Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page.
If you find this essay helpful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.Jesus was with his disciples, a group he called together months before. And they’ve been with him as he traveled all over Galilee. And they’ve seen him perform healings and cast out demons. And they’ve listened to him tell his parables. And they’ve thought about the identity of this man who seemed to have the authority to feed thousands and still storms. And so he was with those people who had been closest to him.
And when they arrived at a place called Caesarea Philippi, a district with a name to pacify the Romans and glorify the local king, Jesus stopped and asked these disciples a simple question. He asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now they’ve been with him long enough to understand that whenever he talked about “the Son of Man,” he was actually talking about himself. And so, they understood the question, you know, that he was asking, “Who do people say that I am? In other words, as you listen to people talk, what are they saying about me on the streets and among themselves? What conclusions are they reaching about some of the stuff I’ve done? And how are they interpreting the all the things I’ve said?” You see, after being with him, Jesus simply asked, “Who do people out there, onside this group, you know, folks in the world, who do they say I am?”
And of course the disciples immediately responded. I mean, they must have known what people were saying about Jesus, because, without missing a beat, they said, “Some say John the Baptist”, an interesting thought since Jesus and John kind of overlapped. And they continued, “...but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”, which made more sense than John, since they’d all be dead for a while. You see, according to the crowds, you know, the people, Jesus represented a figure from the past, a person who might be the forerunner of the Messiah, the ultimate king, the one who would restore Israel, but no more than that. At best, he was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Although, according to polling information, most of the regular folks had a favorable impression of this guy from Nazareth, he sure wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.
Of course, this is the most profound confession, the most profound statement anyone has made about him. But Jesus not only took it in stride, he also affirmed that this confession would the basis for something brand new. You see, he answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” In other words, this awareness wasn’t the result of Peter being smarter than the average disciple nor was it because of all the stuff he’d seen and hear. No, his ability to see Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, that was a gift, a little bit of divinely inspired insight that had been given to Peter but that could, in the future, be given to others.
And then Jesus continued. He said, “...you are Peter (which means rock) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Now, this was powerful stuff, because it was on this statement made by Peter, that Jesus was both the promised one and the son of God, it was on this rock that a new community would be built, a community that shared a common vision and focus, a community that, regardless of how it saw itself, would always belong to Jesus. You see, it wouldn’t belong to the members; it would be his church; therefore, it would be an unusual human group, one that would actually put the expectations of Jesus above its own wants and desires. And because this church would be grounded not in a rock, but the rock, no power in heaven or on earth would have the ability to bring it down. Now that was what Jesus said in Caesarea Philippi, almost two thousand years ago.
And even though that was a long time ago, it’s just as true today as it was then. You see, the world still has all kinds of opinions about Jesus, about who he was and why he came. And even though this might be nice to know information, for us who follow him, there’s only one confession that reflects truth, that he still is the Christ, the son of the living God. And I’ll tell you something else, that’s still the rock on which the church, the true church, Christ’s church is build. And the minute we forget it, the minute we assume that the church belongs to us and that it’s grounded on anything other than that one confession and that our goal can be anything other than being Jesus Christ in our world, we cease to be this community that Jesus created. You see, what was true then is still true today.