Church Furniture

Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Date: Pentecost XI Proper 16a + 8/24/14

This is Rock Sunday. No, no trap drum sets or screaming electric guitars. Not rock music but literal rocks, stones as in petrology, the branch of geology that studies the origin, composition, distribution and structure of rocks.God’s Word today assures us that the promises of God’s salvation are “solid as a rock.” Through Isaiah we are bidden to “look to the rock from which you were hewn,” that is, God’s promise of salvation to the family and descendants of Abraham. “And,” wrote St. Paul to the Galatians, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:28-29).

Jesus is called a rock. St. Paul spoke about Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness saying, “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:3-4).

Of course all this leads to today’s Gospel where Jesus calls Peter “Rock.” There are two Greek words, one “lithos” meaning stones and the other “petra” meaning rock. In Mark 3:16 and Luke 6:14 we’re told that Jesus gave the fisherman Simon son of John the nickname Peter. Today we find out the reason for this name.

We’re coming to the end of the preliminaries in Matthew’s Gospel. Up to now many people were getting to know about Jesus. But just to know Him as a preacher or a miracle worker is not yet the heart of saving faith. We heard the disciples even call Him the Son of God after He came to them walking on the water (Matt 14:33). Yet even this they did not understand. But now it was time to get serious, to tell the heart of the gospel.

So how well did people know Jesus, after all? “Who,” he asked his disciples, “do people say that the Son of Man is?” That’s how people heard Jesus often refer to Himself, whatever that means! The disciples report what they’ve heard from the debates of the Pharisees, from those thousands whom Jesus fed in the wilderness, even from king Herod who feared that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him for killing him. Some were thinking Jesus might be Elijah who was predicted to come before the Messiah. Then there were those who couldn’t dismiss the way Jesus seemed to recall the ministry and words of the prophet Jeremiah.

Who do people say Jesus is today? A myth? He never really existed? Or, if He did exist, He was just a religious radical that stirred people up enough to get Himself killed. Or, that He was an inspired and wise man with lots of good teachings. These many ideas of course are wrong especially when they talk about Jesus in the past tense. In fact we know that the Bible says no one can come to know much less believe in Jesus because our common, fallen, sinful nature has blinded our minds (2 Cor 4:4). As the catechism says it, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or [even] come to Him.”

So now it’s time for the rock! “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The what? Not just a wise spiritual leader. Not a forerunner of the promised Messiah, but the Messiah, the Christ Himself! Now how did Peter come up with that almost outlandish statement? Well, he didn’t come up with it…on his own. You can almost see Peter, right after saying those words, quickly putting his hands over his mouth with wide eyes wondering, “Where did that came from?”

Jesus immediately tells Peter and the others where that came from. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” You didn’t learn this truth from a teacher or a good book, not even from a preacher or the Bible itself, as Jesus said elsewhere, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness ABOUT ME, yet you refuse to come TO ME that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). No, Peter, “Blessed are you…for my Father who is in heaven revealed this to you!” Saving faith is created by God Himself in the hearts and minds of those who hear the gospel. Remember, therefore, what a real miracle it is that you can say, “I believe.”

Now what was so earth-shaking about this confession? It is in the word “Christ” or “Messiah.” The question is not fully or adequately answered simply telling WHO Jesus is but also WHAT He has done as the Christ. Immediately after today’s reading, in Matthew 16:21 the evangelist tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Saving faith believes in God who became the Savior by taking on our flesh and blood so that He could offer His own perfect, sinless life as the sacrificial death for our sin, and by the power of His resurrection and ascension to grant salvation and life to all who will not reject Him.

Now that’s the one more thing of our text, that is, how the gospel, the good news of salvation is to be broadcast so that all sinners can hear it and have the opportunity of faith.

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, points to this text saying that, when Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” Jesus meant He would build His church on the person of Peter. There started the long line of popes, vicars of Christ on earth. That, of course, is saying too much. For Peter, admittedly a leader of the disciples, is only one among equals, namely, the twelve apostles, the renewed twelve tribes of Israel.

Still, to deny that Jesus is speaking directly to and about Peter but only the “petra,” the rock only of his confession of faith is to say too little. You can’t have a confession of faith without someone confessing it! So let us remember all the apostles and how St. Paul said, “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, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). When we confess, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” we claim to continue the witness and preaching of the apostles in our day. Each pastor is ordained into the apostolic ministry.

With that joyful encouragement, then, as they say, let us rock on!