Way to go, Simon!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Verses 15 and 16 are one of Christianity’s most unifying Bible passages. Verses 17 and 18 are one of its most divisive. Back to back–a stunning contrast.
Matt. 16:17a (Holman) And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah,. . .”
By using Peter’s full name, Jesus marked this as a solemn occasion, as we customarily do at a wedding or funeral. Mom, if she had something important to say to me, especially with regard to discipline, called me John Edward Marshall. When I heard the name Edward I knew things were serious. It was time to jump.
Matt. 16:17b “. . .you are blessed. . .”
This is one of Jesus’ most congratulatory statements. He voiced it because Peter accurately assessed who Jesus is. Until we think rightly about the Person of Jesus, we cannot be right about anything else. “Who Jesus is” is the first lesson we have to learn. If we start wrong, we’ll go far afield. This is why I ask people who wish to join our church, “Are you absolutely sure Jesus lives in your heart?”
All who echo Peter’s confession, who personally know Jesus as Messiah and God, share in Peter’s blessing. All Christ-followers are blessed. When the seventy returned to Jesus after their short-term mission trip, they were celebrating their victories over demons. Jesus reminded them, “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Matt. 16:17c “. . .because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My
Father in heaven.”
How did Peter reach the conclusion Jesus is Messiah and God? Human logic did not cause it; many as intelligent as Peter did not understand. Debate and argument did not persuade him; others were hearing the same words, yet were not convinced. Research didn’t cause it. Many investigated Jesus, but did not believe.
Peter succeeded where others failed because the Father revealed this truth to him. The Father sent Jesus from Heaven in order that the world might know Him as Messiah and God, and thereby through Him fully enjoy the living triune God.
Simon was the first person to grasp what the Father was revealing in Jesus. For a moment, only one man had connected all the dots of what God was saying.
Others had heard, seen, debated, and cogitated, but now one had figured it out. In this scene, what was allowing Peter to be different from all others?
Peter’s interaction with Jesus had become an inward spiritual conviction, an interpersonal relationship. Father and Son had become the focus of Peter’s affections, a living reality in his spirit. Divine/human interaction was going on.
The key was a personal relationship. Some truths can be known only via relationship. No one can know me as well as Ruth does because she and I have a relationship. Anyone not a grandparent can’t understand how wonderful it is until they become one. Grandparenting is the only job I ever had that wasn’t overrated.
Pardon my redundancy, but we cannot know God until we know God. We cannot adequately relate to Jesus until we are in relationship with Jesus.
Knowing God, entering into a personal relationship with Him, happens only as a result of receiving what God has said as authoritative, what God did in Christ’s death and resurrection, and what God determines must be our response.
We don’t make up the faith as we go. Christianity is a revealed religion. Its tenets descend from Heaven. The issue is not figuring out salvation; this can be done by a six-year-old child. The crux is entering into it with a submissive heart.
Where do we find ourselves in this Caesarea Philipi scenario? Are we like the people described in verse 13, deciding about Jesus based on public opinion, guided by flesh and blood, by what people are saying? Are we leaning on our own understanding, depending on our own intellect, self-determining what God ought to do, projecting our own ego onto what God should be like?
Or are you a true Christ-follower, judging after the Spirit’s leading from the Father, accepting the Bible’s verdict as opposed to our own understanding?
Matt. 16:18a “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I
will build my church,. . .”
This passage is the foundation of Roman Catholicism’s belief in a Pope. They claim Peter was made the ruler of the church, an authority he passed on to the Bishops of Rome who served after him. I disagree with this interpretation, but am not going to refute it in this sermon. Protestants have done this for 500 years.
I would be less than honest if I said I can approach this text objectively. I bring half a century of prejudice with me when I come to it, but I will try to focus on the passage, seeking to interpret its meaning as I do other texts I preach from.
Ivor Powell heard a Catholic priest explain new ideas in his church. “We have come to understand certain verses do not mean what we thought they meant.” We all could say this. I will try to preach this text straightforwardly, yet humbly.
To interpret a passage, our safest course is to define its words according to their most obvious meaning, unless totally out of line with other Bible teaching.
A passage also needs to pass the closet test. If new believers, with no prior knowledge of Christianity and no preconceived notions, stayed in a closet one year with the Bible as their only reading material, how would they explain a given text?
Let’s apply both tests to our text. What do the words plainly say? “You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build My church.” The most natural explanation is, Jesus was saying He would build His church on Peter, the rock.
When our new believer-friends came out of the closet, they would most likely come out saying the same thing. “Peter is the rock the church is built on.”
The words’ obvious intent would be universally interpreted this way were it not for what we see as an abused interpretation. Don’t let abuse of a truth drive us from the right use of a truth. Otherwise, their abuse leads us into our own abuse.
We can believe Peter is the rock without believing he had ultimate authority and successors. Peter is not the Rock on which the Church is founded. The Bible clearly gives this honor to Jesus. God’s house is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (EP 2:20). The first building stones were laid in the ministry of the Apostles. All their names are written on the foundation of Heaven (RV 21:14). To Peter the rock was given the honor of being the first apostolic foundation stone laid next to the cornerstone.
Back to the closet test. Had we read only Scripture for a year, what would we say about Peter? He was not infallible; he denied Jesus and showed favoritism to Jews. He was not the undisputed leader; the Twelve later argued over who was the greatest among them. They never believed Jesus gave Peter ultimate authority.
We would say he was a first among equals, prominent but not supreme. In the early days of the Church, Peter was the most powerful human link between Jesus and the Church. The accuracy of Jesus’ prediction is convincingly shown in Acts 1-12, where Peter’s name is mentioned over 50 times. It is found everywhere except in the story of Stephen (Acts 6-7). Peter took the lead on the Day of Pentecost (AC 2), when 3000 Jews were added to the Church. When he dealt with Cornelius (AC 10), Peter took the lead in adding Gentiles to the Church. Paul’s stronger, bigger ministry to Gentiles came later. Peter blazed the trail.
The honor conveyed on Peter can’t be duplicated; only one can be first. But the task given to him is passed on to all believers. “You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” (1 P 2:5a).
Jesus is building His church on people who share Peter’s confession. All who join Peter in his confession place themselves as stones in the foundation.
This is a task we are to perform together. A believer alone is like a seed without soil. It loses the element in which it was meant to thrive best.