Our Sure Foundation
The Devil Next Door is a documentary that recounts the story of John Demjanjuk (Dem-yan-yick). From all appearances, he was an ordinary blue collar family man and grandfather. A Ukrainian--American immigrant, he came to the United States in 1942, worked at an auto factory and retired with his family in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Until, in 1977 he is seen by Holocaust survivors and is suspected and accused of being a Nazi guard—Ivan the Terrible-- at the infamous Treblinka extermination camp in Poland. He is extradited to Israel in Israel in 1986 where he faced trial for his alleged crimes. During the trial he maintained his innocence—that this was a case of mistaken identity. The court case was built on that thought — who is this person really? Who do the men of the court say this person is? The Jewish community watching the trial was staking a lot on this person being who he was accused of being. Many were staking their personal peace on, their desire for justice, even how they were processing grief on this man being exactly who they claimed he was, even though he vehemently denied it. Who was he?
Our text deals with the same question — Who do you say that I am? But, unlike the verdict of John Demjanjuk, the answer to the question of our text does just impact a few people…it impacts everyone. Many books have been written in an attempt to answer the many questions that this text raises, which I’ll do my best to walk us through. But..the heart of this passage is found in one proclamation, one answer to the question Who do you say that I am? — Jesus is the The Christ, the Son of the living God. And, it’s this proclamation that makes all the difference! It’s this proclomation and everything it means for those who profess it’s truth that makes all the difference. This passage has been debated and turned over and over throughout time, but what Jesus is primarily concerned with Who do you say that I am? This should be our primary concern as well.
I hope to walk us through the text by highlighting some key points in the text:
Who Is Jesus? (v.13-17)
The Rock on Which We’re Built (v.18-20)
And then, I’ll offer several points of application at the end.
Just a little bit of context before we dive into the dialogue between Jesus, his disciples and Peter. Take a look at v. 13:
Mt. 16:-13a - Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples...
The first thing to note is where Jesus chooses to have this converstation—in Caesarea Philippi. This is about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. At the time it was an important Greco-Roman city. Most of the people living there pagan Syrian and Greek people. Its name had recently been changed from Paneas to Caesarea Philippi. The name change came from one of Herod’s sons, Philip the Tetrarch as, you guessed, a way to honor himself. Not only that, but this city had been a center for pagan worship of false gods like Baal, the Greek god Pan, then at the time of our passage an actual man, Caesar is meant to be the object of people’s worship and adoration.
This is the place that Jesus asks the question, who do you say that I am? In the middle of a pagan city where the majority of the population would never answer the way that Peter is about about—that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus and his disciples are in a city where people are surrounded by false gods who cannot move, think or reason and there is a man who has set himself up as a god, at the seat of power in this Greco-Roman city. What a perfect place to ask the question, Who do you say that I am?
To his disciples
The second thing to point out, for the sake of context, is that Jesus just came from speaking to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but here he is talking exclusively to his disciples. And he poses two questions to them; the first question is answered by the disciples, the second question is answered by a disciple — Peter. All of them deal with our first point...
Who Is Jesus? (v.13-17)
Who Is Jesus? (v.13-17)
Matthew 16:13 - 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.”
“Son of Man” - This is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. It’s used over 80x in the Gospels. It gets at the true meaning of of who Jesus is. He is the Son of Man, the humble servant come to forgive humanity of their crimes against a triune God, and He suffers for Man, as a servant come in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And He is the The Son of Man whose universal rule—over all peoples, all nations—will be without end, an “everlasting dominion,” an indestructible “kingdom” as seen in Daniel 7. And, as Peter rightly proclaims, he is the Son of God, that Son in whom we must take refuge through faith if we are to escape the wrath of the Lamb.
While Jesus is making a proclamation about who He is, he’s asking the disciples a question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And the disciples (it doesn’t say which ones), I can envision all them sort of talking at the same time; and they give the popular answers of the day. Jesus was not an ordinary man. In fact, he did a lot of things kind of like a prophet—he speaks with authority, he does all these amazing things kind of like John the Baptist! Two chapters earlier, Herod heres about the fame of Jesus actually believes that Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected. This became a common belief among many people. Which to me, personally is strange, because John the Baptist said he was a voice pointing the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so why would Jesus be...
Some people though he might’ve been Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the old prophets come back.
Mark 6:15 - But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”
Luke 9:7–9 - 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9 Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.
In one sense, their right — He is a prophet. But, he’s the Prophet! He is the ultimate fulfilment of all of them. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and all the prophets have been pointing to One Man -- Christ Jesus!
No one picks Jesus as the Messiah! They’re all taking guesses...It's like this bizarre version of the name game where everyone's trying to deduce, based on clues, who Jesus is. But...no one picks the right answer! The world we live in today is no different. Everyone has an opinion about who Jesus is, all of their opinions put them in a place where Jesus is a helpful teacher at best, a model citizen, one among many other wise guides that have come and gone in the world…as long as He is someone that they don’t have to bow down and worship, Jesus could be anybody and they’re fine with that. The people of Jesus’ day are no different. All the best estimated guesses are wrong.
Matthew 16:15–16 - 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.”
The “you” is plural. Peter answers on behalf of the Twelve.
You are the Christ — You are the Messiah. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah or the Anointed One, the anoineted king prophesied in the OT.
Peter is saying, "Jesus...you are the Messiah...and you are God!" No mere man...but God, come to redeem His people!
Not is Jesus the Christ—He is the Son of the God who lives! In other words, Jesus is God and God’s unique son…and unlike the pagan gods surrounding them in Caesarea Philippi — He is a living God! Jesus is the eternal son of the living God.
Matthew 11:27 - All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
In the Greek Peter’s response is translated more emphatically: You are the Christ, the Son of the God, the living One."
In Jesus self-identification and Peter’s proclamation, we get a wonderful picture of who our Savior is! He is the Son of Man, the Son of God and the Christ! King of Kings, Lord of lords!!!
Peter, as we know had a habit of just saying the first thing that came to his head—like a lot of us. Very little filter before words began to come out. And most times, what he says needs correcting.
But to this Jesus says, Your right!
Matthew 16:17 - 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. (ESV)
Jesus’ answer of “Blessed are you” is not Jesus blessing Peter, but Jesus acknowledging you've been blessed, Peter! What you've said, Peter, is an evidence that you've been blessed.
He draws attention to his earthly lineage — Peter is the son of John or Jonah. That’s his flesh and blood. But when Peter speaks up for the twelve, this time he speaks the truth, and this truth does not come from himself or his flesh and blood. It doesn’t come from his upbringing and it doesn’t come from the best possible answer he can come up, in his own mind. No earthly father or mother or rabbi or teacher could have opened your heart to understand my identity. Jesus says, that’s my Father who is in heaven.
Saint, remember that the fact that you can see Jesus is a gift from the Father! Flesh and blood did not reveal Him to you, but it's that the Father ordained that you be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you might see the Son. You are a miraculous picture of salvation—you did not save yourself!
Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
You did not begin the work and you will not complete the work. We must be reminded of this, especially on days when we feel as if we’ve failed and are failing at being a husband, a wife, a mom, a dad, a teacher — every time you cry out, “Jesus, my Christ. Son of the Living God…help.” You are evidencing your faith…that God lit in your heart not you! Flesh and blood did not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
STORY: You can teach me Hebrew, if I can talk to you about Jesus. My conversation with Amit in the copy room. Do you believe in a Messiah? Yes! When he comes…it’s going to be so wonderful! And I said, “He’s come. His name is Jesus Christ. He’s your Messiah. He’s come to save your people from their sins.” And he said, “I’d never considered that…I don’t believe it, but that’s interesting.”
Just as only the Son can reveal the Father (11:27), so only the Father can enable anyone to recognize the Son’s true identity.
Jonathan Edwards said this, “I am bold to say, that the work of God in the conversion of one soul . . . is a more glorious work of God than the creation of the whole material world.” And it is...
This is Peter’s confession and our confession, Church. Jesus is our Messiah, Redeemer — God come to earth to save us from our sins and in Him only are our sins forgiven.
Then Jesus responds to Peter with several statements that lead us to our second point.
The Rock on Which We’re Built (v.18-20)
The Rock on Which We’re Built (v.18-20)
Matthew 16:18–19 - 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.”
(v. 18) - you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...
This is one of the most debated Scriptures in all the Bible in terms of how it's to be interpreted and what exactly Jesus is saying. The fact that the Roman Catholic church has a pope who they believe is inerrant and infallible, is based, in part, on how they interpret (or wildly misinterpret) this passage of Scripture.
There are kind of three schools of thought (maybe four, but I'm going to give you the three big ones) for what Jesus means and what Peter's relationship is to this rock.
1) Peter himself is the rock upon which the Church is built. While I do think Jesus is speaking directly to Peter, I think only landing here is problematic simply because Jesus would not build his church on a fallen child of Adam, and making this claim isn't really consistent with the language of Scripture surrounding the foundation of the church. Even in passages like Ephesians 2:20-22 and Revelation 21:14, the church is described as being built on the foundation of the apostles--a group Peter is among--it's not built upon just Peter. Also, I don't think Peter would've said this. He didn't say it in his first sermon in the beginning of Acts and he doesn't use his apostolic authority to make this claim anywhere in any of his letters. What he does say is that all believers...all of us, Church, have become “living stones” because of our union with Christ. Not only that, but did not have more authority than other apostles -- Paul corrects him publicly in the book of Acts and he is also sent by other apostles to Samaria and has to give an account of his actions to the church in Jerusalem, where James, not Peter, has the final word. And then, by Acts 15 he kind of disappears from the historical narrative. So, while I think Jesus is speaking to Peter, I don't think this claim is about Peter exclusively. Certainly, as one commentator puts it, "This verse has something to do with Peter, but everything to do with Jesus."
The second view is that...
2) Jesus Himself is the rock (1 Peter 2:5-8 -- a stone, a cornerstone, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense) -- But in this conversation, Jesus describes Himself as the builder of the Church (16:18). "my church" - It is Christ's church, not Peter's. He is self-described as the builder of the Church! Jesus will build the Church! Through sickness and disease! She will be built! He will build her up! What an encouragement to us!
3) Peter's confession that Jesus is "the Christ—The Messiah and the Son of the Living God" is the rock upon which the Church is built. What Jesus is doing seems to be a play on words --The name “Peter” You are Peter (Petros -- small, loose rock), is also one of the Gk. words for “rock,” is a play on another Gk. word for “rock” as in, on this rock (petra -- big rock or the bedrock) I will build my Church. This is part of the reason that many would say (myself included) that, while Jesus speaking directly to Peter, He is referring to the claim or confession Peter makes that Jesus is the Messiah--the Christ--the Son of the Living God!
J.C. Ryle puts it like this, "It is as though our Lord had said, "You are rightly called by the name Peter, or stone, for you have confessed that mighty truth, on which, as on a rock, I will build my church."
This is revealed to Peter, not by flesh and blood, Jesus says, but from His heavenly father. Just as it was revealed to everyone in the Church, this church. We voted on YES, not based on you...Brian is really nice, he's funny and wears interesting glasses, he can be a part of this church. Caroline is so kind and such a happy person, so personable...she can be a part of our church...while all those things are true, we voted YES, based on your profession of faith that Christ is your Messiah, the Son of the Living God!
Rom 1:17 - The righteous shall live by faith
And isn't it interesting that in a few verses when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to suffer and die, Peter speaks up again with a different profession, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." The Lord Jesus says,
'You're a hinderance or a stumbling stone, to me." Why? Because you are not setting your mind on the things of God but of man." Apart from the Spirit's work, the best Peter can utter is blasphemous.
We profess and confess faith on a Savior who was crucified for! Peter, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed this very truth -- Christ and message of Christ crucified and risen is the stone that was rejected by men, smitten and afflicted, and He is still rejected by millions...as a stumbling stone and a rock of offense....But he is OUR cornerstone, Church! We have a sure and strong foundation for all of our life! This does not mean that all of our lives will be as firm as solid as a rock--our current situation is evident of that. We will undergo suffering, sickness, death, difficult relationships, trouble in parenting--I think of all the moms at home trying to teach their kids--we'll lose jobs, we'll suffer harship...the call of Jesus, as he says at the end of this chapter, is a call to come and die...to lose our lives so that when we let all crumble away, all the security of what we thought was life starts losing it's staying power--it breaks down, the rebar is exposed, and we say, "What's left of my life!"...we can say, "Everything! My life is not my own. I belong to Christ. Christ is my foundation. His life is the life that I stand on, not "all of this"...
Church, your foundation and your surety in life is not in the things that the world calls life, it's in Christ and it’s in your profession of faith in the son--who will never die again. Which means, you can't lose. He is our way, He is our truth and He is our life!
And he says, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
"Gates of Sheol" or "Gates of death" = death. This is Jesus saying that not even death can defeat His Church!
It's not for lack of trying! Consider all of the ways that lesser things have sought to discourage you and defeat you…Jesus says, but not even death will defeat my Church. Because, she’s mine! The Church is invincible, and the reason that she is invincible is because she has placed her faith in and stands on the cornerstone!
Death will not prevail, but it’s not for lack of trying. Peter knew this well — Satan asked permission to sift him like wheat, but Jesus says, “I prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” (Lk 22:31-32)
Who do you say that He is, today?
Husbands, wives, moms, dads, single people, sick people, people living alone, people living with roommates, people with a job, people with no job, people afraid they're going to lose their job, people doubting God's goodness because we're in a pandemic...who do you say that He is?
Church, if we are paying even a little attention to the news...our world and our America may look very different in a year or two, even from how it does right now. Where we've placed our treasure may be tested...and even is being tested now. Who is Christ to you? We must be reminded, we must preach to one another, we must write it in our homes — Christ is ours and we are Christ’s, and though we may die…and face death…and many things that seem as though they will prevail against us, collectively and individually, we will win! We will not be defeated!
Jesus’s next statement is about authority in His church...
Matthew 16:19 - 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.” (ESV)
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven...
The kingdom of heaven is the Church and the keys to lock and unlock her doors is given, yes to Peter, but also to all who make the same profession -- Jesus is the Christ, the Son of The Living God! In Acts, Peter is the first apostle to preach the message of the kingdom to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2), to the Samaritans (Acts 8), and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Peter is given the authority to admit entrance into the kingdom through preaching the gospel, an authority that is given to all who are called to proclaim the gospel. We have the keys! This contrasted by the scribes and Pharisees, who shut the kingdom in people’s faces, neither entering themselves nor allowing others to enter. There is no Peter at the gates of heaven.
Peter’s duty is entirely earthly. Here on earth he is to preach the gospel—repentance, faith, obedience to the commands of Christ, the cost of discipleship—and those who receive that message receive Jesus, and the door to life opens wide (cf. 10:40). And here on earth those who refuse the gospel are judged (they already stand in judgment). Here is on earth, we are called to preach the gospel—that is the Church’s primary function—proclaim the Gospel! By preaching and proclaiming the Gospel we confess, we open the doors!
Bound and loosed
Peter also has authority to exercise discipline concerning right and wrong conduct for those in the kingdom, an authority that is not of course, if you haven't realized by now, is not exclusive to Peter but is extended to the church as a whole in Matt. 18:18 and John 20:23. Jesus gives authority to the church, filled with those who make Peter's same profession, led by pastors who make the same profession, to govern his church on earth, under his ultimate authority, through the application of his authoritative Word. This is part of our responsibility as a church of those who profess and confess faith in Christ, the Son the Living God—crucified for our sins, raised on the third and coming again.
At the end of this section, Matthew writes that, he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Now might be the best time to tell everyone, "Right, Jesus! We have the info. Let's tell everyone...they'll get on board. Let's preach it!" But, to allow His disciples to openly tell everyone what they just heard might instigate a political movement that will hamper His true redemptive mission (John 6:15) -- Jesus' intent is on getting to the Cross! People wouldn't get it. They'd take it the wrong way. The disciples took it the wrong way and were distressed when Jesus said, "I am the Messiah who must come and die." They didn't get it...
The truth is, we are no different. Often times, we don’t get it either. This is a great place to pause and consider how does this passage work itself out in my life? Just a couple points of application to consider...
1) One question to ask ourselves, especially now, as I know many of us are being tested in various ways:
So, who is Jesus? “[W]ho do you say that I am?” Jesus still asks his church that question today. What is our answer? Sure, we may agree with this theologically, but how many times, like the disciples, do we prove that we’ve forgotten it?
For the husband who is a struggling with being harsh or impatient? Who is he to you? Is he your patience? Is He your help in times of testing or is your flesh?
For the mom at home who is trying to figure out how to teach the kids, dealing with tantrums and feeling like she is failing. Who is Jesus to you? Is He your righteousness? Is he your victory? Is He the picture God sees, when He looks at you—not how you’re feeling?
2) No reason to keep the Gospel secret.
What the disciples struggled to understand at the time, we know full well — Christ is the Son of the Living God, Our King, Our Victor and Our Righteousness.
You are free to proclaim it!