Sermon from Matthew 16:13-19
Several years ago, I ran for bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida. I was relieved not to win, but during that season when my name was in the running, I met with a leadership consultant named Bobb Beall. He told me something I’ll never forget:
“Leaders struggle in general with the issue of fog. The higher you go up in leadership, the foggier it gets because everything gets more complicated. Chaos is seen for what it is, and the uncertainties of life mount. What people need from leaders is clarity.”Bobb Beall
That stuck with me because I connected with the idea of fog. Fog is something that can be debilitating when it hits us in life, and we are going through an extremely foggy season right now, with partisan politics, the Covid pandemic, the inability for Christians to meet together, and the economic state of uncertainty. It’s hard to know what to do with all of this, but the gospel offers us clarity.
Jesus offers us three aspects of clarity: clarity of our confession, clarity of our identity, and clarity of our calling.
One of the most important questions we can ever answer is “Who is Jesus?” Jesus asked his disciples what the word on the street was about who he was, and the answers were generally positive, but they were pretty scattered. So Jesus challenged the disciples to find clarity on their own belief of who he was, and Peter offered it plainly.
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.” 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.”Matthew 16:13-16
Peter’s confession contains a few important elements. First, Peter said Jesus was the Christ, which affirms that Jesus is the Messiah that had been prophesied. The prophesied Messiah was expected in three different aspects: prophet, priest, and king. By the rest of Peter’s confession, he clarified which aspect of the Messiah he was talking about. By saying “the Son of the living God,” he was proclaiming Jesus to be the prophesied Messianic king – the King of Kings. Jesus affirms this belief and encourages Peter that this knowledge was revealed by God.
When we understand the nature of who Jesus is as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, it clarifies our own understanding of who we are as well. After Peter made this confession of Jesus’ identity, Jesus responded with a declaration of Peter’s identity:
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. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church… “Matthew 16:17-18a
Fully understanding and confessing who Jesus is defined Peter’s own identity – it gave him a new name and a new purpose.
In the book of Exodus, the nation of Israel had sold themselves to slavery because they were desperate for food. When they first went to Egypt, they started out on top, as the family of Joseph, the man who had saved Egypt from famine. However, as the years passed, a new Pharaoh came into power who didn’t know Joseph or care about what he had done in the past. Their status got lower and lower, until finally they were enslaved under an oppressive and cruel tyrant. As a people, the nation of Israel lost their sense of identity. They adopted a slave mentality and a sense of powerlessness.
God sent Israel a deliverer – Moses, who himself had a very confusing identity, as a Hebrew who was raised as an Egyptian. Moses grew up without a real sense of who he was and what he was, and the Israelites also had lost their sense of identity. Throughout the book of Exodus, though, we will see Moses and the people of Israel become stronger in their identity as they get to know Yahweh, their loving creator God, and experience his deliverance. They get stronger and stronger as a people as their understanding of God and their own selves becomes clearer.
In the same way, Jesus has brought about a New Exodus for us, as we today move from confusion to make a clear confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God.” When we make that confession, the confusion about our own identity clears away, and we become the strong children of God we are called to be.
Continuing the story of Peter, Jesus not only gives Peter a new identity, but also a new calling:
“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.”Matthew 16:18-19
The people of God are undergoing a New Exodus, and central to that plan of God to liberate his people is the Church. As we become clear in our confession and clear in our identity, we also become clear in our calling and purpose as the Church. We are engaged in a spiritual battle. Our battle is not political or physical. It is a spiritual battle waged against spiritual enemies with spiritual weapons and spiritual gifts.
Jesus phrased it as giving Peter keys. That’s an interesting analogy because the two basic things you do with keys are to open things and lock or unlock things. Jesus has given us the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” which are spiritual weapons that can unlock spiritual prisons and lock up spiritual enemies. “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against those of us who hold the keys!
Often we think of the Church as being on defense. We are a refuge or fortress against the crazy things that go on in the world outside. This is true about the Church, but there is more to it than that. Jesus is saying that his Church is on offense. They were standing in Caesarea Philippi, in the setting of a pagan site which was known as “the gate of hell.” Standing in that spot on enemy territory, Jesus was giving his disciples a commission to storm the very gates of hell and unseat the spiritual forces and powers of evil in his name. He has given us the very keys that will bind evil forever and loosen the chains of God’s people in this world.
Jesus gave us power through the Holy Spirit and the message of the gospel that will literally unseat Satan from the power of this world, and liberate those who are his captives. All of us who confess faith in Jesus have been given this rock-solid identity and calling. It is not based on gender, race, or politics, but solely on the person of Jesus Christ, for the sake and glory of his name.