Scripture, Matthew 16: 13-23
Our Journey Begins
This is the 1st Sunday of Lent 2021 and so we begin our journey to the cross and then on to the glory of the resurrection. I like starting here because in this portion of scripture we face an issue that everyone must face at some point in time, whether in the flesh or not does not matter, we will all meet Jesus and the truth of who we are will be laid bare before a living God who sees every truth that abides in our hearts and minds. So today let’s commit to the truth of Jesus Christ in a new way, and really focus on what we read here.
Every one of us must answer this question. WHO IS JESUS, WHO DO YOU SAY THAT JESUS CHRIST IS?
Everything we say and do as a body here at 4th St. must demonstrate HOW we answer this question. I love reading these chapters because my goofy sense of humor reads some of this and I just laugh. Chapter 15 begins in a familiar way, the Pharisees are fussing because Jesus’ disciples do not follow the traditions of the Jewish people, which is where we get the phrase the “blind leading the blind (15:14).” Jesus then reiterates one of His main points that sin begins in our minds and festers and defiles us, then comes the Canaanite woman who begs that the evil spirit contaminating her daughter (does she know she worships a demon?)be taken away, followed by my favorite. The disciples are with Jesus and we read another miraculous feeding event, after which they all get into a boat and head to Magadan where the Pharisees get after them again asking for a sign but they don’t get what they wanted just a reference to Jonah(three days in a fish, three days in the grave). The gang gets back in the boat and head across the lake but they forgot to pack their lunch, so they have no bread and get into a discussion that Jesus is talking to them about forgetting to bring any bread, this within a few days of gathering baskets full of leftover bread miraculously provided by the hand of Jesus who is probably sitting in the boat shaking His head.
Our text today picks up here after they get out of the boat and head up the 20-mile trek to Caesarea-Phillipi, where this particular event marks the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. From here Jesus will walk toward Jerusalem and let the cat out of the bag so to speak proclaiming what Peter confesses that Jesus is the CHRIST the Messiah of Israel. So why here, why at this awful place? This location has been known as the gateway to the underworld for centuries, it is a place that had idols to Pan but also to many other deity type figures including baals of all sorts and many other vestiges of Pagan religions. This is the seat of Satan, and not just recently but for many hundreds of years. It is time.
So Jesus asks the question. First, the general question who do THEY say I am, and the answers haven’t changed a bit for 2000 years, a nice guy, a good prophet or speaking to Herod’s thought that Jesus was the reincarnation of John the baptist who He had murdered, there are lots of wrong answers out there, and today we have the same. He is a myth and not real, He was a great prophet, a magician, a mystic, and an archetype, he was a heretic to the Jewish faith. Sometimes we make things complicated, but let’s just look at the book of Matthew and see that it is full of miracles, events that could not happen unless something OUTSIDE the natural order was intervening into the recorded events; WHICH ARE WHY THEY ARE RECORDED! Not to show off what wonderful things He can do, (that’s what people do with their gifts), but to demonstrate His divinity. Without the divinity of Jesus Christ, we are nothing, a mediocre social club, but with His Divinity and not in the strength of our own mortality, we can be a body that impacts this world and the world to come. So are we like they are? Or are we like Peter who says these incredible words? Let’s say them together, “YOU ARE THE CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!”
Without this truth coming to us from the Father, nothing we do has any saving impact or eternal value. The Apostle John reiterates this point in his Gospel (6:44) No one can see Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah unless the Father draws him to this truth. Our Journey to the cross is very much like this Ragamuffin band of disciples full of misconceptions intermingling with religious traditions that serve to both help and hurt our faith depending ALL on this one point WHO IS JESUS CHRIST TO ME?
Now verse 18 is where some fun begins because there are different ways to read this passage depending on how we apply the grammar. It is important to remember that this book was written in Greek then translated into English, and we have seen in other places where the translation may cause confusion or that we lose the impact of what is being said, so I am going to go over a couple of common ways that the TRADITIONAL church has read this passage and then look at it from a little different angle. The first part is the name change, PETER the ROCK(Petros), and our Catholic brothers and sister shout AMEN because this is the foundation statement of Peter the first Pope of the Church. Ok but hold on for a minute Peter’s first epistle has a different take on this rock (1 Peter 2:4). The living stone that is the chief cornerstone of the church is Jesus Christ, and it is important to note that Peter never really exalted himself, and for good reason, because he messes up a bit. In just a couple of verses, Peter goes from BLESSED ARE YOU to GET BEHIND ME SATAN, wow what a switch!
The protestant reading of this text switches the emphasis away from Peter himself and to his confession, and it is this opening of his eyes and the revelation that Jesus is the Christ is that establishes the Church. Because it is the Holy Spirit that empowers the Church not any person, and that Holy Spirit is given to each of us to use our gifts both natural and spiritual to the building of His kingdom and the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah the Son of the Living God. Now, this does make sense in that the wordplay we miss in our English translation is that Petros the word used for Peter means small stone or “GOONY” in the Altoid vernacular, but the word is used later in the passage is Petra which means huge boulder or even cliff face. The Archeological site called Petra bares this out with an incredible city hidden away and carved into the face of the cliffs. So the two rocks are very different but not less significant because verse 19 is Jesus speaking directly to Peter telling him that He will give to Peter the keys to the Kingdom. We see this prophecy come about when the keys open or “LOOSE” the kingdom in Acts 2(Peter’s sermon) where 300 are added, and again when the gentiles are grafted in by chapters 10-11 in Acts. We also see the doors slamming shut in Acts 5 with the account of Ananias and Sapphira. This passage teaches that Peter is specifically given a gifting from the Father to establish the Church along with the Apostles. Ok, what does this mean for us?
Peter will fail, miserably, and so will I and so will you. Peter will get out of line and be corrected by another brother in Christ (Paul and Peter Galatians 2:11) so should I and so should you, but to be brothers and sisters we MUST have our eyes opened and see the divinity of the Messiah Jesus Christ and hold ourselves accountable to the one who holds those keys today (Rev 3:7-8). Peter dies awaiting the resurrection, the journey of Lent is a journey to the cross, each of us must make the confession of faith and then walk the long hard journey full of successes and failures that leads to our dying to self, where I don’t matter, He does. I don’t need recognition or accolades from the people around me. We are all little pebbles, but together we are something quite different.
This leads us to the final point of this passage and that is the gates of Hell, which is literally where they are standing. Where they are is a place that has been known for centuries as the gateway to Hades, the underworld, the place of the dead. It is a giant boulder with a spring pouring out of it, it is a “petra.” Could it be that Jesus takes them way up there to make this very point, and the Rock being talked about is actually the place where they are standing? Again context is key because from that time on Jesus is telling Peter and the gang that He must die, Peter says NO WAY ! and Jesus says get behind me Satan, you are still thinking about the stuff of this world. Six days later they go up the mountain, and in the distance, there is one mountain that stands apart, that being Mount Hermon. I would love to spend a half-hour talking about the significance of that but for today I want us to see that this is the place where (according to the book of Enoch) the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 first meet and begin their plot to take wives of men and do a whole lot of other stuff. It is the land of Bashan, where Joshua goes to kill off the last of the race of giants.
Context is key, we don’t read this passage from the eyes of 12 devoted Jewish guys who studied and memorized all of these stories, we read from our 21st-century eyes. The significance of this place cannot be understated, this is not an accident. Here is why this is so important to me personally because we have been taught that Jesus words are that this passage states that the gates of hell will beat against the church and not prevail against her, and this is true, but in looking at this text in its context and in the way the grammar comes together it is just as correct to say that it is the CHURCH that gives the beating and that the gates of hell will not be able to prevail against the beat down that Jesus was bringing to the gates of hades. Death is about to be defeated and the pain of human mortality will be swallowed up by the work of Jesus whose call is to be the firstborn of the resurrection. To be resurrected one must first die, and Jesus is not going up there to show the boys how formidable the enemy is, He is going up there to pick a fight, from the gates of hell to the transfiguration just a week later on mount Hermon convinces me of this so let’s read this text this way and we will close with these thoughts as we begin our journey to the cross.
First is that Jesus is Christ the Messiah of Israel and the redeemer of the world. Second is that Peter is a disciple specially gifted to carry this gospel to the Jews and then the gentiles IN SPITE OF his flaws and shortcomings, at the moment we are in the Spirit whether in prayer or proclamation Jesus will send His anointing through the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth of the Gospel. “FOR GOD HAS NOT GIVEN US A SPIRIT OF FEAR, BUT OF POWER AND OF LOVE AND OF A SOUND MIND!”
2 Tim 1:7. Our third point is that the church is born to prevail against the gates of hell, not the other way around. For too long the church has taken the position of defense and maybe it’s time we start playing offense. YOU ARE THE CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD” Let’s pray