A fourth-grade teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in logic.
"Here is the situation," she said. "A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing. He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife hears the commotion, knows he can’t swim, and runs down to the bank. Why do you think she ran to the bank?"
A girl raised her hand and asked, "To draw out all his savings?"
Now today in our journey through Matthew – the disciples are faced with a similar situation – like being in class when the teacher asks a very important question. We want to seem intelligent so we blurt out an answer – not always the right one – but an answer none the less. Well this morning Peter blurts out an answer that is both correct and amazing – only to follow it up with a huge blunder.
The latter half of Chapter 16 of Matthew is a crucial section of Scripture. In it we see the gospel in miniature. If you boil it all down to the basic fundamentals the gospel has two aspects about Jesus Christ: "who am I?" and "do you trust me with your life?" To enter God’s kingdom you have to answer both questions for yourself – who is Jesus, and do you trust Him with your life? Here in verses 16 through 28 we find these two singularly important questions asked – and Jesus answering in a way the disciples did not expect.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
Jesus is walking along the road to Caesarea Philippi, on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful area – and I’m sure that Jesus would often have talks with his men as they walked from place to place.
This time He asks a direct question – "who do the 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."
These three ideas were probably being bantered about by common-folk as to who this guy was. We already know that Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. Elijah was probably suggested because both he and Jeremiah didn’t "die" – in that the Scripture doesn’t record Jeremiah’s death and Elijah was picked up and carried to heaven in a chariot made of fire.
In fact, God told the people that Elijah would come in the last words written in the Old Testament:
5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
The view reflected popular belief that Jesus was a great prophet. Indeed, God had promised Israel that He would send them a prophet:
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
But Jesus doesn’t want to know just what other people were saying about Him – He wanted to know what His closest friends and disciples thought.
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Now, of course we think – well, you’re Jesus Christ – what more do I have to say? But remember, these men were having a hard time understanding who Jesus REALLY was. Jesus hadn’t just come out and said "well, I’m the second person of the Trinity, you see, and I’ve come to lead a perfect life and die for the world’s sins."
He said as much, but in little bits – He demonstrated it in His actions and fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies – but I think He wanted to see what all of this living with Him had done to their understanding.
Now we know that the disciples weren’t exactly the shiniest shekel in the pouch – much like us – so their answer would be interesting. All the more amazing then, that Peter, who often took the lead – even if it meant sinking afterwards – and makes this statement:
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Peter makes a startling revelation – perhaps the disciples had talked about whether Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah – which we’ll get to in a moment – but here Peter blurts it out.
It might have felt a little like being in school when the teacher asks a question and you instantly raise your hand – or on a game show when you hit the buzzer before the question is even done – and then comes the moment of truth when you’ve got to deliver.
Sometimes Peter delivered poorly – but this time, and for a short time, it is inspired.
17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter…
"You are especially favored by God," Jesus tells Simon – giving him his earthly lineage, and then telling him his spiritual lineage – a new name – no longer Simon, the pebble or grain of sand, but Peter – the rock.
"You are the Christ," Peter said. This word is Kristos in the Greek. It is a translation of a Hebrew word. You see the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek – this is known as the Septuagint. The Hebrew word they translated was mashiach. Mashiach (mah-shee-ahch) comes from a word that means "to rub with oil" and was used in connection with someone who was anointed with oil for service to the Lord. The spiritual meaning behind the idea was that God’s Spirit was "anointing" the person for a specific purpose. Prophets were described as anointed, priests were anointed for service. That’s one way the word is used.
Another is in reference to the kingly line of David. 2 Sam 7:12-14
I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
The Jews were looking for someone called the Messiah – someone who would be anointed by God’s Spirit and who would sit on David’s throne forever. As we have discussed previously, the Jews misunderstood what God was trying tell them about this person – that He would suffer and die for sin, then return in glory as a warrior.
The word is used in Psalm 2:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together
against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3 "Let us break their chains," they say," and throw off their fetters."
And even though Peter probably still held that view – he was ready to declare that Jesus was indeed that person – the fulfillment of all of those prophecies. This confession is the core of the gospel – that Jesus is the one, the answer. And so it’s no wonder that Jesus goes on:
18a and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
So what does Jesus mean here? Who or what is the "rock?" There are four views – the rock is Jesus, Peter as supreme leader and bishop of the church, the confession Peter made, or that Peter is the leader or foundation stone of the disciples.
The Roman Catholic church likes to take view 2 – that this is where Jesus makes Peter the first pope. That’s extremely unlikely – but then so is view 3 that Jesus is referring to the confession of Christ. I would suggest that a combination of 3 and 4 are likely true – that Peter was the first to confess Christ and was the undisputed leader of the church in its infancy. There is no passing on of apostolic authority to a succession of others – Jesus is recognizing what Peter has done and what He is going to do through him.
Jesus uses the word "church" or "eklesia" for the first time here. Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the term, but the idea is present in all the gospels. The "church" is a "calling out" or a "meeting". We are called out of the world to together form a new group – the church. Jesus is already trying to adjust their thinking about the Messiah – saying that there is going to be an interim period where a group called the "church" will exist.
Jesus also says "the gates of Hades will not overcome it." It doesn’t literally mean that Hell’s "gates" are going to assail the church – Jesus is referring to the power and dominion of Satan, which will be no match for the power and dominion of Jesus working through the church. Jesus goes on:
19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
What is this? Think about the metaphor Jesus is using – that of rocks and buildings. Jesus is building a church, and he is giving His disciples the keys to that building – not to decide who gets in or who stays out, like the religious leaders of the day – but as a steward or building administrator. The key to getting in, of course, is the confession that Peter just made – so in a sense the disciples held the key to access – it was up to them to spread that key as far and wide as possible.
Not everyone has seen it this way – in fact, some have tried to lock people out of the kingdom. A few weeks ago I heard of a form letter that abuse victims of the Catholic Church were forced to sign saying that if they revealed the sin committed against them to anyone they would go to hell. Our keys are designed only to unlock, not lock the door to the kingdom of God.
The idea of binding and loosing came from the Rabbi’s who took it to mean discipline and rule making. These men would be instrumental in their administration of this church to set standards for members and discipline those that violated those standards – standards of course based on the character of Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit.
So next Jesus makes a strange statement:
20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Huh? Jesus says this because as I mentioned Peter nor the disciples understood fully what being the Messiah really meant – so it wasn’t time for them to let loose the key to entering God’s kingdom – that would come after Jesus had completed His mission. Speaking of His mission and misunderstanding it – Peter, who had just spoken such incredible words out of his mouth, proceeds to stick his foot in it.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
From The Rock to the stumbling block – that’s Peter for you. Peter had just made such an incredible confession and now makes an incredible blunder – showing that he really doesn’t yet understand who the Messiah is. His king suffer and die? No way. The word "rebuke" there is a strong word – indicating that Peter was rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of the Messiah.
Just as an aside – how often do we misunderstand who the Messiah is? How often do we try to give God what the real answer should be? Sometimes suffering is God’s will for us. But through suffering comes brokenness and growth as we yield our lives more and more to Him.
And sometimes we do others a disservice when we tell them that God must not want us to face difficulty and seemingly fail. Jesus told Peter that avoiding the pain was doing the enemy’s work, not God’s. In order to drive the point home Jesus makes this statement:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
Now, what does this mean? Let’s look at it – "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself." To "deny" there isn’t just to deny – it’s a strengthened form of the verb – to "utterly deny" is more accurate. Peter was probably thinking he was something special now that Jesus had said "On this rock I will build my church." The verb means "to contradict". You see, it’s not about us or how special we are or aren’t – it’s about how special God is. Our nature is "self" – but that’s opposite of God’s nature. So we’ve got to, like Peter, contradict our natural tendency – that’s number one.
Next He says: "take up his cross and follow me." Jesus speaks prophetically about His own death – but spiritually about what we must do as well – not only do we need to deny our sinful nature, but we need to take up an instrument of death and shame. We must deny, and then die. Paul said in Romans 8:13
"13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live"
We die to sin by identifying with the death of Christ – putting ourselves on that cross with Him – and continuing to put our "misdeeds" on that cross to watch them die. It is relinquishing our will to His – our lives for His. For some it literally means physical death – but physical or spiritual, it’s still death.
So deny – die – and dedicate. Jesus says: "follow me." It means to "take the same road," or "accompany." When you follow someone it is a moment by moment decision – do I take the next step forward or do I halt. We often are afraid that by following Jesus it will lead to pain and sorrow. In some ways that’s true – but listen to Peter – yes the same Peter who simply didn’t get it here with Jesus – later he got it very well.
1 Peter 1:3-8 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
If we dedicate ourselves to that moment by moment choice to follow Christ – deny the flesh and kill it – we forge faith which results in praise, glory, and honor.
So who do you say that Jesus is – who is He to you? And do you trust Him with your whole life?
Let’s make that decision – the next time you are tempted to do something you know Jesus wouldn’t do – make a conscious decision at that point to put one foot in front of the other and follow Him.