MATTHEW 7 of 12
We’ve been studying Matthew for the last six weeks, and we’re going to keep the trend going this week. This is our seventh of twelve weeks, and we’re going to be in Matthew 16. We’re going to be reading one decently sized passage today, but we’re going to do it in two parts. Verses 13-19 and then verses 20-28.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16v13-19
Brief pause…there’s plenty for a sermon right there. We could say a lot about this passage. Jesus is the talk of the towns, and he’s asking: “What’s the word on the street? What are people saying about me? Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
So they respond: “Some people think Elijah has come back to the earth.” The book of Kings says that Elijah was taken to heaven in flaming chariot, and there was an expectation among the people that Elijah would return one day right before God establishes his rule and reign in the world.
“Maybe you’re Elijah… others think you’re Jeremiah.” Matthew is the only gospel-writer to include Jeremiah’s name in this list, and Jesus certainly does sound a lot like Jeremiah, what with all the fiery judgment he has been announcing. (We haven’t talked about that pattern in Matthew yet, but it’s coming in the next couple of weeks.)
“Maybe you’re Elijah… maybe you’re Jeremiah… you seem to be one of the prophets.”
But then Jesus makes the question personal. “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
If you were last summer during our exploration of Mark, you might remember that this is a pivotal moment—we called it the hinge point in Mark. This moment is dead-center in Mark’s gospel and Mark’s entire story changes from this point forward.
It’s a pretty pivotal moment in Matthew’s story too. I think because it was pivotal in the lives of all of the disciples. This is the pivotal question for every single one of us. Jesus turns and asks, “Ok, ok, ok—very good—that’s the word on the street—that’s what other people are saying—but what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
This is the moment when it becomes unavoidable—this following-Jesus-around-business is getting real. It’s getting personal. We said the very first week that the story of Jesus is always a summons to follow Jesus. It’s either waste of time or the most important thing in the world. Perhaps it’s a waste of time, because his disciples and followers lied… and Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. Or perhaps the story of Jesus is the most important thing in the world because Jesus was right about everything he said and taught and did… and he’s still alive today. Jesus is either completely nothing or king of everything. There’s really no middle ground.
“So what about you?” Jesus is asking, “who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answers for the group (v16): “We think you are the messiach—the christos—the Anointed One—the Son of God.” All four of those things are ways of saying the same thing. Messiah is the Hebrew word. Christ is the Greek word. Anointed is the English word. And “Son of God” is a title given to all the king’s in the line of David, before anyone knew anything about the Trinity.
Peter is saying, in effect, “You’re the king—the king of everything. We believe you. Everything you’re teaching, everything you’re talking about, everything you’re doing… we believe you. We believe you are the promised king destined to rule the world. We’re with you. And we will obey you.”
Jesus responds (v17): “Happy are you—blessed are you—Simon, because you didn’t just figure this out on your own—God himself has revealed this to you.”And then Jesus renames Simon and gives him the name we’re most familiar with: Petros. Peter in Greek. Cephas in Hebrew. Rocky in English.
Jesus seems to be saying: “Let’s call Simon ‘Rocky’ from now on, because what he just said is rock solid. That’s the foundation on which I’m going to build a brand new community. Rocky just said that I’m the king, and I’m going to build on that rock.”
Jesus promises here in Matthew 16 that he’s going to build “the church.” He’s going to build his own ekklessia—an assembly, a new community. It might surprise you, but Matthew is the only gospel-writer to record Jesus talking about the Church.
And there are only two places where he talks about it. Jesus talks about it here and in chapter 18 (the passage we’ll be exploring next week). Here Jesus is saying that when people pledge their allegiance to him as King a new reality begins getting built in the world. And he—Jesus—the living Jesus—is the One building this new reality.
It’s a new kind of people in the world—a new community in the world—that nothing can stop. The gates of hades—the gates of the underworld—the terrifying gates of death itself that none return from, the king’s new community will overcome everything. Even that.
Jesus is saying: “When you begin to acknowledge me as king, you begin to reflect the truest things—the deepest realities—in the universe.” This community is truer than death. Death is a falsehood, a lie, what doesn’t belong in this world. So, of course the gates of hades won’t overcome this community. Because this community is beginning to embody the real—starting to reflect the life of God—the life of heaven—into the world.
They’re going to be receiving “the keys” of the kingdom of heaven. When people acknowledge Jesus as king, the reality of earth’s life and the reality of heaven’s life begin matching each other. (That’s some of what he means by “binding” and “loosing” in verse 19.)
The important thing to see right here is that Jesus takes credit for the Church. That’s what Jesus left the world. He left the world a new kind of people. He left the world the Church.
If we acknowledge Jesus as king, he left the world us. And if we acknowledge Jesus as king, Jesus himself is forming us—building us—into a kind of people that the world will thank him for leaving.
Which draws us into the second part of this passage:
Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”Matthew 16v20-28
By the end of Matthew, we’ll see what Jesus means about “the Son of Man coming” in that last verse. The story of Matthew closes with a resurrected Jesus telling the disciples that all authority has now been given to him. But between here and the end of Matthew a lot has got to happen.
We could maybe paraphrase verses 20-21 something like this:
He ordered his disciples not to tell anyone he was the king, and he began to explain to them that really being the king—that true kingship—looks absolutely nothing like they think.Paraphrase 16v20-21
That’s why this is a pivotal moment—why it’s a turning point. What Peter says is: “You’re the king.” And what Peter almost certainly means is: “You’re the one who is going to kick some butt. You’re going to conquer and rule.”
And so Peter says (v22): “Never, Lord—this shall never happen. What are you talking about Jesus!? That’s not what we signed up for! That’s not the way to get anything done. That’s not the path forward.”
Jesus has to rebuke Rocky. The man who followed Jesus into the impossible—who walked on water in pursuit of Jesus—totally misses the boat here. Jesus equates what Peter is saying with the work of evil—with the work of the Enemy. In the span of just a few verses Peter has gone from Saint to Satan.
“Get behind me, Satan. You had it right a moment ago—I am the king—but what you’re saying now is a stumbling block.” Rocky is suddenly less like the kind of rock you build a house on and more like the kind of rock that you sprain your ankle on.
Peter cannot compute. This makes no sense. What is Jesus talking about? They all knew the prophets. They knew that God’s chosen king would rule the world. And how does someone rule the world? Well, by force—you rule and conquer by force.
Can anyone think of another way to actually rule the world? You kinda need an army. You’ve got muster up enough strength, you’ve got to have enough willpower, you’ve got to get assemble enough followers with swords or guns or bombs, and then you can change the world. Try it any other way and you’re just going to get ignored or killed.
They just knew that God’s anointed one—the Son of God—the Messiah—the Christ—would be a warrior-king who would conquer the world. A king who would out-conquer Alexander the Great.
“You’re the King, Jesus. And eventually you’re going to have to conquer by force. That’s the path forward. You being killed? No Lord—this shall never happen.”
Why the abrupt—the radical—change of tone from Jesus? The first very Saint gets called Satan in basically the same story. A disciple’s thinking is labelled as demonic thinking. This is a crazy-strong warning to Peter. And I don’t think Jesus is just warning Peter alone here. Matthew is including this warning for us to overhear—for us to take to heart.
The confession of Peter is the confession of the entire church. And so a warning to Peter is a warning to the entire church—a warning to us. It’s a warning that even the king’s community can become a cruel community—a corrupt community. It can happen in six verses—in the blink of an eye.
What is Jesus warning us about? I think Jesus is calling into question everything that “we just know” about the way the world works. He’s calling into question what we believe about the way things really get done. Conquering by force, ruling by force, that what was what everyone was expecting.
Truth be told, that’s what everyone is still expecting. That the way to really get things done in the world, that the way to really get things done in our lives, is we’ve got be strong enough to conquer. We’ve got muster up enough strength, get enough willpower, assemble enough people on our side, and then we’ll change our circumstances. We’ll change our family. We’ll change our life. But everyone just knows the way to really get things done, we’ve got to conquer by force. And we’ve got to rule by force. Everyone “knows” that the path forward is for the person—or the group of people—who is stronger, who can force what the want onto the world.
When we get to bottom of things, Jesus is calling into question what we most deeply believe about the way the universe works. Because when we get to the bottom of things, we still quietly believe that God is Someone who conquers by force. That Jesus was an exception to the way God usually is. A strange mood that God went through. Most of the time, though,God is the guy with the biggest army and the most superpowers… so we better listen to him. Sure, sure, Jesus came and died on the cross, but one day he’s going to return and kick some butt… because that’s the way to really get things done.
You’ve got to be strong enough to conquer. And you conquer by force.
But until we hear Jesus—until we really hear Jesus and really begin to believe Jesus—we’re going to miss everything: The meaning of life, what God is like, everything. Jesus is saying that there’s only ever one way that he’s king... the way of self-giving love. The way of emptying himself. The way of serving others. The way of seeking the good for other people even when they want nothing to do with you.
That’s the only way that The True King ever conquers. That’s the only way that God ever conquers. God doesn’t conquer by force; God conquers by love. That’s why there’s evil in the world. That’s why there are horrors in the headlines. That’s why our loved ones—and we ourselves—experience pain and suffering and brokenness.
The cross is not an exception to what God is like.
Jesus and his cross is what God is always like. God does not force himself. He doesn’t force himself on the world. Plenty of other people are vying for power—competing to conquer—playing the game of thrones—but God is always serving. God is always taking up the cross. God is always emptying himself to serve others.
And Jesus is warning us that there’s only one way to be his community in the world. If the cross is what God is always like then the cross is what true life is always like.
Jesus is saying, “If you want to be my people—if you want to be my assembly—you need to forget becoming strong enough to conquer, and let me make you strong enough to serve. If you’re any other kind of community, you really aren’t anything new. The world has seen every variety of conquering by force. Show them something new. Show them conquering by love.”
Jesus is telling Peter—and all of us—in the strongest of terms what kind of people he wants to give the world: a people who follow him to the cross.
Jesus is looking at Peter—Jesus is looking at us—and saying whatever it is—in your life, in your family, at your work, even the biggest problems in our world—the path forward is the path downward. Jesus knows that sounds crazy, but he insists on it. The path forward is the path downward. It’s the path of patience. It’s the path of mercy. It’s the path of serving. It’s the path of painful, sacrificial, surrendering love.
Very often we think: “Patience, mercy, serving, love… that’s all fine, but this situation is different. They’ve been doing this for years, they aren’t going to learn any other way, things aren’t going to change unless I force it. This is my career. This is our livelihood. This thing has a long history. It’s a delicate and complex situation.”
Whatever it is—the path forward is the path downward. Jesus might just know something about this. He literally changed the world by going downward. And he might just change the world around us if we’ll follow him.
This table is where we recognize that the God revealed in Jesus is still serving us. He’s still loving us. He’s still sustaining us. That’s what God is always like. He’s always giving himself to us. Even when it’s painful. Even when it means his body and his blood.
May you rest in his love, and hope in his resurrection. May we abandon all our competitions and conquering. May we receive the courage to carry a cross and recognize that God himself has already carried ours. May you find strength to serve because he always already is serving you. May we recognize that the path forward is the path downward. And may we have the strength and the wisdom and the hope to walk that path of painful love.