Three Great Lessons from the Master Teacher

Bible Book: Matthew  16 : 13-20
Subject: Responsibility; Salvation; Church

Many different terms are used in the Bible to describe Jesus. He is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Son of God, Son of man, and the list goes on--and one of the other terms used to describe him was Teacher. Over and over again, on one occasion after another, Jesus is said to have taught the people--and in the passage before us he, the Master Teacher, presents three great lessons--lessons which are profoundly important for every one of us.

I. First, there is a lesson about SALVATION

In verse 13 we read, “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples....”

The word “disciples” literally means “learners,” so Jesus was functioning here as a teacher. Actually, he was giving an exam. The crucifixion was about six months away, and Jesus was testing his disciples to see if they were ready for that time following the cross when he would rise from the dead, ascend back to the Father, and no longer be with them physically.


First, he asks a preliminary question: “...he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” Verse 14: “And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah: and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

But then in verse 15 Jesus brings it down to a pointed, personal level: “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?”

Thus, Jesus poses what is the greatest question that you and I can ever face. What one believes about Jesus is foundational to all of life.

Every once in a while someone says, “I don’t think it really matters so much what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” But that flies in the face of all logic and certainly contradicts the Word of God. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

It does matter what one believes. Beliefs determine character; beliefs result in deeds; beliefs shape destinies. Would anyone say that it didn’t really matter what Adolph Hitler believed? His beliefs caused World War II and threw a monkey wrench into history. Would anyone say that it didn’t really matter what Saddam Hussein believed, or what Osama Bin Laden believed, or what other Islamic terrorists believe?

It matters what the person we do business with believes, and what the people we interact with socially believe. It matters what those educating our children believe, and what our governmental leaders at all levels believe. It matters tremendously what you and I and others believe.


Our Lord’s divine heart must have been delighted at Simon Peter’s response in verse 16: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The word “Christ” means essentially the same thing as the Old Testament word “Messiah.” It means “Annointed One.” It has reference to the one that God promised down through the ages, the one who would come and shed his blood for man’s sin in order that we might repent and yield ourselves to him in faith and receive the gift of everlasting life.

The context makes it clear that Peter was saying to Jesus, in effect, “Lord, I know that you are the One of whom the prophets have spoken, and I have, by faith, accepted you into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.”


Verse 17: “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona....”

The word here for “blessed” (Greek makarios) is the same word Jesus used in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. A variant of the word is translated “happy” in James 5:11: “Behold, we count them happy which endure....” (That verse goes on to refer to Job as an example of endurance.) A variant of the word is also used in Romans 6:7: “...Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”

Jesus was saying, “Simon, son of Jonas, you have discovered the secret of true happiness.” When a person gets his beliefs straightened out, repents of his sins and in faith surrenders his life to the Son of God, he is then in a position to experience that deep-seated, God-implanted sense of well-being, or happiness, that is not dependent upon the ebb and flow of outward circumstances.

The Christian still has his times of stress and pain; he still goes through the valley of suffering--he is not exempted from all of that. But the point is that with his faith in the living Christ and with Christ thereby dwelling in him in the person of the Holy Spirit, he now has available to him, for the asking, the grace and strength to face whatever comes. In spite of the heartache and tears that are an inevitable part of life on this planet, the child of God has a basic, underlying sense of gladsomeness about life, based on an awareness that the Lord is with him and that his grace is sufficient for whatever comes.

This is a day when people are looking in many different directions for happiness and not finding it. You’ll never find happiness in alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, ego trips, or material possessions. I was converted when I was a junior in college, and at our noonday prayer meetings we used to sing this chorus:

“Do you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy? Let Jesus come into your heart. Your sins he’ll wash away, your night he’ll turn to day; your life, he’ll make it over again.”


Then Jesus goes on to say in verse 17: “...for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

“Flesh and blood” refers to human wisdom. Jesus was saying, “Simon Peter, no man can come to the point of understanding and faith that you have reached simply by human endeavor alone.”

Jesus was not suggesting for one moment that we are simply to shift into neutral and expect God to “zap” us with spiritual understanding and faith. That was not our Lord’s point at all. It doesn’t happen that way. To the contrary, in Jeremiah 29:13 God says, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.”

Our Lord was saying to Peter and to all of us that, while God certainly expects us to seek him fervently, at the same time after all of man’s searching, in the last analysis it is divine revelation that turns on the light. The Holy Spirit enlightens and convicts--then man must choose whether or not to repent of his sins and commit himself in faith to the living Christ.

So, that’s the lesson about salvation; but then Jesus, the Master Teacher, also gives us a further lesson:

II. Second, there is a lesson about THE CHURCH

Look at verse 18: “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


Some understand Jesus to be speaking here of himself as the rock, the chief cornerstone, upon which the church is built. I can certainly appreciate that interpretation, and that most assuredly is a wonderful truth taught in the Scriptures. But I believe that at this particular point Jesus is dealing with the human side of the equation. I believe that he’s dealing here with the membership of the church.

There is a play on words in this passage. Jesus said, “You are Peter.” The Greek word for “Peter” is petros, which means “a rock.” Jesus was saying, “You are Petros, a rock; you have come, by the grace of God and by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, to a solid, rock-like faith in me.”

Then Jesus went on to say, “Upon this rock I will build my church”--but here he used a slightly different Greek word: petra, which--according to the Vines Expository Dictionary, “denotes a ‘mass of rock,’ as distinct from petros, ‘a detached stone or boulder,’ or a stone that can be thrown or easily moved.” Jesus was saying, “Peter, you have come by the grace of God to possess a rock-solid faith, and upon this petra--upon the rock-like faith of you and many others like you--I will build my church.” Jesus was speaking of the church in its larger sense, but what he said also applies to each local congregation.

So the church, in its larger sense, is made up only of people who have come to realize that Jesus is the Christ and have put their faith in him--and that means that each local congregation ought to be made up of the same kind of folks. In other words, the church is to be made up of saved people. Sadly, some people who get their names on the rolls of local congregations give no evidence of having been saved--but that is never the will of God. Certainly everyone ought to attend when the church meets for worship, and that most definitely includes those who have never come to know the Lord. Indeed, no one is more welcome than those who are not saved. With open arms and hearts we invite them to come into the house of God. But so far as membership, so far as joining the church, that is for people who believe as did Simon Peter. Church membership is for folks who can say, from their hearts, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, and I’ve committed my life to you, Lord.”


Jesus also gives us a word about the ownership of the church. He said, “upon this rock I will build my church.” Make no mistake about it, it’s the Lord’s church. The church doesn’t belong to the preacher, or to the deacons, or to any committee or board. It doesn’t even belong to the congregation. The congregation is responsible for making final decisions as to church policies and actions, but in making those decisions they are to seek the will of him who, according to Ephesians 5:25, “loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Thus, church decisions should never be a matter of one member’s opinion being given priority over another member’s opinion; those decisions should always be the result of all of us together having prayerfully, objectively, earnestly sought the will of Christ; it’s his church.


Christ also has a word for us regarding the continuity of the church. In verse 18 he said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Every once in a while some doleful prophet of gloom will say, “The church is on its way out, because it is no longer relevant.” But Jesus said differently. Jesus said that the gates of hell--the Greek word translated hell in that statement is hades--shall not prevail against it. Our Lord might have meant either of two things. By the term hades he could have been referring to the place of eternal punishment for the lost; and if that was his intended meaning, then he was saying that all the forces of hell cannot defeat the Lord’s church.

Or, he could have been using the term hades to refer, as it sometimes does, to “the invisible abode of the dead.” Apparently that was the case in Matthew 11:23, where Jesus prophesied that the wicked city of Capernaum would be “brought down to hell [hades].” He went on to say that if the mighty works which had been done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, “it would have remained unto this day.” Jesus was prophesying that the city of Capernaum would cease to exist; it would die--and it may be that here in Matthew 16:18 when he says that “the gates of hades” shall not prevail against the church, he is making the point, which is also emphasized elsewhere in the Bible, that the church will never die! Some individual congregations might “go out of business,” but not so with the Lord’s church as a whole--that world-wide body of born again believers will never cease to exist, and that also means that there will always be individual congregations of believers to hold high the banner of Christ.

There are many fine groups and causes and some of them last a long time, but the church will be around until the curtain falls, and even throughout eternity--and that’s on the authority of Christ himself. What does that say to you and me? Among other things, it says to pour your best into the work of our Lord’s church. Do you want your time, energy, and resources to count to the maximum? There are numerous good endeavors that we as Christians can and should legitimately be a part of, but give the priority to God’s church. The church is his primary instrument for redeeming mankind, and it’s going to stay with us.

III. Third, there is a lesson about CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY


In verse 19 Jesus said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus was speaking to Peter--but, considering his words in the larger context of all Scripture, apparently he was speaking to Peter not only as an individual, but also as representative of all people with similar rock-like faith.

Only God saves people, of course; the Bible makes that abundantly and unquestionably clear. So, Jesus is not saying that Peter or any of us who are Christians have the power to redeem anyone or to refuse redemption to anyone. As I’ve just emphasized, any Scripture--if we’re to understand it correctly--must be interpreted in the context of other Scripture. To Simon Peter, and to everyone with similar rock-like faith, Jesus was saying, in effect, “It is your responsibility to declare the gospel, because the gospel is the key to unlocking the prison house of sin and setting people free. If you use that key--that is, if you faithfully proclaim the gospel--those who respond in faith will be loosed from sin’s bondage and condemnation and it will be thus recorded in heaven’s records. But if you are neglectful and fail to share the gospel, you will--by your neglect--bind people; that is, you will thereby cause them to remain in sin’s bondage and condemnation, because the declaration of the gospel by believers is God’s only plan for redeeming the world.”

In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” In John 20:21 he said, “ my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Whatever we have going, however many irons we have in the fire, our number one responsibility as Christians is to share the gospel with people--by manner of life, certainly, but also by verbalizing our faith. In Psalm 107:2 we read: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.”


In verse 20, then, we read this statement--which at first glance might seem strike us as strange: “Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.”

Why did Jesus give them that charge? Apparently it boils down to this: he and his disciples were about to go into some places and situations where many people woefully misunderstood the term “Messiah,” and using that term could have led to all sorts of problems--so Jesus was saying, in essence, “For now, don’t use the term ‘Messiah’ as you testify about me. At other times and in other circumstances it will be appropriate, but not now.”

The lesson there for you and me is that as we share our faith with others, we need to use terminology that is clear and appropriate. For the most part we should avoid using what some have called “the language of Zion.” Many lost people don’t understand a lot of the theological words that we Christians take for granted, so we need to keep it simple and to the point.

But share we should, and share we must if we are to be true to our Lord’s command.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” One poet expressed it like this:

Have you found a heavenly light? Pass it on.

Souls are groping in the night, daylight gone.

So lift your lighted lamp on high, be the star in someone’s sky;

He may live who else would die. Pass it on.

If you’ve never done so, now is the time to repent of your sins and by faith to receive Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior. If you’re already a Christian, now is the time to reassert and reaffirm your allegiance to him and his lordship. Proverbs 27:1 warns: “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”