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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Satan Rock

Summer’s End, a 3-week sermon series at the end of Summer, preached Sunday September 3, 2023 at the 9:30am worship service


Last week, Jesus warned the disciples to beware the yeast, the teachings, of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He asked the disciples who the people are saying Jesus is, and they responded “a prophet.” Then Jesus asked the disciples who they say he is. Simon answered.

That’s where we pick up today. Let’s pray and listen for the words of the Lord…

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture Matthew 16:15-25

15 “But what about you?” Jesus asked (the disciples). “Who do YOU say I am?”

16 Simon (Peter) answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are (now) Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. : 19 I 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.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he would be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This should never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to (all) his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)

Sermon Satan Rock

Have you heard that part before, where Jesus renames Simon “Petros” which means something like Rocky, (we get the word petrified from it) because “on you Peter, Rocky, I am going to build my church”? And have you heard that other part before, where Jesus turns on Peter and says “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me!” Did you already know they were this close together in the same Gospel? What is scripture telling us by having Jesus lift up Peter as the foundation of his new eternal faith community, and tear down Peter as evil, an obstacle on the path, all in the same conversation?

Remember, Jesus was frustrated by the religious leaders, how they couldn’t see what God was doing, how they were not representing God or God’s will in their teaching or their leadership. We heard about that last week, and that’s out there on our YouTube channel if you missed it. Then Jesus wants to know what the people and what his disciples think of him.

The disciples report the people think of Jesus as a prophet. Now, prophetic doesn’t mean predictive. Too many people assume a prophet is someone who is predicting the future, as in crystal balls and tarot cards or something. Really, a prophet is someone who is analyzing the present more honestly and accurately. A prophet isn’t overly pessimistic or optimistic about a future but is realistic about the present. A prophet doesn’t sweep anything past or present under the rug to make their preferred future more believable. A prophet never bends the data or skews the statistics to make things match what they want or hope in the future. A prophet is someone aware of and vocal about the full past and the real present. Then, a prophet draws lines to most likely consequences. A prophet isn’t mystically divining some terrible or beautiful, some wild or wonderful future. A prophet is accurately, unabashedly remembering the past and seeing the present, with no biases, naiveties, or filters, and naming the most likely after-effects. That’s Jesus, and that’s why the people see Jesus as a prophet.

Then Jesus wonders what the disciples believe about him. That’s when Simon risks saying, “You are the Messiah, the son of God.” That word Messiah is from a Hebrew word, MeSaCH, and means anointed one, God’s preferred leader of the people. The other term, son of God, in Roman times was for Caesar. So, to claim Jesus was both Messiah and son of God was both a religious AND a political confession. Simon is saying you are my religious teacher, my rabbi, AND my political leader, my king. You are my priest and my president. (by the way, the word Christ is just the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mesach.)

Okay, back to Simon. When Simon says Jesus is Messiah AND son of God, it’s a risk for Simon and Jesus. To Judeans, Simon is betraying his heritage, his ancestors to call someone Messiah that religion and law have not approved. They would hear him as betraying his religion, turning his back on God, scripture, on the temple and the traditions. To Romans, Simon is rebelling against Caesar, against Rome itself and all her institutions to call anyone but Caesar son of god. By calling Jesus both Messiah and the son of God, Simon is threatening religious and political disobedience. They would all hear him as a traitor, and a threat.

Simon, Peter, says it anyway. Now, we might assume it was Peter’s courage but I tend to think Peter just said it from his heart before really thinking about the religious and political consequences. If it was Peter’s courage, I don’t think Jesus would have said “you didn’t get that from any human power, but from God.” And, if it was Peter’s courage, I don’t think Peter would have scolded Jesus in the next moment.

Jesus applauds his confession and says, “Yes, Simon. That’s beautiful and solid. That’s what I will build the church on. I’m calling you Rocky from now on, because on that kind of rock, I can build a new community that gives people fullness of life. Hades itself will collapse before that kind of commitment. With that as your foundation, anything you set free will be free, and anything you bind will stay bound.”

Then, Jesus describes what will happen to him, a prophet, when others begin to sense he is even more. He will suffer many things at the hands of the religious. Religion often protects its traditions rather than change to be more faithful to God. He will die at the hands of the political. Politics often mistreats, silences, even kills its own people to keep money and power, rather than use money and power in service of her people.

Note, Jesus is not saying God wants him to die. Jesus IS saying that based on how humans have done religion and politics in the past, and based on what he’s seen in the present religion and politics, he will likely suffer and be killed. He will not stop being messiah or son of God. He will not stop preaching and practicing the new kingdom of God, and the most honest, likely future is that religious and political people will kill him for it.

That’s when Peter argues with Jesus about this path, and that’s when we understand Peter’s prior confession did not come from courage. Peter is scared. If Jesus goes to Jerusalem, Peter also knows the religious will make him suffer and the political will like crucify him. Peter is aware enough of the past and present, and he’s semi-prophetic enough to see the high probability of what Jesus imagines, his own torture and death.

Simon, Peter, has a choice to make. It’s the same choice we make as Christians. Do we dare say Jesus is both THE messiah and THE son of God? Do we say and believe Jesus, his teaching, his way, his life, the rules he gave us and the community of God he described, those are the highest authority for us in every aspect of our life? If so, will we live as if those two things are true in every aspect of our lives, no matter what? Too many Christians attempt to separate religion from politics or vice versa. But we cannot. Everything we do in community, in religion, politics, friendships, family, career, everything we do with one another must match his teaching, his practice, his vision of God’s kingdom. If anything in our life, our religion or our politics, don’t both match Jesus, then he isn’t the messiah, or he isn’t the son of God, and we become satan, a stumbling block.

The same Simon that Jesus just nicknamed Rocky as the rock of the future church, when he said with his mouth Jesus is both messiah and son of God, now Jesus now names Satan. Why? Because Peter wouldn’t hold onto Jesus as both Messiah AND Son of God no matter what.

Yes, Jesus messiah might suffer. Jesus son of God might be killed. Those are probable prophetic futures, but we do not stop believing Jesus or living like Jesus because of our fear of that future or because of our hope for a different one. If that horrible future comes, that will not be Jesus’s or God’s fault. That will be OUR fault, sinful humanity’s fault. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it very likely will. Still, we cannot cave to the sinfulness, the temptation, and compromise on Jesus being both messiah AND son of God. We hold onto both, and move forward, saying BOTH, living BOTH, trusting God, no matter what may come. That is the calling, the cornerstone of the church. That is our cross to bear.

That’s why Jesus turns to all his disciples, Peter, the 12, and every one of us, and says, “Follow me. Hold onto me, what I’ve told you and shown you about who God is and what kind of community God wants, and follow me even if that means taking up a cross. The religious, the political, yes, they may not like the changes we bring. Bring them anyway. You’ll only lose your lives if you try to preserve them. But lay down your old fears and hopes and walk with me as your messiah and son of god, and you will find your fullest lives.”

To God, be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen?



Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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