Proper 16 • Matthew 16:13–20 • August 21, 2011
By Kyle Castens
Have you ever tried to work yourself into a story? In this morning’s Gospel text, Jesus asks the disciples a very powerful question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples offer a variety of answers heard from the people. Some say John the Baptist. Some say Elijah. Some say Jeremiah. Some say one of the prophets. Yes, these are the things some say. Herod Antipas himself believed Jesus to be John the Baptist raised from the dead. So this is the report from the masses.
Then Jesus turns the question on the disciples. He makes it quite personal. “But who do you say that I am?” It is here, right here, that I would desire to work myself into the story. Which character? Simon, of course! Look how quickly he answers the Lord’s question: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Wow, now that’s a mouthful of salvific confession. Not one of the prophets, not Jeremiah, not Elijah, not John the Baptist, but the one whom all of these announced—the Christ. The Christ, the Anointed One of God who has come to “bring good news to the poor; to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to open the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance to our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called the oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Is 61:1–3). Here, standing before the disciples is the Christ who is also God’s own Son! What an amazing statement to come from the mouth of man.
Jesus responds to Simon’s confession with another blessed dose of reality. “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17). Certainly this confession did not originate within Simon. It is nothing Simon concocted; it is not a fleshly rumor, but it is what God himself reveals. Yes, if one would insert himself into this story, Simon seems like a great candidate.
However, if you take on Simon, you must take on all of him. In verse 17 we hear Simon make this firm confession that comes not from his flesh and blood, but from God. However, in verse 22 Peter is quick to set his mind on the things of man and not the things of God (23). Peter makes the confession of who Jesus is—the Christ. Now, it comes to what the Christ is. The Christ is the one who “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” Confessing Simon quickly becomes rebuking Peter. He does fine with who the Christ is, but struggles with what the Christ is.
Now, is this really the character you would want to take on? Might as well because he does well to represent you! To admit that the Christ must suffer and die requires one to admit there is a reason for this suffering and death. God’s law shows to you clearly and powerfully that the reason is you. God’s Word shows that the penalty is severe. You have certainly sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You are dead in your trespasses. You have not lived this week according to the good and gracious will of God. You have not delighted fully in the gifts God offers. You have sought to find your own misguided solutions to that which troubles your soul. The truth that must treat your condition comes down to this: the Son of Man must suffer and die. This is the Christ!
The Christ has come that the things of God will be fulfilled. Peter may not have had the things of God in mind, but Jesus the Christ always does. The things of God define the Christ. Remember as Jesus walked with the two disciples after his resurrection. They were discussing the things that had happened in Jerusalem. Jesus asked them about their conversation. They responded by saying, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days” (Lk 24:18). Jesus says, “What things?” They continue by describing the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus responds to them as if to say, “Do you hear the words coming out of your mouths? Do you not recognize that the things you mention describe what the Christ has come to do? Do you not recognize that the things you describe sound familiar as it is these things that I said the Christ must do?” “And beginning with Moses and all of the prophets, he interpreted to them in all of Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).
So who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the Son of God. What does that mean? It means cross and crucifixion. It means resurrection and redemption. It means the things of God given to you so that you might have life and have it to the full (Jn 10:10).
To Simon’s confession, Jesus says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it” (18). Jesus will not build his church on just anything, but he will build it here. He will build it on “this rock” that is Peter. He will build it on disciples to whom Jesus gives the charge “to tell no one he is the Christ” (20). Peter confesses, the disciples confess, and it is on this rock, it is on them, that the Lord will build his church. As Paul says, it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20–21).
So how would you work yourself into this story? Well, there is really no need to worry about that. God himself has worked you into this story, which is both his story and your story. He has made you a major character as one who is the recipient of the things of God by the action of the crucified Christ. He has brought you into the body of his own Son, the church, which has as its very foundation Peter, all the apostles, the prophets, and as its cornerstone, Christ.
So who do we say that Jesus is? He is the Christ, the crucified, the Savior, the author and perfecter, the foundation of the household in which we now dwell. That is what God has given us; that is what God has revealed.