Isaiah 51:1-6; Matthew 16:13-20; Romans 12:1-8 – August 23, 2020


If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. Hear the word of God from Matthew 16:13-20 

Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for opening our eyes and, the eyes of our hearts even, to see what Peter said—that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Thank you that you are much more than a prophet, that you are the one the prophets predicted.  As we mediate on what that means for us, as we ponder our answer to your question of who WE say you are, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our ROCK and our Redeemer.


There is a college in North Carolina called Belmont Abbey College.  The monks who started the college were wandering along a road and came upon a crossroad. There was an interesting huge granite flat rock. They were very intrigued by it.

 As they talked to neighbors in town about it, they were told that the rock was a major selling place for slaves in that sad time in our history. Men, women, and children would stand on that rock and be sold into slavery. So, the monks decided to have it moved to their new monastery, and they dug out a well in its center, and they made that their baptismal font. On it reads, “Upon this rock, people once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free children of God.”. (1)   

Now that Rock Rocks!

This morning we read about Jesus nearing the end of his ministry.  It was time for him to get alone with his disciples far from the watchful eyes of the religious authorities and assess the last three years of ministry.  Actually, Jesus left his “working vacation,” that we looked at last Sunday.  This morning we see him on his session retreat in into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee.  It is the area we know today as Syria.  Jesus went to Syria to get away. He is doing this on foot.

The region had tremendous religious implications. The countryside was cluttered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here also was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then ruling Herod Antipas. Here also was the influence of the Greek gods. Here also the worship of Caesar as a God himself.  In fact, the town was named after Caesar! –Caesarea! 

It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

Jesus wanted to find out if his disciples understood who he was.  It was a critical moment and critical moments call for critical questions:  Question number one was, “Who do men say that I am?”                             

The disciples begin sharing with Jesus the results of the latest polls.  Survey said!  (ding) “Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” J   

All these descriptions tell us one thing. The people thought Jesus was a great prophet.  The number one answer came first—Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets who did not die but was taken up to the heavens in a chariot of fire.

Elijah was the prophet they expected to return. If fact, today at every Passover Jews set a place setting for Elijah at their celebration of the Seder meal hoping for his return. 

The number 2 answer was John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who was beheaded to please the daughter of the wife of Herod.  The problem with this answer is that s.  John the Baptist and Jesus were alive at the same time.  For Jesus to be John the Baptist reincarnated Jesus would have to die and be born again as John come back and grow to a 30-year-old man in a matter of days. Yet, that is what some people thought…J  .

Coming in third was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.  But Jesus had too much fun to be Jeremiah—walking on water— (skiing without a boat), Casting demons into swine (making deviled ham) and changing water into wine.  He was not a whiner he was a wine-r a wine maker!   

Jesus’ first question was an important question, but it was just the icebreaker.  NOW Jesus turns to his disciples and he asks his most personal friends, his inner circle, his trusted students the second critical question:  OK so that’s what other people say, Who do YOU say that I am?

The world has turned on the heels of the answer to that question. By answering Elijah, John the Baptist and Jeremiah, the people paid Jesus compliments of the highest order. They were going as high as they could imagine.  But it was the wrong answer.

Jesus says, “Is that YOUR final answer?”  He gives them another chance. He says, “Who do YOU say I am?”   Peter responded to the question with, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

Jesus immediately responds with a blessing.  You got that right!  BLESSED are you Simon son of Jonah.” But then Jesus explains that Simon could not have come up with this on his own.  Simon you’re just not that bright!” J 

The people’s polls at best revealed that Jesus was a prophet.  But Jesus’ heavenly Father put the words in Simon’s mouth to confess that Jesus was more than a prophet. He was the one the prophets spoke ABOUT! He was the one they predicted would come. He WAS the Christ, THE Anointed one, THE Son of the living God!

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addressed the inclination to say nice things about Jesus but stop short of calling him God.  In essence he wrote that we do not have the option of thinking of Jesus as a prophet. He accepted Peter’s claim that he was the Christ, the Son of Living God.  If he agreed to that and he was not, he was either a Liar, or a Lunatic.  If he said he was and he was and is, then he is Lord.

“I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any of that patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. Nor did he intend to.” (2)

After Simon received Jesus’ blessing for what God had revealed to him about Jesus, Simon gets a new name.  No longer will he be called Simon, which means sand.  From that point on he would be called Peter, which means rock.  Jesus changes his name from Sandy to Rocky.  He changes his name from one that is shifting sand upon which nothing can be built, to one whose testimony is solid rock upon which Jesus could build His church. 

One of the most intriguing things I discovered about this passage is that Matthew uses the masculine form of the Greek word for rock, Petros, for Peter’s name — obviously because Peter is a man — but he uses the feminine form, Petra, when he says, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  The man who declared that Jesus was the Christ was given the name Petros. But the rock on which the church was given the name Petra.   Peter is a Rock, but what he confessed is the Bedrock of the church that will sprout and grow from his confession.

The use of the word rock for Peter’s name and for the foundation of the church indicates that Peter is, indeed, a “rock” IN the foundation of the church.  This flesh-and-blood person, this fisherman from Galilee who had a wife and a mother-in-law, a house and a boat will be an integral part of the foundation upon which Jesus will build HIS church.

The variation in gender when Jesus says that on this rock, he will build his church says that that rock is something more than the man Peter.  It is built on the FAITH of the man, on the WORDS of the man on the CONFESSION of the man, but not ON the man.  In English, the closest we could get would be to say, “Your name will now be Rocky, and on this Rockette I will build my church.”

The church cannot be built on one man.  Everyone is expendable.  People come and go.  Pastors come and go. I have come and now I am going.  I am going and someone else is coming.!  Amen?

The church cannot be built on any One man, or on any One woman.  It must be built only on faith IN one man, in the one man who was more than a man, more than a man among men, more than a prophet.  It must be built on Jesus who was and is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Peter came and went.  The day came when Peter died.  We have a very strong and reliable tradition that he died a martyr, crucified upside down because he didn’t’ feel worthy to be executed in the same manner that Jesus was executed. 

Rocky died.  However, the Rockette on which the foundation of the church that Jesus has been building for the last 2,000 years has never died.  That Rockette is something that death cannot defeat or diminish. THAT is something that not even the gates of hell can stand up against.  

Douglas Hare writes about this passage, “There is general agreement that the phrase “the gates of Hades” is poetic language for the power of death (see Isa. 38:10). What is meant is that the congregation of the new covenant will persist into the age to come despite all the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy it. “The gates of Hades” may here represent a defensive posture: death will strive to hold in its prison house all who have entered its gates, but the Messiah’s congregation will triumphantly storm the gates and rescue those destined for the life of the age to come”. (3)

Gates are defensive.  In Jesus’ statement to Peter that He, Jesus would be the builder of the church, Jesus also says that the church is to be on the offensive.  He predicts that the church he will build will storm those gates and those gates will not be able to withstand OUR offense.  A friend of mine once said, “In the history of armed conflict no one has ever been reported as attacking with their gates.  “Look out!  Here come those gates again. Run away.’

Some of the great cathedrals may now have more people visit them as tourists to admire the architecture than to offer praises to God, but Jesus is still building his church.      

Our plan is to lift our Builder, Jesus Christ so that he will draw folks to himself through this church who will get excited about expanding and reaching more and more folks. You know why?  Because the kingdom of God is not yet full.  Say that with me please.  “The kingdom of God is not yet full.”

Gregory Elder writes, “Growing up on the Atlantic Coast, I spent long hours working on intricate sandcastles; whole cities would appear beneath my hands. One year, for several days in a row, I was accosted by bullies who smashed my creations. Finally, I tried an experiment: I placed cinder blocks, rocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of my castles. Then I built the sand kingdoms on top of the rocks. When the local toughs appeared (and I disappeared), their bare feet suddenly met their match. Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock.

The Wise Man builds his house upon the Rock.  

Who do people say that YOU are? Are you one of God’s Rocks?  One of God’s Rocks may be sitting on the throne of Peter in the Vatican.  One of God’s Rocks may also be sitting in a rocking CHAIR in a nursery singing “Jesus Loves Me” One of God’s Rocks is the people who hang in there through thick and thin.  One of God’s Rocks is the ones who have been a source of strength and courage and inspiration to others. Many of God’s Rocks are sitting at kitchen tables and maybe even in recliners as you watch this service.

We are God’s Rocks!  Like Peter we are not perfect.  Remember, Peter was the guy who was always pushing himself forward trying to be first.  Peter was the bigmouth who said he would die for Jesus and three hours later denied even knowing him…3 times!

Peter was a flawed human being like you and me.  But Peter is the one who recognized Jesus for who he was.  And on his recognition, on his confession, on his answer Jesus started and has continued building his church. 

Who do people say that YOU are? You are part of the church that Jesus is building. You are one of God’s Rockettes. You are one of God’s Rocks.    

Dear Lord, we are frail and faulted, confused and challenged.  Yet from the beginning you have called people, faults, and all, to be your children and to do marvelous deeds.  We are humbled that you have called us and will be calling even more to join us in sharing the gospel with the world. Guide us O Lord. Give us wisdom and insight, strength and courage, energy and enthusiasm, passion, and compassion. 

This we pray in the name above every name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Peter confessed that day in answer to Jesus’ question, the name of Jesus who is the Christ the Son of the living God.

  1. ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by Greg Rickel
  2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, 1943, p. 55-56, with thanks to Paul Janke Here’s C.S. Lewis’ quote, 
  • Douglas R. A. Hare, John Knox Press, Interpretation: Matthew

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