Confession of St. Peter: Petros or Petra?

Petros vs Petra (610x351)Texts: Mathew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-38, Acts 4:8-13, and 2 Peter 1:1-15


Each Christian congregation is to be a living embodiment, in a particular place and time, of the Church of Jesus Christ. And that just makes sense. After all, don’t Christians believe that the Jesus in heaven is the same Jesus who rose from the grave some 2,000 years ago? Yes. Don’t Christians believe the faith that the Holy Spirit gives us is the same faith that He gave to His people on Pentecost? Yes. So, if all that is true—and it is—then all Christian churches should see themselves as a living embodiment of the Church that Jesus established.

But such an understanding can have a dark side. Some believe that you belong to the Church that Jesus established by belonging an outward organization. Such a way of thinking trusts in some institution as the gauge and norm to know what is truth and where to find the Church of Jesus Christ. For Roman Catholics, the Church of Jesus Christ has an address: St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

But there’s also another ancient Church, mostly found on the other side of the world, the Eastern-Orthodox. They have a similar claim to antiquity and authority. Their claim roots itself, not in ONE apostolic church, like the Roman-Catholic Church does, but in the other churches that the Apostles founded. They claim they are true because they are the continuation of those apostolically founded churches.

And yet, both Rome and the Eastern Orthodox build their claims of being the true Church on a false foundation. For God didn’t build the Church of Jesus Christ on the man, Peter, or on the consensus of the apostolic churches. No, the Church is built on Jesus and the confession of who He is as the Christ, where the Truth of Christ is believed, lived out, and confessed.

But how do we know that? Today, we heard Jesus ask Peter a question, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” Matthew’s Gospel records more of this conversation between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus then told Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus makes a point to Peter by using “wordplay.” Peter, petros, means “pebble” or “small rock.” But then pointing to what He would use to build His Church, Jesus didn’t say “petros,” pebble, but “petra,” which is a boulder, even a mountain made of rock. Switching from petros to petra, Jesus shows that He won’t build His Church on the man Peter, or any man, for they are but pebbles. No, Jesus will use the confession, words, that He is the Christ as the immovable mountain to build His Church!

And so, each of us must also answer that same question: “Who is Jesus?” And to be a Christian is also to give the same answer as Peter: “Jesus is the Christ.” That’s the confession that binds us. That’s the truth that joins us to the Church of Christ. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah, and the incarnate God who came to redeem us from sin, death, and hell, bringing us to share in His divine life (2 Peter 1:4).

But such a confession will cost you. For being a Christian doesn’t sit well with a world that delights in flagrant sin. And so the ways of this fallen world can tempt you to set aside your confession and take the broad and easy way. But Jesus warns: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” on the Last Day (Mark 8:38).

But wasn’t Peter ashamed of Jesus when he denied Jesus before others, fearing for his life? Yes, but Peter didn’t remain that way. He repented. Later, Peter stood before his fellow Jews, before whom he had once cowered in fear (Matthew 26:69-74), boldly confessing Jesus as the Christ, even before the Jewish ruling council (Acts 4:10).

Peter eventually came to understand what Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, meant. To be the Messiah meant that Jesus would go to the cross, shouldering the sin of the human race. Jesus would die that death itself would one day die. He would then rise in an incorruptible body, so His saints would also rise in the same way. Peter shows the transformation that faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus brings. Peter lived out the truth that if Jesus is risen from the dead, that changes everything.

But do we live that way, that Jesus’ resurrection changes everything? We are prone to what Peter calls “the corruption in the world that sinful cravings produce” (2 Peter 1:14). You know that corruption and desire, for you, like Peter, are a child of Adam. You know such sin because you were born in such sin. Every human is.

And that sin from Adam’s fall has brought ruin to all creation. That’s why the earth is decaying, our bodies are decaying, and each of us, one day, will thoroughly decay into dust, unless Jesus returns before then. But the promise of the resurrection, based on Jesus’ resurrection, changes everything.

Everything rests on this truth about Jesus: “He is the Christ.” “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven… by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12). That’s what Peter preached. One day, Peter would even die for that confession, that doctrine, by being crucified upside down (Acts of Peter).

Those words, “Jesus is the Christ,” are a doctrine-packed confession, for they state who Jesus is. And Jesus praised Peter for confessing that doctrine that He is the Christ. But what if your doctrine and practice don’t match? That happened in Peter’s life, when he denied Jesus, instead of confessing Him.

Scripture has a word for that mismatch between doctrine and practice: hypocrisy. And yet, every honest Christian will admit that he is a hypocrite, in one way or another. And that same hypocritical Peter scolds us about our hypocrisy when he urges us to live in, and live out, the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.

Peter said that we need to live out the faith by having excellent morals and self-control. We need to grow in our knowledge of Christ, enduring in the faith. We are to be godly, having affection and love for others. Then he said, “If you have these qualities and they are increasing, they will keep you from being useless and unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

The doctrine that Jesus is the Christ contains in it the doctrine that Jesus has cleansed you from your sins. But how do we apply that doctrine, that truth, that confession, that “Jesus is the Christ” in our everyday lives? Jesus says that we are to lose our lives. Whoever loses his life because of Jesus and the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35).

What did Jesus mean? He meant that we should kill within us that which makes life in this fallen world more important than the life of the world that is to come. With such an understanding, we live our life in Christ, “sharing in His divine nature,” come what may (2 Peter 1:4).

But you won’t find the strength to do that on your own. On his own, when he feared for his life, Peter wasn’t strong enough to remain faithful. Yet, Peter later wrote: “God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Did you notice that God gives us the godliness that He demands? “HIS divine power has GIVEN us everything we need for life and godliness.” That means even our godliness is a gift that God gives us! And because it’s a gift, that changes everything!

Jesus heard Peter’s confession of faith, but He also died for Peter’s sin of denying Him. Jesus also died for your sins, when you have denied Him, whether blatant and outward, or humble and hidden, even your sin of remaining silent when you should have spoken. “God’s divine power has given you everything you need for life and godliness.” In Christ, your sins are forgiven, even your sins of a weak and wavering confession of Christ. Those sins died on the cross and were buried in the tomb, forgotten by God for all eternity.

God, the Holy Spirit, has taken the sinful creature you were born as, and drowned him in the waters of holy baptism. And from those holy waters, stained with the blood of Christ, God made you into a new creature, a child of God, pure, sinless, and righteous to God because of Christ, with saving faith in your heart. That is what it means that Jesus is the Christ.

Today, across sin-parched lips that have confessed Jesus as the Christ, that same Savior comes to “give you everything needed for life and godliness.” He comes to you in His saving grace. And since the first act of faith is to receive; in faith, you receive Jesus as the Christ, your Savior, when He comes to you in His body and blood.

And when you eat and drink in Jesus, here in this place, you also make a confession that you are receiving Jesus as He comes to you. Indeed, God’s divine power gives you everything you need for life and godliness through knowing Him who called you by His own glory and goodness.

Come then and receive Christ. Here, He forgives your sins, giving you life, even giving you His godliness. Now, you can leave this place and be the face of Jesus to others in your life. Here, you become a partaker of Christ’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). This isn’t only so you can be with Him in eternity, but that you may also bring His godliness and life to others in this fallen world. Amen.