Who Do You Say that I Am?

August 27, 2017/Matthew 16:13-20

Just a couple of weeks ago we read Matthew’s story of Peter walking on water.  Reacting to the image of Jesus walking toward the disciples across the sea, Peter seemed almost to dare the Son of Man to call him out onto the waves.  “If it is you,” Peter proclaimed, “command me to come to you on the water.”  In that episode, Peter’s “little faith” opened the way for the other disciples to respond in faith.

The passage we read this morning follows a challenge from the Pharisees and Sadducees for Jesus to give them a sign from heaven.  Coming into the area of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questions his disciples.  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  Having been questioned by the Jewish leaders, constantly facing challenges from the Jewish elite, it seems reasonable that Jesus would ask such a question.  “Who do people say that I am?” he wondered.  “What are they saying about me?”

The answers the disciples give are also understandable.  People have witnessed Jesus heal others of seemingly incurable diseases.  Reports of his bringing a dead girl back to life have spread throughout the region.  They have listened to him teach and eaten bread miraculously multiplied to feed thousands.  These people think Jesus might be John the Baptist, or Elijah, or maybe Jeremiah or another prophet.  Someone important.  But someone with whom they already are familiar.  After all, they cannot figure any other way to explain this Jesus and the things he does.

But then Jesus seems to brush aside his concerns about what other people are saying.  His focus shifts instead to the disciples themselves – “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answers.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter – the first disciple called by Jesus, according to every gospel account except for John.  Peter – the one who would rebuke Jesus when he heard him describe his coming suffering and death, who would himself be rebuked by Jesus and called “Satan.”  Peter – who, after Jesus was arrested would deny ever knowing him.

This very same Peter, Jesus declares, will be the rock on which he will build his church.  An immovable mass of connected rock.  An unfailing foundation.  A steady base.  Peter.

Peter would provide the foundation for the new community of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ words to Peter do not focus so much on the man himself, however, as they do on what Peter has proclaimed.  “Jesus was responding not to Peter’s particular strengths and accomplishments as a disciple (which left much to be desired) but to his testimony.

“The church is not founded on Peter, just as it is not founded on John the Baptist or Elijah, Luther or Calvin.  The rock is not Peter, but Peter’s testimony.”[1]

Peter offers encouragement and reassurance to those of us who wonder if our faith is adequate, if our commitment is strong enough, if we’re good enough to be disciples of Christ.  In Peter, we see a man who seems to slip up and falter at least as often as he steps out in faith.  “In his strengths and his weaknesses he represents ordinary Christians [like you and me] who strive, yet often fail, to be loyal followers of Jesus.”[2]

Jesus responds to Peter’s words with a blessing and the assurance that Peter’s confession of faith comes not from his own understanding but through the disclosure of the Spirit.  “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” Jesus says, “but my Father in heaven.”  “The God who declared at Jesus’ baptism, ‘This is my beloved Son’ has put it into Peter’s heart to recognize Jesus as ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”[3]

Just as the powers of darkness will try to overcome Jesus the Christ, they will beset the community of the faithful.  The foundation laid in Peter will serve to protect it and to hold it steady.  “The congregation of the new covenant will persist into the age to come despite all the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy it.”[4]

With Jesus’ words to Peter we see the establishment of the church in order to build Christian faith.  “The church is not merely a means to achieve a greater goal, nor is it just a voluntary association of like-minded individuals.  It is an article of faith.  Jesus promises that he will build his church. … He is creating the church as the epicenter of the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer that God’s kingdom will come, that his will may be done, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’”[5]

Built on Peter’s declaration of faith, the church will be “as resilient or fragile as each of us is in our own faith.”[6]  Jesus asks each of us the question he posed to the disciples that day.  “Who do you say that I am?”  What do you have to say to others about Jesus Christ?  What is your experience of the living God?

The future of the church depends upon our answer.

[1] Jin S. Kim, Feasting on the Word A/3, 384

[2] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, 193

[3] Ibid., 189

[4] Ibid., 191

[5] Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Feasting on the Word A/3, 384

[6] Kim, 384


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s