A Homily for St. Peter's Day
A Homily for St. Peter's Day
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19 - BCP, pp. 262-263
13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
A cartoon shows a man looking at his new business cards that read, “Simon the Fisherman.” Then Jesus says, “I’m changing your name to Peter.” It’s not uncommon in the Bible for people’s names to be changed when they get a new calling. St. John tells us that it was when Jesus and Simon first met that Jesus changed his name to Cephas or Peter, which means Rock. But it is not till we come to the 16th chapter of St. Matthew that we learn the significance of the name change.
1.The Question Jesus Asks
Jesus and his disciples had traveled outside the borders of New Testament Israel to a place called Caesarea Philippi about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It seems they were by themselves.
- Jesus asked his disciples a question: “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” Sometimes out of egotism or paranoia we may ask, “What are people saying about me? What do they think of me?” But that is not what Jesus was doing. He was drawing his disciples out to get them to think about the ideas people had about him and to help them crystallize their thoughts about his true identity.
- People were saying various things, all of which showed they thought Jesus was someone different from ordinary people and that something important was happening in his ministry.
- John the Baptist, the preacher of repentance. Perhaps alive and released from prison or raised from the dead and continuing his ministry.
- Elijah, the OT prophet whose dress and ministry John the Baptist resembled. Malachi had said that Elijah would appear before the day the the Lord.
- Jeremiah or one of the other OT prophets. A man through whom God spoke.
- Jesus did not let them stop at reporting on what others were saying. He asks, “But whom say ye that I am?” They had been with him now maybe two years, witnessing his ministry, hearing his teaching, experiencing all that he was. “Now what conclusion have you reached about me? Whom do you think I am?”
- Jesus presses this question on the world today through the preaching of his ministers and the witness of his people. “You have heard about me. Now what do you say. Who am I? “ He also presses it on us. “Do you believe about me what you confess in the Creed? And, if you believe those things about me, what impact does your belief have on your daily life? On your attendance at worship and the way you participate? What do you really believe about me?”
2. The Confession Peter Makes
Peter spoke up - for himself and for his brothers: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- Jesus has asked his question in a leading way, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”
- “Son of Man” does not mean the same thing as “human being” the way “Son of Virginia” means “Virginian.”
- It comes from the book of Daniel where the prophet had a vision of God whom he calls “the Ancient of Days.” Daniel saw one “like a son of man” (who) came “with the clouds of heaven” ...“one like a son of man (who) came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all language should serve him; his dominion was an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away; and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7: 13, 14 ESV). The Son of Man is a mysterious Kingly figure who comes with heavenly glory to the Ancient of Days and is given a universal kingdom that never ends. He is more than a mere human being. Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man more often than any other way. He meant to provoke people to ask, “Is he referring to himself as one of us, a son of man, a human being? Or, is he asking us to think of him as as Daniel’s son of man who comes divine and kingly majesty and power?
- Peter’s response was, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- Peter believes Jesus is the Christ, or the Messiah.
- The longing of God’s people was for the coming of the Messiah to deliver them. The mistake they often made was to think of the Messiah in political, military, and material ways. They hoped for the restoration of the nation of Israel to its former glory.
- The reality was that God was going to do something bigger and more glorious in Jesus. He was going to save his people from their sins and from the devil. However clearly or unclearly Peter understood, it is huge that he was able to say, “You are the Messiah, the focus of the hopes of God’s people.”
- Peter believes that Jesus is the Son of the living God. The Jews spoke of God as the “living God” or “the God who lives” because they believed that all the so-called gods of the heathen nations were dead because they did not exist, and that the Lord, the God of Israel, was the only true God. Peter says that Jesus is God’s Son. In the OT kings are called sons of God because they are appointed by God and rule for him. When God puts them on the throne he adopts them as his sons. Peter believes that Jesus is King. But there is more implied - that Jesus is the Son who is unlike any other son, “the only-begotten Son” who is “God of God...being of one substance with the Father.”
- This is a great confession of belief. Jesus is the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
- Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
- What Peter has said is not something that some other human could have explained to Peter or something Peter with his human mind could have figured out. Jesus did not meet the Jewish expectations, not even his disciples expectations, of the Messiah-Deliverer- King God would give his people. What Peter confessed is beyond human ability to discover.
- Jesus said his Father revealed this to Peter. God enabled Peter to see and confess what he otherwise could not have. It was not human insight but divine revelation that led to Peter’s confession.
- That’s why Peter is blessed. He understood what can be known only if God reveals it. You and I are also blessed when the Father uses the reading and preaching of his Word to enable us to see and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Left to ourselves we would not see or believe. But the Spirit of God using the Word of God shows us the truth about Jesus and enables us to believe in him and be saved.
3. The foundation and building Jesus establishes.
With Peter’s confession in the background Jesus speaks about a building and its foundation.
- What Jesus promises to build is his church.
- What is the church?
- The word “church” means “those who are called out.” In the Old Testament God called Israel out of the Egypt. Then he gathered them together as his chosen and special people and organized as a holy nation different from all others.
- In the NT the church is not just loosely “all the Christians in the world. It is not like Israel a national and ethnic nation, but it is still the people called out of all the nations of the world by God. The church is made up of those Jesus redeems by his death, gathers in congregations, guides by his ministers, and governs by his Word and Spirit. It is a living organism but is also a visible organization.
- Jesus builds the church. We are his workers. He uses us, but he is the Builder, and he will see to its building. The church is his, not ours. We must never forget, especially when we say what we think the church ought to be or do, that the church belongs to Jesus, and we are here to serve him in the building of this congregation. When we give, and work, and serve in the church we must not call attention to ourselves of our contributions but in true humility say, “We are but unprofitable servants.”
- Jesus promises the the gates of hell, or the powers of death, will not prevail against his church. Hell or death stands for all the powers of destruction and death that belong to Satan’s kingdom. The church and the powers of death at war. But the gates of death are not strong enough to resist the battering ram of the church. They cannot win because Jesus will not let them. It does not always look that way or feel that way, but in the big picture and long term perspective the church must prevail because it is Jesus’s church and he is building it.
- The foundation Jesus will use is Peter the confessing Apostle.
- “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” We can imagine Jesus looking at Peter, after Peter made his confession, and saying, “You are Peter - the Rock - and on this rock I will build my church. What did Jesus mean?
- There is a whole line of Roman Catholic reasoning about this saying. It goes something like this. Jesus said he would build his church on Peter. Later Peter became the first Bishop of Rome. Rome became preeminent among all the churches and exercised not only leadership but authority over them. Before Peter was martyred he appointed a successor to take his place. Therefore the Bishop of Rome has final authority over the whole church.
- This has provoked a Protestant reaction that says something like this: Jesus was not speaking about Peter at all. He was talking about Peter’s confession of faith. This confession - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God - is the foundation of the church.
- The RC argument asks us to assume a history that is not there and to follow a logic that is unconvincing. The Protestant reaction seems to contradict the plain sense of the words.
- What can we say about Peter?
- He does seem to have preeminence in the early church. He is first in all the lists of the Apostles. He often spoke for them though sometimes impetuously and not wisely. He was the representative of all the Apostles when he preached in Jerusalem on Pentecost. He was given the revelatory vision that the Gentiles were to share in the Gospel. He seems to have settled the issue of whether the Gentiles had to keep Moses’ Law when the Jerusalem Council met though he did not preside at the meeting. After that he disappears from Acts. He seems that he was the primary source of Mark’s Gospel and that he ended up as martyr in Rome.
- Jesus was speaking to Peter the Rock, the foundation. But is it not to Peter in a vacuum.
- It is not Peter without his confession. There could be no church apart from what the Father revealed to Peter.
- It is not Peter apart from the other Apostles. He is one the twelve, not the only one. Peter did not rule the Apostles or the church. Paul wrote that there is no other foundation that can be laid other than the one that has been laid which is Jesus Christ. In another place he says the church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. The church from at least the time of the Jerusalem Council was ruled by Councils of the church.
- Jesus speaks to Peter the Rock whose confession of Jesus is the foundational confession of Christianity and who among the Apostles is first among equals.
- Peter, you’re the Rock and I am going to use you, imperfect and sometimes failing man that you are to build my church.
- The authority Jesus gives is the keys.
- Jesus says to Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
- The keys to the kingdom are the keys by which the kingdom gates are opened so that people may enter and have its salvation.
- To loose or bind or earth is to declare that people remain in the guilt and condemnation of sin or are set free, forgiven, and reconciled.
- Peter, as the Rock, has the keys and the power to bind or loose but he is not alone But the other Apostles have the keys and the authority to bind or loose. Today the church holds the keys and the power to bind or loose.
- Today the church uses the keys when it proclaims how people may enter the kingdom. By preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments the church opens the kingdom to all who will enter by faith and repentance.
- Today the church with the authority of Jesus tells people their sins remain unforgiven or their sins are forgiven. This happens every time we say the prayer of confession and the minister pronounces the absolution. But we make that confession to God and the minister speaks on God’s behalf.
Today we honor St. Peter. He was a great man, a Rock of a man. He was also like us a sinner, sometimes weak and failing, most shamefully when he denied our Lord, but a man Jesus restored and commissioned to feed his sheep. But were Peter to speak to us today he would say, “Jesus gave me the privilege of being the foundation on which he built. But don’t ever forget that under me is the everlasting Rock, Jesus himself. Confess him. Believe him. Follow him.