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The Great Confession. Matthew 16.13-20

Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus asks the disciples, who do you say I am?
Simon Peter answers, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’.

This is the great confession.

It is interesting to see how the disciples have grown in their understanding of who Christ is.

In Matthew 8, there is a storm at sea. Jesus is asleep in the boat. The disciples wake him up, and he calms the storm. And they ask, ‘Who is this man? Even the winds and waves obey him’.

In Matthew 14, the disciples are again in a boat. There is another storm. Jesus comes to them walking on water. This is the story you may have heard a couple of weeks ago when Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water. But when Jesus gets into the boat, the wind and waves become calm. And the disciples now say, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’.

In the Old Testament, Israel is described as a son of God. Israel can call on God as Father
David is described as a son of God. David can call on God as his Father.
So when they call Jesus the Son of God, they are recognising that Jesus has a special, a unique relationship with God. He can call on God as Father.

But now, Peter not only says to Jesus, ‘You are the Son of the Living God’, but he says to him, ‘You are the Messiah (Christ), the Son of the Living God’
You are the Messiah - the one who the Old Testament pointed to; the one for whom we have waited; the one who God has sent to be our saviour and our ruler; the one who will bring in the Kingdom of God; the one who is God’s King – ruling in righteousness and justice and mercy, bringing peace and abundance and joy.

And notice something else about Simon’s confession.

It is not theoretical or theological. He does not say, ‘Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’.
It is deeply personal. He says, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’.
He is not talking about God. He is speaking to God, to the Son of God.

And it is that personal confession to Jesus of Jesus: that revelation, that realisation, that conviction which changes the world.

1. This confession of Jesus gives us a new identity

In the Orthodox church, people change their name at their baptism, especially if they are baptised as adults. They had their secular name, and they are given a new God name. Some of our young Russian adults who were baptised would ask me what name they should take. I had no idea what to say! As any parent knows, it is a big thing to name someone.

Simon makes the great confession and Jesus gives him a new name, Peter.
Simon is the old man. Peter is the new man.

He is a new man with a new vision. 
He sees the world in a different way.

It is not a world of chance or chaos. 
It is not a world that is simply a stage for my existence, in which I should shine and in which everything should exist to serve me, or my family or my interests.
No. This is a world that has a destiny which is far bigger than me. It is a world that has a ruler and a king. And that king is Jesus.

Peter is a new man in a new set of relationships.
A new relationship with Jesus Christ, with God.

He has dethroned himself. 
He realises that he has been a pretender to the throne, with no claim to the throne, and he now steps down.
When Simon says to Jesus, ‘You are the Messiah’ he recognises the true king. 

In John 1, we are told that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born … of God.” John 1:12-13
I’m sure you have heard the phrase ‘born again’. Well, this is what it is speaking about.
Simon Peter, declares that Jesus is the Messiah, his king, and he is given the power to become a child of God.

And Peter also finds himself in a new set of relationships with others who confess that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is their king. 

When a person becomes a Christian, when we ‘receive’ Jesus, when we turn to him and say, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ – whether privately as a prayer, or as a public declaration (that is what happens at baptism or confirmation, as well as at other times) – we become new people with a new identity

‘If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come’. (2 Cor 5.17)

2. This confession of Jesus is the rock on which God builds His Church

Jesus says, ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’. Matthew 16:18

Peter means ‘rock’. The name that Jesus has given Peter means Rocky

But in the New Testament, the true rock is always Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus speaks of himself, quoting from Psalm 118, as the rock who the builders rejected. He tells his listeners that he is the cornerstone or the capstone. He is the rock people will either stumble over or on which they will be broken and become new people. (Matthew 21.42-44)

He says that if we listen and do what he says, then we will be like people who build the house of our lives on rock. When the storms and troubles of life come, it will stand firm. (Matthew 7.25)

And Paul, writing later, describes Jesus as the moveable rock who provides for the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10.4)

And here it is no different. The rock that the church is built on is the rock of the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

This confession it is our praise. It is at the heart of our worship.

It is our message – it is what we preach: that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of God.

It is our unity – this is what holds us together.
I am passionate about this. In Moscow we had Trump lovers and Trump haters. We had some people who thought that the war was necessary, a defence of Russia against an imperialist NATO – and we, of course, had many who thought the invasion of Ukraine was completely unjustifiable. And I suspect that there may be a few different political opinions here. But politics is not what holds us together. What holds us together is our common conviction that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that we are his servants.

This confession is our comfort – we can call on the one who is the King, the rock who is always present with us, the one who will meet us and who will, in his time, provide for us.

It is our hope – even though this world seems at times to be out of control (war, uncontrollable climate change, challenge of AI) –we declare that Jesus is the Messiah; we declare that there is one who is in control, and that there is one who is coming.

It is our identity – we are the people who call on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It is this confession, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, which is the rock on which God will build his Church.

3. This confession of Jesus will bind Satan and set people free

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

This is not an easy verse to understand, and is one of those verses that deserves and will reward long study.

But note a couple of things.

First, this Church that Jesus builds is on the offensive. It is not the gates of the Church holding out against the forces of hell. It is the gates of Hell which break before the invading power of the gospel.

Second, Jesus gives to his people on earth an astonishing authority. Later (Matthew 18.18) Jesus uses the same words about binding and loosing in heaven when he talks – in the context of a passage about forgiveness – about what happens when two or three people pray in the name of Jesus.

When we, the people of God, proclaim the great confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, the foundations of Hell shudder. The devil stops his ears. We are proclaiming the great truth to the father of lies. He cannot bear it. He is confused and frustrated. He ties himself up in knots. He is bound.

And people, as the Holy Spirit touches their hearts and minds, hear the message – so they hear truth, they are set free, they are loosed from their chains. They discover that there is freedom from condemnation, freedom from the compulsion to sin, freedom from despair and freedom to become the people who God created us to be.


This is a precious passage.

It tells us of the great confession that changes the world.

This is the confession that gives us a new identity; it is the rock on which the Church is built and it is the confession that binds Satan and sets people free.

Before Alison and myself went to Russia the first time, in 1993, we were sent by CMS to the Orthodox Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights, in Essex. It is a remarkable place.
At the heart of the community is morning and evening prayer, when they pray the Jesus Prayer. They repeat it slowly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
It is the sort of prayer that has become so much part of the men and women of that community that it sort of prays itself in them. One imagines that even if they slip into the shadows of dementia, it will continue to pray itself in them. 

This prayer has become the core of whatever spiritual discipline I can claim to have.
This is the prayer that I always return to: when I pray early in the morning as I lie awake, or as I walk, or as I go round the supermarket, or as I sat waiting at the border for yet another interview with the FSB. 

It is a good prayer to pray. We find it here. The first half of that prayer is Peter’s confession: ‘You are the Messiah, the Christ, the King, the Son of God’.

So we turn to him and we call out to him: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God – have mercy on me a sinner’.


  1. Thank you! It was so good to discover a new sermon here, and it felt so timely, as usual :)


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