“….And 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.” – Matt 16:18
The passage above has perhaps been one of the most discussed in Church history. Interpretations of its meaning have varied vastly between denominations and schools of theological thought. It has been the subject of much debate over the past two millennia, yet, where ever it has been debated, it is undoubtedly claimed as a defining verse for what it means to be a part of the Church.
The background to this scripture is that Jesus had been asking the disciples who people were saying he was - not because he didn't know what people were saying, but because he wanted to find out who his closest disciples thought he was. Some answers were shared, all of which affirmed that somehow he was from God, but, for once, impetuous Simon God it right. "You are the Christ", he said. The Messiah, the Lord.
Deeply impressed, thrilled and probably somewhat proud, as a reward for his faithfulness, Jesus gives Simon a brand new name - Peter. A literal translation of the name Peter actually means ‘rock’ - A small stone, a pebble. This new name that was given to Peter was rather odd. The equivalent today would be to name a child “stone”.... and unless your parents are New Age hippies, it just isn’t, and wasn’t, done. In fact, according to Greek literature, the name Peter (as we know it today) never existed until this moment. The name Peter became popular because Jesus made it so. Before this, well, it was just a word that described a small rock.
Jesus says to ‘Stone’, and the other disciples present, that on this ‘rock’ he will build his Church. The word translated ‘Rock’ here is a different form of the same noun used for the word "Peter". It describes a rock in its strongest, most immovable sense. Something that can't be and won't be moved regardless of the weight of attack against it. Like a cliff.
The rock is the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and the Lord... and through out history - through scandal, and sin, and shame, and persecution - the immovable rock, the church belonging to Jesus Christ, has continued to represent the Messiah.
The point of this little linguist history lesson?
1) To be a part of the Church, we must believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
2) We need to realize that we, on our own, are just a small (but significant) part of what God wants to do within the world. It is highly unlikely that we will have the same influence on humanity that Peter did.... but even if God allowed it, we'd still only be a small piece of a huge puzzle.
3) We must understand that as we connect with other stones, we become a big, immovable rock… against which the gates of hell cannot, will not and have not overcome. Our stone, on its own, can be picked up, thrown around... but put us together with a bunch of other stones and we become a powerful force.
As followers of Jesus, it is vital that we connect with other ‘stones’ to accomplish the purposes and maintain the witness of the Church of Jesus Christ. Why? Because the local Church has a God given responsibility to steward and proclaim the message of the gospel. The only message that has the power to change a human heart and the power to change humanity.
Form a rock.