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Matthew

No Other Question

Matthew 16:13-28

Lesson audio

I am indebted to the late Fr. Charles Fields for the point: there is no other question. “Who do you say that I am?” On the answer to that your life hinges – now and eternally. Heaven and hell, truth and falsehood, life and death, judgment and reward, all hinge on this one question. It merits, then, our attention for at least one lesson.

Who do you say that I am?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He *said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

(Mat 16:13-19 NASB)

It may first be noted that Jesus asked this question of His disciples in an area where the Jews did not reside. Safe from the pressure of religious leaders, away from the crowd, the disciples could answer freely. Note also this: He did not ask them who the religious leaders thought He was. Fact, not expertise, determines this answer.

No other question

The point is at once simple and profound. It is, has always been, and always be the defining truth of the church universal, militant and triumphant: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God. In his reply Christ calls Peter “Simon Barjona,” Simon the son of Jonas. It is as if He is reassuring him that as certainly as he is the son of Jonas, so Jesus is the Son of God.

We may note also that Jesus asks who the people say “the Son of Man” is. It connects the facts: the One who is fully divine is also fully human. Anything less is heresy, leading astray. It has often been tried.

The gifts of Christ

May I ask you to notice something? God the Father has given Peter the revelation of the Christ; Christ Himself then gives the gifts mentioned here. He is not conveying them; He gives, for He is equal with God the Father. And what gifts!

  • The keys of the kingdom of heaven – which in Matthew means the church (remember all those parables?). We often speak of “the key to the problem.” The key to entering the kingdom of God is in this confession. Those who live their proclamation of the Christ have entered this kingdom.
  • Binding and loosing – which particularly relates to forgiveness. How do I know I am forgiven? Because I forgive. Because I forgive, they are forgiven – by me, and God. I cannot forgive on your behalf, but I can forgive for myself. When I do, God Almighty wipes away that sin from them – and mine as well.
Blessed are you

The revelation of God that Jesus is the Christ is indeed the chief of our blessings. It is revealed; if He chose to hide it, we could never know it.

Consider the greatness of this revelation: to mortal man, a fisherman from Galilee, the sticks of the Jewish nation, was given the message that the prophets longed to hear. Salvation is come!

And consider the impact of that revelation: before the Crucifixion Peter is a man of little courage, intimidated by a servant girl into denying his Lord. After the Resurrection, the fish becomes a lion.

A section not strictly necessary

It should not be required for those in the classroom to cover the arguments of the Roman Catholic church and dismiss them for their self-serving nature. But for those who may not have encountered this before, the matter is reviewed. Briefly put, the Roman Catholic church claims, based on this passage of Scripture, that theirs is the only church, and the Pope the infallible ruler of that church. Setting aside the dubious logic of such a claim to begin with, and the history of deception which accompanied it, we may observe the following:

First, this view is relatively new. It is a distortion of the undoubted truth that the church universal has such authority.

Second, the problem has been complicated by the typical Protestant response that the words “Peter” and “rock” have, in the original, two very different meanings. Peter is Petros in the Greek; rock is petra. These are claimed to be “little rock” and “shelf rock” (perhaps after the ruins at Petra) respectively. In fact, these are the same words; petra is the feminine form; Petros is the masculine. This has clouded the Protestant response, and rendered it ineffective.

 

Perhaps we may bring to bear the witnesses of the pre-Protestant Roman Catholic church. These are quotations from the Catena Aurea, the “golden chain” commentary on Matthew written by the greatest philosopher of the church, Thomas Aquinas. He quotes its greatest preacher (Chrysostom) and its great theologian, Augustine:

 

That is, On this faith and confession I will build my Church. Herein shewing that many should believe what Peter had confessed, and raising his understanding, and making him His shepherd. (Chrysostom)

 

I have said in a certain place of the Apostle Peter, that it was on him, as on a rock, that the Church was built. but I know that since that I have often explained these words of the Lord, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church,” as meaning upon Him whom Peter had confessed in the words, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;: and so that Peter, taking his name from this rock, would represent the Church, which is built upon this rock. For it is not said to him, Thou art the rock, but, “Thou art Peter.” But the rock was Christ, [1 Cor 10:4] whom because Simon thus confessed, as the whole Church confesses Him, he was named Peter. Let the reader choose whether of these two opinions seems to him the more probable. (Augustine)

 

Just who carries apostolic authority? If it is the lineal descendants (by hierarchy, not the flesh) of Peter, it would seem that the Orthodox church has an equally good claim on the title.

But the Orthodox hold to the same answer we do: the authority of the Apostles is possessed by those who follow the teaching of the Apostles. Not everyone who says , “Lord, Lord” will be saved. Chrysostom, who lived in a time of one church unchallenged by division, said simply that there was one church, with all authority – and no conflict.

 

Should you require some Scriptural support, may we point out two points? The first is the one referenced by Augustine:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

(1Co 10:1-4 NASB)

And if the question of binding and loosing seems to be in doubt, then consider that Christ also explicitly gave such authority to the entire church:

 

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

(Mat 18:15-20 NASB)

If the history of the matter interested you, look into the “Pseudo-Isadoran Decretals.”

 

The Suffering of Christ

Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."

(Mat 16:20-23 NASB)

The warning

The question immediately comes up, why? Why not proclaim this truth of God? It is speculation, of course, but perhaps it is because revealing this before its time would weaken, not strengthen, the faith of those who heard it from Jesus. It is interesting to note that Jesus does not “teach” this to His disciples – He “shows” it. The more literal translations make it clear that He “must” suffer – in the sense of “being necessary.” He can only give them the reason for the necessity; they are not yet capable of seeing what God will do, and why. Of which fact Peter gives example.

Peter’s aside, man’s view

Peter’s argument is quite simple, really:

  • Jesus, the Son of God, has the power to avoid this fate. He is Lord; how can it be necessary for Him to suffer?
  • Indeed, it is unjust; it is unfair; Jesus has done nothing to deserve death. Why then would He accept the Crucifixion?

Peter, giving policy advice to God[1], finds that the good is the enemy of the best.

Christ’s rebuke

The foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of God. Like so much else that God does, we see the truth and treasure of it after it happens. As Paul put it,

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

(1Co 1:20-25 NASB)

Take up the Cross

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

(Mat 16:24-28 NASB)

Steps 1, 2, 3

It sounds so simple, and it is. Three steps to begin to follow Christ:

  1. Deny yourself. “Begin to be what you are not; cease to be who you are.” (Gregory the Great circa AD 540-604)
  2. Take up your cross. Take it; it is a choice, not a burden imposed. Take up yours; it belongs to you, you need not borrow another’s. You are best suited to bear it; it is best suited to bring you close to your Master. Continue with it, even if it leads through suffering to death.
  3. Follow Him. Deny yourself first; suffer as you must – but in all things in all ways follow your Lord and Savior. His eye is on the sparrow; you keep your eyes on Him.
Count the cost

Can you buy the favor of God? With what currency? By what actions can you place the Almighty in your debt?

Do you think you have a contract with God? A contract is between equals; a covenant is given by God to His people. He has paid for it at the Cross and proclaimed it by the Resurrection; you can praise Him and accept it, or deny Him. With one comes the prize, the other punishment – and there is no compromise position. Your call.

The coming kingdom

Why is this so important? In this world the kingdom is composed of those who worship Christ; ultimately it will be composed of those transfigured at the resurrection of the dead. What you must understand is that these two kingdoms are one in the same: the kingdom of God.

Epilog

Next lesson we shall see the Transfiguration. Ultimately, to take up the cross is to follow your Lord; we are not above the Master. But see where this suffering leads! The ancients said Per crucem ad lucem – from the Cross into the Light! Lead on, O King Eternal – even through the valley of the shadow of death. Home is where the Light is always on.


[1] And how often I have done that…

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