Theme: Building upon Christ
This week’s lessons show from Peter’s confession the need for personal faith and commitment to Christ, who alone is the foundation of the church’s belief and practice.
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
Now if we have any doubts about Peter at this point and think, nevertheless, that perhaps he is the rock, they should be disabused by Peter’s conduct. If Peter’s the rock we’re in trouble, since immediately after this Peter objected to something of central importance Jesus said. Jesus went on to say that he had to suffer and die and be killed and that on the third day he would rise again. Peter no doubt was very inflated at this point by Jesus’ commendation of him as one who had received a special truth from God. And we’re told that he drew Jesus aside and proceeded to rebuke him about the crucifixion. Jesus had just told Peter that God had revealed to Peter the true identity of Jesus, that he is the Messiah. For Peter, the Messiah would not be killed, but would be victorious in driving out the Romans.
Jesus wasn’t even gentle with Peter, because Jesus understood it wasn’t just the folly of Peter that was involved. It was actually a trap laid for him by Satan. Jesus recognized that it was the voice of Satan trying to turn him from the cross. This is why Jesus so sharply rebuked Peter by saying, “Be gone, Satan! Out of my sight. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have the mind of God, but, rather, you are minding the things of man.” In order for Jesus to build his church it is absolutely essential that he die. I find it interesting that at this point Jesus carries on with his teaching, and what he talks about is discipleship for those who would follow him. Jesus said that if anyone would come after him and therefore be a part of his church that he is building, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus.
Peter was doing anything but that. Peter was saying, “Hey, Lord, we’ve got a good thing going here. We don’t want to lose you. We want to keep you. And we don’t want to lose our lives. We want to keep our lives.” We know later on in the Gospel what they were thinking. They were thinking that Jesus was going to establish the kingdom of David, reign upon his throne, and that they were going to reign with him. As a matter of fact, later on just before the crucifixion, they’re fighting over it. They want to know which is going to sit at this right hand and which is going to sit at his left, and which one was going to be number eleven, which one’s going to be number twelve, and so forth. That’s what they’re thinking. They were doing anything but denying themselves. They did not understand that the glory of Christ’s kingdom could only come through the cross and that they needed to deny themselves and follow Jesus.
One thing that is wrong with the church today is that we’re trying to build kingdoms in which we rise to positions of authority and power and riches, instead of doing what Jesus said, which is to deny ourselves. That is the hardest thing on earth to do. Everything in you works against it. Everything in me works against it. And we know this because of how often are we offended by something, whether it be something somebody says or some disappointment in life. The reason we’re offended is because it means self-denial, and we don’t want it. We want success. We want to be number one. We want people to serve us. Jesus says that’s not discipleship. That’s not following him. That’s not how his church thinks and behaves. His church is composed of people who deny themselves and who take up their cross daily and follow him.
That’s what Jesus wants of you. If you say, “Well, I would rather build my life upon myself and I rather wish that Jesus would build his church upon me,” you’re clearly not denying yourself. What you’re really asking is that Jesus put his church upon a most unstable foundation. You know a little later on here Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny him. And Peter confidently boasted that while others might he never would—even to death. But of course he did. And you see if you and I are trying to build our lives upon ourselves, that is exactly what we’re doing. We’re building it upon a foundation which is utterly inadequate, and which will let us down in the end. You think other people let you down? Of course they do. If other people let you down, you will let yourself down because you are just like other people. You’re no different. You’re no better. And the only way you can build a life that will last is by denying yourself. What would be wiser than taking up the cross and following Jesus Christ in order that you might build upon him?
This chapter really ends with the fact that Jesus is the rock and we need to build our lives and our churches upon him. As some of our great hymns have expressed it:
On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself thee;
O safe to the Rock that is higher than I
my soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly;
so sinful, so weary, thine, thine would I be;
thou blest Rock of Ages, I’m hiding in Thee.
Don’t hide in yourself. Don’t hide in philosophy. Don’t hide in your education. Don’t hide in wealth. Don’t hide in someone else’s esteem. Hide in Jesus Christ, and build you life upon him.
After Peter’s confession, what happened next in the story? What was Peter still failing to understand?
What is the connection between what Jesus teaches about discipleship and his earlier teaching about himself as the foundation of the church and his need to be crucified?
Reflection: Are there ways in which the church as a whole needs to better practice the doctrine of self-denial?
Application: Do you find yourself at times concerned about how you can construct your own personal kingdom, at the expense of self-denial and true service of God and others around you?