During times of crisis, doubt, spiritual deserts, or dark nights of the soul, it is essential to remember who God is. We could make a whole series of posts about God’s attributes, but one that I return to and meditate on frequently is God’s faithfulness. God is unwaveringly true to himself and unfalteringly true to his word. He keeps his promise, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
He keeps his promises to me as an adopted child in his family. He also keeps his promises corporately to the church, as his chosen bride.
There was so much to comment on in the readings for today (Matthew 16-18; Psalm 30-34), but I was drawn to consider again the incredible promise Jesus makes to Peter in Matthew 16. Jesus asked his disciples what the word on the street was regarding his identity. “Who do the people say I am?” The disciples gave safe, noncommittal answers, like students writing a term paper without committing themselves to a thesis. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook by merely citing others. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter, quick-to-speak, quick-to-act Peter has an answer – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
So profound was his answer that he certainly didn’t come up with it on his own. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
What comes next is incredible. “And I tell you that you are Peter [Greek word, Petros, meaning “rock,” and from where we get “petrified”] and on this rock I will build my church.” It’s a beautiful reminder that it isn’t flesh and blood that builds the church, but Christ working mysteriously and powerfully through appointed people. Peter was a less than likely candidate to found a global institution, but he won’t be the source of the power anyway, not any more than he was the source of the insight into Jesus’ identity. No, Christ will build his church.
And this truth, that Christ is building his church, is what makes the next promise believable. ‘And the gates of hell will not overcome it.’
Not for lack of trying.
Consider a sampling of what the church has survived. First, a lack of ‘qualified’ leaders at the start. Then persecution. And divisions. Then armies of barbarians. And prosperity (maybe more dangerous than persecution). Oh, and corruption – lots of it. Scandals galore (like one’s that would make televangelists blush). More divisions. Black Death. Wars – about church. Small Pox. Modernism. Spanish flu. The death of God philosophy. Communism. Postmodernism. Covid19.
The church survives because it is Christ’s church, and he is faithful to his promises and his bride. Amen. Maranatha.