Jesus Builds the Church on Rocky Soil

Wednesday, March 06, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 16:13-20

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve followed the ups and downs of Peter’s faith journey with Jesus. There’s comfort in knowing that Jesus can handle our questions, fears, and even our doubts. Tonight, we get another look at Peter’s faith. This time it’s confident, his faith even has some bravado. This boldness of faith is just as real and authentic as his fears and doubts – and his confidence in Jesus has ripple effects for how we might see our faith as well.

Have you ever felt like you needed to go somewhere to really understand its significance? You can’t really wrap your head around the hustle and bustle of New York City until you stand in the middle of Times Square. You can’t fully comprehend the devastation of the Civil War or the fight for civil rights until you’ve walked the battlefields of Gettysburg, or walked across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma, or visited a plantation where slaves were treated as property. Being in a place opens us to different perspectives than we read in books. Being in a place can touch our emotions or offer new ideas we couldn’t access otherwise.

That’s what Jesus is doing with his disciples in this passage. Until now, Jesus and the disciples have mostly served the villages around Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. It’s most of the disciples’ home turf. The people and the culture reflect their experience. Jewish, semitic, familiar.

They don’t have to go far, just 25 miles north of the Galilee to Caesarea Philippi and it’s a whole different world. This is a Roman city known for its gushing spring that feeds the Jordan River. Here people worship the Roman god, Pan – the god of nature. In the heart of the city was a steep rock wall where the spring of water flowed out over the rock. Below the spring was a cave where people would offer sacrifices to appease the gods. The Roman governor Philip built a temple there dedicated to his uncle, the Caesar. Carved into the rock wall were all these grottos with statues of Caesar and Roman gods of fertility and nature.

As Jesus and his disciples walk by this steep rock wall and all these statues, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” You can almost see him gesture to everything around him as he asks the question. As if to say, “You know what people say about these things. What do people say about me?” After they report that some say he’s a prophet or even one of the great prophets, Jesus makes the question more personal. “And who do you say that I am?”

I imagine like some of us might do, many of the disciples stammered and sputtered something while looking down at their sandals – maybe feeling put on the spot, or even unequipped to answer the question. Maybe even after following him for some time, they weren’t exactly sure how to answer the question.

Peter pipes up with the boldest response  – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” He sees what’s all around him – the statues dedicated to gods of nature and fertility, and rulers. He watches the Romans and their ritual sacrifices at the cave where the spring of water flows so freely. Something in him knows this is not where true life really comes from. He knows there is something more, something real and authentically divine, and it comes from Jesus.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”

We may not be surrounded by statues dedicated to gods, but we are overwhelmed by messages and images seeking our attention and devotion. We are enticed to “follow” super star musicians, mega-millionaires, athletes, politicians, celebrity chefs, or cats, or YouTubers or you name it. Amongst all of these things, who do we say Jesus is?

How and who we align ourselves with has ripples for how others experience Jesus too. Whether you’re like some of the disciples who are still trying to figure out who Jesus really is or you’ve been fully devoted to Jesus and your faith has echoed Peter’s confession for a long time, the question behind Jesus’ question to us is:

“What difference does Jesus make in the world, and in your life?

Do you believe in forgiveness? Or that love – God’s love – has the power to change lives?

Do you believe in second chances and redemption when people fall short?

Do you have hope, even when the world seems like it’s falling apart?

We won’t always answer these questions the same way. Our confession of faith may not always feel so certain. That’s the journey of faith. But convictions matters. Jesus knew Peter’s faith would waver – in the very next part of the gospel Jesus and Peter get in an argument because Jesus tells the disciples that as the Messiah he will suffer and die at the hands of those in power. That’s not the kind of Messiah Peter was looking to follow. But Jesus didn’t kick him out, he took him on a field trip to help him remember who Peter knew Jesus to be.

Jesus responds to Peter’s confession with confidence of his own. “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” It’s as though Peter’s faith in Jesus inspires Jesus to place his faith, his trust in Peter. Faith has power. Peter’s faith. Christ’s faith. Your faith. Our faith together. It’s not something we possess on our own, but something shared as the Body of Christ.

We need these times when we trust with every fiber of our being that Jesus is Lord so when times come when our faith lands on rocky ground we remember who Jesus is for us and for the world. It’s this rocky faith that Christ chooses to make God’s love, mercy, mission, and forgiveness known in our world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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