Peter’s Confession of Christ
Summary: God reveals Himself to people, involving them as He establishes and expands His unstoppable, inevitable, unconquerable kingdom.
One thing I almost never do is read the comments section – whether it’s on YouTube or after some article I’ve read online, you just don’t go into the comments section, because it’s often a soupy mess of competing opinions, outright attacks, and attempts to drive traffic to another website. It turns out we all have thoughts, ideas, preferences and opinions and the comments section offers itself as a place to post them.
Of course, that’s my opinion. Right?
Actually, having your own idea is not always bad. There are things that we need to have an opinion on; there are things we have to have a reaction to. And one of those issues comes up this morning as we’re ask the question Who is Jesus?
We return to a passage we touched on briefly last week because here in Matthew 16 we find a critical moment in the history of salvation. We’ve heard Jesus’ teaching, we’ve seen Him work miracles, and now the time has come to ask: who is He, really? Why is He able to do all of this? Why is He so obviously different from other teachers and men? Here, in Matthew 16, Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say I am?” He wants to scan the comments section, hear what people have to say, how they respond.
But then He gets straight to the heart of matter by asking His disciples, and who do you say that I am? Peter gives a response and Jesus responds to his answer. If you want to know more about Jesus and about the Church, this is a great place to look.
So look with me, if you will, at
Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
Remember, Jesus has been drawing crowds. Word has been getting out about His teaching and His miracles. When people find out He’s going to be somewhere, they come from long distances to hear Him or to ask Him for help. The question He’s asking is, why? Who do they think they’re coming out to see? What’s the reason behind it all? What’s the source of His power? Who do people say He is?
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
I want to point out to you, that just like the comments sections today, there was no consensus. It wasn’t unanimous. From the very beginning people have had all sorts of ideas about Jesus. They recognize there is something unusual about Him, but they’re not quite sure what or why. So, they come up with all kinds of ways to explain Him. For people living in the first century these were the three main opinions, though you know there were others.
We’ve already seen in Matthew 14 that Herod, the political ruler of the region where Jesus lived, thought Jesus was John the Baptist back from the grave to avenge his wrongful death. John was a prophet who had been calling people to repent, that is to turn from their sinful ways, and be baptized in order to prepare for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, but when his message conflicted with Herod’s life choices and John called out his sexual sin, Herod had him put to death. Now some people think that Jesus is John, raised from the dead.
Others thought maybe Jesus was Elijah, one of Israel’s greatest prophets. The prophet Malachi, who wrote the last book of the Old Testament, said Elijah would return before the Messiah. Now, modern Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah, they believe Messiah is still to come and that means they’re still waiting for Elijah to come too, so even today, when they celebrate Passover, part of the celebration includes opening the door “for Elijah” and pouring him a glass of wine that is set at the table in case he suddenly shows up.
As a side note, our ladies are about to begin a study of the life of Elijah and his successor Elisha. I encourage you to join them if you want to know more and understand how so many of the things in the Old Testament actually help us understand Jesus and the things of the New Testament. You can just look here in Matthew for an example: when Jesus did and said great things people thought – maybe it’s the return of Elijah – and in order to know who that is, and why they thought this, you need to know your Old Testament.
You have to know your Old Testament to understand the other option too – for some people said no, He’s not Elijah, He’s Jeremiah. Jeremiah was another Old Testament prophet – he lived at the time when the great Jewish empire fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. They laid siege to Jerusalem eventually looting the city and carrying off everything and everyone of value to Babylon, or modern day Iraq.
Well, some Jews believed that before the invasion began, Jeremiah, who as a prophet knew what would happen, went into the Temple and took the Ark of the Covenant and the altar of incense and hid them in a cave somewhere in Israel so they would not fall into the hands of the invaders. Ethiopians will tell you a different story, they believe the Ark was brought down to them by Solomon’s son, and they claim to have it today. One thing is certain, the Ark disappeared at some point in history and the Bible makes no statement of what happened.
So, some Jews, back then, and even today, believe that before the Messiah comes, Jeremiah will return, bringing the Ark and the Altar with him to reinstitute proper worship of God.
John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, all of these were great men. Comparing Jesus to them was a compliment. And all of them had two things in common: they were prophets who were seen as forerunners of the Messiah, men who would prepare the way for someone great. But why didn’t they see Him as the actual Messiah? The answer is: because He didn’t do and say what they expected of the Messiah.
Messiah is a Hebrew word, the same word in Greek is Christ, they’re two ways, in two languages, of saying the same thing: The Anointed One. God had promised, all throughout time to send someone specially anointed, or appointed, specially commissioned by Him to gather God’s people, save them from sin and establish a new kingdom where everyone is led by, protected by, and loyal to God. So, when most Jews thought of the Messiah, they expected a revolutionary who would establish a new Jewish empire. Jesus didn’t seem to be doing that, so they assumed He could not be the Messiah, but maybe He was the One to come first and clear the way.
Now, I know that has been a lot of history, and you might not have been able to follow everything, but hear me say this: the bottom line is, people recognized there was something unique about Jesus, they just weren’t sure exactly what it was.
And that’s still true today – Hindus and Buddhists have recognized the good things Jesus had to say. Muslims see Him as a prophet second only to Mohammad. Jesus actually appears in the Koran. Even people who aren’t very religious usually have good thoughts about Jesus, even if they deny Him as God, even if they think church and religion are a waste of time, even if they’re scandalized by the behaviors of the church, and Christians – and they have reason to be at times – most people still have no problem with Jesus personally or the things He taught, they’ll agree He was someone special.
But just like the comments section, there’s disagreement and different responses to what we all see and read. People have different opinions about Jesus. Who really was He? What made Him special? What made Him different? Why, of all the people that have lived in history, why is His name one of the great ones that is known by more people than any other? What is significant about Jesus? Who was He? Well, now Jesus makes things personal and asks the men directly, ‘OK, that’s what everyone else thinks, but let’s get right to the heart of the matter:’
Matthew 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
It’s often easier to say what other people think than to say what you think yourself, isn’t it? Especially when the question is important or controversial. And so, you can imagine this awkward moment as they look at each other wondering who is going to speak up first.
I’d like you to take note of something very important here: our ideas about Jesus can never be second-hand, we all face the question “But who do you say that I am?”
You can’t hide behind what other people think. You can’t hide behind uncertainty; you can’t say you’re not sure. You can’t hide behind the fact that there are a lot of other opinions and answers. You can’t hide behind the fact that there are other religions and even very nice, very good, moral people that don’t go to church. One day we will all be asked the question, “But who do you say that I am?” and our answer needs to be unambiguous and clear.
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Peter says Jesus is the promised one; the one everyone has been waiting for, hoping for, and expecting. Jesus is the fulfillment of all things, there’s nothing else and no one else. This is it – God’s own Son sent to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
The Bible says:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Luke 19:10 “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
John 14: 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
This theme of exclusivity is echoed again in
Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
If you have questions, or uncertainties, if you’re not quite sure who Jesus is or what to make about this or that or the other thing, I encourage you to seek out answers. Don’t let it go. Chase it down. Confront your questions, your doubt, and deal with them. God is not afraid of facing your scrutiny. What you think about Him matters more than anything else in the world. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration, it’s fact. If eternity is real, and I believe it is, then everything hangs on your answer to the question: Who do you say Jesus is?
And according to Jesus, you’re not going to figure it out on your own – you’re going to need help. Look at how He responds to Peter:
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
One thing that becomes clear as you read the Scriptures is the fact that God is the Great Initiator – He reveals Himself to people, even people who are not looking for Him. Think of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, Solomon, all the prophets, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, all the disciples, and Saul of Tarsus, God burst into their lives sometimes unsought, sometimes unexpected and revealed Himself. Here he’s doing it with Peter.
This is a great reminder to us that salvation is always supernatural event. People don’t just figure out God and Jesus and sin and redemption all by themselves; God reveals Himself to us. That happens in all sorts of ways, there can be a growing internal conviction and sense of unrest, there might be a moment of conversation with a fried or family member. Some report having dreams or seeing signs.
God works in mysterious ways, but He does work – revealing Himself to us. Things that once seemed hidden or invisible suddenly become clear, vibrant and compelling and you wonder, ‘How come no one ever told me this before, or why didn’t I ever see this?’ And the answer is: because you were blind. But a moment comes when you can see – when God reveals things to you, they’ve been there all along, but now you can see them.
Friends, this little exchange between Jesus and Peter needs to have a profound affect on our prayers – this is exactly how we should be praying for others: God, reveal yourself to them! And for ourselves, God reveal more of Yourself to me. And for our congregation, God reveal yourself as we gather on Sunday. As we read in
Ps 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see
Wondrous things from Your law.
We all need God to help us see and understand.
After rising from the dead Jesus would show up unexpectedly at times, revealing Himself. At the end of Luke’s gospel we learn about two of His disciples that He met as they were traveling on the road to Emmaus and we hear of how He explained the role of the Messiah to them from the Scriptures, revealing things that had always been there, but they just hadn’t seen. And later, when reflecting on it all:
Luke 24:32 they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
We need God Himself to reveal things to us. That will happen primarily through His Word, but we need to ask for it, we need to expect it. Men and women, “flesh and blood” Jesus calls them, will let us down, and even at times lead us astray – we need God to reveal Himself to us, to lead us into the truth and to help us answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because it is a question we will all face and again, not to be dramatic about it, but eternity really does hang on your individual answer.
Peter did not huddle up with the other guys and report back with the group’s answer. He stood for Himself and spoke for Himself. And the same thing is required from each of us – you’re not asked what other people think, what your parents or teachers, or friends, or spouse think – it’s individual, it’s personal, it’s you. What about you? Who do you say He is?
Well, Jesus goes and says more about Peter’s very special, first of a kind confession:
18 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.
There is a bit of a play on words here. Peter in Greek is Petros, petra is rock. Just a slight variation in spelling and pronunciation. In Aramaic, the language that was common in Israel at the time, Peter is Kephas, the exact same word as rock.
19 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.”
20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
The time for that was coming, but not quite yet.
So, what is Jesus saying?
There are arguments among theologians, but the answer that I think fits best here is that Jesus is saying Peter is becoming the first brick, the first rock, the first stone, in the church that God is building. Jesus Christ is the foundation and cornerstone, but Peter’s profession of faith makes him the first of billions of Christians that have been added to the Church through the ages. The next was set down alongside him and the process has been repeating for two thousand years. Peter seems to explain things this way himself writing to Christians in one his letters noting that we come to Jesus
1 Peter 2:4-5 … as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We are all living stones added to the church that God is building. Now there is a lot that we could say about that, but one thing that must be said, especially in a city like this where so many of us move around, and at a point in history like this, where there is an epidemic of technology induced loneliness: our faith is personal, but not private. Christians are called to be together – stones touching other stones. We are being put together by God, brought into a relationship with Him, yes, but also with each other. Christians belong together. Your Christian radio station, your occasional Bible reading and prayer, your favorite podcast or YouTube station are not enough.
You need to be in life on life community with other Christians, because Jesus Christ is building His church, and the parts of a building are all nailed and glued and screwed and hammered together. When you resist fellowship, when you find things to do other than be at church, you’re resisting God and what He is building. You might be doing it consciously, intentionally, but God’s intent to pull us together in Christ and build something enduring, something that will last.
Notice: Jesus tells Peter the gates of Hades will not prevail against what Jesus is building.
The church may be assaulted from within by heretics, hypocrites, hedonists, and horrible human beings – you see that sometimes as you have a difficult interaction with someone at church. Or when another pastor or priest embarrasses themself and all the rest of us through moral failure and criminal abuse. You find it in all the false teaching that fills the airways and bookstores with teaching that makes a big deal of us and our needs while God plays the bit part of a genie who is supposed to grant all of our wishes.
On top of these and other insider threats, the Church is assaulted from the outside, she has a long history of persecution and martyrs throughout the ages and around the world. Hindus riot against Christians in India, the Communist Government has bulldozed church buildings in China, ISIS beheaded Christians in Syria, and petty city councils stonewall Christian building permits here in the US, but Church is not wiped out. It is indestructible, unstoppable, inevitable, it will advance and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it because JESUS has established and is building it. He is the power of the church, not it’s leaders, not it’s members. He is.
He is also the one in possession of the keys that He says He is going to entrust to Peter. Now, there is debate on the exact meaning of this one too. But one explanation that seems to fit quite well is that after making this profession of faith, after becoming the first brick God laid, Peter was given the privilege of opening the doors of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. In Acts 2, at Pentecost, he preached the gospel and three thousand Jews were saved. And in Acts 10, he shared the gospel with Cornelius, a non-Jewish soldier, sparking first debate and then missions to the rest of the world as Christians went out telling others about Jesus.
And take note of that: they didn’t go around telling people about Peter, or other bishops or pastors, or other men or women in the church, who can and will fall, they went around telling people about Jesus – the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Today, as Christians, we have the privilege of being used by God to ask other people the question: who do you say Jesus is? And to help them discover the true answer, the Bible says those who do not know Christ are in bondage to sin, we have the keys that will help unlock them as we share the gospel.
Now, there is one last thing that I want to point out to you about this passage: Peter made His declaration for Christ when there were loud and popular voices against Him. The thought leaders of the day, the influencers, didn’t agree – the scribes, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, they were all working against Jesus. And no one else was speaking up for Jesus. He posed the question, “But who do you say that I am?” to the whole group, but only Peter replied.
He had to.
God was revealing it to Peter, helping him to see and understand who Jesus really was. It is my hope and prayer that He would do the same for each of us today – that we would see Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Our opinions don’t really matter on lot of other issues, but my friends, everything hangs on how you respond to this.