Matthew 16:13-28 is among the most theologically dense texts in the New Testament. In short order, it addresses a wide array of foundational truths about who God is, how He works, and who we are as His people. It deals with salvation, the effects of sin (on us and on Jesus), and the life of discipleship. It raises issues related to ecclesiology, eschatology, Christology, and soteriology. It speaks of the hiddenness of God, the work of Satan, and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without much of a stretch, you could construct an entire new member course around these sixteen verses. The lectionary gives you two weeks, which is better than one. I suggest you take them both. Consider treating these next two Sundays as two parts of a whole.
Jesus’ question is an obvious starting point. It is the single most important question that will ever be asked or answered. The question appears twice. Jesus begins with public perception. “Who do PEOPLE say the Son of Man is?” But then He moves to personal confession. “Who do YOU say I am?” Notice His question has to do with what people SAY. It is a reminder that faith in the heart is always accompanied by words in the mouth (see Romans 10:9-10).
Peter’s confession always gets the attention, and rightfully so. Notice that “Christ” connects Jesus to the people of Israel, while “Son of the living God” connects Jesus to the Creator and all people. What makes Peter’s confession noteworthy to Jesus, however, is not its specific formulation, but that it did not come from himself. The Father made it known to him, which is how it always works. The Father reveals Jesus and the result is a faithful confession. Without the Father’s revelation, the confession will not be faithful. Without the confession, the revelation has not been received.
The Father reveals Jesus and the result is a faithful confession.
Peter’s confession also gets attention because of its implications for Peter as a person, his confession, and the relationship of both to the Church. Historic debates about these issues are important and need to be sorted out carefully. But they may not be as helpful for your sermon. They tend to keep both Jesus and the confession of His name at a distance, making your sermon an academic explanation rather than an encounter with God. For this reason, I suggest you save details about Peter’s relationship to the Church for Bible class.
For the sermon, consider following where Jesus’ question and Peter’s divinely revealed confession lead; which is the promise. “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” That is what Jesus promises about His Church. It is a timely promise for your hearers given our current situation. The pandemic is putting Jesus’ assurance to the test. My admittedly anecdotal experience suggests that even congregations that have returned to worship are seeing a significant decline in participation. We have traditionally measured engagement in the Church and maturity of faith with Sunday morning attendance. Not only is this no longer a reliable measure, but we are also being forced to consider why and how we have been measuring things that way, as well as why we do what we are accustomed to doing as the Church every week.
As we consider such foundational questions, Jesus’ promise of endurance becomes crucially significant. Whatever the “new normal” may be, and whatever Bible study, worship, and our life together look like in the short and long term, the Church will endure. Not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it. In a context where just about everything else seems up in the air (even sports and school!), there is certainty in Christ. Two things are ultimately certain in life, and they are not death and taxes. It is Jesus’ return and the preservation of His people until that day.
The justification for this promise is Jesus’ resurrection.
The justification for this promise is Jesus’ resurrection. The gates of Hell, which He encountered in His death (“He descended into Hell”), did not prevail against Him. Neither will they prevail against His body on earth. History gives us plenty of examples of times when this promise was tested. Every time Jesus has delivered. The existence of your congregation in worship (whether online or in-person) is the latest evidence.
As you proclaim the foundational truths from this text, therefore, let this promise of Jesus dominate. In doing so, you will encourage and equip your hearers to be about the Church’s business of binding and loosing (verse 19) into the unknown (to us) future.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 16:13-20.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 16:13-20.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 16:13-20.