The Gospel of Matthew: The Messiah of Promise 16:13-20
Preached @ Anchor Community Church on May 17th
Every institution and religion struggles to find its successor. In spite of the struggle it is necessary for the institution to continue. In Tibetan Buddhism the next Dalai Lama is chosen from a group of male children that are born right when the Dalai Lama dies, which is consistent with their belief in the trans-migration of the soul. In Islam, there was a furious disagreement, but the majority Sunni’s settled on Abu Bakr as Mohammed’s successor, while the Shia’s choice was Mohammed’s son in law and cousin Ali. The Jews, on the other hand weren’t looking for a successor as much as they were waiting for a king to supplant the evil rulers who were oppressing their people. They were waiting for one “Anointed,” their Messiah.
At the time of Christ, there was an expectation that the Messiah would be coming shortly, and we would lead a revolt against the current Roman Empire in a treasonous act of violence and power. And along came Jesus, born in a manger, preaching the need to love your enemies, yet subversively planting the seed that would destroy the powers of darkness, and supplant the evil rulers and the injustices of this world, and anyone following such a person would be guilty of treason. Eventually Jesus was killed for sedition, and His band of followers were also executed for calling Him Lord and King, forgoing the same allegiance to the Roman Emperor. But, in spite of their execution, the gospel seed was planted and the subversive destruction of powers and authorities had begun.
Man sounds so cool, how come “Church” can be so boring today? In what way is following Jesus ‘treasonous” in our day and age? In other words, how Disruptive is your faith?
It can be so confusing to understand what church is and did Jesus come to start a church in the first place. Our passage today shows us how Jesus has given us the “Keys” to the Kingdom of God, which begins with an acknowledgement of who Jesus is, and an understanding of what He plans to do through His church.
From the Head…
Our passage today is an extremely important set of verses. Jesus continues narrowing his audience, and here we have Him with His disciples only asking some very important questions, and making some extremely important declarations.
The Questions and The Answers (Matthew 16:13-16)
The religious Jews have basically rejected and abandoned Jesus and are plotting to have Him executed. Jesus asks the disciples a very pointed question; “Who do people say the ‘Son of Man’ is?” Now the answers are telling. These are people that have followed Jesus and like Him, but they have failed to “know” Him. Some felt he was John the Baptist’s ghost, or Elijah since Malachi 5:4-5 mentions that God would “send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes,” or Jeremiah since the apocryphal text, 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 stated that Jeremiah would come again to restore the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense at the start of the Messianic age. Others just felt Jesus was a prophet from God, much like the Jews and Islam believes today. The people knew something was special about Jesus, but interestingly enough, they didn’t see Him as the messiah, anointed one (The Christ).
Now Jesus wasn’t finished, He asked His disciples a very pointed question, “Who do you say I am?” Peter’s answer, in spite of often being the guy with foot in mouth disease, answered Jesus profoundly; he said, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” This is an incredibly emphatic statement in the Greek, and its impact is incredible. First Peter identified Jesus with “The” Messiah whom Israel was waiting for. He was “The Christ,” the anointed one, their savior. Secondly, Peter identified Him as divine. Some people feel that he was only identified as a servant of God, since the term “Son of God” had been used before to speak of men (See Psalm 82:6). But the force of this statement and Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s understanding, shows that this was no mere mention of Jesus being a servant of God, but something much more; God Himself. Being the Messiah corresponds to Him being God and savior. They go together in the Old Testament.
The Response (Matthew 16:17)
Jesus’ response shows us two things. First, that Peter’s statement is profound and true, and secondly, that only God can reveal that kind of thing to someone. Jesus said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.” The bible is replete with the idea that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44) or that Lydia believed because, “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Salvation is truly of the Lord alone, and not our cunning choice or pious behavior. We need God to reveal Himself to us, before we “Choose” to believe the very hard to believe ideas that God became man to die for our sins as the anointed and promised Messiah. This leads Jesus to make two startling declarations:
The Declaration (Matthew 16:18-20)
His first declaration was, “I will build My Church!” There are many who say that Jesus never started a church, or a movement. Hello, here it is; He did “Build” His church. Notice who builds it; Jesus! Not slick marketing, great communicators, skilled musicians, but Jesus. Otherwise, it’s not His church. Many can build their empires on their own organizational or physical skills, but Jesus’ church is built by Him, and according to Revelation 2-3, He has the right to take any church out that’s not faithful to what He says is a church. Thus churches and denominations are not eternal; they are organic, living entities; free cells’ doing what Jesus commands the church to do.
So what did Jesus build His church on? Our passage is a bit hazy here, but I think it is clear enough. Some say that it is built on Peter, but the Greek seems to indicate otherwise. It literally says ‘you are Peter (Petros/Stone), and on this rock (Petra/Rock) I will build my church.” There is some truth to the fact that Peter is instrumental in the building of Jesus’ church, as part of the foundation (See Ephesians 2:20), but there Jesus is the cornerstone. Others feel that Jesus is building His church on what Peter said (His confession of truth), which also has merit, but looking closely at this, it appears that Jesus is referring to Himself here, as well as the message (Gospel) about Him. In Matthew 7:25 Jesus warns against building on anything other than the rock, which He is referring to Himself. Matthew 21:42 is more clear when Jesus cites a passage from Psalm 118:22-23 also referring to Himself. This is consistent with the idea that God is our metaphorical rock (See 2 Samuel 22, Psalm 118). Also Peter writes using multiple passages from the Old Testament (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22) referring to Jesus as the foundational stone of His house (The Church). Peter never refers to himself as the rock, which the church is built (See Acts 4:11). Jesus’ church is built on those that confess Him as the rock! That’s why it can’t be defeated; it’s NOT an institution (V. 18). Church is literally the people Jesus calls out who believe His message, and are willing to proclaim it to their own detriment. Building, institutions, local churches, can all be closed, destroyed, and killed, but Jesus’ church is a lot (Metaphorically) like Al Qaeda; no real leader (Except Jesus), no central institution, just people who are willing to bring His message to the world, a message of love, not hate, which obviously separates the analogy of Al Qaeda from Jesus’ church. The church is a love revolution, willing to die for the sake of others, just like their savior, who died for them. Thus church isn’t what happens on Sunday, it’s what Jesus’ people do on a daily basis and as a community as a “Witness” to the world. It’s a group of people built on Christ, and confession that Jesus is truly Lord and King and our allegiance is to Him, and Him alone!
Jesus’ second declaration is equally startling. “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” What keys? Again, a few different views. Some feel that the keys were given to Peter, and only he (And his successors) have the right of entrance to the kingdom. Others feel that is the ministers duty to declare people in the kingdom based on their confession and repentance, but the answer here appears a lot more simple. The “Keys” to the kingdom is the gospel itself. We have nothing but God’s word, and His story, the gospel. Peter is responsible for opening up the gospel to the Jews first (See Acts 2), and then the gentiles (See Acts 10). Theologian John Stott, speaking in regard to Acts 10 says,
“We have already watched Peter use these keys effectively, opening up the kingdom to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost and then to the Sanhedrin soon afterwards. Now he is using them again top open the kingdom to gentiles; by evangelizing and baptizing Cornelius the first gentile convert.”
The church is not the church without being a public proclamation of who Jesus is, and what He has done for all of humanity. It may be a gathering, a fellowship group, a club, but it’s not the church of Jesus Christ unless we are a true witness to the culture.
The question is then, why does Jesus tell the disciples not to tell anyone (V. 20)? Because they weren’t yet ready to commit treason by calling Him Lord. They needed the power of the Holy Spirit for that so Jesus tells them to wait until the power of the Spirit comes upon them, and then “They will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and other parts of the world” (Acts 1:8).
…to the Heart
So what does this mean for us?
As a Non-Believer
Are you on the border in regard to who Jesus is? Maybe it’s time to, like Peter, declare Him Messiah, God?
As a Believer
Has Jesus “Disrupted” your life? What “treasonous” acts have you committed lately? Is Jesus really Lord in your life? How does He affect your everyday life?
T’s no longer a private affair, but one of boldness, because we are the church of Jesus Christ, and His message is bold, and it’s very dangerous!
Questions To Ponder
- What is the significance of Jesus building His church?
- What is the significance of Him being the Christ?
- What is our mission here on earth?
- Why does the church exist?
- Why does this matter?
For Further Reading
A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener
The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti
Sermon On the Mount; Sinclair Ferguson