Blog / Book of the Month / Simon Bar-Jonah A Son of Faith: Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 16:13-20 / Pastor Ted Giese

Simon Bar-Jonah A Son of Faith: Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 16:13-20 / Pastor Ted Giese

Simon Bar-Jonah A Son of Faith: Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 16:13-20 / Pastor Ted Giese

Simon Bar-Jonah A Son of Faith: Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / August 24th 2014, The 11th Sunday After Pentecost, Matthew 16:13-20.

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.” 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, 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.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew “the Pharisees and Sadducees came [to Jesus], and to test Him they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ (“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”) [Jesus continues speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees saying,] You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So [Jesus] left [the Pharisees and Sadducees] and departed.”[1]

Jesus then sat down and taught His disciples, warning them to be wary of the Pharisees and Sadducees because they seek frivolous external sings and teach a life of appeasing and placating God with their good works and man made rules. Following this they carried on to Caesarea Philippi where our Sunday’s appointed text begins with this question: Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Now this is sort of like a catechism question. For you older people here today, do you remember your public questioning - put on the spot, maybe a little nervous that you'd forget something as you were asked - that clandestine day where you were asked questions about the one true faith and about Scripture? Well this question Jesus asks His disciples is like that - today it might be like asking something like, “When do people say the end of the world will come, and what do they say it’ll be like?” To which you could answer, “Well some say A and some say B and some say C” Then the follow up question would be, “but what do you say about the end of the world?”

The term Son of Man, had been around since the Old Testament (you might remember that in the valley of the dry bones God asks Ezekiel, “Son of man can these bones live,"[2] it was also found in the Old Testament books of Daniel,[3] Jeremiah,[4] Isaiah,[5] in the Psalms,[6] and in Job.[7] The Son of Man was a big topic of speculation throughout the period between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the events of the New Testament. Part of this speculation included questions about the conclusion of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi; Malachi ends like this, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”[8] Some then thought, maybe the promised Son of Man will be Elijah returned from heaven, Elijah who didn't die but who was taken up in the fiery chariot.  

So when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” their answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” is the standard boiler plate answer of the day based on the religious speculations of the day. Some of the people who had been doing the speculation were the Pharisees and Sadducees. The speculations concerning the Son of Man centred around a future event of salvation for the people, this term Son of Man is thought about by the Jewish people in a little bit of a different sort of way as compared to the term Messiah, the Christ, which was seen as being much more political and less connected with the end of time and final judgment. So when the disciples answer Jesus' question with “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” they weren't really answering the question and Jesus wanted them to take it past the regular everyday simple answer that anyone would give in casual conversation and really answer it.

Now this coming of the Son of Man was understood to be a sign of the coming end and a sign of the coming great and awful day of the LORD. Keep in mind that the Pharisees and Sadducees had wanted a sign and Jesus had told them that they'd have no sign "except the sign of Jonah" so when Jesus redirects the question about the Son of Man by asking His disciples, “But who do you say that I am” and Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” it's as though Peter is saying, "Some people say the Son of Man is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets, but I (Peter) say that You Jesus, You are the Son of Man!" to which Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven."

And there you have it, even in the English you can hear the play on the words, "sign of Jonah,"[9] "Simon Bar-Jonah,"[10] it's even more obvious in the Greek.[11] So what is the "sign of Jonah?" Four chapter earlier Jesus had explained that the sign of Jonah is this, "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth"[12] Jesus is speaking about His coming crucifixion. That will be the only sign that will be given to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the only evidence given to the evil and adulterous generation that the Son of Man has come.

Jesus calls the man we now know as Peter - "Simon Bar-Jonah," yet in the Gospel of John this same Peter is introduced as Simon son of John.[13] So which is it? Jonah or John? Bar is Hebrew for son - You know the Jewish word Bar from the term Bar Mitzvah, (which is something like our confirmation of baptism - it's the time when a son becomes accountable and responsible for his actions as a man - where he takes the faith into which he was circumcised as his own before the community). When Jesus says to Simon son of John - Bar-Jonah, Jesus is calling him a son of faith. A son of the faith of Jonah. A son with faith like the faith of Jonah.  A son with faith in the past and future (in Peter's case) sign of Jonah, for the crucifixion was yet to happen. We hear the same sort of thing in our Old Testament reading this morning when Isaiah says “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you."[14] Look to the faith of Abraham and Sarah; who with the saints of the Old Testament watched with faithful hearts for the advent of the Christ, for the coming of the Son of Man, for their salvation. Look to their confession of faith. This is a faith that trusts the promises given by the LORD, even when they are hard to have hope in, even when they go against the grain of what is expected, what was observed with the eye.

Saint Paul says "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?"[15] Now this bring us back to the Pharisees and Sadducees, they were good at looking at the things right in front of them, (“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”) but when they had came to Jesus what were they looking for? Were they really looking for something special, a special sign from Jesus, were they only trying to trip Jesus up and make themselves look great? - Regardless of their true intentions Jesus says to them you will get the same sign everyone gets, the sign of Jonah (which is Jesus' way, at that point, of saying you get the sign of My crucifixion and resurrection: the sign of My death and My return from death, My new life, My eternal life) - the same sign everyone gets. No special secret revelation just for you, you don't get to say to God "jump!" and expect God to say back to you "How high would you like Me to jump?" No, you get the sign everyone gets and when the dust settles you will need to make your public confession of faith based on that sign, your hope will be in it, your faith will be in Jesus. For as Peter later says in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[16]

'I have not been so good at keeping the faith, I'm less like Peter and more like the Pharisees and Sadducees: I'm often better at the nuts and bolts of life than I am with faith.' In your baptism remember that you are a son of faith, a child of God and in this way you are like Peter. Remember also that the same Saint Peter who Jesus praises for making this confession of faith, in today's Gospel reading, had his moments of faithlessness (As did Abraham and Sarah and even Jonah) - In fact when told by Jesus of Jesus' coming crucifixion, Matthew's gospel records how, Peter falters and says to Jesus “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”[17] Yet Peter learned to pick up his cross and follow Jesus[18] one painful step at a time, Peter grew in the faith and was forgiven often by Jesus. Jesus forgave Peter seven times seventy times seven times,[19] Jesus forgave Peter every time. Jesus forgave Peter's failures: Jesus will forgive you. Ask and you shall receive it.

If life is like a sailing expedition and the sky is red and dangerous as you raise your sail in the morning, the LORD wants you to put your trust in His promises and sail on, trust that He will bring you through the storm into the safe port at the end of the day. Perhaps you feel lost at sea, perhaps you're bent over the side of the ship chucking up your guts as the waves of life tossed you to and fro, perhaps your sea legs have buckled under you and you've fallen down. Maybe you long for the red sky at night, when the challenge set before you is to trust in the promises of the LORD in the midst of the storms of sin, death, the devil and the world, in the midst of the self made storms in my own heart, in my body, in my mind, in my soul.

Some days you think to yourself, "I am a tempest in a tea cup turned in on myself" and some days, "I feel like a tea cup at the bottom of the sea - lost, chipped and covered in deep darkness."  If this is you remember "[The LORD] made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, [He] keeps faith forever;"[20] Even if you "dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,[21] [the LORD is there]." Where our faith can be weak in the storm Jesus' faith was perfect even in His crucifixion, that storm to end all storms.

Peter's confession of faith in Christ Jesus is a prophecy in and of itself that hits at the heart of what Jesus was going to do, hits at the heart of what the Son of Man is all about: That He will suffer and die, and be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth and when He is risen, that resurrection will be the "rock [upon which Jesus] will build [His] church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Your future resurrection from death is wrapped up in His resurrection that first Easter morning. The waves of the storms of life will wash against that Rock but they will not erode it, they will not wash it away, they will not knock it loose, they will not wash that Rock of your salvation away. They will not wash away Jesus.

Red sky at night, red sky in morning makes no difference, your sign in the sky, your sign in heaven, your sign in life is Christ Jesus. Confess Him in the morning, noon and night, and remember what Jesus says to you about Himself, "Fear not, ... everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.[22] Therefore, let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no,"[23] confess Christ with Saint Peter and trust in the LORD; and in the darkness of the storm trust in His forgiveness, the forgiveness of Jesus for you. Amen.


Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.


[1] Matthew 16:1-4

[2] Ezekiel 37:3

[3] Daniel 7:13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him."

[4] Jeremiah 50:39-40  “Therefore wild beasts shall dwell with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall dwell in her. She shall never again have people, nor be inhabited for all generations. As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbouring cities, declares the LORD, so no man shall dwell there, and no son of man shall sojourn in her."

[5] Isaiah 56:2 "Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

[6] Psalm 8:4  "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"

[7] Job 35:8 "Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man.

[8] Malachi 4:5-6

[9] σημεῖον ιωνᾶ 

[10] σίμων Bαριωνᾶ 

[11] World View Everlasting.

[12] Matthew 12:40

[13] John 1:42 "[Andrew] brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)."

[14] Isaiah 51:1-2

[15] Romans 8:24

[16] Acts 4:12

[17] Matthew 16:22

[18] Matthew 16:24-28

[19] Matthew 18:21-22

[20] Psalm 146:6

[21] Psalm 139:9

[22] Matthew 10:31-33  

[23] James 5:12