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Upon This Rock

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18

He heard the call and he left his job to follow the One who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). He became an eyewitness to a multitude of miracles and was even given the ability through his proximity of his relationship with the Giver of Miracles to perform a few of his own, (Matthew 10: 5-8). And when he was asked to identify the Man who had called him to this glorious new career, this disciple knew the answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” (Matthew 16:16).

And Jesus said with a smile, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 16:17).

Then Jesus looked at him solemnly and continued – “You are Peter,” changing his name to Cephas, or Petros, which means a stone – “And upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18).

It must have been quite a moment for this disciple to be singled out for such an honor before his brethren and fellow disciples. As Jesus’ words began to sink into his being, did Peter breathe the first century equivalent of the word “wow?” He must have thought at the moment that he was doing pretty well and had it all together.

Then Jesus began to reveal to His troops God’s strategy for eternal victory. He would go to Jerusalem, suffer many things of the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised again from the dead on the third day, (Matthew 16:21).

Then the little rock that Jesus would build His church upon, gathered up all the authority of his glorious new position, and begin to scold His Commander-in-Chief for the audacity of such an outrageous proclamation –“Be it far from You, Lord! This shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22).

Was Peter surprised when Jesus turned to him and proclaimed, “Get behind Me, satan: you are an offense to Me: for you savor not the things that are of God, but those that are of men!” (Matthew 16:23).

Whoa, that was quite a knockdown setback. Now the rock upon whom Jesus would build His church has just been equated with satan, God’s number one enemy. The shock of it all must have left Peter speechless.
     Peter did not realize it at that moment that he was attempting to interfere with the plan for mankind’s redemption that had been established by God before the inception of all creation; but the befuddled former fisherman would grasp the concept much later, as we shall see.
     Peter had yet to master the “Not my will, but Thine” principle, which would be explained to him and the other disciples in the wake of his rebuke.

Jesus said to them, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it,” (Matthew 16:24,25).
     In other words, dear Peter, God’s ways are not our ways and it is better to follow along no matter what the cost, even if we do not understand. At that moment in Peter’s spiritual journey I am sure this suddenly humbled man was at least struggling to comprehend the concept.

Did Jesus look at him directly as He said, “For how is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels: and then He shall reward every man according to his works,” (Matthew 16:27).

There is great reward for this obedience, Peter.

Then Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there are some of you standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” (Matthew 16:28).

And Peter would be included on an ordinary day when Jesus said, “Let’s do a little mountain climbing.” And He led three of His choice men, James, John and our Peter into a high mountain, (Matthew 17:1).

Were the three disciples chatting together about the week’s events, not really expecting anything unusual to happen? Then one of them looked up and noticed that their Teacher was beginning to glow. His face was shinning as the sun and His clothes as white as the purest light (Matthew 17:2). Did they all gasp as they beheld the sight of Jesus so glorified?

Then Moses and Elijah appeared out of nowhere and began conversing with Jesus as if He was and old and dear friend.
     At the sight of this glorious and intensely spiritual moment, Peter had the overwhelming urge to do something with his hands.

“Uh, Lord, it’s good for us to be here. We’re glad that we’re included. Let’s build something. How about three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter probably thought it was a great idea at the time, but another one of his well intentioned suggestions was immediately overshadowed by a bright cloud and the Voice of God proclaimed His own set of instructions – “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. You – hear Him!”

The sound of God’s voice resonating through that cloud as if it was a loudspeaker, sent Peter and his companions falling on their faces to the ground and they were afraid.
     And they thought it was going to be an ordinary day.

Then they felt Jesus touch them one by one, and they heard His voice say gently, “Get up and don’t be afraid.”
     When they looked up they saw no one but Jesus who was the fulfillment of the law that came by Moses, and the prophets represented by Elijah. By now His face had returned to normal and He was looking at them with amusement.
     The disciples were eyewitnesses to an astounding supernatural event that they would never forget. Peter would write about it later. He said,

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a Voice to Him from the excellent glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And the voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount,” ( II Peter 1:16-18).

I can imagine Peter as he finished writing these words. I see him setting down his pen for a moment and reconstructing the events of that day in his mind. He probably could have spent pages and pages describing the details and the emotions, the impact of those incredible supernatural moments, but he did not. Perhaps the multitude of words would have overshadowed the simple statement we are to focus on, that Peter and his companions were eyewitnesses. We have a declaration from an eyewitness that we can trust. Always remember that truth.

“Are you coming?” Peter asked his brother Andrew impatiently, as he watched him fumble with the leather thongs on his sandals.
     “Yes, I’m coming, they are too loose, I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”
     Peter turned and walked away after Jesus and the other disciples. His emotions and his thoughts were tumbling together in an agitated storm. He was following His Lord to Jerusalem where he had been told Jesus would be killed. The way Jesus explained it to him, He made it sound as if everything would be all right. How could that be? Peter could not comprehend that this end is only a beginning.
     Did his thoughts return to the story of Abraham, when he was told to sacrifice his son? Yet God spared the child at the last moment substituting a ram in the boy’s place (Genesis 22). Maybe that’s how it will be, he could have thought. Maybe God will miraculously intervene at the last moment.

They followed Jesus to an upper room where they would share a final meal together. As the meal progressed, Jesus took some bread and said to them, “This is My body which is broken for you, take it and eat. Then He took a cup of wine and said, “Take and drink, for this is My blood which is shed for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
     The disciples ingested the symbols of His broken body and the bread of His word and they drank the symbol of His blood and His life-giving Spirit.

Then Jesus rose from the table, removed His garments and wrapped Himself with a towel. The disciples must have looked at each other wondering, “What is He doing now?”
     Then Jesus filled a basin with water, knelt before His disciples and began to wash their feet, a task reserved for servants. And when He came to the rock Jesus would build His church upon, the little stone protested.
     “Lord, you are going to wash my feet?” he said in astonished horror. Was he feeling unworthy, or was it too humbling a moment for the as yet unpolished little stone?

And Jesus answered, “You don’t understand what I am doing now, but you will later.”
     Servant-hood is something to be learned as you go, Peter, but at this moment the pebble responded to his Master’s example by exclaiming – “You shall never wash my feet!” Did he jerk his feet away from the bowl of water?
     Then Jesus said, “If you do not let Me wash you, you have no part of Me.”
     Peter lowered his leg back into the basin, “Lord, then wash my feet and also my head and my hands!”
     Jesus must have been smiling at Peter’s outburst of devotion, knowing that the rugged fisherman was His own, even though this pebble had such a long way to go.

“You are washed,” Jesus said, as He gazed into Peter’s heart.
     You only need to wash your feet. They get dirty on the roads and the sin- marred pathways of this life. And there never will be a time when the Spirit of your Lord will not be there to clean away; the residue that will try to mar the treasure that is you.

So after Jesus had washed their feet, He wanted to make sure Peter and all of us knew what wash basins and towels were for.
     “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them,” (John 13:13-17).

Then Jesus paused, and a great sorrow filled His eyes and His words. “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scriptures may be fulfilled, He that eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me. Truly, truly I say to you, that one of you shall betray Me.” (John 13:18,21).
     This statement caused quite a stir among the disciples. And when it was revealed to the others who it would be that satan would use and influence, Judas left the room in silence.
     “Now is the Son of man glorified,” Jesus said in his betrayer’s wake. “And God is glorified in Him.”
     Jesus could tell His pupils did not understand.
     “Where I go you cannot come,”
     In My absence keep yourselves preoccupied with this –
     “so I say to you a new commandment – love one another, as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples.”

By the basins and the towels,
By life given for life;
By service and sacrifice,
By example.

Then Peter said, “Lord where are You going?”
     Jesus had explained it to him before, but like a small child, Peter had forgotten. Where would Jesus go without them?
     Did Jesus see the anxiety in Peter’s eyes then respond to him like a father to a trembling child – “Where I am going, you can’t follow Me now, but you will afterwards,” He said with a smile to reassure this sullen one.
     Then the child whined, “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake!”
     Jesus gazed into Peter’s soul seeing the beginning of his life to the end, the soulscape of mountains, valleys, the heights and the failures and Jesus said, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Truly, truly I say to you, the cock shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”
     Was Peter stunned? His bravado once again collapsed into ruins. “I know He is the Son of God, yet how can this be true?” Peter must have been thinking.
     Then Jesus said to all of them and all of us who wonder and have read His words throughout the centuries, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I am going and I am coming again,” (John 14:1-3).

As the evening began to wane, they followed Jesus into a garden where He wanted to pray. He wandered off by Himself and the disciples could hear Him crying out to God in the distance. His soul was in agony. His disciples were confused and distressed. And while their Lord was travailing throughout the long night hours, Peter and the others fell asleep.
     Jesus eventually came and stood above His sleeping friends. Were tears streaming down His cheeks as he asked Peter in particular, “Could you not watch with me one hour?”

They were awakened from their sleep when the soldiers came, for Judas had betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Pharisees, the religious elite.
     “Who are you looking for?” Jesus asked them calmly.
     The soldiers replied boldly, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
     “I am He.”
     Then through the power of that declaration, the soldiers were suddenly blown backward.
     There was power to rescue this One if that was in the plan. But it was not.

Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
     The soldiers scrambled to their feet and asked again, this time a bit more subdued, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
     Then Jesus requested that the soldiers let His disciples go.
     Peter immediately took it upon Himself to rescue His Lord. Impulsively He withdrew his sword and deftly cut off someone’s ear. Impulsive responses are known to do this especially in conversations. An inappropriate word at the wrong time can cut off someone from hearing your side of things. In this case, Jesus admonished Peter to put away his sword.
     “The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
     And the cup that our Father gives us, shall we also not partake of it as well, Peter?
     Then Jesus was bound and led away into the darkness.

John and Peter followed Jesus through the long, dark pathways that led them back into the city. John was known to the high priest, and was able to follow Jesus into the palace. Maybe at one time Caiaphas the priest had relatives that perhaps had been childhood friends with the apostle, we don’t know, but because of this relationship, John was also permitted to bring Peter into the courtyard.

As Peter entered, the woman who kept the door asked Peter if he was also one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter answered simply, “I am not.” Then he took his place with the servants and officers who were warming themselves around a fire of coals.
    Peter tried to warm himself, but he could not, for the cold he felt was chilling him from within.
     While Jesus was being interrogated by the priest, Peter was also being questioned by his companions around the fire.
     “Aren’t you also one of His disciples?” he was asked.
     “No, I am not.” Peter replied for the second time.
     Then one of the servants who was also a relative of the one whose ear had been removed by Peter’s sword, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with Jesus?”

And in this third opportunity for Peter to admit the truth – he denied again. Immediately he heard a rooster crow, and the sound triggered the memory of Jesus' warning to him, that he would deny his Lord three times before he heard that regretful sound.
     As Jesus was being led out to the judgment hall to appear before Pilate, did he turn to look at Peter, and did their eyes meet briefly before Peter turned and fled to seek a private place where no one could see him weep so bitterly.

Ah, but this was the rock that Jesus would build His church upon, now consumed with grief and tears. How could Jesus have been so wrong in picking this obvious failure?
     I think it’s important to stop here and reflect on Peter’s denial. He never denied Jesus was the Messiah; that truth was locked deep in the vault of his heart. The light of that fire had never gone out. Peter had only denied that he was Jesus’ disciple, and at the moment he was not completely. He had removed his feet from Jesus’ path for a moment and his flight brought him into this place of intense regret, a place not completely unknown to any prodigal.
     The devil had gained a temporary victory, yet Jesus had prayed for this one He knew that satan desired to sift like wheat (Luke 22:31,32), and Jesus prays for all of us.

While Peter was suffering the throes of internal agony, his Lord was being beaten and whipped. We don’t know if Peter was there when Jesus was nailed to the cross. We can only imagine what he decided to do when he heard the news that Jesus was going to be crucified. Did he follow John to the hillside? Was he standing among the onlookers in the daylight, consumed with darkness; suddenly plunged into the memory of another storm?

In his mind, Peter suddenly heard his voice cry like a little child calling to Jesus through the wind, “Can I come too?” as he watched Jesus walk toward him on the water. Jesus smiled back at his faith as the fisherman climbed out over the edge of the boat and with his eyes locked firmly on his Lord, placed his feet upon the churning sea. He began to walk toward Jesus who was standing before him upon the watery floor.

What a miracle! Faith can take you anywhere. You can walk on the water with Jesus, Peter. You were the only one of your brethren who had the courage to climb out of the boat and leave all that security behind. But you let yourself become distracted by the storm and the height of the waves. You took your eyes off Jesus just long enough to let the turmoil bring you down and in your panic you began to sink – like you are sinking now. “Help me Lord!” you cried fearing you would drown in your failure. Then Jesus’ strong hands reached down and pulled you up, up until you were once again face to face with your Lord.

There was no condemnation in His eyes when He said, “Oh, you of little faith.” He was actually grinning at you, pleased that you had come at least that far. You felt His strong arm around your shoulders as he helped you get back to the boat with your feet sloshing all the way, (Matthew 14:25-31).
     He saved you from sinking in the darkness once, now you are sinking again, staring at those same strong hands, now impaled and unable to save you,- so you thought at the time; yet the blood you watched flowing from those wounds was your lifeline.

He sat in the dark corner of his room, refusing to talk to anyone. He could not. Pain had sealed his lips and his heart. Peter was no one now, just a dark blob of misery sharing his entombment with Jesus.
     Then suddenly the sound of a fist banging on his door invaded his gloom and he heard Mary Magdalene’s voice screaming something about Jesus no longer being in His tomb. Peter was jolted into movement and he and John ran to see for themselves that the large round stone was no longer sealing the sepulcher's entrance.
    Peter was the first to enter the tomb and saw the empty burial linens. What did he think then? Did he remember Jesus telling them that He would rise from the dead? Or did Peter think this was some cruel, wrenched prank,- someone had stolen his Lord’s body and did he feel the old familiar rage that plagued him in his former days?
     Did he return to his house in wonderment or anger? He sat again motionless at his place by the corner, this time sifted by a whirlwind of emotions; until once again he heard the sound of a fist banging on his door and Mary Magdalene’s voice shouting, this time with joy that she had seen the Lord!

The apostles were all gathered together after they heard Mary’s news. I wonder if they believed her then? They were probably trying to assimilate the information, wondering if it was true or had she been hallucinating in her grief?
     The Apostle Paul tells us that it was Peter who saw Him first, (I Cor. 15:5). Did he hear the floorboards creak behind him and did he turn his head and succumb to a rapt shock, stunned by the sight of Jesus' smile?
     Was Jesus looking directly at Peter when He said, “Peace be to you?” (John 20:19). Then He showed them the wounds in His hands and His side, to verify that resurrected life had overcome those wounds, and yes, Peter, that same life has overcome all your scars, too.

We are told that there were many other signs that Jesus did in the presence of His disciples to assure them and us – “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and believing we all might have life through His name” (John 20:31).
     However, at that point, it appears that the disciples weren’t all that sure what to do with this new revelation. So when Peter the fisherman, made the decision to return to his former occupation, not knowing what else to do, the other disciples quickly agreed.
     They labored all night and caught nothing. Then as dawn began to illuminate the horizon, they saw a lone figure standing on the shore in the distance.

“Children, have you any food?” the stranger called.
     And they answered, “No.”

Then they were told to cast the net on the right side of the ship, and “you shall find.”
     They obeyed and it was as if every fish in the sea was fighting for a chance to jump into that net. The catch was so great they couldn’t haul it into the boat. At that moment, they knew the stranger on the beach was their Lord.

Peter excitedly cast himself into the water and swam to shore. He found Jesus calmly cooking breakfast over a fire of coals. Where did Jesus get His fish? Did it jump from the water to the fire? It could have, but the fish is on the fire and our provisions are always waiting for us with Jesus. Is this fish, which is received without labor, a symbol of our gift of grace?

While the disciples were struggling to haul their enormous catch back to the beach, Peter had an opportunity to spend some time alone with the Lord. This was probably the first chance that Peter had to be alone with Jesus after His resurrection. We don’t know what was said in those moments before the other disciples arrived. Peter saw the fire of coals; did it jog his mind back to the agony of his denial before a similar fire? I picture him staring at the flaming embers that once mirrored the torment in his soul, and then he looked at Jesus. As their eyes met I know I would have said, “I’m so sorry.”
     Then as the meal progressed, Jesus asked Peter the same question three times, and three times Peter was given the opportunity to affirm his devotion wiping out the scars of his denial forever.

Jesus looked at the fish and said, “Peter, do you love Me more than these?” – your old job security, your old way of life, the comfortable way things used to be?
     And Peter answered, “Yes, Lord you know that I love You.”
     And Jesus replied, “Then feed My lambs, feed My sheep.”
    Then Jesus told him in essence – this new line of work won’t be easy, Peter. Someday it will even cost you your life (John 21:18). Then Jesus looked at the rock He would build His church upon and said simply, “Follow Me.” And He knew Peter would obey.

The disciples had gathered with one hundred and twenty other believers in an upper room. They were all praying and seeking the Lord together, for they had been told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. As they waited, the memory of Jesus’ ascension into the clouds above their heads was still reverberating within their beings and the excitement of what was to come was stirring their prayers.
     They were all with one accord, in one place and in this atmosphere of devout unity, the wings of another miracle began to unfurl and the sound of a rushing mighty wind invaded the room. The wind ignited the air above them into flames and tongues of supernatural fire danced above each head. Their voices suddenly erupted into a spontaneous explosion of strange sounds, languages unknown to the speakers; yet known to the visitors in Jerusalem at that time who had come from all over for the feast days. The sounds spilled out into the streets, and when the people who heard the wondrous commotion began to gather, questioning the miracle, the rock Jesus would build His church upon, responded. Peter stood up before the crowds and with a boldness and power that can only come from an amazing anointing from God, the rock began to preach, (Acts 2).

It was only one sermon, and the Spirit of God gave Peter his words. Just one sermon, spoken by an ordinary man, except this one had received an extraordinary touch from God. And with just one anointed sermon, three thousand souls were added to God’s kingdom in one day – and the church of Jesus Christ was born. From that historical moment the world would never be the same.

In the language of the Greek, Peter’s name is petros, which means a stone. Stones can be tossed and thrown. But Jesus said that He would build His church upon a rock. In the Greek that word is petra which is much bigger and studier than a mere stone. We have watched our Peter grow from a pebble to a rock fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus’ declaration of what Peter would become; the transformation of the little stone to a solid rock that our Lord could trust.

The rock that Jesus built His church upon, was still a long way from perfection, just like you and I; but as we look back upon Peter’s transition to this place of miraculous victory, we can take courage. Although the little stone, the petros, was tumbled and thrown, the falls and risings only served to remove the rough places and ragged edges, until a common, ordinary stone that Jesus chose, became a spectacular, polished jewel shining in the kingdom of his Lord.

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - Acts 2:38

Copyright 2011 by H.D. Shively

For related information see also Is Peter the rock Jesus built His church on?

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