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Peter the Rock

Text: Matthews 16:18

Dr Alex Tang

 

Summary

Like Peter the apostle, we can be living stones for the building of the Kingdom of God if we are willing to be formed, informed and transformed by God.

 

Introduction

Last month, my wife and I took a vocation in Rome in Italy. We wanted to see ancient Rome (the Rome of the Caesars and the centre of the Roman empire), religious Rome (the Rome of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church), Renaissance art and sculptures (works of Bernini, Michaelangelo and Raphael, Sistine chapel) and taste authentic Italian food and wines (spaghetti and pizza). We have had a great time.

One of the highlights was visiting St.Peter Basilica in the Vatican City. We visited the Basilica on Wednesday and every Wednesday morning the Pope holds a morning mass (worship service) which is open to the public. St. Peter’s Basilica or cathedral is the largest church in the world. It is an awesome building. In it are many famous painting and sculptures. The most famous is La Pieta by Michelangelo showing Mary holding her dying son, Jesus. It is said that Michelangelo created the sculpture when he was 22 years old and nobody believed that such a young man could do such a perfect work of art. So he came in the middle of the night to carve his name on Mary’s wrist. In the Basilica is also Peter’s tomb, directly under the dome. On the walls at the base of the dome in the roof are carved these words from Matt.16: 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Peter the apostle is regarded as the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope. There is a black bronze stature of Peter in the Basilica. That is why, Peter is also called the Black Pope. Pilgrims who seek his blessings will kiss the statue’s toes. Through the centuries and millions of lips, the toes are very shinny.

 

Bible Exposition

I was very fascinated by Matt.16: 18: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Peter’s name in Greek is Petros which means ‘small rock or stone’ and rock is petra which means ‘a rock, cliff, mountain or ledge’ and Jesus is playing with words: Peter the Rock.

Matthews 16:13-20 (NIV)

Theme: Peter’s Confession of Christ

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

t by my Father in heaven.  18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, bu

The context of Matt.16:18 is Peter’s confession of Christ. As in Mark and Luke, this passage in Matthew is the climax of the first part of the gospel, devoted to the Galilean ministry of Jesus. In first part of the gospel, we repeatedly hear the question of the identity of Jesus:

Matt.8: 27 “What sort of man is this?”

Matt.11: 2 “Are you he who I to come, or shall we look to another?”

Matt. 12:23 “Can this be the Son of David?”

With these question. Jesus’ identity is slowly revealed until Peter can confidently say that Jesus is the Christ. So this passage is the pivot point of the gospel, the first part points to the identity of Christ and the second points to the work of Christ.

The interpretation is that Peter is a small stone. Petra (rock) refers to all that confess that Jesus is Christ i.e. the other disciples. What Jesus is saying is that Peter you are a small stone but with you and other small stones which make up a mountain (petra), I shall build My church and Satan cannot stop it.

When the Chartered Bank was Chartered Bank and not Standard Chartered, they have a motto, ‘Big, Strong and Friendly’. When I first read about Peter the Rock, I have this impression of Peter as ‘Big, Strong and Friendly’. After all, Jesus told a parable about a man building his house on a rock foundation rather than sand. Surely Jesus will build his church on a solid rock. So this rock is Peter. I have this mental picture of Peter like Atlas, holding up the church on his shoulder. But Jesus said to Peter, “You shall be called petros, only a small stone”.

 

Lessons for us

As we were wandering around the ruins of ancient Rome, we noticed that their buildings were made up of small flat stones like bricks. A big rock is not of much use to anyone. But a stone could be chipped and shaped into a brick for a building. And as I look at Peter’s life, I can see God shaping this little stone into a building block for the church. I see three stages in Peter’s formation into a stone to build the Church.

(1)               Formed

(a)               Created for a Purpose

God has chosen us before creation, before time and space existed, to be his children, to be His church and to be His people. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

We are formed for a special purpose. The Westminster Shorter Cathecism asked: What is man’s chief purpose? Man’s chief purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

 

(b)               Called for a Purpose

The next stage of being formed is being called.

Matt. 4:18        18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

God calls us in a similar way.

 

(2)               Informed

(a)               Change of mindset

The mind is important in our Christian life. Hence the emphasis on teaching, listening and learning. We see that the years of Peter being with Jesus are years of being informed about God. I am sure that Peter already had previous exposure to the Old Testament as he was brought up in a Jewish community.

Matt. 16:13-16

              13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his   

             disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

              14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others,

              Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

             15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

This is an important milestone in the thinking of Peter. It is here that he publicly confessed that Jesus is the Christ. The whole of Judaism looks towards the coming of the Christ or Messiah (Hebrews). And here, Peter finally acknowledged that the Messiah is standing in front of him.

 

(b)               Feeding of the new mindset

In acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter also acknowledged that Jesus is all he needed.

John 6:63-68

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

   68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Unlike Peter, we are not there to listen to Jesus when He walked the earth. But we now have the Word of God, which is the Bible. We must be continually be informed by the Word of God.

 

The Word Intake Hand is using our own hand to illustrate the various ways of how we can learn the Word of God.

Listen (5% retention) - little finger [sermons, tapes, lectures]

Read (15%)- ring finger [read the Bible daily, Bible reading program, read through the Bible in 2 years, daily bread, spiritual books]

Study (35%)- middle finger [deeper study, commentaries, theological subjects, courses]

Memorise (80%)- index finger [Navigators Scripture memory booklet, key verses, passages, books]

Meditation – thumb [meditate on what you have received, lectio divina]

Eph 6:17 take the sword                the whole hand

Col 3:16 dwell in you

 

(3)               Transformed

Peter is not transformed immediately when he believed that Jesus is the Christ. He did not suddenly become a different person. Transformation is a slow process. Development of a Christian character is a slow process. Become like Christ is a slow process. It took a long time for Peter to be transformed until that he can write in 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  24 For,

“All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25 but the word of the Lord stands

forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

(a)   Willingness to be transformed.

Even after spending so much time with Jesus, Peter’s religious thinking is very limited to his Jewish background. God has to use a vision to convince Peter that salvation is for all people. Acts 10:9-16

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.  10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.  12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.  13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

God is always at work in our lives to transform us to His image. Sometimes He uses supernatural means like visions, angels, dreams or miracles. More often He uses natural means like people, circumstances, disasters, diseases, death or growing old. Transformation will involve changing our mindset. And making burgers of our sacred cows.

It is not easy for Peter to change a lifelong mindset that salvation is only for the Jews, God’s chosen people. It is to his credit that he is willing to make the change and make the journey to Cornelius’ home. Imagine a Jew entering the home of a Gentile. Peter must have struggled with it and he was not always successful. He later quarreled with Paul because when Peter went to Antioch, he was eating with the Gentiles but when some Jews came from Jerusalem, Peter started avoiding the Gentiles. Transformation is a series of success and failures. It is not an instantaneous process.

 

(b)   Dare to Fail

In the gospels, it was recorded that Peter denied that he was with Jesus three times when Jesus was arrested. Peter was fearful of being arrested too. Peter was filled with remorse for denying his Lord, especially when after he boasted that he would never deny the Lord.

Yet Jesus forgave him. 

John 21:15-20

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

 

Here Jesus reinstates Peter three times for the three times that Peter denied Him. Here also Jesus gave Peter three commissions: feed His lambs, take care of His sheep and feed Hi sheep. Shepherds are regarded as the lowest of the social orders, like garbage collectors today. Jesus is again reminding Peter that service in His kingdom is to be a slave.

 Peter showed us that in the process of transformation, we would fail. But God is faithful to forgive us and we must get up and try again. And again, And again. It is in facing these events that we can be transformed. In each of these events, we have a choice. We either grow towards God or we grow away from Him. It is not easy.

 

Closing Remarks

We have considered Peter the Rock as a living stone being formed, informed and transformed for the Kingdom of God.

Peter himself elaborated on this when he wrote: 1 Peter 2:4-10

2                  As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—  5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We too are living stones, for God to form, informed and transformed so that He can use us to build the church.

Michael Card’s latest album is named A Fragile Stone. Card wrote, “Scott and I wrote this song together after a long afternoon’s discussion of who Simon was and what his discipleship meant. We saw that Simon’s new title, ‘rock’ was not meant to signify strength  but simply something to build with. Peter will be the first stone to be laid of the holy house Jesus had come to build, of which He is the foundation.”

 

You bore the burden of a name

Along a road that would lead to the cross

Bold and broken, upside down

A light for the least and the lost

 

He called you the rock, the foundation

Of a temple formed from God’s love

His robe of forgiveness wrapping you up

Mean trusting in Him was enough

 

His love called you out on the water

And held you when you were alone

For you were the rock that was

Broken by love, forever the fragile stone

 

His love was the hammer that broke you

By His gentle and powerful hand

The mystery of mercy undid your denials

At last you could finally stand

 

The door that He opened was freedom

The door that He closed was your fear

Simply to rest in the arms of His love

Make all your doubts disappear

 

His love called you out on the water

And held you when you were alone

For you were the rock that was

Broken by love, forever the fragile stone

 

A stone that is dropped in the water

Will vanish and soon disappear

But the waves that move out from the center

In time they will reach everywhere

 

His love called you out on the water

And held you when you were alone

For you were the rock that was

Broken by love, forever the fragile stone

For you were the rock that was

Broken by love, forever the fragile stone                        

 

 

                                                                                                                                                      Soli Deo Gloria

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