Read Matthew 16:13-28
Let’s start with the last verse so it is not looming over the discussion. That’s either answered in the next chapter or the second coming of Christ, the rapture, and all that stuff that we think we are looking forward to actually happened in the first century.
Makes for a great novel, but let’s just go with the traditional explanation for now.
Now to the heart of the matter.
Jesus said, let’s play a game. Who do people say that I am?
Some thought that Jesus was John the Baptist. Now that makes for some interesting logistics as it was John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. It was John the Baptist who was looking right at Jesus when he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Of course those who lived in the early first century did not have the luxury of hindsight and history and written gospels and John was the man people had flocked to see and hear and he was the one who challenged them to repent and be baptized. Unless you had all the information, that might not be such a far fetched choice.
Others said that Jesus was Elijah. This seemed more sensible. Malachi had prophesized that Elijah would come before the great and terrible Day of the Lord. But Jesus had already told his followers that Elijah had come. They knew him as John the Baptist. To be fair, however, folks at that time just didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. We have the benefit of written gospels and history. They had word of mouth.
Just to make sure all of the bases were covered, somebody added “or one of the prophets.”
But Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Peter gets beaten up a lot when the gospels are read and studied, but he got the Double Jeopardy answer right.
Imagine the looks on the faces of the other disciples when Jesus said, “You nailed it, Peter!”
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Simon, Son of Jonah, now that’s a bit formal don’t you think for a casual conversation? Could this be something more than just the continuation of the ‘Who am I’ conversation?
Jesus continued: And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
We are going to have to chew on that statement for a while. Jesus calls Simon by the Greek name Petros. It is the Greek name for Peter and it is a masculine noun that means rock.
There was probably some snickering among the other disciples. “Yup, he’s a rock in more ways than one.”
This was not a giant rock. Jesus had not made him the Rock of Gibraltar. Petros means stone or pebble or a rock that you might find along a road.
Jesus continues by saying that on this rock, I will build my church. The Greek word for rock here is Petra. It is a feminine noun that can mean cliff, ledge, stony ground, or a mass of connected rock.
So we have Peter—Petros—a small rock and Petra—a mass of connected rock. And between the two we have enormous room for interpretation.
Peter is but one stone upon which Jesus will build a massive church.
Peter—Petros—is masculine and Petra is a feminine noun. Perhaps that leads to later references of the Bride of Christ.
If we consider the context, we might say that upon this small profession of faith—this single profession of faith—will come the greatness of the church.
Peter is but a single stone. The church is about connections.
There are so many attributes here among the rocks and professions. Where do we go from here? How about the next verse.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
As Jesus identified Peter formally by name, it appears that this is a message for him, but perhaps to the entire church also. Surely we can see where the roots of papal authority are found.
What we also see here is that heaven and earth are connected. The church connects heaven and earth. The church should bring a taste of heaven to a world that does not know God.
Those who do not know God should find a glimpse of heaven in the church.
Now let’s take a subject with much room for interpretation and really open the floodgates. What did the church look like before Jesus?
We first must answer the question, what is the church?
Did the church exist before Jesus?
There was worship and sacrifice and offerings made at the temple. Synagogues were gathering places for teaching. These were for God’s Chosen People. These were for a special people that God set apart from the world for his purpose.
But the church, the ekklēsía, are those who are called out of the world. The English word church actually derived from the Greek word kyriakos which means of the Lord. We might also say, the body of Christ.
For the disciples, this concept of church was not new but it was not what they practiced growing up. The church would be built upon faith and professions as well as gatherings and connections.
These connected stones would be called disciples. Rabbis had followers ever since there were rabbis, but these followers of Jesus would all be connected to each other. They all would have one Teacher. They all would be led by one Spirit. They would all serve one Lord.
This church would not be about a building but about following. It is still about following Jesus today even though we have many buildings with many different names on them.
So let’s get away from the Greek words that we have explored and just answer some basic questions.
Whose church is it?
Jesus didn’t say that he would build a church or that it would be a church. He said it was his church. On this rock I build my church.
Does it have a chance of success?
The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It will be challenged and attacked but it will prevail. Until the past few decades, we in this nation did not really know what it meant for the church to come under attack, Jesus warned us of this from the beginning. B
We continue to invade the darkness with light and the gates of hell will not overcome us.
Does it have any real authority on earth?
It has authority both on earth and in heaven. Jesus is the head of the church, but he has passed on authority to the church to do his work on this earth and to claim the place that he has prepared for us in heaven.
Some may scratch their heads at this point because they have jumped from denomination to denomination. Jesus did not say a word about denominations.
God continually takes the things that we mess up and uses them for good; hence the various names on the outside of our church buildings. Sometimes churches split because they have become so large, they need to plant a new church nearby so that more may come and more may serve. Some of the membership migrates to the new church so both bodies may continue to grow.
Most of the time churches split because of our human frailty. The color of the carpet or the music selection or the pastor doing something so egregious as reading from something other than the King James Version—the one the Apostle Paul used, or not. Denominational splits are also frequently rooted in our frailty.
But God takes these human miscues and uses them for good and the church continues to invade this godless world. The church has a mission of invading a godless world. We will have conflict.
Let’s return to the second part of this scripture. Jesus begins to talk about being handed over to the religious leaders, his death, and resurrection.
Peter takes him aside and boldly lets his Master know that he will never let this happen to him. Imagine Peter, whose self esteem and even his ego must have been going through the roof after nailing the Double Jeopardy question, sticking out his chest and saying, “Not on my watch!”
Jesus rebuked him. “You do not have the mind of God! Your human desires govern your words and actions.”
In 2015 he might have said, “Dude! You’re playing for the wrong team!” In the first century, he said, “Get behind me Satan!”
The time element here is elusive. In most translations, the text after the part where Jesus talks about building his church reads, “From that time on” Jesus started talking about his death.
We don’t know if these two consecutive sets of scripture happened within moments of each other or over the next few days, but what we see is that as soon as Jesus said he would build his church, he had trouble in the church.
On this rock I will build my church—Peter, what are you thinking!
Jesus had not even gone to the cross yet and he was being tempted with not going to the cross by the very man he had just called a rock. Mr. Steadfast was already bailing on his Master. He did not understand what was going on, but you would think that these men who were truly his disciples would have some idea of what it meant to follow him.
We would not have much of a New Testament if the church was squared away from the beginning. If all that Paul had to do was write notes saying, “Keep up the good work,” we wouldn’t have much meat to chew on in this church age.
Fortunately for us, the early church didn’t get everything figured out right away. Now, 2000 years later, we are still a work in progress.
But we profess our faith. Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of the Living God. We know now to profess a little more. He died for our sins and God raised him from the dead. Jesus is Lord!
We follow Jesus. We are his disciples.
And we are still about connections. We as the body of Christ are connected to one another. As in the body, we all are like different parts. Not everyone can be an eye or an ear and despite what many 21st Century Christians say, not everyone can be an appendix—the part that doesn’t know what to do.
We are the church.
If you have ever listened to the message on the answering machine, I offer a provocation: We don’t go to church!
After a brief pause, I say, We are the church! Then, I invite people to come and worship with us and serve the Lord with us and grow in grace with us.
But we are the church. We are one of those many pebbles that are connected. On our own, we are not very impressive. A single stone is good for skipping across the water or cracking a windshield.
But a mass of connected rock that comes out of the earth as a cliff or a huge boulder, that’s another story.
The most powerful force in the universe is love but the most influential body in this earth should be the church, not so we can push an agenda, but so that the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus will reach every person on the planet.
On such a tiny profession of faith—and even the faith we needed to profess our faith came from God—comes the church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
The church is not a building. It is people of faith who faithfully follow Jesus.
Sometimes we stumble and fall, but we keep on following. We are his disciples.
Sometimes we don’t understand, but we keep on following.
Sometimes we feel all alone as we follow Jesus. Though none go with me, I still will follow. That sort of commitment is wonderful but not what the church is all about. We are connected to one another.
Most of the time if we are singing, Though none go with me, I still will follow, we may have fallen victim to making the church that belongs to Jesus our church.
We are connected.
Over the past few decades, the church in America has become disconnected. People who profess Christ don’t come to worship him.
They proclaim a do your own thing Christianity. While we have much freedom in working out our salvation; the church belongs to Jesus. We do things his way.
They say the Bible doesn’t say you have to go to church, not understanding that the statement itself is nonsensical and overlooking the fact that it does say do not stop gathering together as so many of you have started doing.
Isn’t it time that we realized the church as Jesus intended it to be—connected, strong, invincible?
Isn’t it time that the church truly stood apart from the world as people not shaken by the adversity of the world.
Isn’t it time that we took that profession of faith that many of us made long ago and some made only within the past year and build upon it today and all the days of our lives.
Jesus said, “On this rock I build my church.”
We are his builders.
We are the building material.
The church is made of disciples and by disciples. We get to be a wonderful part of his church.