“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.
– Matthew 16:15-20
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
– Acts 9:31
Confusion. That is what many feel when reading some of the things Jesus said. We get our mythology regrading St. Peter greeting everyone at the pearly gates in this Scripture, since Jesus hands him the ‘keys’ of the kingdom of heaven, but no, wait. Aren’t the keys to the kingdom of heaven revealed to each of us through the work of the Holy Spirit, and that is what Jesus was really talking about? We get Peter’s name change from Simon to Simon Peter. “On this rock” Jesus will build His church. But is Jesus telling everyone that Peter will be the foundational rock? No way. We cannot build our church on a foundation of a sinful, flawed man. Not even an Apostle. Jesus is the cornerstone, and the ‘rock’ that Jesus mentions here is the revelation by the Holy Spirit through the forever open, forever talking mouth of Peter.
What happened is that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to utter those words. Jesus praises Peter, but He is really acknowledging the Holy Spirit working within Peter. Immediately after this, Jesus says that He will be killed and on the third day rise again. Peter argues that this would never happen. Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus is not calling Peter “Satan”, but rebuking both Peter and Satan’s ability to work within Peter. The sad thing, but maybe for Peter’s ultimate good, is that Peter’s euphoria over getting the keys to heaven and being a rock to build a church on lasted so horribly briefly. From gatekeeper to ‘Satan’ in a few sentences, not a good foundation stone.
When we think of a rock where a church was built, we think of a building. Yet, when ‘church’ is mentioned throughout the book of Acts, ‘church’ refers to the collection of believers. The Scripture above from Acts refers to one church covering the entire Promised Land. This verse should also give us hope. We, as Christians, are under attack worldwide. The attacks are subtle and, for the most part, non-violent in the USA. Our freedom is being restricted by the Politically Correct. It will get worse before it gets better, but this verse in Acts 9 gives us hope that there will be times when the persecution will slacken. We will have peace for a season.
As for other places in the world, Christian persecution is very violent. I read an article yesterday about the death toll in Nigeria being over 6000 Christians who have died to recent attacks by a local Muslim group, some being radicalized. History will hopefully repeat itself. I read this morning how Chairman Mao tried to eradicate Christianity in China, but upon his death, the church had grown a thousand-fold. May the same thing happen in Africa. For my readers there, our prayers are with you.
But what of old church buildings? The photo is of the Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France. One Sunday, we skipped church while living in Karlsruhe, Germany. We drove down the autobahn and then west across the Rhein River to Strasbourg. We went to the cathedral. Not to worship, but to see the beautiful old building.
A little back story: When the Strasbourg cathedral was built, it had the tallest spire in the world. The only problem is that the church was designed to have two spires, similar to the cathedral in Cologne (Koln), Germany. The money ran out before they could erect the second spire. In fact, they needed more money to do other work within the cathedral. The good folks at Ulm, Germany needed a spire, so they bought the second spire from Strasbourg. They knew that Strasbourg was already bragging about having the tallest spire in the world, so when they erected the spire that they purchased from Strasbourg, they added an extra layer of bricks. Now, Ulm had the tallest spire in the world at that time. Safety Note: When climbing the stairs in the spire of the Ulm cathedral, watch your step. There is an odd higher step at one point that could throw off your rhythm while climbing. ‘Who knows’ what went wrong during construction.
When we got to the church that day, the beautiful façade at the entrance was covered in scaffolding, as you can see along the left edge of the photograph. This photograph is actually taken from the backside of the façade, looking west. You can go online to see what the front of the church looks like today. After we walked around for a little while, waiting for the worship service to end and the doors to become unlocked, the door on the east side of the cathedral opened. About 3 or 4 worshipers left, while there were over a hundred tourists, including us, who were outside, waiting for the service to be over.
It struck me. Where was the church? There was this beautiful building, but there were no people. There were plenty of rocks, but no rock to build a church upon.
Of course, one could say that we were part of the problem. Why were we not at church? For the three years that we lived in Germany, we attended the chapel services at the barracks where my home battalion was housed, providing support to the enlisted soldiers there. My wife and I were members of the choir. When the choir director gave the choir a week off, we used that freedom to see some of the countryside. This time, it was life on the other side of the river.
And thinking of the ‘other’ side of the river and Julie, or Cookie Crumbs to Live By, who loves bits of history, there is an interesting tale about the onset of World War II that revolves around Strasbourg.
England and France declared war on Germany when Hitler invaded Poland. This was great news for Poland, thinking that Germany would have to move troops to protect Germany’s western border. Hitler gambled. He committed all his troops to attack Poland. He thought that France and England were just talk and no action.
In the meantime, England and France mustered an Allied army. They gathered in Strasbourg. From there, they invaded Germany. Just across the bridge into Germany is the small town of Kehl, Germany. The French commander secured the bridge from Strasbourg to Kehl and waited for contact with the German defenders.
After a couple of days defending the bridge and facing the Ziegfried line ahead, the French general became confused. As he waited and waited for the counter-attack, he saw no evidence that there were any defenses at all. There was never a shot fired. He then imagined that the Germans had something up their sleeve. He was convinced that if the Allied forces attacked further into Germany, stretching their lines of communication with France, the Germans would counter-attack and cut off their supply lines across the bridge. He called for a retreat. The French and English forces retreated to Strasbourg without ever firing a shot or being fired upon.
They could have charged all the way to Berlin with minimal resistance, most of the time, no resistance. The French Army was defeated by their fear. They retreated in such a panic that one of the tanks failed to crank. They abandoned the tank, and the tank crew ran home to France on foot.
When you take the highway between Kehl and Strasbourg, there is an odd curve in the road. The road could have been built straight through, but for some ‘unexplained’ reason, the Germans built the road around an old rusty French tank.
Whenever we fear, we can rest in our Savior’s arms. We can feel secure there. In fact, in our Savior’s arms, we find a steady rock where our church can be built.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.