August 21, 2011
Keys to the Kingdom
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Ephesians 6.1
Jesus and his disciples have been traveling around Galilee. They cross the sea one way, then the other. In the land of the Jews, and in the land of the Gentiles, Jesus teaches, heals, and feeds thousands of people—not once, but twice. The religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees, are getting nervous, and they want to make Jesus look bad, so they ask him for a special sign from heaven, assuming he will not be able to produce one on demand. Jesus looks at them and basically says, “If you can’t see the kingdom of heaven when it’s right in front of you, I don’t have anything to say to you.” He walks away.
The next place they go, the disciples have forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” The disciples think he is talking about the fact that they forgot the bread. Should they make sure not to buy bread from Pharisees? Jesus rolls his eyes and reminds them about the abundance of God’s provision—how Jesus fed five thousand men one day, four thousand another, plus women and children, from a few loaves of bread and a few fish—with baskets and baskets left over. “I’m not talking about bread!” he says. “I’m talking about their limited thinking and their poisonous speech, which grows and gets into everything. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees! Don’t you understand?” The disciples are not actually very good at understanding.
Today they are in
Caesarea Philippi, primarily a Gentile city, away from the Jewish crowds that
have been mobbing Jesus. As they walk
along, he brings up a new topic: What
are people saying about me? Who do they
say that I am? Clearly people know Jesus
is someone special. One disciple says
that people think Jesus is Elijah, who ascended into heaven in a whirlwind
nearly a thousand years before. He’s
supposed to come back before “the day of the Lord,” so that’s not a bad
guess. Other people are saying that
Jesus might be Jeremiah, a prophet from a couple of hundred years after Elijah,
Suddenly Jesus stops. He turns and looks at them. And he says, “But who do you say that I am?”
Well, there’s a conversation-stopper. The group falls silent. Then Simon Peter, who can’t ever let an opportunity pass, says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
One evening last
winter my dear friend Karen was in New York City on business. She’s a director at IBM, where we started out
as trainees together right out of college.
We’ve been best friends for most of our lives. She had a fancy room at a fancy hotel and a
fancy expense account to buy a fancy dinner, so I went in to share the bounty
with her. When we were both much
younger, Karen tried for years to get pregnant, before she and her husband
adopted two girls from
That night over dinner, Karen said to me, “So what is it, exactly, that you believe?”
You would think
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Good answer, Simon! Jesus likes the answer so much that he changes Simon’s name to Peter, Greek Petros, which means Rock. Jesus will build his church on the foundation of this rock, this statement by Peter. It is an unchangeable truth, the thing that makes us Christians.
When I told Karen my answer, she said, “How do you know?” Here my answer got pretty squirrely. I don’t know how I know—I just do. Like Peter, I guess God revealed it to me. Many have tried to prove God’s existence and Jesus’ Messiah-ship by logic or theology or even science, but the truth is, we can’t prove it. We can only live it. And I can’t tell you how often I wish I could prove it. The list of people I want to prove it to is really long, and full of people who are very dear to me.
Jesus does give Peter, and us, some tools for living out that truth. He tells Peter,
“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.”
Jesus is responding not to Peter’s accomplishments as a disciple (which, frankly, leave much to be desired) but to his testimony. Is Peter ready to hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven? No, not really. Peter has answered correctly, but he doesn’t know what his answer means. When Jesus tells him, in the next paragraph, that being the Messiah will mean being betrayed and tortured and killed, then rising on the third day, Peter says, “God forbid!” What kind of God would do something like that! Peter is just beginning to understand what his own answer means. A lot of learning will come along the way.
Has anyone here ever handed over car keys to a 16-year-old? I just did that, and it wasn’t because I’m sure that Anna knows absolutely everything she needs to know, that she will never make a mistake, that her judgment and reactions will be flawless. I suspect that they won’t be. But I gave her the key to the car anyway, because she has prepared and it is time. She will learn as she drives along, and I just pray, fervently, that none of her learning will cause any harm to her or anyone else.
Peter isn’t ready to hold the keys to the kingdom, and we are not, either. Still, Jesus entrusts us with great responsibility. He gives us the power to bind and loose. He promises that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. I use that power in prayer, to bind my loved ones to God every day—even the ones who don’t care about it yet.
This question at
Caesarea Philippi is not Jesus’ final question to his disciples. They will have their last supper together,
the moments at
Each of us must reply. It’s not enough to repeat what others say. We can’t repeat Simon Peter’s answer, or our parents’ answer, or our favorite Sunday School teacher’s answer. You can’t repeat my answer.
Jesus gives us the keys to the Kingdom because of who he is, not who we are. He gives us the keys because of what we hope, not what we achieve. And he expects us to use them. But first, we each must answer,
“Who do you say that I am?”
when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And
they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others
Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to
them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter
answered, “You are the Messiah,c the Son of the living
God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you,
Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my
Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,d
and on this rockeI will build my church, and the gates
of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 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.” 20
Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he wasf