Chapel on June 29 The Festival of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles
Prayer and Preaching, p. 260ff.
Reading: Matthew 16:13–19
1 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Catechism: (A line from the third article explanation): In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On what does our Lord build His Church? Our Symbols quote numerous fathers from Origen to Bede to show that the answer is not on Peter's person. They conclude that it must be on the ministry of what Peter said: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Does Christ build His church on Peter getting the answer right? On us getting the answer right? People loved by God, that would be a most flimsy foundation, wouldn't it?
You KNOW what follows the text. You know how Jesus told them not to tell who he was and then began to explain what "being Christ" and being the faithful son actually would mean. The trip to Jerusalem. The suffering of many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests. Being killed and then being raised on the third day. And you remember how the fellow who got the answer right, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, proceeded to take Jesus aside and to rebuke him! "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you! Enough of this negative talk! Are you forgetting who you are? You have power to prevent any of that from happening!" Jesus, remember, has to rebuke Peter and tell the Satan who was speaking through his mouth to shut up and stop setting roadblocks in the way of His path to the cross.
Peter may have got the answer right in the technical sense. Yes, Jesus was the Christ. Yes, Jesus was the Son of the living God. But did Peter grasp what that actually meant? No. Not the first clue. And so does Jesus build His church on such flim-flam?
Might it be that the rockiness that was praised in Simon and so gave him the new name wasn't so much what little he got right, but this: that whatever he got right wasn't his doing, but a revelation and gift from the Father? "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church." Might this rock be our Lord's certainty that His Father in heaven would disclose the truth about who He was?
If we shift over to St. John's gospel, recall that our Lord said: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that the one who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws (probably too polite a translation, drags is more at it) drags him, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6)
Now the Father's dragging you to Jesus, that just might be a rock solid enough for Jesus to build a church on. A tad stronger than your right answers with their wrong understandings; and certainly a tad stronger than the person of that first century fisherman who was always rushing headlong into he knew not what. "Flesh and blood" not so much.
And, of course, that sends us back to the delightful article 3 of our Catechism. "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the true faith." The Holy Spirit whom Jesus sends to you from the Father is the Father's dragger. He grabs hold of you and drags you to the Son and begins the enlightenment of who Jesus is and what He has done for you. And THAT is how Jesus does indeed build His church. He builds it on the promise of His Father, the will of His Father, that He lose nothing of what the Father gave Him, that the one who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and this is the Spirit's work alone.
And we can be blockheads like Peter and get the right answers and still be all wrong, and JESUS doesn't toss us away; He rebukes us and points us again and again to His cross. To what He came to do for us. And only by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sends from the Father does the light that begins to dawn shine to full strength: You have a Savior who would let nothing get in the way of Him taking all your sins to His tree, bearing them there, pouring His blood over them there, and thus severing them from you forever as He owned them all as His. That's what it is to be the obedient Son and that's what it is to be Israel's Anointed One. And He knows that the only way anyone will ever believe or get it is when that belief comes as a rock solid gift: the Father's gift of the Spirit to give the gift of faith in the Son.
On this rock? How about on the Father's dragging you to Jesus by His Spirit and Jesus never letting go of what the Father has given him. That's a pretty sturdy rock indeed.
In the name…
Hymn: 647 Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's Head
Collect of the Day: Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.