First, there was the deafening and terrifying noise. Then the awful screams coming from somewhere near Jeff's bedroom. Jeremy, Jeff's brother, opened the door to his brother's room and was horrified and shocked at what he saw. "Everything was gone. My brother's bed, my brother's dresser, my brother's TV. My brother was gone," Jeremy said as he tearfully recounted what he saw and heard.
What this family knew as solid ground for three generations suddenly had become a sinkhole more than fifty feet deep and twenty feet wide. Jeremy tried to find his brother in the hole even as it was filling up with debris. Unfortunately, no one could save Jeff, not even his brother, Jeremy, who had to be forced from the dangerous sinkhole by rescue officials.
Now, several weeks later, the house has been torn down, the family's hearts have been ripped apart, and that awful night's horrors have been recounted time and again. The sinkhole has been filled, but it is now the permanent tomb for their loved one, Jeff, whose body was never recovered.
It was exactly that for the three generations that had lived in this family home. And now "it" — the house, Jeff, their sense of security and many of their memories — is gone... completely and totally gone!
Is there any place we can call solid ground and really be confident that is truly solid ground?
Where can we find solid ground?
Is there any such thing as solid ground in a world of sinkholes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires?
Is there solid ground for our houses, our lives, and the future of our dreams?
What solid ground can we really find in a world of pandemics, long range missiles, and terrorists?
Our faith, our religion, our Bible tells that we are receiving a "Kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:27-28) — yet Christians are martyred, Jesus' followers get sick and die, and bad things happen to the best of people... yes, even to the people most loyal to God!
But is there really any solid ground anywhere for any of us?
What is the foundation of our unshakeable Kingdom?
How can I be sure that I can trust that it is solid ground?
Jesus tells us there is a place of solid ground. Jesus is at the enormous rock outcropping of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-27). The events that happen there come during the heart of Jesus' ministry to people in need and as he begins to shift his focus to strengthening his disciples' faith. He is beginning to challenge them to believe in his identity as the Messiah and Son of God who will go to the cross as God's servant. This is his future, but they can't understand this, much less accept it!
Along with the events that happen around this time of confession, we also are given a clear picture of what can be our solid ground... a picture that has been proven true again and again over the years.
Jesus asks his disciples a straightforward question upon which everything important in their lives will depend. Jesus then goes on to both compliment them and confront them. Let's take a look at this very familiar, but often misunderstood moment in the life of our Lord!
Notice how Jesus begins: "Who do people say that I am?"
While this is an important question, it means very little in comparison to the next question: "Who do you say that I am?"
Ah! That's the question of all questions is it? We must answer this question correctly or we will build our lives on the sinkholes and shifting sand of lies, deceptions, and false foundations. Jesus asks them — and through them, Jesus asks us — "Who do you say that I am?"
Each of us must answer this question!
So let's look at Peter's answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
Jesus' reply to Peter is a divine compliment:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:17-19 ESV).
In the presence of the enormous rock outcropping at Caesarea Philippi, in response to Peter's divinely inspired confession of Jesus' identity as the Messiah and Son of God, Jesus calls Peter a stone, and says upon this rock, he is going to build a movement of people (his church) so powerful that death and hell cannot stand against it.
But here's the rub: Peter's confession is right not because Peter is right, but because God revealed it to him! In fact, everything in this context tells us that Peter is a goofball and a loose lug nut.
Is it offensive to you that I call Peter those things? Well, notice what Jesus calls Peter?
Could it be, Satan? (Matthew 16:23). Ouch!
Now let's look at the two stories on either side of Jesus' confession.
In the events that happen before Peter's confession (Matthew 16:5-12), the disciples are rebuked for their little faith. They are not understanding Jesus because they are thinking so literally... so simply... so absurdly fleshly.
Peter, to paraphrase, basically says: "Jesus, we'll build each of you a Tabernacle. On this mountain, we will build you a shrine next to Moses and Elijah!"
There's not a greater honor that Peter, as a devout Jew, could have given to Jesus whom he loved. Moses is the great giver of God's Torah and deliverer of God's people. Elijah was the great symbol of God's prophets — courageous, faithful, and mighty. Peter thought he had paid Jesus the ultimate honor with his idea, but he still doesn't get it. He is still thinking earthly. So Almighty God puts Peter and his two buddies in their place when he says, "This is my Son whom I love, listen to him!"
This is God basically saying to them: "All that you have built your lives upon — the Law from Moses and the testimony of God's prophets — is just dim light in the blinding glory of my Son! Everything else, and anyone else, whether 3 generations old or 42 generations old, must yield to my Son, your Messiah, Jesus. Listen to him!"
So what's the Rock that Jesus is going to build his church upon?
What is so powerful that the gates of death and hell can't stand up to it, much less defeat it?
Here's what I believe Matthew wants us to hear Jesus is saying. I'm asking you to prayerfully consider this and the powerful truth that it proclaims, especially in light of the context around it.
Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus comes and builds his unshakeable Kingdom, his church that can't be defeated by the powers of death and hell — his movement that can't be stopped. And Jesus builds this unshakeable Kingdom out of goofballs and loose lug nuts. Jesus takes flawed people, gives them a glimpse of supernatural heavenly power and fills them with his Spirit, and then he makes something incredible out of them. All the glory goes to HIM and not to them!
Together, these goofballs and loose lug nuts become this incredible force that has outlasted by centuries all the rulers that have tried to stop them, all the skeptics who think these people are so dumb to believe in their message, and all those who are critics of the movement because of all the flawed people who are a part of their number.
It's as if Jesus is saying: "Kingdoms will come and go, rulers will rise and fall, but my Kingdom — made out of people like Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, Bartholomew, James the Less, Thaddeus, Simon the zealot, and Judas Iscariot — will last forever. Yes, these imperfect people, so different from each other, from all backgrounds and from walks of life, and without political power, will be unstoppable. Because they believe in me, because God has helped them see who I am, I will take them and turn the world upside down. Even though they appear powerless, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the conviction of their beliefs, they will sweep over an empire that is hostile to them with a message about a crucified Jew being both Lord and Christ, and see people from every language and background join them in their faith and their work" (Acts 2:36-39).
You see, the foundation of the church is not a man who is made special, nor is it a special confessional formula we must recite. No, the foundation is Jesus! Our solid ground is Jesus! Our solid Rock is what Jesus can do with a bunch of ragamuffins and misfits — Normal Joes and Jane Does, saints and sinners, old and young, powerful and powerless, who are all focused on him as God's Messiah. People who have faith that Jesus can do "exceedingly more than all we can ask or imagine" because of God's powerful Spirit at work within them (Ephesians 3:21).
Do you need proof?
Do you find it hard to believe?
Here's your proof: you're reading this! Believer or skeptic, you're having to think through the whole Jesus issue two thousand years after this peasant carpenter turned prophet lived.
And here's the thing: Jesus is still looking to build his unshakeable Kingdom and something incredible out of goofballs and loose lug nuts like you and me! And that, my friend, is the solid ground on which we can build our lives!