further and poses a personal question to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?"

It would be one of those “gulp” moments, wouldn’t it? It’s always easier to report on what others say than to have to give our own opinion or belief.


Peter was never one to take a backward step, and he steps up and boldly declares, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

I find it especially interesting that Jesus did not congratulate Peter, but attributed his ability to make this confession directly to God. The knowledge of who Jesus is, in other words faith, is a gift from God.

Jesus uses a clever play on words, referring to Peter as the "rock" and asserting, "On this rock, I will build my church." We believe that in the play on words, Jesus was making a clever pun, and like so much of scripture, we lose the meaning if we take a literal reading as our first port of call.

Jesus wasn’t building his church on Simon Peter. Yes he was one of the disciples, and yes he was chosen, but he was still a sinful human being and the church is a supernatural entity. It is made up of human beings but it is does not get its strength from them.

Thank the Lord for that!


Along with many of the churches in the world, we believe that the "rock" that Jesus was speaking about was the confession of his identity – a solid foundation upon which the Church stands.



Interestingly, the Greek shows that he really could not have been speaking of Peter, as the word Peter (Petros) is a grammatically masculine term, whereas the “rock” Jesus spoke of, on which he would build his church, is a feminine term, (Petra) as, is the word for “church” or gathering (ecclesia).

This is a point where many churches have a disagreement with our Roman Catholic Brothers and sisters, who see these words as a literal statement that it was Peter himself who was the most important, the foundation of the church, and as he became bishop of the church in Rome, that the Roman church was to be pre-eminent among the churches.



Do you ever worry about the future of the church? I must admit that I do. There's an old saying that says that the church is always only one generation away from extinction. But increasingly among the wider church we see a willingness and desire to run back to old outdated ways of doing things.


I myself have often said that the work of the church is to make a timeless truth relevant to a modern generation. While we refuse to dumb down or change the message to suit the culture, neither do we marry the message of the faith to a certain time or culture. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a 1950s message, it is not a 1550s message.

I personally see a lack of grace, a new legalism, right wing politics and misogyny increasingly creeping into our church. In fact I see how much dis-grace is there when I go to things like our general synods. And it scares me. And I start to worry about the future of the church.


I see people somehow thinking it is OK to act in unchristian ways to protect a Christian Church. This has never made sense to me. But then I realise what I'm doing. I am doing the same thing they are doing. I am acting out of fear for the future of the church.

And while I see the headlong rush to take the church back to an old irrelevant way of doing things as a lack of faith, I also need to look back at myself and realise that my very worry about these things, my very fears over these things shows exactly the same lack of faith in me.

To be honest I've got a little better. Every day it's a work in progress, but there are some things that have helped me when I worry about the future of my church. Did you hear that? My church?

These words of Jesus for Matthew chapter 16 are a wonderful antidote to that sickness of fear and worry.

They are an antidote to that lack of faith, and my fears over my church. Because they tell me that is not my church at all.


Membership does not mean ownership.

So whose church is it? Is it Simon Peters church? Is it the Queensland District’s Church? Is it the Church of those who are trying to protect it from the unbiblical evil of women's ordination, or does it belong to those who refuse to cherry pick verses of scripture that don't apply to a certain situation in order to fit their preconceived prejudices?

And the answer: it's neither.

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

The Christian Church on earth, and all its members hidden or in plain sight, alive, deceased or not yet born, belong to Jesus Christ.

It is his church. The ability to believe is a gift from his father. Its ability to withstand the gates of death and hades comes from him not from us.


What an arrogance we have sometimes to think that the whole church stands or falls on my shoulders, or on yours. Jesus was doing just fine with his church before I was here, and he will do just fine with it when I'm gone.


We will soon celebrate 50 years in this Saint marks church building. And we are so blessed to have this wonderful space to worship. But this is not the church either. If it falls, if it burns to the ground, the church will stand, by the power given to us by the Holy Spirit of God we will worship under trees or by the Creek, or in a home or in a hall, because the church is not a place, it is not even an institution. It is a body, a gathering, an assembly. And it is a divine one. Just like Jesus himself, his body now is both divine and human at the same time.


A wise older pastor once told me that he trusts implicitly these words of Jesus the church will stand and the gates of hades will not prevail against it. But he also realises that Jesus never mentioned the Lutheran Church of Australia, and that it would stand. All of these things church buildings, institutions, they are what I call the outer church. Some of them may look the same in the future, I pray that many of them do not.

But even if they're absolutely gone into the pages of history, the church will stand.

The church will stand on the rock of the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. On this rock Jesus said he would build his church

Wherever that remains, wherever it is taught and lived out, the church will stand. Where that gets lost in favour of debates and doctrines and made-up laws and fear and unforgiveness and arguments, it ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ, and becomes a very human organisation indeed.

Every time we are afraid for the future of the church, remember these words: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”


And then take a breath. Rest in him and his power alone.

Problem solved. The church goes on.

Amen.


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