There is something refreshing about Peter in the gospels. His enthusiasm. His naiveté. His willingness to jump in (literally on one occasion). Speaking his mind.
Not that he always got it right and the gospels are not in a hurry to cover over his faux-pas.
- Like telling Jesus he would never abandon him.
- Like starting to sink in the water because he started to doubt.
- Like chopping off the ear of Malchus (poor aim since he probably meant to chop him in two).
- Like trying to persuade Jesus not to go through with his mission.
The striking thing about that fourth incident (Matthew 16) is that it follows on the heels of one of Peter’s finest moments, when the Father has revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ. In response, Jesus has spoken these words to Peter:
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.
What did Jesus mean? Would he build his church on Peter? Or is that putting far too much importance on one man? Did Jesus really mean that he would build his church on the statement that Peter had just made? That – to many Protestants at least – seems like a safer option.
However I think there are several things which, taken together, appear to support the idea that Peter is the rock. Consider these:
- Jesus is using a play on words here – Petros (Peter) and petra (rock). The gender of each word is different, but that could be accounted for by the fact that we could hardly call Peter Petra. In fact, if Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, there would have been no distinction at all. We need to understand the statement in a way that makes best sense of the pun.
- There is a parallel between Peter speaking and Jesus speaking. Peter declares who Jesus is and Jesus declares who Peter is.
- In the immediate context, Jesus goes on to entrust significant authority to Peter (keys of the kingdom, binding/loosing).
- In the early stages of Acts, Peter functions as a key leader in the church. He is certainly not an absolute, sole ruler, but as he preaches, Jesus builds his church.
- While it is true that Christ is the cornerstone, the NT can talk about the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the God’s household. If Paul could use language like this in his Ephesian letter, could Jesus not describe Peter as a foundation?
If Peter is the rock, we still do well not to separate him from the foundational confession he makes about Jesus. He can only really be a rock as long as he is expressing what God has revealed to him.
And of course – here comes the faux-pas – it’s not long until Peter is not a rock upon which Jesus will build, but has actually become a stumbling block. His realisation that Jesus is the Christ is a limited one. There is no room in his understanding for the idea of a suffering Messiah.
His intervention leads to Jesus’ delivering a rebuke that is as strong as his earlier commendation.
Now we can finally get to the title of this post!
Whether or not you think that Peter is the rock upon which Jesus will build, you have to accept that Jesus is entrusting a great deal of responsibility and authority to him. He’s going to use a man who is prone to saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing and who doesn’t even realise the extent of his own limitations.
He’s pretty flakey to be a rock! But Jesus is able to see through all that Peter is and declare what Peter will be.
Feeling limited? Aware of how far you still have to go? Jesus knows where you are and who you are.
And he knows who he wants you to be.