St. Peter the Apostle (tr.), 2019

For The Epistle – Acts 12:1-11

The Gospel – St. Matthew 16:13-19

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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We have transferred the feast of St. Peter, which fell on the calendar yesterday… and we have made it a major part of our worship today.

 

Our color is red, signifying we are commemorating a saint that has been martyred.

 

From our best sources, it has been the tradition of the Church that Peter was martyred around 64AD by the emperor Nero.

 

Peter was among the first to follow Jesus. Along with James and John he was part of Jesus’ ‘inner circle’. Even within this select group of men, Peter seems to have a place of leadership or prominence.

 

He is regularly depicted as a kind of spokesman for the 12 Apostles. In Mark and in Matthew, Peter speaks up telling Jesus,

 

“See, we have left everything and followed you.” (ESV)

 

Luke reports him saying, “Luke 12:41–42

“Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” (ESV)

 

Peter is the primary character in the first half or so…15 chapters of the Book of Acts.

 

Peter’s death by crucifixion in Rome took place during the reign of Nero and that can be… biblical scholars would say, .. securely established with a very high historical probability.

 

He is said to have requested that he be crucified upside down. ..stating that he was not worthy to even die in the same manner as his master Jesus Christ.

 

And as we do with all of the saints of God…both highly prominent and those of lesser prominence, we look to see in what way God worked in them.

 

We certainly admire them, but for what God wrought in them.

We certainly hold them in high esteem, but for what God called them to do.

We certainly even call them blessed, for indeed they were, as instruments in the hands of God, to accomplish what He wanted accomplished through them.

 

Mary is the greatest example of being highly favored by God. All generations down to ours still call her ‘blessed’ as she herself prophesied.

 

But in every case, they were also human beings like us and in need of a savior.

 

And as we hear today after Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus says, “Matthew 16:17

 

[17] “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)

So, we bring St. Peter to the forefront today to see that his true and accurate confession of who Jesus, is was revealed to him by God. 

 

We also, in the Lesson from Acts today hear of his miraculous escape from prison on one occasion.

 

Bound in chains and lying between two soldiers, with others at the door and elsewhere, the ability to perceive Peter’s movements are temporarily suspended in order for the angel to get Peter to safety.

 

This is the level of the miraculous that God operated through the Apostles in that age.

 

Other acts of Peter are told throughout the earlier chapters of Acts.

Raising the dead. Preaching powerfully and getting massive numbers of converts.

 

But all because the power of God was working in and through Peter.

 

So again, our gaze is to be upon God and His mighty works in the Apostles and Disciples of Jesus as we bring certain saints to mind.

 

Our Gospel lesson today has a lot to teach us.

Jesus and His Disciples arrive in Caesarea Philipi. This is gentile territory. Jesus poses a question to the group.

 

Matthew 16:13

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

 

First, what is this question?  Jesus calls himself the Son of Man…not the Son of God here. In fact it’s Jesus’ favorite designation of Himself. He uses this term more than any other about Himself.

 

The term son of man is found in Daniel most significantly and it is prophesying there to Christ as coming to God the Father to receive authority. So applying this term to Himself was quite audacious… though accurate.

 

This son of man figure that Jesus reaches back and applies to Himself is the representative of God and man… and is made in God’s image and receives kingdom-level authority….as we know Jesus did. He received all power and authority from the Father for His obedience to the Father.

 

So, the question Jesus asks is who do people say that I am?  Not the Pharisees…and other hostiles. I know what they are saying.

 

What are the average folks saying? 

 

And they begin to answer Him. Well, some say you are “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (ESV)

 

Notice they all list prophets. John, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets…

 

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (ESV)

 

Who do you say that I am?  You have been with me for some time now. What are you thinking?

 

And Peter gives his answer. The best and most accurate answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

Of course, Jesus was well aware of what people were saying about Him, both good and bad…accurate and inaccurate.

 

But by questioning them like this, Jesus is trying to bring out of them a conviction. Peter moves to make the confession.

 

He asked them all the question. Only Peter answered correctly.

 

 

Cyril of Alexandria (375-444): “…in calling him Son of the living God, Peter indicates that Christ himself is life and that death has no authority over him. And even if the flesh, for a short while, was weak and died, nevertheless it rose again, since the Word, who indwelled it, could not be held under the bonds of death.” Fragment 190.[1]

 

Calvin – “…[Peter] was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in his flesh. When the attribute living is ascribed to God, it is for the purpose of distinguishing between Him and dead idols, who are nothing.[2]

 

Christ demonstrated the “livingness” of God over the deadness of idols because He is the very example of living. He was alive with the Apostles. He was alive after death. He is alive now.

 

And then we have this interesting response by Jesus to Peter’s confession.

 

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [18] 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. [19] 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.” (ESV)

 

Simon was Peter’s real name.

Bar-Jonah means son of Jonah. So, Peter was Peter or Simon bar-Jonah. Simon the son of Jonah.

 

Listen again to more of the earliest of Church Fathers on this statement of Jesus to Peter.

 

Theodore of Mopsuestia (Southern Turkey) (350-428): This is not the property of Peter alone, but it came about on behalf of every human being. Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church. This means he will build his church upon this same confession and faith… that in the church would be the key of the kingdom of heaven. If anyone holds the key to this, to the church, in the same way he will also hold it for all heavenly things. He who is counted as belonging to the church and is recognized as its member is a partaker and an inheritor of heaven. He who is a stranger to it, whatever his status may be, will have no communion in heavenly things.” Fragment 92.[3]

 

Epiphanius the Latin (5th century): For Christ is a rock which is never disturbed or worn away. Therefore Peter gladly received his name from Christ to signify the established and unshaken faith of the church.… The devil is the gateway of death who always hastens to stir up against the holy church calamities and temptations and persecutions. But the faith of the apostle, which was founded upon the rock of Christ, abides always unconquered and unshaken. And the very keys of the kingdom of the heavens have been handed down so that one whom he has bound on earth has been bound in heaven, and one whom he has set free on earth he has also set free in heaven. Interpretation of the Gospels 28.[4]

 

St. Chrysostom - "[When Christ was asked: 'Who do people say that I am?] What, then, does the mouth of the apostles, Peter, everywhere fervent, the leader of the choir of the apostles? All are asked, and he replies. When Christ asked what were the opinions of the people, all answered; but when He asked for their own, Peter leaps forward, and is the first to speak: 'Thou art the Christ.' And what does Christ answer? 'Blessed art thou,' etc....Why, then, said Christ: 'Thou art Simon, son of Jonah, …And I say to thee: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, that is upon the faith of this confession.”

 

Now, none of these take away anything from Peter either. He certainly seems to be, again, a leader of the Apostles. Chrysosotom calls him the mouthpiece of the Apostles.

 

So when Jesus replies you can see this as Jesus replying to Peter as to all of them…you are correct. Your confession of who I am is correct.

 

Much time is spent by our Lord on Peter. He fell the hardest at the crucifixion, swearing he would go to his death for Jesus and then in a short time, denies having any association with him.

 

But as we see later on, Peter is restored in three-fold manner.

 

 

For as Peter denied Jesus three times, we later see Jesus tell Peter three times, feed my lambs, tend by sheep, feed my sheep. Peter features prominently at other times as well in the Gospels.

 

All of this certainly points us to his prominence at the very least. He is certainly a foundational figure. He is certainly a rock of sorts.  

 

This sort of language is found in the Old Testament as well, referring to Abraham….who, as we all know, is also a foundational rock-like figure.

 

Isaiah 51:1–2

            [1] “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.

            [2] Look to Abraham your father

                        and to Sarah who bore you;

            for he was but one when I called him,

                        that I might bless him and multiply him. (ESV)

 

And later on, St. Paul would write this, to Christians… “Ephesians 2:19–22

 

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

[22] In him [we] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

 

So again rock, foundation, stone, quarry. Peter certainly, by his confession, was a rock upon which the Church has been built up to this day.

 

This is the man whom God raised up to speak for the common thoughts of the other 11.

 

So, as Christians, we too must have this came confession in our hearts and on our minds. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God.

 

No one can make that profession, however, if God has not first planted that in our hearts and placed it on our lips.

We open the Morning Office during Trinity Season with, “Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. …my Rock and my Redeemer.  

 

So let us, with Peter, be bold in confessing Christ as Savior and Lord to anyone who asks and anyone who enquires.

 

That is the rock of confession that we all stand on.

 

The Apostles being the foundation. We, being recipients of that confession, but also, being built up into that same building that all Christians are being built into…that God laid the foundation for through the Apostles and Prophets who have gone before us.

 

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to us. It is God, our Father in Heaven who has revealed it to us. 

 

Let us then thank the Lord this day for the Confession and the bravery of St. Peter, Apostle and Martyr.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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[1] Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 45). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 289). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 45–46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.