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The church of Jesus the Christ required a new foundation and new leadership.
Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.
Matthew 16:16-19 NKJV, condensed
"In that day, I will call My servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe and strengthen him with your belt; I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of Judah. The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, And he will become a glorious throne to his father's house."
The Strength of a Name
Impetuous, flamboyant Peter--the first time Jesus saw Simon, he gave him the name translated in Greek as petros, meaning rock. Peter, who rolled all over the place emotionally, did not display the permanence of stability. Yet Jesus named him the rock.
In return, Peter loved and trusted Jesus enough to want to grow into the name given him. How like our heavenly Father to believe in us long before we give God any reason to do so. The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God, but to what extent do we resemble the beautiful qualities of God! Yet there the words are, in the beginning of Genesis, waiting for us to grab hold.
Jesus called Simon a rock. Now, the rock would have the chance to do the same and tell Jesus what he thought of him. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter was the spokesman for the Twelve. As soon as Peter said it, I'm sure many of the others agreed. And marveled that Peter could put it into words so clear and succinct.
Jesus praised Peter for the breakthrough insight, giving credit where it was due, the inspiration or revelation of God. Jesus responded with a revelation of his own. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church!"
The Greek translation uses a different form of the word for rock. It's petra, meaning bedrock, which more likely describes Jesus himself than any human being. But I am told in the original Aramaic language, the word for Peter and for the church's foundational stone is the same. The only difference would have been in the vocal inflection or in the motioning of Jesus' hand. Both of which are lost to us.
The church which Jesus described is invincible, built like a fortress on solid rock. Peter was promised the keys to this awesome place, keys that would permit others to enter it's walls. Keys denote authority and ownership, in this case to "bind and loose." Whatever was bound or unbound on earth will remain in that condition and be confirmed in heaven.
Something about this interpretation sounds a bit odd. Jesus knew human nature so well, it doesn't seem likely he would want any of us to have the power to dominate and determine who gets into his church and who is excluded. Peter may have been feeling very tall and strong, and thrilled at the prospect of holding those keys, but he was about to be plummeted into chaos. In the verses that follow we discover the pathway into the kingdom of heaven was not paved with the arrogance of power, presumption and self-righteousness, but with the humility of suffering, rejection and self-surrender!
Matthew alone recorded these words of Jesus to Peter, and oh the havoc they have caused. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Peter's leadership was the sure foundation upon which Jesus built his church. All the popes since then are successors to Peter and hold the symbolic keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power to "bind and loose". Many Protestant churches minimize the role of Peter and say the keys to the kingdom are in the hands of all who believe Jesus to be the Son of the living God, and that everyone can become, like Peter, a living stone.
These words, when read side by side with the passage from the Old Testament prophet, present interesting similarities. Evidently those charged with the leadership of God's people to whom Isaiah spoke, were not doing their job. So God decided on another course. Taking away their responsibilities, God gave it instead to new blood.
On a road outside a city with the mighty powerful name of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus planted a new vision in the hearts of those humble souls who believed in him. Here among his rag-tag band of twelve disciples, and with no heavenly host to echo the refrain, Jesus made the amazing announcement. God is doing a new thing. Jesus the Christ will build his church and the faithful witness of these disciples would be the foundation and hold the keys to its endurance. Because, like a peg in a secure place, they were fastened to the Rock. And the gates of hell could not prevail against them.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: How many keys do you normally carry with you?
Think about the power of your name. What do you like or dislike about your name? Is there anything about your name which gives you a sense of strength? If you are not pleased with your name, what would you like to be called?Is there any attribute you admire which could be worked into a name for you?
The idea of meeting Saint Peter at heaven's gate is a familiar and popular concept. Do you expect to meet Peter at the doorway to heaven? Will he be the one to determine whether you get in or not?
Explore some ideas for a good faith statement that could provide a solid base for your congregation? And for your life or the group you are a part of?
The church of Jesus the Christ has many branches with differing theologies. What have you been taught to believe about the following questions: What is the rock and foundation of Christ's church? Was it Peter, his confession of faith, or Jesus himself? Were the keys to the kingdom of heaven given just to Peter or to Peter on behalf of the other disciples? Who actually built "the church"?Has your answer to any of these questions changed throughout your lifetime?
Discuss the idea of God doing a new thing when the old is no longer working,in your own life and in the church universal. Cite something new which God has done? Or that you have done through faith in Jesus, the son of the living God?
Name some reformation movements that made history. Why are reforms necessary from time to time? Is there a difference between a reformation movement and what Jesus was announcing to his disciples in this passage?
How about your local congregation, have there been times of "out with the old and in with the new"? If so, describe what that was like?
Could it be that Peter, by believing in Jesus, also helped Jesus grow into his name, which was a form of Joshua and means "to save"? What do you think?