Jesus has just engaged in a dispute with the Pharisees and Sadducees over their request for a sign to prove himself to be the Messiah, despite all that they had already seen and heard him do. After this incident, Jesus and the disciples move on to Caesarea Philippi. It is there that he asks his disciples who do the people say that he is. They reply: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)
Then Jesus asked them the million dollar question: Who do you say that I am? Peter, in his ever-bold way, answers for the disciples You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
It is important to note that Peter is answering for the group. His confession of Jesus as Messiah represents the disciples’ understanding of who Jesus is. He not simply a prophet, a good teacher, John the Baptist reincarnated, Elijah returned from heaven. He is the long-awaited Savior.
Since Peter’s declaration is a communal response (remember Jesus was addressing the group when he asked the question), Jesus’ statement “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” means that it is the testimony and witness of the disciples upon which the Church will be built.
Lutherans believe that the authority of the Church rests in Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah not in Peter the man. According to The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope written by Philipp Melanchthon and subscribed to by the members of the Smalcald Assembly, “As to the statement, ‘On this rock I will build my church’ (Matt. 16:18), it is certain that the church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore Christ addresses Peter as a minister and says, ‘On this rock,’ that is, on this ministry.’” It is the ministry of the Gospel, given to Peter, the disciples, and by extension to us through two millennia that is the central message of the Church. Christ is the foundation, the cornerstone, but it is the witness of the faithful to the Risen Christ that is the Church.
The Church is not a building. It is a people, saved and redeemed by Christ on the Cross, called into the world to preach and teach the Gospel. Strengthened and gifted by the Holy Spirit, the many members of the Church must fulfill their part in order for the Church to be healthy and thrive. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:4-8) No one person has the responsibility of holding the Church together nor declaring what is correct doctrine – not the local parish pastor, priest, bishop, the Pope in Rome or the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. All believers share in the ministry of the Gospel.
Furthermore, Jesus clearly states that no one person is above another. James and John ask Jesus to sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his glory. Jesus rebukes them saying that it is not for him to choose, but for God to choose. When the other disciples hear of James’ and John’s request, they are angry. Jesus used this as another teaching opportunity: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45) Christ sent his disciples out as equals, so too, he sends us.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Lord, grant us the strength to boldly proclaim that your Son, Jesus, is Messiah, the Son of the Living God throughout the earth. Help us to uphold your Holy Church through our witness of your saving grace. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Trying to do my part,
Quote from "The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope" from the Tappert Edition of the Book of Concord, 324:25. ©1959, Fortress Press.