Matthew 16:21-28 – Sermon – Block or Stone?



(Thank you for reading my sermon draft and ignoring all the typos. I hope they help you out in your preparation. Please help me out and click on an ad, thanks and God Bless you in your preaching this week.)

Matthew 16:21-28

Block or Stone?

08-28-11

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings

And clowns that caper in sawdust rings

And common folk like you and me

Are the builders of eternity.

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules;

And each must make, ere time is flown,

A stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.

This is a short prose from the book “Verses I Like” by Major Edward Bowes. What caught my attention here is the creativeness in these lines. Not that they are witty or that they rhyme but the fact it is about creating. We are ‘builders of eternity.” We are given “a bag of tools, a shapeless mass and a book of rules.” Last week I preached on Romans and the fact that we are all given gifts and talents and we are called to use them because we are all part of the Body of Christ. But in this poem we are reminded that we have a choice on what we can make. We can make “a stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.”

In the 16th chapter of Matthew we get a staggering look at the person that is Simon Peter. In verse 13 we receive the story of a glorious moment for him. Jesus poses the question, “Who do say that I am?” Peter answers Jesus correctly he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus celebrates this answer by blessing Peter. He tells him, “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 to 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.” Peter gets the keys to heaven. He gets permission to bind things up, to throw into chains, anything he wants. He is allowed to set free, or to loose, anything he desires as well. This is great power. It is an obscene amount of power that Jesus bestows on Peter. And it goes straight to his head.

North Carolina schools reopened this week and welcomed back students. This is an exciting time and a horrifying time. It is start of another school year and for some it is another year of ridicule and shame. Bullying is a huge problem in our schools and always has been. John Hughes didn’t direct a movie about adolescents without including some kind of bullying. But today it can go viral in an instant. Now if you make a mistake in gym class instead of just being a story that can be shared at the lunch table later on, there is fear it can turn into a YouTube classic. Kids are now forced to relive embarrassing moments over and over again because of the technology they possess in the palm of their hands.

That cell phone that is also a camera and camcorder is power. The power to capture moments in life that a decade before would simply be a memory. Now though they can last for eternity on the internet. Power can quickly go to people’s head because of these abilities. The internet would be really boring if people didn’t abuse this power because some of it is funny. But it is funny for those not involved. Ministers are not immune. Here is a video where a worship leader…well just watch. [play video]

The author of Matthew’s Gospel found this interaction between Jesus and Peter memorable enough to put it in the text today. He must have found something meaningful in watching Peter put his foot in his mouth. There had to be some reason this is important, so important that we use, “Get behind me Satan,” in our cultural vocabulary. The reason lies behind Peter’s new found power.

Peter is the rock that the church was built on. God decided that instead of using a nation to show the world what life following him would look like, God would you use individuals from all over who would come together to be the Church. They would work, worship, and pray together to better this world and bring the Kingdom of God into focus. Peter, within this new assembly, could bind and loose anything they wanted. If they wanted to bind up poverty, they could feed the hungry. If they wanted to loose mercy, they could offer up forgiveness. If they wanted to bind oppression, injustice, pain and sorrow they could demonstrate to the world the way to live and act. If they wanted to let loose the powers of love and grace, the levies were ready to be broken.

Instead the first thing Peter does with this new power was to rebuke Jesus. What changed? What made Peter move from this high moment to this low moment in two verses? The scripture tells us that “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Only after Peter receives to keys to kingdom of heaven; only after the disciples all watch Peter be praised for calling Jesus the “the Messiah, the Son of the living God;” only after Jesus gets this hint that the disciples finally get it does he start to fill them in on God’s plan.

Peter hears Jesus say that he will go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He completely misses the last part of the statement and he jumps to his conclusions. He pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. Peter rebukes’ Jesus. He pulls him to the side and tells him, “Never, Lord. You are here to restore the Jewish Kingdom. Me and the disciples have this all figured out. We’ve seen you walk on water, feed 5,000, and heal the sick. That is all good, but when you go into Jerusalem we were thinking more of fire and brimstone raining from the sky. Real Sodom and Gomorra kind of stuff. You aren’t going to suffer and die, I won’t let that happen.”

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules;

And each must make, ere time is flown,

A stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” I have this picture in my head of Peter just standing there with his mouth gapping open, stunned he was just yelled at. Yet, Peter made a huge mistake. He recreated the original sin. He felt the keys of the Kingdom of God in his hand and the power to bind and loose. They weighed heavy and he felt important. He felt powerful. He felt he was now on equal status with Jesus, the Son of the living God. With this new power the first way he uses it was to attempt to bind Jesus. He felt equal enough to Jesus Christ that he pulled him aside and stood up to him. The original sin of Adam and Eve was they wanted to have the same knowledge as God, they wanted to be God. Here Peter already thinks he is God’s equal.

It may be our American sensibilities but we get some kind of joy, even if it is subtle, when people are brought down a notch or two. As the UK has gone through the huge scandal with News of the World tapping phone lines, many people giggled a little and laughed as this huge juggernaut of gossip came crashing down. When LeBron James left Cleveland and went to Miami to there were hour long specials on the announcement. It was the only thing happening in sports. Some thought it was a little egotistical of LeBron to hold such a press conference, but the world lapped it up. When he deserted Cleveland many loathed him but got some sort of revenge when Miami lost in the NBA finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

Here we are witness to Peter being brought down a rung or five from his loftily latter. In this text there were two phrases that caught my attention. One was stumbling block, which is what Jesus calls Peter. The Greek word that Matthew’s author uses is used 15 times in the New Testament and 25 times in the Old Testament. The word skandalon (skon-da-lon) means a moveable stick or trigger to trap. That part of a mouse trap you put the cheese on, is a skandalon. It is also means any person or thing by which one is drawn into error or sin, a stumbling-block in one’s life. This is how Jesus describes Peter. Four verses earlier he was the rock in which the church would be built on and now he is a stumbling block for Jesus. When Jesus renames Simon Peter, Peter, it is because it means rock, but how Peter lived out his life would depend on whether he was a stumbling-block or a stepping stone.

Where ever skandalon is used it is always in reference to something or someone who gets in the way of God’s will. It is something that causes offense or others to sin. It is a false teaching or a wrong impression that pulls others away from God. We know what these things are in our lives. We have seen them before. The covers on our bed can trap us in their for hours on rainy Sunday mornings. The man on the side of the street doesn’t look homeless with his ear buds in. I can feel God wants me to do something in my life but there are too many unanswered questions to do anything. I can’t do that God. Lord that will never happen. Not on my watch God! We have been there. We have said those things at one time or another.

Which brings me to the other phrase that stuck out to me, “Never, Lord.” From what I know about God is that when you say ‘never’ he laughs and says just wait and watch. At one of our District Clergy meetings we were asked to share our calling stories. People stood up and told their story. Many of our ministers these days are second career people and over and over again we heard people stand up and confess they ran from God for most of their lives. They yelled at God, “Never, Lord. I’m not called into ministry. That is for someone else, not me.” But God’s will is stronger than ours and God always wins out. Where we see trouble, the unknown, or a dead end, God sees opportunity.

Peter closed off his ears as Jesus told him of the reality that waited for him in Jerusalem. He missed the part when Jesus says he will rise again in three days. As Peter tries to squash the painful reality of the crucifixion he takes out the glory of the resurrection too. If we close our minds off to the painful reality of what God is calling us to do than we miss out on the glory that waits on the other side.

A stepping stone is used to move a person from one spot to another. It is something that takes us over a harsh actuality, like rushing water or mud, and can safely move us to the other side. Sometimes these stepping stones can be awkward and we are filled with fear and trepidation. Like the picture on the screen (see above) the path lays ahead of all of us. These can be made into a smooth path or we can stumble and fall. What we do with what we have been given is up to us. Jesus gives us directions on what a smooth path looks like. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings

And clowns that caper in sawdust rings

And common folk like you and me

Are the builders of eternity.

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules;

And each must make, ere time is flown,

A stumbling-block or a stepping-stone.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

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