Don’t you just know that Peter and the disciples had thought Jesus had lost his ever-loving mind when they went trekking off to Caesarea Philippi? They probably knew that 300-ish years before it was named for the Greek god of the wild–Pan, and had only recently been renamed by Herod. Imagine their shock for only a chapter before Jesus has been talking about 1st century Jewish purity laws and here they are in the hairy center of great filth…and Jesus stands there with them in plain view of Pan’s grotto, and a massive Herodian temple, and who knows what other active worship site erected to whatever such god. Jesus stands there with them in “idolatry alley” in plain view of Greek temples which had fallen out of favor, into disrepair, and some even were likely to have been reduced to partial rock foundations remaining after the rest had been cannibalized for founding and holding up Roman temples, maybe even the Herodian temple. Jesus, the walking, talking God stands with his crew before dead gods made of stone. It’s almost like Jesus is intentionally setting the mood before he pops the question.
This all reminds me of the oh-so-smitten guy asking the girl, “Will you marry me?” Can’t you just see it…we romantics would have the guy create an elaborate setting, you know, something to set the mood…and then when the moonlight is oh-so-right the guy pops the million dollar question. And just like that…lives are forever changed.
Jesus is one slick cookie, dragging those disciples into the heart of religious crazy-town, and then when the mood is set just right, he pops them with his million dollar question. And just like that…lives are changed.
In some cultures where it is customary for the guy to pop the question, if the girl answers affirming a desire to wed, then it is almost assumed, maybe even expected, that the girl will receive a name change at some point after the wedding…generally she takes the guy’s last name as her last name. Her identity is changed in the eyes of many…it’s like she gets a new identity.
In this text, Peter answers the million dollar question, affirming that Jesus is so much more than the Son of Man, that he is in fact, the Son of the Living God. When Peter answers Jesus the question-popper, it is Jesus who gets the metaphoric name change. He goes from Son of Man to Son of the Living God, from τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. It’s like Jesus gets a new identity.
But this Sunday when this text is preached—in a great many places if Peter’s identity is the focus then the sermon might sound like this:
- Jesus renames Peter the “rock,” ’cause Peter was such a stand up disciple so be a stand-up Christian like Peter. (problematic given that Jesus says Peter has “little faith,” and disturbing that Peter will deny a connection to Jesus three times—seems like very little faith, and even more disturbing that Jesus actually calls him, “Satan,” at one point.)
But what if Jesus is the focus? For if Jesus is the focus as he was when 5000+ were fed, as he was when he pulled Peter out of the drink, as he was when he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, then perhaps the point isn’t the thin attempt to have Peter being renamed, “rock.” And the sad attempt to blow that notion into something more than people pointing at people…well…. that’s not even interesting. What if the focal point is Jesus and specifically Jesus speaking these phrases:
- My Father (revealed) v. 17
- I tell you v. 18
- I will build v 18.
- I will give v. 19
What of that….God as source of revelation, “Son of the Living God” telling more of such a revelation, the Son declaring the work of the Son, and the Son giving people keys to be about the Son’s work. Gosh—that almost sounds like the text is about Jesus doing it all and using people to get it done.
For sure and certain it had best not be about people getting it done.. for Caesarea Philippi proves that people are horrid “revealers, tellers, builders, and givers.” I mean, just think about it—-the Son of the Living God is saying all of this in front of a hell of a lot of dead gods and failed religious enterprises. It had best be the Son of the Living God building it all otherwise it will collapse as every human enterprise eventually does—and where Jesus and his crew stood it eventually did. I mean really—-when was the last time you booked a flight to Caesarea Philippi International Airport? You haven’t and you likely won’t, for it was built on human religious enterprise, fashioned from the human ability to “reveal, tell, build, and give.”
But Jesus did say, “You are Peter and upon this rock…,” and that is important. Ole “little faith” Peter watched Jesus take a name change. And is it one thing to follow the Son of a human—-and quite another to know one follows the Son of the Living God. It’s a move from following a person to following God.
And just who is this “follower,” Peter, this so-called rock? Well, the words in the text are very curious for upon-this-rock in the text is ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ feminine dative singular Greek….and Peter is a masculine subject. And Peter is the subject of Jesus’ address. Yet the only feminine subject near to this feminine dative phrase is the Greek word for church, ἐκκλησίαν . I’m willing to bet this odd connection is no accident.
Could Jesus…take pitifully sinful, woefully fearful, people like Peter, and you, and me, and build us into a church, into the Church? Are we imperfect rocks…foundation rocks being fashioned into the Church under the constructive building hands of Jesus? You tell me….what do you think? After all Jesus is the Son of the Living God and he says, “I will build.” I think we have to believe Jesus…and since he intends to focus efforts on building and gifting this Church then nothing of any kind will prevail against it….for it is not being built by weak-kneed people or some dead idol. Nothing is coming to “huff and puff and blow Jesus’ house down” for it is the Son’s work, and the Son gives us keys so that the Son’s work goes forward. And just like that…lives are changed.
And that is all done by Jesus the Son—-not some no-name construction company—and that ought to be worth preaching!