April 20, 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Like most Christians I cannot get comfortable with video worship services. That is a good thing. I hope none of us come to accept a video representation as an acceptable alternative to gathering together face-to-face to receive God’s ordinary means of grace. As grateful as we are for the means to continue to sing, pray, and receive God’s Word during these strange days, nothing replaces the physical gathering of the saints.

If you are anything like me then you want to get this fixed ASAP so that no damage is done to the church. This impulse is probably especially true among pastors. We wonder what will become of us if we must shelter in place for another month? Another two months? Or longer? And no sooner than we begin to fret over such questions should we hear our Lord asking, “Do you know who I Am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
By this time in Jesus’ ministry opinions about him both positive and negative were flying about. So Jesus asks his disciples the question which everyone, whether they realize it or not, must reckon with: “Who do you say that I am?” Eternity hangs on that question.

By calling Jesus “the Christ” Peter is saying, “You are the Messiah, the deliverer of God’s people. You are the long awaited one foretold by the prophets.” By calling Jesus “the Son of the Living God,” Peter is saying, “You are related to God in an entirely unique way. You are very God of very God. You are deity personified. You are Yahweh in human flesh.” The substance of this confession is at the very heart of Christianity. No lesser estimation of Christ will do.

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Those words sound strange coming from the lips of Jesus. But we must understand what was going on among the crowds. If they can't figure out that He's not Jeremiah, Elijah, or one of the prophets, what in the world would they do with the acclamation that He was the Messiah? How would they misconstrue that? And so Jesus tells His disciples not to proclaim that publicly because of the danger of misunderstanding. Jesus is making clear that no one has the right to rewrite the apostolic testimony which is at the foundation of the church, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The phrase that Matthew gives us here in Greek is based most likely on the Aramaic that Jesus would have been speaking. And the word Peter and the word rock are exactly the same in Aramaic. It’s just like saying Pierre and pierre in French. They both mean rock but one is a name and one is a reference to a rock. Jesus is saying something very personal to Peter the man and, at the same time, to Peter as representative of the apostles.

Just to be clear, Jesus was not instituting the papacy. Peter was not the first Pope. But we must remember that while the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, he used the means of the apostles to build his church: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). In John’s vision of heaven found in Revelation 21 he gives us a picture of the heavenly city. And on its foundation stones are written the names of the prophets and apostles. And to this very day God continues to build his church upon His word spoken through the prophets and apostles.

Notice what Jesus did not say. He did not say, “Peter will build my church.” Indeed, nowhere in Scripture do we read that the prophets and apostles will build the church. Nor did Jesus promise that he would sincerely attempt to build his church. Jesus promised emphatically that he will build his church and not even the most wicked force in all the cosmos can stop him. There is nothing halting or hesitating in his words. This is a promise.

Notice here that Jesus portrays his church as advancing the battle, not simply holding ground. The church is depicted as being on the attack. Jesus no doubt chose his words carefully. If he had said, “the swords of hell shall not prevail,” we would have been provided with one picture. But Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not prevail.”

Think about that. Jesus is telling us that hell is in full-on defensive mode against the church. It may not look like it to a church which by all outward appearance seems to have been sidelined. But the forces of hell still shudder against the onslaught of God’s holy nation.

The gates of hell will not ultimately be able to withstand the shock and awe of Christ’s church. There are times when I doubt this. There are times when my experience of the church’s flaws and sins cause me forget this.

Certainly, on this side of eternity the church is still very much a work in progress. We exist as a perpetual construction zone. The design is perfect. The structure will ultimately be beautiful beyond words. But right now there are bricks and beams and muddy trenches and abandoned tools lying about. We are as yet unfinished so we need to step lightly in places. But what a glorious building God is constructing out of these living stones he has made us to be.

The church shall never perish
Her dear Lord to defend
To guide sustain and cherish
Is with her to the end

Though there be those that hate her
And false sons in her pale
Against both foe and traitor
She ever shall prevail