Did Jesus make Peter pope, with power to justify people?
Matthew 16 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NIV)
To understand Jesus’ words, we must deal with the elephant in the room, the superstructure Catholics have built on them. These verses are central to Catholicism. Visit Capernaum today and you’ll see a larger-than-life statue of Peter with the keys (above). Visit the Vatican, and it’s a crucial image in the Sistine Chapel. Continue reading “Peter as pope? (Matthew 16:18-19)”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” — Apostle Peter, first century
“Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?” It’s the question I often ask when baptizing believers. Our faith is in a person, and Peter nailed it with his declaration. So, what did Peter mean by this great confession?
There’s a temptation to invest Peter’s words with later theological meaning and miss what he said. His phrases have snowballed with significant theological freight:
Christology is the study of the person and work of Christ. His person embodied two natures (fully God and fully human), so his work reconciled God and humans (atonement).
Son of God is a term we associate with trinitarian theology: the relationship between Father and Son who, with the Spirit, exist eternally as one God (trinity).
All of that is true and important, but this developed theology was not in Peter’s mind. Rather than treat his words anachronistically, let’s hear them in their context.
The intriguing twist in Matthew’s Gospel is watching the king of Israel become king of the world.
Matthew’s opening situates Jesus in Israel’s story. The anointed Davidic ruler (1:1) is born into the derailed story of Israel’s kings (1:16-17), to save his people and fulfil what God decreed (1:21-23).
In Matthew’s closing paragraph, this king has authority to reign over the whole earth with heaven’s power. The nations are learning to live under his command, in his present and enduring reign (28:18-20).
Matthew 8:5–13 (NIV) 5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
I grew up in a family with rules to keep us safe. To keep us from addictions, we didn’t drink, smoke, or gamble. To keep us from sexual temptation, we didn’t dance or go to movies. We were to read our Bibles and pray every day, with no work or sport on Sundays. To be holy meant to be separate from “the world.”
To be honest, I didn’t feel I was missing out. It was a rural setting, already socially isolated. It was a happy home, with parents who genuinely loved God and lived that love in our family. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
But as I grew up, I began to understand that, for adults, our rules didn’t live up to what they advertised. The rules tried to shelter us from outside influences, when the problem is within.
Matthew 7:21–29 (NIV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Jesus’ kingship is Matthew’s dominant theme. From the introductory sentence (“anointed ruler, son of David”) to the culminating declaration (“all authority in heaven and earth”), the kingdom of God is here because the king is here.
Matthew contrasts the world’s true king with our existing rulers. Herod built fortresses to defend his kingship and armies to enforce his decrees. He used prisons to silence critics like John the Baptist. Yet, Matthew shows remarkable empathy for Herod: Herod didn’t want to kill John; he was trapped by forces beyond himself (Matthew 14:9).
I love the way Matthew juxtaposes the earthly ruler’s party for himself in his palace (14:1-12) with the heavenly king’s provision for his people in the wilderness (14:13-21). Jesus is the Son who listens to his Father (14:23). That’s why he has authority to calm not only the earth but the unruly sea (14:24-32). His followers see him as the Son with the eternal sovereign’s authority (14:33).
The crowds also recognized Jesus as he returned to Gennesaret on the northwest shore of Galilee. The men in charge of this town sent messengers to notify everyone of his arrival. They honoured him as a person of significance, the reaction appropriate for a royal visitor or a representative of God.
Some disasters are manmade. We hurt each other in our families, businesses, and communities. We’re harmed by war, racism, the injustices of power. We also face disasters beyond human control: cyclones, earthquakes, pandemics. Which kind does Jesus save us from?
Feeding the 5000, or walking on water. They’re favourites that capture our imagination, but why did Jesus do these things? If they were signs, what were they pointing to? Was he showing off? Was he telling the crowds he was God? What was Jesus doing? Continue reading “Feeding the multitude (Matthew 14:13-21)”
Jesus taught like an artist. His word pictures lift us above the human conflicts to a plateau where we can see what the earth was meant to be — a place of peace, responsive to heaven’s government.
This is future, yet it’s already here in the present. Jesus has re-sowed God’s world, and some seeds are heading toward harvest. Sure, there are weeds in God’s field, but there’s wheat as well. The mustard seed is growing. The leaven is permeating the dough. People trade other dreams for God’s reign. The net is in the water, and God will sort the good from the bad.
God’s reign is here. Only the good that God intended will last.
Jesus’ kingdom vision was inspiring, but was it credible? Compared to Herod or Caesar, what kind of king was Jesus of Nazareth?
The final parable of Matthew 13 would be the most relevant and practical of all, if we understood it. It’s the final application, the “so what” of the kingdom parables. Jesus commissions us to do something with the kingdom.
Why is the world such a mess if it’s God’s kingdom? How can so much evil and injustice exist in the kingdom of God?
Why doesn’t our heavenly king sort out his earthly realm? Is this really the best God can do?
That’s no theoretical question. Ask the people in pain. Ask the parents of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February. Why doesn’t God act? Philip Yancey calls it, “the question that never goes away.”
Did you hear the one about the art lover who found an original by someone she and her husband admired? She texted the details to get his opinion. Between meetings, he rushed back a reply, “No. Price too high.” But his fumbling fingers missed the full stop. The text she received read, “No price too high.”
Did you hear the one Jesus told about the pearl merchant? He found the one he’d been waiting for, the elusive pearl with flawless shape, glistening tone, and perfect lustre. He traded everything away to have the thing he’d been waiting his whole life to find.
For Jesus, God’s reign over the world is that one thing worth trading everything for. Like the pearl merchant you might recognize it as the thing you’ve been searching for. Or you may not have been searching; perhaps you just stumbled on it, like treasure buried in a field. Either way, when you see it for what it is — the possibility of everything on earth functioning as beautifully as it was designed to do — what value do you place on it? Continue reading “What’s the value of God’s reign? (Matthew 13:45-46)”
What’s your dream? And what would you do to get it? Your honest answers to those questions reveal more about you than you realize.
Someone caught up in the first euphoria of love dreams of a beautiful life with that special someone, whatever it costs. The entrepreneur dreams of owning the Monopoly board, driven by a plan that just might give it to him.
But our best dreams are bigger than ourselves. Dreams like clean drinking water for Africa, empowering locals to transform Cambodia, or A21’s audacious vision to end modern slavery. Syrians dream of living in a country where they need not fear being shot, and some young Americans do too. Martin Luther King Jr still speaks, “I have a dream …”