Who am I? — Matthew 16:13–20

The surprise of Jesus — part 3

40 blogs of Lent — day 24

One of Jesus’ favourite pet names is you of little faith. There are different ways of reading this, one is to see him exasperated with them, but that would be against Jesus’ character, Jesus is not the sort of person to give up on anyone, he even prayed, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” from the cross. I can see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as he calls them little faith – little faith is better than no faith, and Jesus knew that great faith would come. It is like a parent when their child progresses from being able to walk four steps to ten steps. The kid isn’t there yet, but they are making progress.

A woman dressed in a grey cardigan over a pale pink top against a darker pink background raises her left hand in front of her face. Across the palm is written  in Capitals in black, "WHO AM I?"
Free to use picture by Sophie on Flickr

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “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.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Matthew 16:13–20 ESV UK

Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am[1]

I’m looking for someone to change my life.
I’m looking for a miracle in my life.[2]

The lyrics above are from The Logical Song by Supertramp and Question by The Moody Blues. Again I’m using prog-rock to illustrate theology, this is a genre of music that because it goes beyond the three minutes of the love song/break up song that makes up so much of the music I hear on the radio. Longer songs give freedom to ask philosophical questions. Worship songs are good, but they are written from the perspective of people with faith. To find out what other people think we need to look beyond that.

Jesus in the passage above starts by asking a question of who people say he is, but ir us a loaded question, it contains a title, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Here they are, deep in Gentile territory, Caesarea Philippi is North East of Galilee and about 180 km, 120 miles from Jerusalem. The reason for going into Philippi is not given. It could be to escape persecution from Herod or the Jewish authorities or simply to spend time with the disciples. Seeing as the discourse is started with such a leading question I will assume it is the latter.

Idenity is important. When people ask “Who am I?” or say they are trying to find themselves, it is an important quest, especially in an age like ours where your identity is in what you do. One of the first questions asked when we meet people is, “What job do you do.” Is it any wonder that there is a great deal of angst in the world.

The identity of Christians is in Jesus. Jesus follow up question is important and it is asked of all of us. So I ask you personally the same question, who do you say Jesus is? The answer is not prescriptive, we all come to Jesus in different ways and from different circumstances, and Jesus looks on us lovingly as people of little faith. All people of great faith started as people of little faith. Jesus gives us tasks to do depending on who we say he is.

Peter’s reply is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” is important not as a formula but because he has learned the lesson, listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying. From here his identity is in Jesus. Yes, he will still get things wrong. Peter is given status based on who he says Jesus is.

This is a tale of two cities. The gates of the city were where the city leaders and administrators met, the modern equivalent is a town or city hall. The gates of Hell is where Hell is governed, and it will not prevail against Jesus’ Church.

The Church of Jesus is the second city. It is not built on the person of Peter but on the response of Peter, the Church is built on Jesus alone.Jesus said, “You are Peter [petros, a stone] and on this rock [petra, a large rock] I will build my church.” Rock is a symbol of God in the Old Testament, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress,” Psalm 18:2, The whole government of Hell will never prevail against the church built on rock.

Peter is, on the back of his announcement, given two tasks. Fist are the keys to the kingdom of heaven. That does not meet Peter at the pearly gates and he will decide by looking in his book whether you come in or not. Keys are for opening things, Peter’s task was to open the kingdom of heaven to people on earth which he did, fist to the Jews on the day od Pentecost (Acts 2), then to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and finally to the Gentiles (Acts 10).

The loose/ bind thing, something funny going on in the tenses of the words, in English it looks like Peter can decide to lose or bind something and heaven will follow, – loose on earth what is already loosed in heaven, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” But it is the other way round. Excuse the grammar as this does not work too well, but what Matthew is quoting is Jesus saying what you must bind are the things that are bound in heaven and what you are to permit are the things that are already permitted in heaven. It is about living in the kingdom of heaven and living by the standards of heaven whilst still alive here on earth.

Who is Jesus to you? This is the secret of finding yourself.


[1]The Logical Song by Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson © Universal Music Publishing Group. Used under Fair Use.
[2]Question by Justin Haywatd © Emi Blackwood Music Inc., Tyler Music Ltd. C/o Essex Music Int. Ltd., Emi Pop Music Publishing. Used under Fair Use.


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