Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Finally Got a Piece of the Rock"

Isaiah 51:1-3

Matthew 16:13-20

This morning’s sermon title is “Finally Got a Piece of the Rock.”  What image comes to your

mind when you hear those words?.... No, it shouldn’t be the theme song from a sitcom called

“The Jeffersons.”  That was: “Movin’ on up to the East Side; we finally got a piece of the pie.”

Some of us may not be old enough to remember those TV commercials for Prudential Insurance

which featured an image of the Rock of Gibralter dubbed over with a deep masculine voice

stating:  “See your Prudential agent for all your insurance needs, and get a piece of the rock.”

Today’s message has nothing to do with your insurance needs, but has everything to do with a

piece of the rock.

      Let’s turn to our gospel lesson from the quill of Matthew; a familiar passage, recorded also

by Mark and Luke, which scholars have identified as a watershed event in Jesus’ ministry.  That

is to say, up to this point, Jesus’ ministry had been fairly well-received.  After this event at a

place called Caesarea Philippi -- as Jesus was beginning his long and final journey toward Jerusa-

lem – His ministry was met with increasing opposition, culminating of course in the tragic

events of that first Holy Week.

          (Read Matthew 16:13-20)

      In our lesson this morning, Jesus asks His disciples an important question:  “Who do people

say the Son of Man is?”  “Son of Man” was a term of self-identification Jesus often used; may-

be Jesus’ way of saying, “I’m one of you.  I get it.”  If you want to read a great book which

explores this, I recommend Douglas Hare’s The Son of Man TraditionAs we’ll soon be coming

up on another election cycle, we’re reminded how critically important public opinion polls are in

the minds of voters and candidates alike. We might presume such polling is a modern invention,

but not so.  We find Jesus conducting one Himself.  “Who do people on the street – the farmer

tilling the soil; the fisherman casting his net into the sea; the woman drawing water from the

well; a mother raising her children in the Galilean suburbs – who do these ordinary folk say that I

am?”  As with most public opinion polls, opinions vary.  The disciples reply:  “Some say John the

Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  And some twenty

centuries later, opinions still vary.

      In his groundbreaking book Your God Is Too Small, J. B. Phillips conducted his own opinion

poll regarding people’s impressions of God.  “Who do you say God is?” Phillips asked.  He found

opinions broad and varied; some identifying God as “resident policeman;” others calling God “a

grand old man,” “managing director,” and still others “the perfect one,” just to name a few.

Phillips’ conclusion was that while most people’s impression of God had some grain of truth, all

opinions cast God as far “too small.” 

      According to Matthew’s account, Jesus does not react or respond to the impressions of the

common, ordinary person on the street as a modern-day politician would.  We might assume

from the silence that Jesus thought the people’s opinions of Him were far too small as well.  But

then, they’d only seen a carpenter’s son; an itinerant preacher; a rabbinical teacher; a compass-

sionate fellow with a heart for the poor; a worker of miracles; a firebrand of controversy.  What

would one expect?  After all, folks see things differently; sometimes radically differently.  It’s

like three people of different occupations looking at the same Grand Canyon.  The archeologist

declares:  “What a wonder of prehistoric nature!”  The preacher declares:  “One of the glories

of the Almighty!”  The Texas rancher declares:  “What a terrible place to lose a cow!”

      But the disciples, that should be a different story.  “Peter, James, John, and all the rest of you

who have been with me all this time – sharing meals; witnessing miraculous signs; seeing trans-

formed lives; hearing amazing teaching – Who do you say that I am?”  Simon, son of Jonah,

speaking at least for himself if not on behalf of the disciples:  “You are the Messiah, the Son of

the living God.”  This time, Jesus does respond because Simon got it right; grasped the hugeness

of it.  And with little wonder, Jesus makes a declaration for all time: “Blessed are you, Simon son

of Jonah!......And I tell you, you are Peter [in Greek, “Petros,” which means “rock”], and on this

rock I will build my church.”  Jesus will build his church on Peter, and on Peter’s confession.  We

who are not children of Roman Catholic theology, which supports the concept of the papal line-

age based on this commissioning of Peter, usually only assent to the latter: the church built upon

Peter’s confession.  But we can’t separate the two.  Peter’s identity and Peter’s identity go

together.  Believer and belief go together.

      Just so, Jesus says to we common, ordinary folk who labor and pay taxes:  You are a disciple,

baptized upon confession.  And upon you – who you are, and what you believe about me – I will

build my church, and nothing will prevail against it, not even the very gates of Hades.  You see,

Peter, James, John, you and I are rocks of the church.  The rock is us and our profession of Jesus

as Christ.  And the profession we make about Jesus is that He is far bigger than John the Baptist

returned, or one of the prophets, or a carpenter’s son, or an itinerant preacher, or a rabbinical

teacher, or a compassionate fellow with a heart for the poor, or a worker of miracles, or a fire-

brand of controversy, or any such lesser opinions.  The rock of our faith is that Jesus is indeed

and no less than the anointed of God; the Messiah; the Christ; the very Son of God; the word

made flesh.  That’s massive!  For it is upon that confession that the church was built, and

remains standing today despite every attempt to defame it and destroy it.  And dear friends, as

baptized disciples of and believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we all finally got a piece of the rock. 

      As I look out over our congregation every Sunday morning, I see so many of you as the rocks 

upon which this Central congregation has been built, and remains strong well over a century and

a half later.  All of us – you and I – are the rocks upon which this congregation will continue to

grow and flourish, both in spirit and in number.  Of that, I feel convinced.  The future, though,

depends upon us in concert with the will of the Almighty.  The future depends upon who we are,

who we believe Jesus to be, and what we believe Jesus is about in our lives – individually and


    As I’m now well into my 19th year of ministry with you, I continue to be thankful to have been

called to have a piece of this particular rock we know and love as Central Presbyterian.  As we

continue forward, I pray that our vision of God will always remain large; that our understanding

of Jesus as the Son of God, Son of Man - God’s very manifestation of Godself in human vestige –

is ever growing; that our sense of call to worship and service - to be the rocks upon which Christ

will continue to build His church - remain vital and expanding.  For in being faithful to this

vision, we will hear Jesus say:  Blessed are you, Central Presbyterian Church of Massillon, Ohio!

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you

too are the rock, and on this rock I will continue to build my church.  I hope you share with me

the joy of knowing we finally got a piece of the rock.