The Confession of Saint Peter (1/18/2009)

Lessons:    Acts 4:8-13     Psalm 18:1-6, 16-19     1st Corinthians 10:1-5     St. Matthew 16:13-19

Prayer of the Day:     Almighty God, you inspired Simon Peter to confess Jesus as the Messiah and Son of the living God. Keep your church firm on the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth and follow one Lord, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 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."

St. Matthew 16:13-19 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

January 18 is the day set aside each year to honor and to remember Simon Peter, one of the disciples who was among Jesus' closest followers. This week's story about Peter shows him at his best - and helps us to understand a bit better what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In this passage, Jesus is speaking with his disciples. He is asking them about what they have heard from the crowds. He leads them to believe that he is curious about what others think of him. So they offer him a number of responses, indicating that people are having trouble understanding who Jesus is, and what his mission is all about.

But in this instance, Jesus really isn't all that interested in the crowds. He is more interested in those who sit there with him (a not-uncommon focus of his). So he turns to them and asks, "But who do you say that I am?" What the disciples understand about the crowds really doesn't mean much. What they understand about Jesus means everything.

Simon Peter speaks first, as usual. "You are the Messiah," he says, "The son of the living God." Jesus commends him for this confession, and then, giving him a new reason for his nickname (Peter, which translated from Greek to English means rock), he says: "On this Peter - on this rock - I will build my church." This Confession of Saint Peter will serve him well for years to come. His understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God, will be at the heart of his message. It will also be at the heart of the church's proclamation, and part of the reason the early church grew so much. They came to believe, as Peter did, that Jesus was no ordinary Jewish rabbi. Instead, he was nothing less than the long-awaited Messiah; sent by God, and bringing them God's gifts of salvation and new life.

What would happen if we were to take a survey today? What do people believe about Jesus in our time? Odds are we would find as many varied answers now as there were in Peter's day. Some see Jesus as the ultimate in self-help influences (believe in him, and you will experience success after success). Some see Jesus as a hedge against the pain and misfortune of this world (believe in him, and you will be protected against anything that can hurt you). Some see Jesus as just another first century teacher (wise, perhaps even spiritual, but deluded in his belief that he was God).

We who are fortunate to be heirs of the confession of Saint Peter know otherwise. We know that Jesus is the very presence of God in our midst. We know that Jesus is the one whose death and resurrection put us right with God and give us the promise of eternal peace. We know that Jesus is our source of hope, as we consider the grace that God gives to us. We know that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God.

Peter found a way to give words to what he believed to be true about Jesus. How is it that we speak of Jesus? How is it that we speak of our faith? How is it that we speak of God? "Messiah, the son of the living God" may not be the phrase that rolls off our tongues, and best fits our understanding of and relationship with Jesus. But as we find an authentic way to put words to what Jesus means to us today we, like Peter, develop the capacity to share our faith with others in a way that is credible and compelling.

So who do you say that Jesus is? What does Jesus mean to you? How does your faith make a positive difference in your life? What do you appreciate most about your relationship with God? As we find simple, genuine answers to these questions, we develop the ability to be evangelists - messengers with a word of good news for those who trust us and listen to us.

This weekend we celebrate the confession of faith that Simon Peter, the simple Galilean fisherman, made when he and Jesus were traveling through Caesarea Philippi. It is a remarkable confession - one that Peter himself certainly could not have fully understood in the moment he uttered it; one that he could not have made on his own. But it was a confession that was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and which would become the central proclamation of the church for years to come: Jesus is among us as the Messiah, the son of the living God, the one whose death and resurrection give hope and joy to all who believe.

May we also be stirred by the Holy Spirit, and empowered to make a witness to our faith. And through us, may others come to see the good news that is Jesus Christ. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • What were the crowds saying about Jesus?
  • What did Peter have to say about him?
  • How did Peter's understanding of Jesus give strength to the message of the early church?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • What are some common understandings (or misunderstandings) I have heard about Jesus?
  • How do I understand him, and my faith in him?
  • Who, in my life, might benefit from seeing what I believe about Jesus?