Matthew 16:13-20

24 August 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


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, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 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. 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. 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.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.




The problem with popular opinion

Is that it isn’t always right.

We live in a society that honors and respects democracy;

Yet, at the same time, we know,

Based on our experience,

That the majority does not always do

The right thing.

History is filled with groups of people,

Reveling in the majority,

Oppressing others

Because of gender, orientation, disability, race, or belief.

Thankfully, many times majority rule is right.

Sadly, sometimes majority rule results in a lynch mob.


At the other end of the spectrum

We have, quite appropriately,

come to fear the rule of a single leader.

We don’t have a king;

We don’t have a general or a chief.

We have seen the iron hand

of dictators, despots, and blood-thirsty two-bit chairmen of the party.

We have seen, or are currently observing,

Leaders slaughtering their people,

ruling with an iron fist,

and taking all the money.

It is right to fear one in who so much power is invested.


Social organization is balanced somewhere in between.

In spite of all that is wrong with our social organization today,

There is a lot more that is right.

Our system of checks and balances assures term limits,

appeal to a higher court,

and the protection of life and liberty for all.


I find it interesting that

Today Jesus asks what is the majority, popular opinion:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Some hear one thing.

Others hear something altogether different.

John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah:

there just isn’t consensus.

Not only is popular opinion not always right,

Many times, as in the case of the disciples today,

It doesn’t provide any clear answer, direction, or connection with the facts.

Instead of clarity,

The popular opinion about Jesus’ identity

Only brings confusion.


Sounds like today, doesn’t it?


Notice also, quietly hidden here,

Jesus, like a good teacher, is hiding the answer in the test questions.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

is followed by

“But who do YOU say that I AM?”

Son of Man = I am.

What? What? What?

They had never heard that before.

What the text doesn’t record

Is the quite possibly long, awkward pause

While the disciples are thinking this through

Questioning themselves whether or not to put themselves out there

by being the first to offer up an answer.



I can imagine the scene

As if it were cast in a Mel Brooks movie:

As the camera pans, all eyes and looks would turn

Towards Peter;

The unofficial and often over-enthusiastic leader of the disciples.

Silence and peer pressure would conspire to the point of inevitability:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

He blurts out.



There you have it:

Popular opinion has been transformed into a singular fact.

Peter boldly expresses his Credo;

This is what I believe.

Popular opinion sways or confirms his suspicion.

And he nails it on the first attempt.


Or does he?


Peter doesn’t give the answer Jesus supplied:

He didn’t say he was the Son of Man.

He says he is the Messiah.

In his mind,

Messiah was the one expected

To be sent by God to kick out Rome using military might,

Restore and cleanse the Temple of its corruption,

And establish the Kingdom of Israel just like it was a thousand years earlier under King David.


there hasn’t been one bit of evidence

To cause Peter to believe Jesus was going to lead a violent overthrow of society.


there is a strata of truth woven into Peter’s answer:

Jesus is sent by God.

Jesus is the Son of the living God.


Jesus the teacher / rabbi is making some progress,

At least with one student.


That progress is rewarded with an enthusiastic blessing.

In the Gospel of Matthew,

Blessing is a unique and major theme;

Found in the Sermon on the Mount

And repeated at key points throughout Jesus’ journey.

Blessing grounds the message of God’s kingdom

And serves as a call for personal righteousness.

Here, Jesus blesses Peter,

“Simon son of Jonah.”

Identity is met with identity.

Peter’s Credo

Isn’t the result of Papal encyclical.

It isn’t the vote of the United Methodist General Conference.

It isn’t a statement by committee that has been reduced by debate

to a meaningless least-common denominator.

Peter’s personal statement of belief,

His Credo,

Rooted and grounded in the identity of Jesus

Results in divine blessing.


“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is Peter’s Credo.

What’s yours?


Leave your excuses at the door.

I don’t want to hear them.

“I’ve never been to seminary.”


“I don’t know the Bible well enough.”


“I want my religion to help me be good, but I don’t want to become too religious.”

Come on. Are you really afraid of becoming a Jesus freak?


I can give you a second example, my own,

But the rest will be left up to you:

I believe Jesus is the one and only all powerful and loving God.

I believe Jesus is always present and relating to humankind through his Spirit.

I believe the Bible and the Sacraments inform my faith and draw me closer as His disciple.

That’s my Credo.

What’s yours?


When I say, “The rest is up to you,” do not despair.

When Jesus extends his blessing to Peter, he quickly follows with,

“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Your Credo isn’t found in a seminary or graduate school.

It isn’t found in Sunday school or Bible study.

It doesn’t come from me, your pastor.

I’m flesh and blood.

Your Credo,

Your statement of believe

Comes from your dialogue with God.

You inform God,

And God blesses and affirms your belief.

Your belief comes from God in heaven.


It would be nice to imagine what the world would be like

If we could have a do over:

Start the Church from scratch,

As if there was no history or tradition, doctrine or creed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could steer the ship?

It is actually quite a relief that we don’t have to.

Jesus made Peter the Rock,

The foundation stone for the Church,

And allowed everything to be built upon him.

Some wrong turns? Absolutely.

Some missteps? Without a doubt.

Some violations of trust and grabs for power? Yep.

But know this,

As the Church unfolds

As the world is transformed

It is according to God’s greater plan

And it is rooted in the Credo,

This identity of Jesus.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”


That’s Peter’s Credo.

You’ve heard my Credo.

What’s yours?

Your assignment this week,

If you choose to accept it,

Is to sit down with a notepad and pencil

And begin with writing “I believe.”

Then make a list of your beliefs.

Start from the beginning

And end with the end:

Creation to Heaven.

List one thing about God,

Three things about Jesus,

And one thing about the Holy Spirit.

If you want to get fancy,

List your belief about the Bible

And the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

Don’t push too hard.

Keep it simple,

Like Peter:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”