Built on the Rock - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 16:13-20
August 23, 2020

We find Jesus and His disciples today in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mat. 16:13). This was a Roman City north of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus initiated a conversation with His disciples. He draws out of them a clear statement and declaration of who He is. He then makes important promises.

 “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?,” He asks (Mat. 16:13). The phrase “Son of Man” is how Jesus spoke of Himself as the Christ. “Who do you say that I am,” He asks His followers (Mat. 16:15).

As Christians before us, we live in a culture and relate to people who have opinions about Jesus; who have opinions about God. He assumes we are aware of this. He does not find it surprising. He also draws out from us, as He has for all Christians down through the centuries, statement and declaration of who He is; statement born out of conviction; a statement born out of how Christ is revealed to us.

This question about Jesus is not an idle question. This is because, in the first place, Jesus is the one asking it. If our Lord asks us to answer this question, then we must answer.

It is also not an idle question because of the promises and hope that come with the answer. “Upon this rock,” Jesus says, “I will build my church” (Mat. 16:18). The “rock” is the declaration of faith made by Peter on that occasion and all Christians since in answer to Christ’s question. Upon this faith, Jesus builds His church.

Christ also makes a great promise. Nothing can overcome and prevail against the faith and proclamation of who Christ is that He draws out from us. Not even the powers of hell can conquer this faith (Mat. 16:19). And to this faith God gives eternal life and His unending friendship and grace.

Christ’s question, who do you say that I am, is also not an idle question in another important respect, for Jesus knows that we need such a Rock. The Lord says it through Isaiah today: “The earth will grow old like a garment, And those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6).

This world and the people and cultures in it wear out. Even our own flesh with which we were born will wear out like a garment. What then?

It is a sad thing that so many people in our materialistic culture seem to be resigned to a belief that this life is all there is. In this belief there is so much fear and anxiety; there is so much striving for the things this world has to give, to fill life with something; to try to fill the vacuum left in the soul when there is no thought of life in God beyond this life. An then there is this perspective on life: you might as well get it while the getting is good, whatever one thinks the “it” is.

And so the things of this world are grasped, sought after, and held onto as the highest good. There is profound fear of losing it all to the inevitable wearing out. There is a loss of touch with morals and values spoken to us by God that transcend the “me” and the momentary fulfillment of one’s passions and desires.

Now the point here is not to urge utter disregard of life in this world. The point is also not to deny how this world captivates human beings naturally as being all there is; it is not to deny the fear of death and that we cannot see what lies beyond. It is to talk about perspective. It is about faith, which we need to “see beyond.”

And in a way that may seem counterintuitive, in a way that may seem paradoxical, this faith in Christ enables us to walk in this world in a better way, in God’s way, as it holds us in the beyond. It enables us to walk in a way in which we are not conformed to this world but transformed through the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). On the other hand, regarding this life and world as all there is, leads into a false sense of what the true good really is, what human destiny is, and into all sorts of evils.

So Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter responds, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16).

Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this Rock, I will build my church” (Mat. 16:18).

Peter spoke on that occasion what all Christians speak about Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

You are the Christ.

Isaiah says, “My salvation has gone forth. My salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6). Who is the servant of the Lord to accomplish this? Who is the one who will bring this salvation to pass? It is the Savior. But who is the Savior? It is Jesus, who is the Christ, the Messiah. And who is this Messiah? He is the Son of the living God.

God lives. Living is essential to God’s being. God is the only being who is like this. And God gives life as the living one, and life is found only in God.

And now this Jesus, the Christ, is Son of this living God. He is not Son as something less than God and different than God. No. Here this saying seems especially appropriate: “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” as we state in the Nicene Creed. Jesus as Son is of the same nature of the one He is son of.

So He too is God; He too is living God. He too gives life and life is found in Him. You live in Him as He lives in you.

And so the living God teaches the heart and soul and mind to regard this Jesus as the living Son in whom all of the living God’s purposes and promises are fulfilled. The earth and the garment of this life wears out, but the living God’s eternal salvation is embraced in and lived in this Christ, the living Son of the living God.

And Jesus says to you as He said to Peter: you are blessed for having such faith in Jesus. For you too then live in the revelation of the Father. You too are then also founded on the Rock that does not give way, that cannot be overcome by anything. Not anything that happens to you here; not the wearing out of the garment of our natural flesh; not even the gates of hell can prevail over this Rock. None of these things can prevail over you, because your life is embraced in this living Rock. And this Rock endures though the earth wears out and passes away; though our flesh wears out and passes away. You live and inherit a new heaven and new earth in this Rock that will not pass away. You live in an eternal communion with the living God now, and in the world to come, where there is only living, no dying, no wearing out, growing old or passing away.

And in this Jesus and the Rock of faith in Him, about Him, and the faith He fills with Himself as the living Son, you are called out from the world with others in whom this same faith lives. You are called out into an assembly, an ecclesia, a great congregation, gathered on this Rock, identified by this faith and declaration. Gathering is essential to being church; it is in the very name “ecclesia.” And you are gathered where Christ meets us in His word and Sacrament and with His promised presence. You are gathered where Christ is Lord and master, not the world, not the ways of this world, not death, not hell, not sin. He is present with His love, with His grace, with His truth, living among and in us as the living Son; leading us on to His upward call; leading us on in His kingdom, which has no end, even when this world gives way.

In the midst of all that is going on around us right now, whatever life may bring, let us hold fast to who Christ is and who you are in Him. Let us embrace the confession with our soul and conviction, with our mouth and heart, with our lives and all we have: “You, my Lord Jesus, are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is the Rock on which I build, on which we build.” This Rock is Christ Himself.

Amen.  



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