Fourth in a Series of Five
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 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 sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, New Revised Standard Version)
When I began seminary, one of my professors was Dr. Rodney Roberts. I had him for two classes, one class on pastoral care and the other on biblical interpretation.
Both classes were interesting, but it is the biblical interpretation class I want to talk about this morning. Fairly early in the class, Dr. Roberts talked about something he referred to as the “Ah-ha” experience. The “ah-ha” experience, sometimes called the “lightbulb moment,” happens when you look at a particular scripture and don’t get it. You struggle, and you don’t get it. Then, the light bulb goes on, the thought “ah-ha” flashes through your mind as you come to a real understanding. Things fall into place and there is real understanding. It is an incredible thing.
I have had those experiences many times in my ministry. I feel certain that many of you have had them in your study as well. In our lesson this morning the disciples in general, but Peter in particular, have an “ah-ha” experience, but it isn’t with a biblical text. They didn’t have the Bible; they were living it. This was a real-life situation As they were living in that “ah-ha” moment.
This morning, we are on part-four of a five-part sermon series, entitled “The Declaration?” We began three weeks ago by asking the question Jesus asked the disciples. First Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” That’s the easy one. It is far easier to say who others thought Jesus was, than to answer for ourselves. The response was, “Some say Moses, some say Elijah, or one of the prophets.” The disciples gave a truthful answer but Jesus doesn’t let it rest there. Next He turns things around on the disciples and asks, “What about you who do you say I am?” Peter responds by saying you are the Christ the Son of the living God?” We talked about that the first week about how we might answer Jesus’ question.
Two weeks ago we picked up where we left off the week before. That week we talked about names and the importance of names and what they meant. To fail to use someone’s name robs them of their identity. When Jesus gives Simon the name Peter, it is a big deal. Jesus is, in essence saying, “You are no longer Simon. You are no longer a fisherman. Now I give you a new identity. Rock or Rock Man. You are Petra in the Greek, Peter in English. You are no longer Simon, a professional fisherman, you are Peter and you have a new job to do and to keep your focus, you have a new identity.
Last week we picked up where we left off the week before, by Jesus asking the question “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered it , “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” We talked about Jesus being the response to Peter, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” We then talked about how do we know? Most of us would answer Jesus’ question much like Peter did, but how do you know? Do you know because some person told you or because you read it in the Bible?
That’s head knowledge, what we need is heart knowledge, and heart knowledge only comes from God.
Today our lesson finds Jesus and the disciples still talking. As I imagined the story, Jesus asks the question, and the disciples give all their good answers. Peter has that “ah-ha” experience. For the others, it may have taken longer.
Then Jesus moves on and that’s where the trouble really begins. Jesus gets cryptic. “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” Let’s face a few facts. This had to have been really disturbing for the disciples. Peter? He’s the foundation, the rock the Church’s foundation is built on? Really? Come on. Your joking. Right?
That all got me to thinking. What is the rock Jesus talked about here? Some people say it is Peter himself. They read this passage as a literal word from Jesus. Think about it church history, really more tradition, claims Peter to be the first Pope.
If we were to look back into the Greek New Testament, “Jesus says, “you are Petra ” which means rock or rock man and on this rock I will build my church…” That gives credence to the idea of the Church being built on Peter. Peter who doubted when they walked on water? A rock? Well he did start to sink like a rock. Peter, who would deny he even knew Jesus? Peter who Jesus already knew would deny him? A rock??? Really???
There was a television series several years ago popular enough to spin off its own network. The show was popular enough to create “The Biography Channel.” The channel never really performed as well as expected. A&E changed its name to FYI in 2012. Being a history guy, I loved it. Being married to a history guy, Cindy tolerated it.
One night they did a show on the papacy, starting with Peter. Following the ascension, tradition holds, Peter traveled to Rome. It is a tradition accepted at face value by much of the Christian faith. Peter went to Rome to escape persecution of Christians in Jerusalem. During the time Nero was emperor of Rome, Christians were heavily persecuted, and their tradition says, Peter ran again ran away again. He only came back to Rome when he had a vision by a vision of Christ carrying his cross and saying he’s going to Rome to be crucified again.” with that, Peter and Jesus responded by saying, “to Rome to be crucified again.” with that Peter returned to Rome himself where he himself was crucified, tradition holds, upside down because he didn’t deserve to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. Once again leading us to the question Jesus’ judgement, to send Peter? The rock man?
If that tradition is close to true, the church would have died. Even if it is completely wrong, if the church were built on the foundation of Peter, it probably would still be dead. After all, Peter is dead, but the church lives on. That would say that Peter is not indispensable to the life of the church.
So, if the church is not built on Peter, what is it built on? How about its people? Are they, are we, the rocks?
People are filled with doubt and belief. People are filled with both pettiness and generosity. People are filled with both jealousies of others and joy for others.
Peter and Paul bickered with each other in The book of acts. Yes, they had the same intention. They both wanted to preach and teach others about Jesus Christ. But at the same time, they just couldn’t come to any kind of agreement as to the best way to get the job done. So they argued and bickered. Sometimes, so do we.
It would be seen to many, if we planned to build the church on the foundation of people we are in real trouble before we ever get started. Yes, it would be good when we display those positive emotions, the belief, the generosity, and the joy. But, when we show our very human side, and all too often we do, the big problems will never be too far behind. To build that the church with people as its rocks as its foundation should show us that all is lost before we even begin.
So, what is left? What else could this rock be? How about faith? Could faith be the rock on which the church is built? After all, faith is always there. When Peter says, “you are the Christ,” that is a faith statement. Because the statement shows faith, Jesus said, “blessed are you Simon son of Jonah.” Peter was blessed because of his faith statement demonstrated his faith. Jesus continued, “…and on this rock I will build my church.” On this faith I will build my church. And, for centuries a rock has been a Christian symbol for faith.
That is our “ah-ha” experience for today, the rock is the faith of a believer demonstrated in the faith statement of the believer. It is a holy rock that makes a holy church. The church is built on the faith we have in Jesus Christ. The church in every generation is made up of faithful people who it’s members, bound together by the Holy Spirit. Without faith, there is no church, not then, not now, not ever. A holy rock, a holy faith, makes for a holy church.
When I was working on my undergraduate degree at the University of Houston, I took a geology classes. I had a science requirement to meet and geology seemed like a good way to get it done. As I went through the classes I found myself bored and asking a variation of the age-old question Many students ask as they go through school and taking a class they don’t really want to take.“ Why do I need this class if I am going to be a preacher?”
As this class went on, we talked about various kinds of rocks. The first were igneous rocks. These are rocks coming from volcanoes. They entered the world through one great seismic event. These are rocks like quartz, granite, rubies, and diamonds.
The second type of Rocks are set sedimentary rocks. These rocks come into being from other rocks. As the wind and water weather and a Rd on a rock, the particles settle and through pressure and natural cementing actions, a new rock is formed. Sedimentary rocks include sandstone, limestone, and mica.
The third type of rocks are metamorphic rocks. These rocks are made from other rocks too. Somehow, I don’t really remember how it works, through this process called induction these rocks are pulled back into the earth’s crust. With pressure and heating they are changed in their composition to become a new rock. Marble, talc, soapstone, and slate or among the common examples of metamorphic rocks.
And I just told you about the only thing I can remember from two semesters of geology. There’s not much there, is there. Oh, I did get one other thing too, a pretty good sermon illustration that I better get on with if I want you to think it is as good an illustration as I think.
As I sat in class and listened to this boring information in class, between yawns, I had an “ah-ha” experience, though not knowing the term at the time. It would be a few more years before I met the man. For Christians the process is much the same as it is for rocks. All of us, people of faith, are rocks of one kind or another that help build and make the Church. Some of us are like igneous rocks. Well, igneous Christians. Some of us, perhaps some here or online today, you can remember your conversion experience as though it were yesterday. It was a great event in our lives and we know exactly when and how it happened,
For others of us, we grew up in Christian homes. We grew up in the Church and as a result we had other Christians rubbing off on us and through the cementing action of the Holy Spirit we become something new, we became a person of faith, a sedimentary rock, a sedimentary Christian.
I like to think of metamorphic Christians as those of us God calls to some kind of professional ministry. We are already people of faith and God pulled us back in and through our calling given us a different life than perhaps than perhaps the one we may have chosen on our own.
Whatever the case, those rocks are our faith. Those rocks are our response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”
The Church of Jesus Christ is built not around Peter or any other human being, but on the concrete faith idea that Jesus is the Christ, is the Son of the Living God. It is a holy statement, a holy notion that is representative of the faith held by children of the King. It is faith that sets believers apart from the world. It doesn’t mean we are better, it just means we have the answer to life’s most important question, “Who is Jesus Christ.”
The Christ, the Son of the Living God is our biggest “ah-ha” experience. When we profess faith in Christ, we build a relationship with the living God. When we profess that faith we build a church and a church of rocks professing faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God, ministry begins. Thanks be to God for our great “ah-ha” experience. I am thankful to God that we can have that rock kind of faith. Because it takes rocks to build a Church.
When I was a kid my dad would say my head was like a rock. It was hard to break in and even harder on anything I might hit with it. It would upset me when he said that. Today I would tell him, “Dad, you are right. My head may be a rock but it is from faith. It is a gift of God that helps build the Church.
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved