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Rocks, keys and identity

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

A sermon at Grafton Cathedral by the Revd Camellia Flanagan, TSSF

23 August 2020 (Pentecost 12A) Readings: Exodus1:8-2:10 & Psalm 124; Matthew16:13-20

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen

Jesus and the disciples were in the area of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had left Magadan, crossed the lake and landed in Bethsaida. There he healed a man who had been born blind. Then he and his disciples went to Caesarea Philippi several miles north of the sea of Galilee in the territory ruled by Philip. It was at the south western base of Mount Hermon, near a spring, a grotto and many shrines. The influence and culture of Greek and Roman pagan temples and idols was everywhere. When Philip became Ruler, he rebuilt and renamed the city after the emperor Caesar and himself. The city was originally called Caesarea, the same name as the capital city of Philip’s brother Herod. Among so many “Gods” this was a place to easily provoke a discussion of who Jesus was. Were they sitting in the shadow of the huge outcrop of rock and the grotto, with its many temples to pagan Gods, enjoying the lush greenery beside the water as it flowed from the spring to form a stream? Were they discussing the reports as they mentally scrolled through the likes and comments they had heard about Jesus? OR, Was Jesus having an identity crisis?

“Who do people say I am?” To the disciples who were looking for God’s apocalyptic intervention in history, Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man, who called God, “my Father.”

The disciples answered Jesus’ question with the common view – that Jesus was one of the great prophets come back to life.

This belief may have come from study of Deuteronomy (18:18) which points to the coming of other prophets from among the people; like Moses when God said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people. I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Then with Elijah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, it was easy to see how the people thought Jesus to be another prophet like those of the past.

The wisdom light of the holy Spirit enabled Peter in humility to recognise Jesus as the Son of God. He boldly confessed Jesus as divine and as the long-awaited Messiah

Jesus had obviously been considering Peter’s identity also. Peter, this disciple who spoke without thinking, was brash and impulsive, denied Christ at a most critical time to save his own skin, and found it hard to treat Gentile Christians as equals. Jesus gives this most un-rock like character a rocky name which would be the instigation of a change in Peter’s life. He learned that enthusiasm needed to be backed up by faith and understanding or it would fail. He understood that God’s faithfulness can compensate for a person’s unfaithfulness and that it was better to be a follower who fails, than one who fails to follow.

The rock on which Jesus would build his church has been identified in various ways. Jesus himself is the rock of salvation by his work on the cross.

Peter, the first great leader in the church at Jerusalem is referred to as the rock.

With the confession of faith that Peter gave and that all subsequent true believers would give, it seems most likely that the rock refers to Peter as the leader of the church for his function, not necessarily his character. Just as Peter revealed the true identity of Christ so Jesus revealed Peter’s identity and role. Peter later reminds Christians that they are the church built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6) (Ephesians 2: 20,21)

All believers are joined into this church by faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. The same faith that Peter expressed when Jesus asked, “ Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus praised Peter for his faith, and it is faith like Peter’s that is the foundation of Christ’s kingdom.

Jesus said, “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”.

Ever since these words have been written they have been the subject of debate for centuries. Some say the keys represent the authority to carry out church discipline, legislation and administration, while others say the keys give the authority to announce the forgiveness of sins. (John 20:23) Still others say the keys may be the opportunity to bring people to the kingdom of heaven by presenting them with the message of salvation found in God’s Word (Acts 15:7-9)

The religious leaders of the day thought they held the keys of the kingdom and they tried to shut some people out.

We cannot decide to open or close the kingdom of heaven for others, but God can use us to help others find the way in. To all who believe in Christ and obey his words, the kingdom is wide open.

Jesus warned the disciples not to publicize Peter’s confession because they did not yet fully understand the kind of Messiah Jesus had come to be. Many expected a military leader, but they needed time to understand that Jesus had a different mission as an obedient Son of the God who loved.

It is clear that the apostle Mark was sure that Jesus is the Son of God. And how did he learn this? It was Jesus himself who revealed himself as the Son of God and the disciples with the help of God came to believe it. Jesus is the source of his identity, the disciples, and through them those who wrote the Gospels, have it directly from Jesus. And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead validated his self-revelation. In human terms in order to become known to another, we take the risk of loving that person and in the risk of self disclosure a more powerful intimacy and more profound quality of devotion is revealed. Jesus loved to be known. Jesus made himself known – like a hidden treasure, he became known in the breaking of the bread. He loved in order to be known.

Who, then, is this Jesus? The evidence is clear.

Who do you say he is?


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