Ps. 138; Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33—12:8; Matthew 16:13-20.
Rock, “Listen to me, O ones pursuing righteousness, O ones seeking YHWH! Look confidently to the [solid] rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look confidently to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you, because he was one when I called him, and I blessed him and multiplied him” (vv. 1, 2).
In response to Jesus’ inquiry of his Apostles, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15), Peter for the first time proclaims Jesus “the Christ”; and Jesus in turn dubs him, “Petros”, “Rocky” (v. 18a). Peter’s “petra” or “rock solid” confession (v. 18b) is the church’s Rosetta Stone that finally opened apostolic knowledge of Jesus’ identity in the Resurrection.
Peter’s revelation was of the Father (v. 17), to become the foundation upon which Jesus would build-up the Apostles’ knowledge of the Father and himself (cf. Jn. 17:3); and upon which his NT church would rise in the Resurrection.
That Jesus is “Christ” marks him as Scripture’s rejected “Cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22) and the foundation of apostolic teaching aligned on Jesus’ atoning in the Passion, on the cross, and rising the third day.
Peter’s solid confession follows a warning from Jesus to beware “the leaven” of those who deny him as Israel’s Torah Teacher (Mt. 16:6, 12); the warning is relevant today.
At the time Peter does not fully comprehend Jesus’ office of “Christ”, certainly he and the Apostles have no clue that being “Christ” is intrinsic to being God’s obedient, Suffering Servant; new Israel.
Still Peter’s bold proclamation now permitted Jesus to build-on his Apostles’ imperfect knowledge to become the church’s pillars of right doctrine and teaching in the Resurrection.
The Apostles received high praise from Jesus for their confession; but next Sunday Jesus will castigate them for “leavening”, his word about the necessity of his death and his “glory”.
Insight into Peter’s confession has us attend God’s word by Isaiah, “Listen to me, O ones pursuing righteousness, O ones seeking YHWH! Look confidently to the solid rock, the “petran”, from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.”
Against the specter of death, Abram believed God’s promise; that his offspring would number as the stars in heaven; his faith was counted for righteousness (Gen. 15:5, 6).
YHWH is the Rock, the “petran” from whom Life, righteousness, and salvation issues. Peter witnessed that Jesus is “Son of the Living God”, equating him with YHWH of Abraham’s faith. At age ninety-nine (17:1) Abraham was without the power to generate life, a dead stone; but to whom righteousness and eternal life was credited him by faith. And Sarah out of which God would bring forth their promised son was a stone-dead quarry.
We also are stone-dead in our sins; but by faith we participate with the living Rock of Abraham’s promise. Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ”, vocalized Abraham’s faith that Jesus is the biblical Rock of our salvation. On his witness, Jesus accorded Peter his preaching name, “Petros”.
As Christ, Jesus is the living Stone Jewish “builders” rejected (Mt. 21:42). A crucified Messiah, or a Christ, was offensive both to Jew and Gentile. Anticipating his death and its final significance for his church, Jesus taught our participation in his atonement; source of our Life, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53).
Later Jesus would command his Apostles about this food in the Resurrection, “Take, eat, [of his] body… and drink of [the cup]… for this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:26c, 27b, 28).
To the Jew, Jesus’ teaching violated the law against eating blood (Gen. 9:4-6; Lev. 17:10-12); so early disciples abandoned him as Teacher, for the “leaven” of the synagogue Pharisees and temple Sadducees (Jn. 6:66). To the Greek mentality, the Christian Supper without a Jewish catechism is cannibalistic, only comprehensible as allegory.
Jesus taught himself to be the quarried Rock out of heaven from whose heart Living Water would issue (Jn. 7:38; cf. Num. 20:7-9); and that his Baptism with water and word generates by the Spirit eternal life, “unless one is begotten [from above] from water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5).
This says, faith comes by hearing, and those refusing his unleavened word fail to discern that God has moved off Mt. Sinai, out of Israel’s old temple, and into new Zion’s construction built on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ understood in his crucified flesh for the sin of the world.
New Zion’s Covenant issues from Jesus’ body; from his blood, Spirit, and water; it qualitatively different from Sinai. NT Zion is a sacramental body wherein life is by grace, truth, and faith in Jesus’ word and concreted risen flesh. He is the Rock in whom by Baptism we are joined to his atoning sacrifice for salvation, righteousness, and Life.
To those being saved, we who pursue God’s righteousness and justice do so by faith in his unleavened word. We appropriate and bind to ourselves Jesus’ Righteousness come in word and sacrament for receiving gifts. Jesus crucified and risen is the Rock in whom we have Life in the enlivening quarry of the church’s womb.
Jesus prophesied of the old temple, “[T]here will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” (Mt. 24:2). Fullness of that judgment occurred 40 years later (70 AD).
“Petros”, the NT church’s first Pentecost preacher of Christ (Acts 2:14 ff.) teaches Jesus is God’s precious living cornerstone in whom, by our baptismal association, we too are “living stones” being built as new Zion’s spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-6).
In Christ we look to Abraham’s faith-righteousness for understanding Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ”. God employs us “living stones” for on-going construction of Zion’s new Temple. On completion, scaffolds will fall away, fully revealing the crucified “glory” of God in his church intended before the foundation of the world. Amen.