Good News of Justice to Come

Have we ever suffered for doing good? Have we ever wondered whether it was all worth it, while those who do evil seem to prosper? Is there any justice? Is evil really punished and good rewarded?
I want us all to realize that payday is coming, for those who have done evil as well as good.
We will discuss the value of the cross, losing ourselves to gain ourselves and living a holy life all from Matthew 16:21-28.
The Cross Trumps Tradition
The ministry of Jesus Christ was a total departure from tradition. Throughout Jewish history a Messiah figure was a conquering military hero who saved Israel from foreign domination. The Old Testament tells the stories of many such superstars. In Matthew 16:21 Jesus went totally against that convention by prophesying about his crucifixion. To Peter it appeared to be admitting defeat. The original language indicates that Peter’s immediate response was a strong scolding. That was not the way things were done. A Messiah was supposed to live on and conquer. He was supposed to say take up your sword and follow me, not your cross. The Church of Jesus Christ needs ongoing reformation. We constantly need to pray for and follow his direction not lean on our traditions. In Jesus, loss is gain, defeat is victory. The cross trumps tradition.
Mollycoddling Compassion
Can compassion go too far? Can parents be overindulgent of their children to their own harm? When they need money are we always there to bail them out? Some of life’s lessons must be learned the hard way, and not saving adult children from every financial difficulty is tough love. When they get in trouble at school are we among those parents who criticize the teachers and defend even the wrong acts of our children? That kind of parenting is a disaster for any child. Can too much compassion even be against God’s will at times? Peter was certainly compassionate when Jesus predicted his suffering (Matthew 16:22). Perhaps most of us can relate. We would not want anyone we loved to suffer, especially the cross. However, Jesus rebuked him because this was not the right time for mollycoddling compassion.
Get Behind me Satan
Grandma forced Dad into a job that he hated. He later changed to a career that he liked. We naturally want to protect others from possible suffering. Like Peter said to Jesus we also say, “No way!” Jesus’ reaction was blunt, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:22-23) Perhaps we have tried to discourage children from what we imagined to be a poor career choice, when maybe it was their life’s calling, their purpose for being. It is an evil and diabolical thing to make a young person unhappy for life merely for the sake of a steady paycheck, the idolatrous perpetuation of a family business or to fit other similar vain expectations. We don’t want others to suffer, and so we tend to want to baby them. Yet, such good intentions may actually be more evil than good.
Saving Jesus
Some recent church news has been encouraging. Brad Wilcox, University of Virginia sociologist found that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to attend church. It’s the exact opposite of urban myths associating Christianity with ignorance and low education. Other recent news is that the liberal trend in the Church is reversing. The next generation is theologically more conservative. Have we been worried about the Church? Have we been concerned that Jesus has lost control? Have we been trying to save Jesus? Do believe that Jesus is the living Head of the Church or just a figurehead? When Peter tried to save Jesus from being killed, Jesus’ quick reply to him was, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) Are we guilty of lacking faith that Jesus knows what he’s doing or has things under control?
Opposing or Following Jesus
When Peter rebuked Jesus’ regarding his prophecy of his crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him in turn calling him Satan. The word Satan simply means adversary, someone in opposition. Peter was opposed to Jesus’ plans. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” The same word for “behind” is translated in the very next verse as “follower.” Jesus was telling Peter to quit being an adversary but get behind him by following him. When we try to take the lead away from Jesus, we are an adversary. When we create church rules in opposition to the essentials of the faith espoused by Jesus then we are an adversary of his. When we try to be more righteous than Jesus we are in opposition to him. In effect Jesus is also saying to us, “Back me up, you who are in opposition.” (Matthew 16:23)
From Rock to Stumbling Block
Peter went from rock to stumbling block within the same chapter (Matthew 16:23). After this event he would go from that to worse, denying Jesus. We all experience ups and downs in our faith journey. There will be times when we see Jesus as Messiah and become like Peter, rock of the Rock. There are also times when we look at events around us and cry out, “Bad things like this are not supposed to happen!” Pastors know that they will sometimes be crucified or disowned, even by close friends. Of course, being crucified is something that other Christians also experience. When our fellow Christians are persecuted, are we tempted to lose faith or cry out to heaven in objection? Let us not stumble but remember that carrying our own cross of crucifixion is part of the Christian journey.
Confession without the Cross
Altar calls were popularized by Charles Finney in the 19th century and are not always successful. Only a small percentage of those who make a formal public confession immediately enter a church and live a Christian life. Jesus did not use altar calls. They tend to treat the Christian walk like a checklist with one thing on the list being successfully ticked off. Though not required as a one-time formal ceremony, confession of Jesus Christ is required throughout life. However, confession alone is insufficient as Peter was soon to discover. Earlier in Matthew 16:24 he had confessed Christ, but did not want Jesus to suffer on the cross. As he found out, confession without the cross is not quite enough. We need to set our minds on God’s interests, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.
Empty Cross Syndrome
Protestants do not often display a cross with Jesus on it. That is more of a Catholic thing. I have even heard Protestants criticize Catholics for it as focusing too much on Good Friday and not enough on Resurrection Sunday, but I can find no biblical reasons for such condemnation. It is just a matter of choice. Perhaps we Protestants are too squeamish. Perhaps the Passion of the Christ (movie) could only have been made so well by someone associated with Catholic tradition. Yet we Protestants do remember the passion of Christ in the bread and the wine, but perhaps we are also somewhat like Peter in wanting to avoid the fact that Christ had to suffer (Matthew 16:24). A healthy focus on the cross is a reminder that we too must take up our crosses and follow him.
Lose Life to Save It
In Matthew 16:25 Jesus made the strange-sounding statement that whoever loses his life for him will find it. How is that even possible? It is totally counter-intuitive to our natural instincts. We are all concerned with the security of our lives. We are anxious about finances, retirement, taxes, terrorism, identity theft, the stock market and the price of fuel for our cars. We do a lot to preserve this life. How can Jesus ask us to give up our lives for his sake? Each of us actually has two lives and this riddle speaks of them both. The life that Jesus asked us to lose is this temporal life and in so doing gain eternal life. He did not ask us to commit suicide, but give up our self-centered ways, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.
Losing & Gaining Ourselves
A Greek word often translated as soul or life can also be translated as psyche. It literally means breath, but is used metaphorically for our life, everything that makes us ourselves. The great paradox is that whoever wants to save themselves will lose, but whoever loses themselves for Christ will find themselves. What good is it if we gain the whole world, yet lose ourselves? What can anyone give in exchange for themselves (Matthew 16:25-26)? Or, what are we worth? God tells us what we are worth to him. To God we are worth the death of His Son. God’s challenge is not a call to self-hatred, but that true self-fulfillment is found in self-denial. Our true selves are found not in narcissistic solitude but as part of a sharing community, giving to God and to our community neighbors.
Entitlement Mentality
Entitlement mentality affects rich and poor. Some believe that their hard work or talent entitles them to gross excesses of wealth. Others believe that they are entitled to things without working for them. Peter also misunderstood what a Messiah was entitled to. His entitlement mentality temporarily put him on the side of Satan rather than God. Jesus came from privilege, became poor to save the world and now lives again in the wealthiest corner of the universe, heaven. But rich or poor, he did not consider that either entitled him not to sacrifice his life for humanity. What good is it to feel like we are entitled to the gain whole world but in so doing lose our own soul (Matthew 16:26)? A mentality that involves willingness to sacrifice the self for the sake of others is from God.
Living a Holy Life
Many Christians believe that we take the free gift of salvation and do nothing with it. This is lazy and takes salvation “by grace alone” to an extreme that neither Jesus nor the apostles would have taught. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10; 7:19). The kingdom of God will be given to those who produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43). A life worthy of the Lord bears fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). We are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In a conundrum which confuses many, we are not justified by righteous deeds. That is a gift.  But a saving faith produces good deeds (James 2:17-20) and we will be rewarded by what we have done (Matthew 16:27).
For those who have suffered for doing good, payday will come. We will be rewarded so far above whatever we have suffered. Every good deed has a reward that will last for eternity.

Good News: Jesus will build His Church


Where is the church that Jesus built today? Is it something defined by sometimes brutal human political structures or is it some kind of exclusive franchise or does anyone with faith in Jesus have access to him?


To show that we do not establish doctrine on unclear passages and that faith defines the church not human politics or exclusive franchises.


We will examine Matthew 16:13-20 and various claims about it.

Who is the Rock

Matthew 16:13-20 is controversial. Was Peter called the rock on which the Church was built? It is unclear. Jesus most likely spoke in Aramaic and used the word Kepha for rock. The choice of two Greek words Petra and Petros were grammatical and do not necessarily make it clearer. In the Old Testament God is called the Rock of Israel. The rock of Daniel’s prophecy which conquered Rome was Christ. We don’t establish doctrine on unclear passages. What did Peter say? He said that another rock, Christ was the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7-8), a rock (Petra) that makes men stumble. Peter was the first to proclaim this faith, but in his letters Peter merely introduced himself as an Apostle, not chief Apostle. To claim that Peter was the first Pope reads more into the passage than it actually says. Let’s look at a few comments from early church fathers.

Origen's View of Peter

Origen was head of the catechism school of Alexandria and the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity. His commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 is eye-opening, ‘if we too have said like Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, "Thou art Peter," etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church...’ Origen repudiated an exclusive church franchise mentality with words like, ‘all bear the surname of "rock" who are the imitators of Christ...’

Augustine’s View of Peter

Augustine was bishop of Hippo (in Roman Africa) and his writings have great influence throughout the entire Christian Church. Regarding Matthew 16:13-20 he wrote, ‘Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. "Therefore," he saith, "[You are] Peter; and upon this Rock" which [you have] confessed, upon this Rock which [you have] acknowledged, saying, "[You are] the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;" that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, "will I build My Church." I will build [you] upon Myself, not Myself upon [you].’ The Church is built upon the Rock Christ not Peter.

Chrysostom’s View of Peter

John Chrysostom was a leading bishop of Constantinople famous in history for his eloquent preaching. His commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 does not support Papal primacy. Rather he commented on Jesus’ words, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" that is, on the faith of his confession....He that has built His church upon Peter's confession...’ (1) There is no mention that Peter’s authority over all the world was to continue beyond his grave other than through those who confessed the same faith. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ....I have preached Christ, I have delivered unto you the foundation. Take heed how you build thereon, lest haply it be in vainglory, lest haply so as to draw away the disciples unto men." (2) Peter’s answer invites us to also answer, who do we say he is?

Tertullian’s View of Peter

Tertullian was a North African Christian writer known as the father of Latin Christianity. He taught that Peter was the rock about whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 16:13-20, but it was Peter alone and not any exclusive successors. In other words, the whole of Christian faith is built upon Peter being the first to confess Christ. What about the keys? Tertullian believed that, ‘(Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ's baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom...’ He reasoned that it was Peter’s confession which gave him and any others who showed this faith the key to the kingdom, not human politics and a succession of popes in an exclusive church. Indeed, ‘from that time forward, every number (of persons) who may have combined together into this faith is accounted "a Church,"’ 

Peter was Rocky not Pope 

Christ is the Rock of our Salvation. We are called Christians because we believe in Christ. We could also be called Rocks because we believe in the Rock. That is how early Church fathers saw Peter’s faith in the One who is the foundation of the Church. The Church would be built on Jesus Christ, but also constitute those who had this faith. (Matthew 16:13-20). So, Jesus nicknamed Cephas Rock (Peter) just as some of us are named Christian. There is absolutely nothing in the passage which says anything like Peter being the first of a long line of single men who would carry sole authority over the entirety of the Church. Nothing in the Bible or in early church writings support the idea of a Roman papacy as the sole Christian authority throughout the rest of Church history.

The Early Church had no Pope

When the Church began, the Apostles of Jesus Christ scattered far and wide. There was little possibility of communication between the Christians of India, Ethiopia, Turkey and Spain. It is unrealistic to claim that Peter could have had authority over all these lands in a time when such authority would have simply been a matter of practical impossibility. Yet, Matthew 16:13-20 has been used to support the papacy above all other Christian authorities. How did the early church view this passage? The early church fathers did not interpret this passage as Rome later came to. Indeed wherever the right faith is to be found, there are the keys to the kingdom. No one person has a monopoly on that faith. That is why Paul wrote that no other foundation than Jesus Christ can be laid (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Who do We say He is 

Jesus asked his disciples, Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:13-20) The answer to that question would go a long way to defining who they were. It defines us too. Peter answered it and he was named after the Rock of our Salvation. Are we like Peter, rock of the Rock? We sometimes forget that not everything about God is revealed to us by flesh and blood Church leaders, the Bible and tradition, but by God the Father to us personally. What a shame that this passage is overshadowed by those who wish to promote their own flesh and blood leadership. Yet, when we understand who Jesus is, when that is revealed to us from our Father in heaven, then we too are Rock of the Rock and we receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We need no one between us and heaven.

Sacerdotalism — the Man in the Middle

Sacerdotalism originated in the Old Testament sacrificial system where a human makes sacrifice on our behalf to God. The theory postulates that only those given the authority may consecrate the bread and wine or baptize. One place that is used to support this idea is Matthew 16:13-20. Here Peter was given authority on earth to decide heavenly matters. A strength of sacerdotalism is that the potential for heresy is lessened because trained people administer the sacraments. A weakness is that people begin to look to human leaders instead of God. Peter was told that God revealed this faith to him and no man. So we mistakenly look to a man to confess Christ on our behalf and don’t join him in confessing Christ. We allow a Pastor or Magisterium to inform us about God, but never experience him ourselves. This kind of human politics creates exclusive churches.

Exclusive Church Franchise

The controversy over Matthew 16:13-20 is largely political, a controversy over franchise. Church is God’s business, but who on earth has the franchise? Is it Rome? Is it Constantinople? Is it Madras? Is it Alexandria? Is it Jerusalem? Such questions rely on interpreting the passage in ways that perpetuate human power structures even though no such promise was made to Peter. The problem is that people are pointed to the power of men, the exact opposite of Peter’s experience. There was no promise of territorial franchises as in national churches or exclusive franchises as in only Peter’s ordained successors being allowed to have the keys. Faith and salvation are not exclusive. There is one thing in this that is exclusive. Who is Jesus is not revealed by flesh and blood human politics but exclusively by our Father in heaven. Are we of Christ or men?

Of Which Man are We

Why do we look to men? Matthew 16:13-20 tells us that Peter’s confession was revealed to him by God. Yet, some use this passage to point us to a man, a successor to Peter. This is called the Petrine doctrine. Others use the passage to point us to all bishops as having the keys of heaven. Still others point to Peter's faith not Peter or his successors and so point people to Christ. We ought to become suspicious when Jesus is interpreted not in his own right but through the lens of our traditions. If a church claims that it is of Peter, Luther, Calvin or Wesley is it not just like in 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 where Paul condemned such foolishness? Such division does not exist when Christ is revealed to us by our Father in heaven. Caesarea Philippi teaches a similar lesson.

Why Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi was a city built on a rock to honor Caesar Augustus who called himself divi filius, the son of a god. Jesus took his disciples near this sin city where they could see its structure. It was an appropriate place for Jesus to be able to say to Peter, upon this rock I will build my Church (Matthew 16:13-20) because the imagery and the contrast with brutal Roman leadership were evident. Yet in contrast to Caesar, the leaders of the church of God were not to elevate themselves above their fellows, but become servants of all. The authority of deciding church matters was given to Peter but not to him alone. Jesus later explained that the other Apostles also carried decision-making authority (Matthew 18:18). The rock we build Christian ministry on is Jesus Christ not ourselves. We look to the cross of Christ.

Binding & Loosing

What did Jesus mean when he gave Peter (Matthew 16:13-20) and the other disciples authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18)? The historical phrase binding and loosing referred to interpreting the Scriptures, not binding demons or changing the teachings of Jesus. It did not mean to add a Christian Talmud of do’s and don’ts to Jesus’ teachings or create spiritual dynasties that shut out others from the kingdom of heaven. Let’s look at Jesus’ own final instructions to those same disciples. In Matthew 28:20 he specifically told them to teach what he taught. So their authority to bind and loose did not exceed that. There was no authority to bind heavy and grievous burdens on the Church (Matthew 23:3-5). They could however, educate others how Jesus teachings applied in different cultural contexts and at different times. Let’s now take a closer look at the main controversy.

In Depth — Matthew 16:18 Where the Evidence Leads

Let's study Matthew 16:18 and surrounding verses with a desire to allow the evidence to lead us rather than any preconceived bias. We may be surprised to reach a different conclusion than three of the four main theories surrounding this passage.

We may conclude that the Catholic theory that this proves Peter was the first pope is wrong. We may also find that so are two of the three main Protestant theories. Let’s examine each theory and why perhaps a fourth conclusion held by some mainstream Protestant churches has merit. It tells an unexpected story.

1. The Rock-was-Christ Theory

This theory states that Jesus said to Peter that he was a small stone, but on this large rock, meaning Jesus himself, he will build his church. However, the evidence does not support this theory at all for a number of reasons.

a. Petros and Petra

The words for Peter and rock are certainly two different words in Greek. A beginning Greek student may therefore conclude that they mean two different things. Sadly, that is precisely the conclusion to be found in some popular commentaries. For instance Matthew Henry boldly claims that “Nothing can be more wrong than to suppose that Christ meant the person of Peter was the rock. Without doubt Christ himself is the Rock, the tried foundation of the church; and woe to him that attempts to lay any other! Peter's confession is this rock as to doctrine. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived.” (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible is available in the Public Domain)

If you don’t have good evidence to support your theory, resort to threats and intimidation. Label those who disagree, “deceivers and deceived” so as to scare your audience into agreeing with your less than scholarly deduction. This a similar conclusion to that made by others whose understanding of biblical Greek is more clumsy. The word for Peter (petros) is masculine and the word for rock (petra) is feminine and some have erroneously concluded that petros only ever means a small stone and petra only ever means a huge crag, but that is wrong.

As Greek poetry from the time proves, the language is flexible enough to allow both petra and petros to mean the same thing, depending on the context, and “word play does not demand the usual meaning of words, especially in metaphorical applications such as the present one. The Aramaic wordplay on the same word remains the most convincing explanation.” (Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (470). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

We don’t need to invent a hasty conclusion, perhaps based upon a fear that if we follow the evidence we may be forced to agree with the Catholic Church. Following the evidence, has led me to disagree with both Matthew Henry and the Catholic Church. This does not make them bad. Nobody gets it all right.

So, what then is the truth about the two Greek words? I do agree with my Catholic brothers on one point. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and there the same word (kephas) would have been used for rock as Peter. That is why we see in some Bibles that Peter is also called Cephas. The fact is that in the original Greek, the two words petros (Πέτρος, Peter) and petra (πέτρα, rock) were interchangeable (Matthew, Volume 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, By Craig S. Keener).

Why then are there two different words? Some languages have feminine and masculine words. It’s just grammar. Jesus applied the feminine Greek word for rock (petra) to a man by using the masculine form of that word (petros). Up until that time, Peter was not a common man’s name, but Jesus used this masculine form of the word as Simon’s nickname. In the thorough and well researched New International Commentary we read, “The Greek reader would therefore see here a difference in form but not in meaning...” (The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament, by R. T. France)

b. Other Contexts

In 1 Corinthians 3:11 we are told that no other foundation exists except Jesus Christ. Yet, in Ephesians 2:20 Jesus clearly identifies all the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church, including himself as the cornerstone. Is this a contradiction, on the one hand to say that only Jesus is the foundation, yet on the other hand, to say that the apostles and prophets are also that foundation? No, it is a matter of understanding that these are two different contexts, with two different emphases.

The same is true of Isaiah 51:1-2, where Abraham is described as the rock from which ancient Israel was cut. That does not ignore the obvious, that God was their founder, but includes Abraham’s contribution.

2. The Rock-was-Peter’s-Faith Theory

This theory states that Jesus neither pointed to Peter, nor to himself as the rock, but to Peter’s faith, evidenced by Peter’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. This theory further goes on to state that all who likewise believe are the true church and likewise have this authority spoken of in the rest of the context.

And not But

Another piece of evidence that Peter was the rock that Jesus intended, is the use of the word “and” rather than “but.” Jesus certainly did point to himself as the rock in other contexts, but that does not mean that he meant the same thing in this context. Some people conclude that Jesus either pointed to himself as the rock, or to Peter’s faith, but the evidence disagrees with that conclusion. We were not there to see Jesus’ gestures, so we must rely upon the language to help us out and the language is very clear.

If Jesus had indeed pointed to himself as the rock in this context, or even to Peter’s faith, it would have been written as, “but on this rock I will build my church.” However, it was not. The wording is, “and on this rock I will build my church.” This evidence clearly indicates that the theories of Jesus’ pointing to himself or to Peter’s faith are false. Peter was the one to make the confession that Jesus was the Christ, and it is natural to see the confessing Peter as the rock, not his faith divorced from him as a person.

Some people worry that this would eliminate Jesus as head of the church and place a man in charge, but that ought not to be a concern. Notice that Jesus said I will build my church. It will still be Jesus who does the building, and it will still be his church.

3. The Rock was Peter-as-Pope Theory

This is actually the easiest theory to eliminate from this passage, as there is absolutely nothing at all about any successors to Peter. In fact, there is no statement in the Bible at all regarding Peter and a subsequent papacy. That entire theory rests upon discussions of later church history. In fact the very formal and authority-conscious structure of the Catholic and some Protestant churches is a later historic development and not the kind of structure lived out by the early Apostles.

The biblical evidence certainly points away from Peter being a pope. In Galatians 2:11 we find Paul strongly correcting Peter, without any indication of deference to him being higher in rank than Paul. There is no New Testament record of Peter having passed on any pope-like authority to anyone, nor any evidence that Christ commanded Peter to do so. Paul wrote to the churches of Rome with authority; Peter did not. Nowhere in the entire New Testament did Peter ever refer to himself having any higher authority than the other apostles.

4. The Rock was Peter as Forerunner Theory

Peter was the first of the apostles to clearly confess that Jesus was the Christ, and as such was the pace-setter. He was given teaching authority, to declare what is permissible and what is not, not authority to change things as many subsequent Christian leaders have presumptuously done. The tense in Greek does not imply that Peter would make decisions and heaven would follow, but that decisions will have already been made in heaven, and Peter would follow.

The New International Commentary states that Peter was the steward or chief administrative officer of the kingdom of heaven, not the owner. The keys that he was given were like those to a storehouse, to provide spiritual nourishment to the household of God. Peter’s leadership in the very earliest phases of the church is quite clear, as he declared the way of the gospel being open to the gentiles and so on. However, Peter is nowhere endorsed in the Bible as one of the popes at Rome.

We do not have to run away from allowing the Bible to have its natural meaning and potentially use dishonest research because of prejudice either for or against the idea of a papacy. Matthew 16:18 neither supports the idea of Peter being the first pope, nor some of the theories invented to run away from it. As so often is the case, the truth is really somewhere in the middle. Peter had the faith to declare that Jesus is the Christ. As such, we can clearly see how he was used early on in the book of Acts at the very first stages of the building of the Church. A forerunner is a far cry from being a pope.


No other foundation of the church of God exists but Jesus Christ. The church is built upon the prophets and apostles with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone. Peter was a forerunner of faith not leader of an exclusive lineage that shuts others out of heaven. Faith is not exclusive to any one denomination of Christians. It is Jesus who will build his church, and that church consists of those who have faith in him.

Good News for Unwanted People


Bigotry defines some people as unwashed, unclean, unwanted based entirely upon physical characteristics such as race, nationality, income, religion and so on. Yet, Jesus shows that what is important is whether or not our hearts are clean.


I would like to bust the bigotry of classism, racism, nationalism, religious superiority and such like.


We will look at Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees over cleanliness rituals and with a gentile woman over racial issues.

1. Confrontation with the Pharisees

Defiled by the Words

What makes us clean or unclean? Old Testament laws defined clean and unclean foods or practices. The Pharisees’ hand washing ritual was a man-made rule but showed serious devotion to those laws. Jesus' disciples were criticized for ignoring the ritual (Matthew 15:10-28). Jesus was blunt and provocative. He stated that these highly respected religious leaders were not of God and that the disciples should ignore them. Was Jesus concerned with spiritual cleanness? Was the real purpose of Old Testament cleanliness laws to teach us about being spiritually clean in our hearts? Fastidiously following the Old Testament food laws does not guarantee a clean heart. Can religious rituals distract us from important matters of the heart? Faith is not outward religious mumbo jumbo, a show. Cleaning up unclean hearts is God’s focus. Are we letting God wash our hearts clean? What about political correctness?

Necessary Offense

Some people have the philosophy that we should by all means avoid offense. If we naively swallow the line of politically correct speech we may find difficulty with passages such as Matthew 15:10-28. Yet, Jesus was often faced with a dilemma, avoid offense and stand for nothing or cause offense and teach a valuable lesson. He often criticized the Pharisees publicly. Jesus was no obsequious sycophant. At times tough words are required in order to bring out the best in people. The shock value of offensive language is used sometimes throughout the Holy Scriptures to wake people up and bring them to repentance. One of the weaknesses of the King James Bible is that it watered down some of that language due to English cultural prejudice towards polite speech. Tough love occasionally requires speaking in a blunt, offensive manner. When is being blunt right?

When Blunt is Right

Some cultures have a reputation for being tactless and blunt while others seem to be more diplomatic and polite. To the well-mannered among us Jesus’ behavior in Matthew 15:10-28 could seem inappropriate. Yet Jesus was without sin, so is it is behavior that we need to examine? What can we learn from Jesus' bluntness in his encounter with the Canaanite woman? Grace towards others includes tact and is therefore in many cases a good response. However, is tact the appropriate course in every situation? In professions like the theater, choreography, firefighting and the military there is little time for polite diplomacy. Commands must be given sharply and followed quickly. When someone is about to drive over a cliff, is saying "Pardon me" really appropriate? Positive confrontation can be used for good and what Jesus did was always good. Let’s look at his confrontation with a gentile woman.

2. Confrontation with a Gentile Woman

Faith not Race

Was Jesus a bigot? He rejected a Gentile woman asked for healing, saying that it was not right to give the children’s food to dogs (Matthew 15:10-28)? Rather than take offense, the woman boldly challenged Jesus. Her faith was bigger than racial sensitivities. Jesus was elated to see her great faith and healed her daughter. Could such a glowing compliment coming on the heels of such an awful insult be the core of this lesson? Was Jesus really a racial bigot or testing her faith? Dare we judge Christ by human political correctness? A good teacher will sometimes challenge students with an offensive view to bring out the best in them. How could Jesus, who created all of humanity, be racially bigoted? Does not the story really show that regardless of race, bold faith is what counts with Jesus? Do we find faith in other churches?

Rude & Bigoted Jesus?

The story of Jesus and the Gentile woman in Matthew 15:10-28 is one of the most shocking. Jesus appeared to be rude and bigoted. It was an animated encounter. The woman cried for mercy and the disciples, like a bunch of school bullies encouraged Jesus to just get rid of her. It is reminiscent of some churches today, who turn away from communion those of a different church or shun family members who have left their order. Why was Jesus so uncharacteristically blunt? Unlike harshly exclusive churches Jesus relented when he saw faith. Faith is what matters, not the race or church or order that a person belongs to. Abraham was the father of the faithful. Faith transcends breed, and Jesus’ drama emphasized that point. When will we get over our religious bigotry and recognize the faith of others? Does Jesus confront us to test our faith?

Confrontation Jesus-Style

We don’t like confrontation. Yet occasionally it is necessary. Some avoid it by gossiping or pretending that everything is okay. Others confront in negative and divisive ways by the extremes of bullying or cowardice. In Matthew 15:10-28 Jesus confronted a Gentile woman in a positive way. What can we learn from this in regard to confrontation Jesus-style? First, we notice that Jesus gave the woman no reply. The time for confrontation was not until she became insistent. Second, he became increasingly specific with the woman. First, he replied mildly about his ministry excluding Gentiles. Then he became very blunt, reminding the woman of her ancestry. The Canaanites once engaged in child-sacrifice and ritual prostitution. This disgusting history is perhaps why Israelites called them dogs. The confrontation revealed the woman’s faith for the disciples to see and Jesus intervened as she requested. Did her faith make her acceptable?

Unclean made Clean by Faith

In the Old Testament period unclean eating and unclean people were equally forbidden. Some have tried to link the lists of unclean foods with in-edibility, but that is reading into the Bible more than it says. The whole of the laws of clean and unclean are summarized by Peter’s remarkable revelation that we should no longer call any person unclean (Acts 10:28). And so in Matthew 15:10-28 Jesus began leading his disciples into this new understanding by confronting a Gentile woman from a region with a particularly heinous history, Canaan. Every nation has a history of crimes against humanity. Americans bow their heads in shame over slavery and native Americans. Australians bow their heads in shame over the Tasmanian aborigine. Germans bow their heads in shame about the holocaust. Jesus’ confrontation was a practicum, an object lesson in understanding that faith makes anyone clean, no matter what their historical background. Her faith overcame her national shame.

Shame and Grace

Shame is a terrible burden. Are we so ashamed of our past that we find it difficult to pray? In Matthew 15:10-28 a Gentile woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter. We are not told of her personal sins, only that she was from a culture known for ritual prostitution and sacrifice of newborn children. Our culture is similar, with our shameless immorality and killing of inconvenient unborn children. When we are ashamed of personal sins or the sins of our people we may find it difficult to pray and ask God for any blessings. We may feel undeserving and we would be right. None of us is deserving. However, God’s grace covers shame. He blesses us though we don’t deserve it and this story is one of many examples where God graciously intervened when someone boldly requested his help. God welcomes all who come in faith.

Welcome Mat or Trespass Sign

What kind of sign is outside our church building? What kind of reputation do we have in the community? Do we seem to have a welcome mat or a no trespassing sign? The discussion between exclusivity and inclusiveness in the Church is two thousand years old and the conversation is not over yet. Part of that discussion is the events of Matthew 15:10-28. The Old Testament was very exclusive. Males had to be circumcised. Everyone had to meet strict requirement of ritual cleansing. Even marriages with foreigners were forbidden. Israel’s relationship with its neighbors was best described as a one-way street with no compromises. In the New Testament, we find a change. The requirements are simple: repentance towards God, faith in Jesus Christ and willingness to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. All people everywhere are being invited in. What if God says no?

When Jesus says No

When Jesus says no are we reluctant to appeal? Remember the importunate Gentile woman in Matthew 15:10-28? Did you think I was going to say the importunate widow? That’s another example of being persistent with God. Could it be that God will sometimes test our faith in ways that make us think he is unfair, racist, bigoted, rude, arrogant or uncaring? Yet, in the end his mercy is just. Faith means not giving up. Jacob wrestled all night with God’s messenger. It seems that God wants us to learn to be unrelenting. Indeed, he that endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13). Just as a wise parent will encourage a placid child to fight for themselves, is God trying to bring out the best in us by helping us to learn persistence even in the face of insults?

Unable to be Insulted

Don’t you just love to be around people who are unfazed when they are insulted! Some people just shrug their shoulders, others even agree with the insults with a so-what attitude especially if a fault that is common to all is part of the affront. There are many similar fascinating approaches that defuse potentially angry encounters. In Matthew 15:10-28 Jesus insulted a Gentile woman by saying that it's just not right to take bread out of the children's mouths and toss it to the dogs. Many people would hurl back another insult and some might even want to start a useless fist fight over such taunting words. What did the woman do? Rather than be insulted she turned the insult to her favor, by insisting that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the table. Let’s imagine a time when our culture has few Christians left.

The Year 3020

It is the year 3020. Asia and Africa are wealthy Christian continents. After a thousand years of poverty and trouble, Europe and America are returning to Christianity. Historians tell us what happened to the once great Christian powers of Europe and America. They became decadent and worshipped the gods of Money, Power and Sex instead of the true God. They were Democratic Oligarchies making parents work long hours with low pay and with little time off. Families were sacrificed for the wealthy elite. Reminiscent of other ancient societies like the Canaanites they were sexually promiscuous and killed their unwanted children. Christianity waned, marriages failed and children suffered most. They became possessed by the demons of violence. In the year 3020 many from Europe and America are returning to Christianity and praying to Jesus to heal their children (Matthew 15:10-28). Is this our future? Are we filled with national pride and arrogance or do we come to Jesus with nothing?

She Came to Jesus with Nothing

The woman of Canaan in Matthew 15:10-28 came to Jesus with nothing. European and American Christians come to Jesus with pride and arrogance. We believe that our heritage makes us superior. Canaanite history by contrast was reprehensible and despised. We quickly forget our own shame. The Napituca, Mystic and Jamestown Massacres are only a few of the many shameful acts of American history. The Spanish Inquisition, Polish pogroms and Nazi atrocities are only a few of the many shameful acts of European history. The disciples were from a people with a long history of knowledge of God but they had little faith. The Canaanite woman came to Jesus with nothing, but her faith was strong. Perhaps like Paul we ought to count our own pasts as dung (Philippians 3:7-8) and come to Jesus with nothing to brag about. Are we proud of our church traditions?

Tradition Does not Guarantee Faith

The woman of Canaan in Matthew 15:10-28 came to Jesus with nothing but was praised for her great faith. The Pharisees came to Jesus with a great tradition in the Holy Scriptures but were criticized for their almost total lack of faith. Modern Christianity is based upon Scripture, tradition and reason. Of those three, Scripture is the most reliable. Our traditions often mirror those of the Pharisees and our literature reflects the Jewish Talmud. We are proud of our traditions, whether they are ancient or modern. We speak highly of our Church fathers and bind rules upon our denominations that neither Jesus nor the Apostles demanded of the Church. We ask if we have fulfilled all the requirements that were established by mere men, but do not ask if we have great faith. Yet it is faith that saves.


Bigotry defines some people as unwashed, unclean, unwanted based entirely upon physical characteristics such as race, nationality, income, religious tradition and so on. Yet, Jesus shows that what is important is whether or not our hearts are clean. Will we allow him to make our hearts clean?

Good News in our Fears


Is not human life like a boat ride on uncertain waters? Even if we believe we have the faith to step out, are we really as tough as we think?


I hope that we can all learn to step out on faith, but by looking at Jesus.


We will look at the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:22-33 and see what that could mean for us today.

Faith & Fear

While the disciples crossed Lake Galilee by boat, Jesus surprised them by walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33). It was a bad crossing. Jesus came walking towards them on the water. Their first reaction was sheer terror. Peter wanted to walk on the water too. However, after a few steps of faith, fear took over. Is faith often mixed with fear? Peter got distracted by circumstances, the wind and the waves. He did the right thing, immediately requesting Jesus' help. Do we also call upon the Lord, or just shrink back and do nothing? The original language shows Jesus suggesting that Peter had a divided mind. Where Jesus is present, fear is needless. Like Peter, do should we step out on faith and ask Jesus for help? Is He not ready to step in and save us out of life's difficulties? One of life’s difficulties can be church politics.

Church Politics

Church politics can be troublesome. Can we become so wrapped up in fear of various church decisions that we lose sight of Jesus? It doesn’t matter what the denomination or the particular vocabulary used, we are still dealing with human beings. The origin of the word politics is in words for city and citizen. As long as we have two people in a church are we not going to have politics? In Matthew 14:22-33 Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the troubles around him. Just like Peter, can we too look at the waves and winds of church politics and become afraid? Are we afraid of the homosexual agenda, the feminist agenda, the liberal agenda or the fundamentalist agenda? Do not these things come and go, but Jesus remains? Ought not we keep our eyes on Jesus? Are these winds of human politics a faith test?

Faith Litmus Test

Do we will sink or walk on water in matters of faith? A litmus test is the answer to the question, “Where are we looking?” Are we watching the world news and getting upset and anxious or are we watching Jesus? Are not most of us watching the drama around us and not Jesus? In Matthew 14:22-33 did not Peter have the same problem? Were his eyes on Jesus or on the water and a fear of sinking? His lack of faith caused him to become a weight instead of a water-walker. As the disciples battled the waves it was the darkest part of the night. Does not Jesus sometimes intervene in our lives when events are darkest? Do we struggle with walking on the water of faith while daily events threaten to drown us? What is Jesus doing in the world? Is he real to us or like a ghost?

It’s a Ghost

As Jesus approached the disciples’ boat in the dark of night by walking on the water, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” (Matthew 14:22-33) They were terrified. How often do we object in fear as Jesus approaches? Do we find comfort in the law, but as Jesus approaches do we fear his grace? Grace can be a fearful thing. Do we find comfort in our Talmuds, Disciplines and Canon Laws but as Jesus comes near, do we fear his teachings which often contradict our human rules? Have we in fear buried Jesus’ teachings under our traditions or fads? Fear is one thing that can keep us out of heaven (Revelation 21:7-9). Jesus tells us not to fear his presence. Let us then also take action. Should we too take steps in faith to walk where Jesus walked?

Walking Where Jesus Walked

When the disciples heard Jesus confirm that it was him walking on the water, Peter requested of him, “Urge me to come to you.” Peter asked to walk where Jesus walked. Jesus invited him at his request (Matthew 14:22-33). Did Jesus condemn the disciples who stayed in the boat, or chide Peter for presumptuousness? No. Is it then wrong to claim that we are being disobedient or presumptuous if we do or don’t all walk on water in faith? Perhaps so. Is then being called to join Jesus on a particular task sometimes optional? Perhaps some tasks are by mutual agreement? Is it sometimes a dialog between the one being called and Jesus, the one doing the calling? Does this indicate the nature of Jesus’ leadership? Is it not a bossy, authoritarian leadership that forces faith, but one that gently nurtures it? What of human leadership?

Criticism of Leadership

Is not a great weakness of democracy that it encourages criticism of leadership and thus sows the seeds of its own destruction? When such criticism enters the Church can it also sow destruction? Is it not a given that Church leaders will be faulty and make mistakes? Is it also not a given that there will be corruption? Ought it also be a given that Jesus expects us to show grace towards our Church leaders for the sake of the kingdom of heaven? If the story of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) could be viewed as a metaphor for Church leadership, do we find only one in twelve with the faith to walk on water, and even that one who falters in faith? Ought we pray for Church leadership and show them the grace that Jesus shows? Will he save them too from sinking?

Saved from Sinking

When our businesses are about to go under who is there for us? When our marriages are about sink into oblivion who is there to lift us up? When we are about to sink into sin who is there to rescue us from temptation? When our personal finances are about to sink into the toilet who can we turn to? Peter’s faith as he tried to walk on water was weak. Is it not folly to have faith in human beings? Is not our responsibility towards our leaders to love them and pray for them, not look to them for salvation? There is no salvation in human leadership. Jesus alone is Savior. Is lesson of Jesus walking on the water that in order for us to be saved from sinking we too need to look to Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33)? Ought walk calmly on rough waters?

Walking Calmly on Rough Waters

Have we ever tried to picture Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33)? What did it look like? The sea was rough and yet there is nothing that seems to indicate that his steps followed the motion of the waves. It would have been like trying to walk on a bucking bronco, yet his steps seem to have been sure and steady. Do the waves serve to indicate the hysteria of the disciples, and Jesus’ steps the calmness of his spirit? Life bounces us around from time to time. It can appear as if we can find no sure footing. As we learn to trust Jesus in the storms of life, do we learn not to hold back? In the midst of hysteria and fear, do we calmly move forward when walking on rough waters? Is that a trust issue?

Trust Issues

We have all been deceived by dishonest business advertising and disappointed by politics. Yet, why do we still seek gurus who claim they can save us? Does our naivety feed politics and business? Are they not selling snake oil? Even the ancient Psalmist wrote not to trust human leaders because they are just weak men who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). Do we come to Jesus with inbuilt distrust? Yet, there he is walking on the water. The boat that the disciples used may have been 8 meters (26 feet) long and 2 meters (6 feet) wide. It’s clearance above the waterline may have only been about a meter (3 feet). It was easily swamped in a storm. We trust no man, including ourselves. Does Jesus asks us to trust him in an open boat with no life jackets (Matthew 14:22-33)? Will we in troubled western churches still trust him?

Western Christianity in Rough Waters

Greece and Rome which were once pagan republics, later became Christian as Emperor Constantine adopted it as his religion and gave Christianity official status. Western countries in America and Europe seem to be heading in the opposite direction. European Christians who first settled American shores to establish religious freedom and governments supportive of Christian principles have found public faith abandoned to popular sentiment in modern Greek and Roman style democracies. European Christians face similar dilemmas. The Christian cross still graces the flags of many European flags, but can faith still be found on the once Christian continent? As Christians in the west face increasingly hostile waters (Matthew 14:22-33) how will we respond? Will we panic and lose heart as the anti-Christian storm rages around us or step out in faith, looking to Jesus who calmly walks on water by our side? Is there calm in the nave?

Calm in the Nave

A traditional architectural term for the place where the main body of believers sits in a church building is the nave. It is a nautical term, meaning the ship. A ship is also one of the most ancient symbols of the church. It comes from stories such as that found in Matthew 14:22-33. The Church is often tossed about by winds and storms just as the disciples were. Biblical symbolism for the nations includes a sea. And just as that boat containing the first disciples of Christianity was buffeted by the sea, so too is the Church buffeted by the world. A Church without Jesus’ presence is bound to sink into the darkness of history. However, when we invite Jesus into the boat he can command that the waters and wind be calm. Should we invite him into our churches? In all honesty, is that not the most important thing?

Christian Honesty

In the battle between liberal and conservative Christianity is not something missing? Does it really matter whether we are traditional or progressive, as long as we are in line with the teachings of Jesus? Are liberalism and conservatism more important than honesty with the facts no matter where they lead us? Is any one of us really capable of complete honesty? Do not cultural biases prejudice our thinking? Must we not all include a little honest self-doubt, a little humility with our conclusions? Can any human conclusions really be dogma? Do we not rush to judgment just a little too quickly? Must not our ideas at best be tentative until further facts come to light? In this stormy sea of controversy should we not look to Jesus, so that we can all walk on water and not sink into the abyss of our own faulty opinions (Matthew 14:22-33)? Does not humility require faith?

Little and Great Faith

Have we ever noticed how a story of the great faith of a Gentile woman (Matthew 15:10-28) was placed immediately after a story of Peter’s little faith (Matthew 14:22-33)? The inspired contrast is even more poignant when we understand that Peter was a Jew with lifelong living under the teachings of the Old Testament. He was also in the midst of personal training under the Son of God. Yet, here was a persistent Gentile woman who had not grown up in the “right” church and probably did not keep the law of God? Did Jesus describe her faith as great and Peter’s as little? Was there something important missing from the disciples, even though they had the Old Testament and the blessing of personal training with Jesus? Does faith then transcend law and even knowledge of the Bible?


Is not human life like a boat ride on uncertain waters? Even if we believe we have the faith to step out, must we not in the end look to Jesus?