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Secret Plans

Matthew 16:13-20

The Rev. Jon Roberts

27 August


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[d] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Secret Plans

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)

The secret plans of our design are often revealed in that saying,
What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine.[1]

There is a branch of our society that goes to great lengths to make secret plans to accomplish a goal to protect, defend and conquer. Our military is such an example of a dedicated and strategic group of men and women who set out to accomplish this goal.
Once there was a priest of an Episcopal Church just outside of Washington, D.C. who had a good following of people who served in the military. Knowing that these people were hard-working, young and dedicated he worked tirelessly on them about evangelism and used terms he thought they could understand. He referred often to the, “Army of the Lord.” “Everyone should be a soldier of the Lord and join His Army,” he would say. After a good amount of time, he noticed a young man who came to his church one Sunday. Assuming he was in the military, but uncertain which branch, he confronted him before leaving by saying, “Will you join the Army of the Lord? As a soldier of the Lord, we need to see you every Sunday as possible. We need to see you inviting others to Church, see you praying, binding and loosing.” The young man did not answer, left quietly and did not return for three weeks. When he did return to Church, the priest went to him and apologized if he gave offense but invited him once again, by saying, “Will you join the Army of the Lord?” With that, the young man leaned over and whispered, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord. I’m in the Secret Service.”

What are our secret plans in how we serve the Lord’s army?

Peter, that faithful disciple of our Lord was all geared up to join wherever Jesus said he needed him. Peter looks at the masses of people who have been following his rabbi and perhaps thinks he could be the General to bind and loose Jesus’ commands. He aims to be first. Jesus and his disciples have traveled north of Galilee to the place of Caesarea Phillipi. This is the location where we hear Peter’s confession, as he boldly acknowledges Jesus as the Son of Man. Our author, St. Matthew is a Jew, speaking to Jews, about a Jew.[2] This area has lush grass and tall trees, with a waterfall nearby. If you look further north, fourteen miles away you can see the snow capped top of Mt. Hermon. The trail leading from the bottom to the top is lined with graven images carved in the stone effacements and various stops along the way. They are remnants of previous idol worship. The Syrians came there long ago to worship Baal. The Greeks came long ago to worship Pan. Surrounded by these images of other gods, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He wants to know their secret thoughts and get an understanding of their plans for the future. He wants to know what they are claiming as theirs and whatever plan they may be designing within. These twelve students have faithfully followed this teacher. They have seen him feed many people and heal many people and say some very prophetic things to challenge the religious and political authorities.

He has made many people ask, “Who is this man?” It is now Jesus’ turn to ask them, “Who do you say that I am?” Hundreds of altars and idols alike surround them in Caesarea Phillipi when they hear this question asked. Their answers, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah or Jeremiah.” Jesus knew who he was and we, today, know who he is (we should), but remember, his disciples were figuring it out. There was no local church, only the temple in Jerusalem, far, far away. They were on foot. They traveled all the time from one village to the next. He wanted them to take their faith and trust in him further; to be dependent on him as they were on the locals to feed and give them shelter. He wanted them to really think and he wanted to pull out of them their secret plans. He wanted their designs to be revealed in the open for discussion. It appears that Peter didn’t hesitate or think about his answer. He quickly asserted, “You are the Son of Man.”

This is the moment when a person says an awkward saying and the rest take two steps back and away to distance themselves. It is one thing to say Jesus is a rabbi, another to say he is a prophet, but to go on record making a statement that he is the Messiah, goes too far. He is acclaiming that Jesus is the one they have always been waiting for. “Isn’t he fulfilling prophecy. Are not all the signs there,” Peter may be asking? “Who revealed this to you,” Jesus asks of “Simon bar Jonah (Son of John?” Jesus doesn’t wait for a reply as he gives the pronouncement, “You Peter, the Rock, I will build my kingdom, giving you the power to bind and loose on Earth what is in Heaven.” The Church worldwide has wrestled with whether or not Peter’s confession is text proof of papal primacy through Rome or those who protest saying it is simply about his faith. I make the argument that it is far greater a reason than these. We know that God has called some to be Bishop and we know that Peter suffered humiliation by denying Jesus three times. It has to be more. There must be a secret plan, yet to be revealed.

Jesus commends Peter for the faith and courage to be able to say you are the Son of Man but what he is really trying to flesh out has more meaning. Perhaps Jesus is implying this. “Who do you say that I am in the midst of all these gods? They have fallen and so have their followers. Do you believe that I will be here for a long time? Do you think I will be with you for hundreds of years; immortal perhaps; really? Who do you say that I am?” Jesus is asking you the same question. He has already discerned your secret plans. Peter thought he would become the General of this army to lead a revolt into Judea, overturning the religious authorities and perhaps overthrow the Roman occupation. He misunderstood.

On the opposite end, not written about, you have Judas. He is thinking, wait a second, this could really work out for me. Peter leads the charge. We have the masses behind us. I can be the CFO of the company, he thought, perhaps. “Will you join the Lord’s army,” is the question Peter hears. “Will you collect my earnings,” is the question Judas hears. But what secret service is really going to come out of these twelve?
This is where God works best. He works inside of you, listening to your secret plans and what designs you have made for your own life; giving and taking. What’s yours is yours and what will be mine, will be mine. Jesus hears you. He knows how you like to silently come and sit in the pews and he hears you working out your commitment and what you plan to give. Every time we come forward to the Caesarea Phillipi, that trail that leads to the altar, do we recognize any other gods before Him? Do we keep a portion of each, or do we turn them away? That’s the hard part. In the theology of Stewardship we hear the same message we have heard so many times before. “Nothing really belongs to us. It all belongs to God.” But when life gets difficult. The bullets begin to fly and the blood and guts get exposed and messy, what happens?

We hear Peter’s boldness and we see his lack of courage later on, and we see his reconciliation and we see his own martyrdom for joining the Lord’s army. He loves to hear our bold talk as we beat our chests and proclaim, “You are the Son of Man.” God is patient and God is kind and says, “Alright, let’s see if you really mean it.” That’s when he permits tragedy and loss and fear to come into our lives. He wants to know if we truly mean what we say. When you get into moments, like the disciples did, whether physical, mental, emotional or financial health is being challenged or compromised, whatever it is, Jesus is asking you the same question, “Who do you say that I am?”

There shouldn’t be any, “What is mine is mine.”
…and the secret plans of our own design,
There it is revealed dearly beloved;
Discern the will of God;
Join His faithful army of witnesses proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, so that you may truly say, “Lord, what is yours is yours, and what is mine,…is thine.”

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Matthew 16:13-20

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