When it comes to building any structure, the most important parts are those that you won’t ever see. For example, if you were to build a house for yourself, you might hire a designer or architect. And you would probably spend a great deal of time looking at floor plans and the ways the rooms are laid out. You would decide how you want the house to look, the placement of the windows, the lines of the roof. You’ll put consideration into the cabinets, the moldings, the flooring, fixtures, and of course paint color for everything.
Then the architect will draw up the blueprints. And there will be pages and pages with the details of how to frame the walls, giving the dimensions of rooms. There will be pages showing where the wiring should go, showing how the plumbing should be run.
And somewhere in all those blueprints, there will be a page that details the foundation, that very bottom part of your house on which everything else will stand. Most people pay very little attention to that page. You won’t even see it. You assume it will be built properly.
But any builder knows that the foundation, the footings of any building are very important. If they are laid properly, then the house goes up just fine, but if the footings and foundation are not sound and stable, then it makes no difference what cabinets you have or what color you paint the living room. If the foundation is not stable and solid, the house will sink, decay, and fall apart.
Jesus says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The church, Jesus’ church, is built on a rock—a solid, sound, unmovable rock.
Now, I am going to take a little excursion and make a side note here to emphasize what Jesus is saying when he says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Actually, I am going to make two side notes.
The first is that the Bible is scripture that is to be studied. It is not a book that you simply read. You cannot read the Bible like it is a novel or a newspaper article. The Bible does far more than tell a story or simply give you information. The Bible has depth, significance, and it has deep meaning. So, when we come to the Bible, we read deeply. We study it.
Which leads to the next side note, which is the footnote. If you are reading in your Bible, you’ll notice that there are little footnote symbols next to the word Peter and the word rock. And then, when you go down to the footnote at the bottom, it tells you that the Greek word, the original word, is Petros, translated Peter, and Petra, translated rock.
It turns out that Peter is a nickname meaning rock or rocky.
So Jesus is saying, “You are Petros and on this petra I will build my church.” Or “You are rocky and on this rock I will build my church.”
This imagery of rock echoes from the prophet Isaiah, who writes, “Listen, to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and the quarry from which you were dug.”
The rock is the foundation, the footing, the cornerstone. The rock is the promise of God that God made long ago. The rock is Jesus himself. The rock is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
This rock makes a sure foundation on which Jesus will build his church.
This is good news, because we live in a world of constant change. Just think about how many things have changed in your own life time. The clothes that people wear, how we work, how we spend our free time. Think about how many institutions have come and gone.
But there are some things that do not change, and the foundation of our faith is one of them.
This is good news, because among all this change, the church is changing too. Many congregations see a decline in membership; there are more people who are unaffiliated altogether. The role of the church in society is less and less valued. All around is change and decline, but not even the gates of Hades can prevail against Jesus’ church.
This is also bad news, because Jesus gives us a solid rock, and we cannot make it into what we want it to be. When Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” there is only one right answer. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We do not get to make up our own confession of faith. We do not get to have Jesus our way. We don’t get to make up our own little Jesus religion.
There is a rock, it is Jesus. There is one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all. There is one confession, Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God.
If we lose sight of this, or if we try to build a congregation on any other rock, then it will be shaky, and we will be afraid.
Like a ladder when painting.
And there is great fear among mainline protestant Christians. A fear that the church is going to die.There are constantly people talking about how we have to do something because the church is in danger of extinction.
Indeed there is a great amount of renewal needed in the church, but we need not fear when things change, Christ has built his church on a solid foundation and not even the gates of Hades will prevail against it. It cannot be moved or destroyed.
This is good news, especially during this pandemic. The church has changed significantly in the last five months and the church continues to change at a rapid pace. We used to have 100 people gathering in this sanctuary. Now, we have 30. We used to choirs and bells and Sunday school. Now we have a handful of singers and musicians.
But the Word of the Lord remains. As Isaiah writes, “the heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; by my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
This COVID-19 crises is forcing the church into a time of refining and renewal. We are tested, to see if we stand on a solid foundation, or if these changes will cause us to crumble.
We live in a world of constant change. Things in this world come and go. We are constantly enamored by the next greatest trend, the next fad, the newest dazzling invention. But most of this will fade away like leaves on a tree in the fall. But underneath all the fluctuations and vicissitudes of life, there is a solid and unchanging foundation. God has established his Word as the bedrock of our life. He has given his son as the cornerstone of our faith; on this rock he builds his people and nothing can move this foundation.
- Matthew 16:13 - 20