The Rock of Faith / Matthew 16:13–20 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 23rd 2020 / Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday August 23rd 2020: Season of Pentecost / Matthew 16:13–20 "The Rock of Faith"
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. Stones do not move on their own: They require an earthquake, a rushing river, or a hand. They can be loaded on donkeys and trucks, or boats and even airplanes but on their own they can do nothing. They do not form themselves into anything, they do not assemble themselves into fine buildings or cathedrals, they do not smooth their rough edges, they do not polish themselves and they do not carve or hue themselves into sculptures. The famous Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, who sculpted his Statue of David out of a 20-foot slab of Carrara marble once said "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." In a similar statement he is said to have commented, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." Michelangelo is but a man, and as accomplished as he was he only grasped at the equivalent of pebble of the truth of what the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God monolithically understood from before the beginning.
In our Old testament Reading we hear this, “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; for he was but one when I called him [says the Lord], that I might bless him and multiply him.” They were being asked to look to Abraham not because of something Abraham did but because of what the LORD first did for Abraham. God chose Abraham and from Father Abraham came many sons over the years, all this was not Abraham’s work but the work of the LORD chipping, and carving and quarrying, smoothing and moving. But a heap of stones is no building, what does Saint Peter say? “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
This is from the mature Saint Peter who has been threaded through the needle of three years with Christ Jesus as Jesus’ student, through the narrow eye of the needle of Good Friday where Christ Jesus was indeed laid as the cornerstone in Zion at Jerusalem forever at The Crucifixion, thorough the eye of the needle of the Easter Morning Empty Tomb that narrow chamber of death which could not hold Jesus, through the even smaller eye of the needle found in the nail wounds - those crimson trophies - displayed in the resurrected Christ Jesus’ hands and feet. This mature Saint Peter knows who The Living Stone rejected by men is. It is Jesus who says of Himself, “Fear not, I Am The First and The Last, and The Living One. I died, and behold I Am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The Resurrected Jesus is The Living One, the rejected yet precious Living Stone in whom you have your life.
Abraham’s faith was built on this Living Stone, built on Jesus and sons of Abraham, the children of Abraham, are not simply the product of Abraham’s bloodline through time as many where grafted in and broken off of that family tree, counted as chips of the bloc by faith not by blood, this is why Saint Paul says that Abraham’s faith was counted to him, credited to him as righteousness.
A stone of its own accord has no life, no faith; it only has what has been given to it. Abram was lifted up and set on Christ Jesus The Cornerstone and renamed Abraham, Abram becomes Abraham. And all those with faith have likewise been plucked up, quarried out, dug up and set upon this same Cornerstone. Did you catch how Abraham’s faith was credited to him, counted to him? And what is credit? “It is the ability of a customer to obtain goods or services before payment, based on the trust that payment will be made in the future.” But Abraham is not the one who pays back what the credit obtained: Christ Jesus is the one who makes the payment. The mature Saint Peter teaches us this when he writes, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” We dead stones where made alive not by the blood of Abraham but by the Blood of Christ Jesus not by our will, or work or groundless faith but by the will of the Lord, the work of the Lord, the firmly grounded faith of the Lord credited to us just as it was credited to Abraham a true gift of grace, a work of mercy: one that we cannot pay back.
Dear ones think on this when you contemplate our Gospel reading today. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And it is the not yet mature in his faith Peter who says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered this Peter, this younger Peter, who has not yet seen everything he was going to see or experienced everything he was going to experience, “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.” As is the case with Abraham, the rock is not the man, the rock is the faith and this rock is not a new rock it is the same rock of faith that Isaiah speaks of in our Old Testament reading, “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.” The rock of faith in The LORD, the rock of faith in the promises of God, Abraham’s faith was in the coming Christ even if he could not see Jesus perfectly from where he was situated in time, so too Peter’s faith was in Christ Jesus even if he in our Gospel reading couldn’t yet see the impact of the coming crucifixion and the true nature of The Cornerstone laid there for himself and for Abraham and for you and I.
We must be careful to remember that our place in the house built with living stones is not cemented in place by the blood of our family but by the Blood of Christ Jesus The Living Stone. The Jewish people at the time of the Gospels had lost sight of this. Remember what John the Baptizer said as he prepared the way of The Lord? “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Again does the stone raise himself up? No it is God who does. And years later as Jesus was drawing near Zion, near Jerusalem—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” [And Jesus] answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” The Promise of Scripture has been and continues to be this: God says to you, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a Cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
Every time Peter fell down, Jesus picked him back up: Every time. Every time you fall down Christ Jesus is there to pick you back up. In the end Peter was not put to shame but was restored. The forgiveness that Peter received for his denial of Christ and for all the times he fell into sin that same forgiveness is yours. Remember stones cannot pick themselves up, they cannot dust themselves off, they cannot set themselves into the house; they do not restore themselves. It is the Hand of God that reaches down into the dirt and mud and fishes you out and cleans you off and credits it all to you as faith, gives it to you as a gift that you cannot repay but is paid for by His Son Jesus. Look past Saint Peter, look past Father Abraham to the true Rock of Your Salvation, the Rock of Ages cleft for you at the cross, He - this Jesus - is the foundation of their faith and yours, of this Lord and God you can say with the Psalmist, “You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake You lead me and guide me;”
Jesus’ church is built on no man but Christ Jesus Himself and because He is the Foundation and Cornerstone the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. All other ground is sinking sand, if a church is built on something or someone other than Christ Jesus it will not prevail, it shall come to ruin. To the Church that is built on the Rock of Christ Jesus, Jesus promises, “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, our Gospel reading today concludes saying that Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. We have no strict charge in fact for us it is quite the opposite; we living stones with our life in Him cry out to all The World that this Jesus is the Rock of Our Salvation. He commands us to do so. We cannot keep silent. For what was a first hidden away in the days of Abraham and yet not fully known in the early days of Saint Peter is now visible to all who pursue righteousness by the grace of God. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to Peter that day when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” nor did flesh and blood reveal it to Abraham when the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” For both Peter and Abraham on those days it was The Father in heaven who imparted this gift of faith. Peter had the good fortune of seeing it come to pass in his lifetime and so his faith was confirmed by the resurrected Jesus.
For us, we have something in common with Abraham even though he lived over 4,000 years ago in that we have not seen Jesus in the flesh with our own two eyes as Peter did, but we likewise have something in common with Peter that sets us apart from Abraham in that we know the whole story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension; this was available to Saint Peter by virtue of him being an eyewitness around 2,000 years ago and to us today in the record of Holy Scripture so while “we walk by faith, not by sight,” we yet share the same faith with Abraham and Peter longing for the day of Jesus’ return when we will see Him face to Face: We, by the Word of God, by Holy Baptism, are hewn, quarried and dug up out of the same Rock of Faith as they were. God has looked at that slab of stone and in it from before the foundations of all that was made He has seen what was there in ever age and in these many long years by His Almighty Hand, by His Spirit, He has been bringing us out, creating for Himself a house of living stones built for His own habitation, a holy temple in the Lord with Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. You dear one are a part of it, a living stone, no longer dead but now made alive in Christ Jesus; handpicked by God, prepared and set into this Holy House a Living House of living stones.
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.
 Isaiah 51:1–2
 1 Peter 2:4–6
 Revelation 1:17–18
 Galatians 3:6–7
 1 Peter 1:18–19
 Matthew 16:13
 Matthew 16:16–18
 Matthew 3:7–9
 Luke 19:37–40
 Psalm 31:3
 Genesis 12:1–3
 2 Corinthians 5:7
 Job 19:26-27
 Ephesians 2:20–22