Saturday, February 25, 2012

Upon This Gospel

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 also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And 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. (Matthew 16:17-18)

Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about who He was. “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” they answered. These were not bad answers. They all ran in the right direction, but they did not go nearly far enough.

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked. The first question was a setup but this next question was what Jesus was really after. How far had the disciples progressed in their understanding about Him?

Peter stepped forward and opened his mouth. No one was surprised, that was how Peter was. But what he said was a surprise, perhaps even to himself. He answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Understand this in the context of a Jewish book written to a largely Jewish group of people. Understand it in the context of the messianic expectation of the Old Testament. Understand it, for instance, in the context of Psalm 2, a messianic psalm. There, God speaks of His Anointed, against whom the kings and rulers of the earth were conspiring (Psalm 2:2). But God laughs at them and says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Then David, the psalm writer, says,
I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:7-9)
The Anointed, whom God calls “My Son,” is to be King over all the nations of the earth. Now, with that in mind, listen to Peter’s confession again: “You are the Christ [the Anointed One], the Son of the Living God.” He suddenly understood that Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s Son, God’s King. The One Israel had long awaited, who would deliver His people and rule over the nations.

This has everything to do with the kingdom of God, His rule and reign over all the earth, which has been Matthew’s subject from the beginning of his gospel account. The genealogy in Matthew establishes the lineage of Jesus as the one who fulfills the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then on through Judah, to King David and beyond. In Matthew 2, the magi recognize Jesus as a long-prophesied king. In Matthew 4, Jesus begins His ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). His entire ministry is focused on the kingdom, teaching about it through parables and demonstrating it through healing, signs and wonders. At the end, after the cross and the resurrection, but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus declared to the disciples, “All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). The is the language of the King rising to His throne.

But in the middle of the book, Peter finally gets it. Not because he is astute. Not because he is impulsive Peter. It comes to him as a gift, a divine revelation. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven,” Jesus said. It comes at a kairos point, a pregnant moment in a propitious time. Jesus has been preaching and teaching and saying and doing the kingdom all along, but now Peter finally recognizes that Jesus is the King. This is essence of the gospel, the good news proclamation that the kingdom of God has come to fulfill the promise of God, and Jesus is God’s Anointed King, come to set the world right.

Now Jesus can build on this revelation and, indeed, He speaks in terms of building. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.” This is where Peter gets his name, which means “Rock.” He has received the rock-solid, foundational revelation from the Father: Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is the Anointed King. And on this rock, this revelation — this gospel! — Jesus builds His church, His ekklesia (or ecclesia).

We will look at what that means in the next post, I Will Build My Ekklesia.