Throughout the season of Lent, we’ve been looking at some of the significant events in Jesus’s life that either directly or indirectly point to the last week of his life, to his suffering and death, and to the culmination of the story on Easter Sunday.
Today we close out that sermon series and next week we move to the events of Palm Sunday and the days following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
In each of the previous messages in the Lenten Season, the events we considered showed evidence of discontent, denial, and derision. Today we look at a day in Jesus’ life when he was unequivocally affirmed.
The story comes from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16, verses 13-18.
In each of our previous stops Jesus was interacting primarily with the crowd, the people who gathered around to hear the teacher.
Today, the conversation is between Jesus and his disciples, and one disciple in particular.
Some of you are familiar with Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock”.
He is an actor, producer, singer, and professional wrestler. “The Rock” is the name he used in the ring. Today he is one of the hottest items in Hollywood and can be seen in any number of action thrillers.
Some of you may remember him as a member of the 1991 national champion football team, the Miami Hurricanes.
In our scripture lesson for today, Jesus names one of his disciples, “Peter,” which means “The Rock.” Peter was not as flashy as Dwayne Johnson, but he has a pretty good resume’.
First and foremost is this confession: “You are the Messiah; the son of the Living God”
Peter would never get any better than this. Still, we know this about him:
- The first disciple chosen.
- Quickly emerged as the leader – always in the thick of things.
- Impetuous, obtuse – Jesus called him the “Rock” but also referred to him as “Satan”, and declared that Peter was an obstacle to what must be done.
- Often took the wrong action or asked the wrong question or got the wrong point.
- He tried to walk on water but that didn’t work very well.
- It was Peter who asked the fateful question, “How many times must I forgive, 7 times?” To which Jesus gave the even more fateful answer, “70 X 7 times.”
- It was Peter who refused to let Jesus wash his feet.
- It was Peter who boldly promised to lay down his life for Jesus.
- And, it was Peter who denied Jesus 3 times.
- It was Peter whom Jesus singled out as the one disciple who must be told about the Resurrection.
- And, finally, according to John’s gospel, it was with Peter that Jesus had his last conversation on this earth. “Feed my sheep”, Jesus told him.
Peter went from fisherman, to fisher of men, to the Rock upon which the church would be built, to keeper of the keys to the kingdom, to shepherd of the flock.
Dialogue and Decision
And of course, Peter is best known as the disciple who failed Jesus in his greatest hour of need. When Jesus was arrested Peter denied knowing him.
But Peter should be best known for his role in the story we’ve just read from Matthew; his part in this conversation Jesus had with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi.
Apparently there was a lot of talk going around about who Jesus is.
Sometimes we read the various stories about Jesus, his teachings and his miracles, the huge crowds that gathered around, and we assume that everyone knew him. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ fame spread throughout the land and John says that “Everyone was looking for him.”
But our lesson today tells a different story. The fact that Jesus asked the question is significant. “Who do men say that I am?”
Jesus wanted to know what the people were saying; who they believed him to be. He was taking some pretty controversial positions on the issues. His teachings were getting mixed reviews. He was not the only preacher on the scene. Some of the crowds had become openly hostile.
So…what were the people saying?
The disciples began to tell Jesus what they had heard:
- Some say John the Baptist
- Some say Elijah (Jews believed the prophet Elijah would return)
- Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets
It is interesting that the disciples gave Jesus only the good news. Each possibility they offered was someone of reputation or credibility someone with status or historical significance.
They didn’t tell Jesus that the Jewish Assembly was on record describing him as a “perverter of the nation.”
The point is – people…including the disciples, were not clear about who Jesus was. There were several possibilities. There was a choice to be made.
So, Jesus pressed the issue: “But, who do you say that I am?”
And, the ever-impetuous Peter responded immediately: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter staked his claim at a time of confusion, when people were questioning, when the other disciples were holding back, when the safe position was a “wait and see” attitude.
Have you noticed that this is often the case? Important decisions seem always to press upon us in times of uncertainty or crisis. And, without fail, the decision has to be made with only limited and inadequate information.
In the Bible, the really big decisions are made under duress.
Today we know better, right? Don’t make big decisions when you are stressed out! But apparently the people in the Bible didn’t get the memo. Over and over the heroes of the faith make decisions in the worst of times. So Peter went out on a limb! While everyone else was hesitant, Peter stepped up.
That’s the first takeaway from this conversation at Caesarea Philippi. In matters of faith we will have to decide under scary circumstances and before all the information is in.
Another lesson to be learned here is that Peter’s confession is more than a personal statement of faith; and more than the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his church.
This confession was a public claim that Jesus was the son of God.
John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the Son of God. But that was early; at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; before any real understanding would have been possible.
So much would happen that would throw John’s declaration into question. Jesus was shaking the foundations of established religious belief. He crossed the line of respectful social discourse and public behavior. At one point the people became so enraged that they tried to kill him. And more disturbing than anything, What son of God would risk it all to go to Jerusalem, the hot bed of opposition?
It is no small wonder that Jesus would ask what the people were saying about him. We can understand why Jesus would want to know what his closest friends thought. So, here at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus got the affirmation he deserved. But at what cost?
Peter would become Jesus’ first witness. His confession would become the church’s constitution. This “rock” would be the bedrock of Christian belief. But this would also draw a line in the sand.
On one side of the line would be those who agreed with Peter and said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
On the other side of the line would be those who cried: “Blasphemy! This man claims to be God.”
So, yes, Peter’s confession boldly identified Jesus as the son of God. Peter’s confession cleared up all the confusion about Jesus. But that confession also sealed his fate.
What Jesus needed to hear; what the people needed to know; the affirmation so eloquently voiced by Peter,turned out to be the one thing that could not be tolerated by the Jews.
They already considered Jesus to be an imposter. But now his disciples had taken a stand. Now his followers were energized by this faith. Jesus was becoming much too powerful. He would have to be silenced.
This all took place sometime before the events we now refer to as “Holy Week.” But here, early on, the nature of the Jerusalem conflict was evident. With Peter’s confession, the die was cast.
It seems a shame that Peter’s finest hour would lead to the savior’s death.