Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 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.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
In our reading this morning Jesus congratulates Peter warmly. He says: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Jesus praises Peter’s insight and gives him a job. “And I tell you, you are Peter [the name ‘Peter’ means ‘rock’] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 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.”
Peter must have glowed with pride. He has been give praise and authority in the Kingdom of heaven.
However, if we read just a few verses on from this, and Peter receives an astoundingly ferocious telling off: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
One minute Peter is given the keys of the Kingdom, the next he is actually called ‘Satan’
When I read passages like this, I cannot help but wonder what Jesus would say to me. Would he say “Blessed are you Trevor, son of Albert,” or would he say “Get behind me, Satan!”
If we can answer that question of ourselves quickly or easily, I suspect our answer would be wrong.
We need to look at why Peter was praised, and why he was criticised if we are to understand where we lie.
First, why did Jesus give Peter such high praise? Peter had said to Jesus “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter had recognised something in Jesus that was beyond outward appearance. Peter realised that their mission was not just the mission of a penniless wandering preacher, but the mission of God.
Peter is given the keys of the Kingdom. And I think the reward is part of what causes the problem: Peter is told he is part of God’s plan, and he has visions of triumph, glory and power as the Kingdom of God rules over all, and he holds the keys.
But what Jesus said after that must have been a shock: (Verse 21) “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
“Hang about!” I can imagine Peter saying, “What about the Keys, and the binding things on earth and in heaven…?” We read that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
Peter wanted the position in the Church – he wanted to be the keeper of keys, but he didn’t want the cross. He didn’t want to be challenged. He didn’t want struggle or suffering or uncertainty or conflict.
This is the greatest dilemma the church has faced throughout it history – it wants the position of being the place that we can find God. But it does not want the mission that goes with it.
We want to be a special place – of serene spirituality. We want the keys of the Kingdom, but we do not want the cross. Too often the Church doesn’t want to make a stir. The Church does’t want to have to engage in difficult issues like human sexuality, asylum seekers, the Middle East or Global Warming.
Yet these are these are precisely the sort of issues that the Bible is full of teaching about. We are inward looking, like Peter, interested in what is in it for us.
I have heart it said (and quoted before) that fishermen who don’t fish fight: if we don’t get about the mission Jesus calls us to do, building God’s Kingdom out there – outside the walls of this comfortable church, we will end up fighting about the flower arrangements and the size of the Altar candles.
The danger we face is much more serious that simply becoming trivial or irrelevant. The danger is that we become opponents of Christ. Jesus didn’t just say to Peter “get behind me, you’ve missed the point” or “get behind me you naughty boy!” He said “get behind me Satan!” Peter was siding with the forces opposing Jesus when he wanted an easy religion of privilege.
Remember that it was the religious leaders who opposed Jesus, the religious people who called for his crucifixion. Every time I put on my Chasuble, symbolising the priesthood, I remember that it was the priests of Jesus day who had him killed. I wonder if my ministry is closer to the ministry of Christ, or closer to the ministries of those who fought him. I wonder if my work is in the spirit of Jesus, or the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees and Saducees.
Would Jesus say to me “Blessed are you Trevor, son of Albert,” or would he say “Get behind me, Satan!”
The Spirit of Jesus is not about buildings or money or liturgy or vestments (although all these things can be used as valuable means to an end). The Spirit of Jesus is about just one thing – Love. Love for God, love for our fellow human beings (meaning all people) and love for ourselves.
Love is the only thing we do that really matters. St Peter may have wanted to sit around polishing his key, but Jesus demanded the difficult, sacrificial, painful way of love.
We need to work for Christ, we need to build the Kingdom. The real work of our Christianity does not take place during this hour each Sunday morning. Although this time is vital to give us a focus and a vision for the work. The truest expression of our faith is how we live outside the doors of the Church: how we try to love all those we meet, give words of kindness and support to those who need it, how we share the good news of God’s love and invite our friends and neighbours to Church; how we use our gifts of time and money to help those in need and build God’s Kingdom.
We want the keys of the Kingdom. But we must also take the cross.
What side we are on will take some more puzzling through, but I close with the words of Jesus, after his rebuke of Peter.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”