Pastor Vince brought a message yesterday that was more multi-faceted than a 1970s disco ball. Because it was so rich in content I will be addressing it in more than a single post.
He drew his text from Matthew chapter 16: 13-20,
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 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. 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. 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.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
For a brief account and an even briefer conversation we have a lot of names dropped: John the Baptister, Elijah, prophets, Simon Peter, Messiah, God . . . . The key question is about identity and the recognition of it. Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people Son of Man is?” They respond with the rumours and speculations of the day.
The Son of Man, and interesting phrase, occurring 81, in the Greek texts. The title (name) is only used in Jesus’ teachings, and is normally in reference to Himself. It name also is an Old Testament allusion to a fulfillment of prophesy (Daniel 7).
Jesus accepts the various popular speculations, then takes the discussion further with “Who do you say I am?” This is asking for them to make an acknowledgement, a sort of commitment. But there is an interesting idea that can be drawn here. He does not tweak the core question on “who is ‘the Son of Man’?” but more directly “Who do your say I am?” Is this a veiled leading statement? “Who do you say ‘I Am’?” Jesus uses this construction in several places: “I am the bread of life (John 6:35); I am the light of the world (John 8: 12); etc.”
In Exodus 3:13, Moses asks God what His name is. The response is powerful! “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you (v. 14).'” The tetragrammaton ( יהוה ) “I Am” is the name given as God to refer to Himself. In Judaism it is often just referred to as “the Name.” It is an interesting point to ponder. Jesus is “The I AM.”
It is Simon bar Jonah that plucks up the faith and courage to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the son of “I AM.” Jesus readily acknowledges this, and even says it is The Father who gave the knowledge.
Simon’s own name then comes into play. He is no longer to be called “Simon,” but “Peter.” Simon in its simplest form means “Listener.” This is again a wonderful point in this passage. The disciples had “listened” to the rumours of the people concerning Jesus’ identity. Simon Peter was not content with that. We can take this further by taking the slightly different take. “Simon” can mean “one who hearkens.” Simon learned Jesus’ identity from the Father, Jesus said, and hearkened to the word. But not mere recognition, but a boldness to repeat and profess it. He had stood firm in the truth. Not a mere harkener, but a firm “Rock -Peter” in standing on it. He was to be Peter!
Another take on the name Simon, though with an uncertain etymology, is “Reed:” a plant that sways in the wind. If this is another of Jesus’ word plays, it too is powerful. Peter no longer bent by the thoughts of others has become an advocated for a truth: “Jesus is Messiah, the Son God.” A truth and steadfastness upon which “this rock I will build my church.”