Epiphany 2 – John 1:35-42 “Rock Solid – Solid Rock.
Stone and rock; rocks and stones – are they good or are they bad? Are they useful or are they a hindrance? What comes into your mind when you hear of stones and rocks?
Today we focus on the rock, because this is the name Jesus gave to Simon. The name Cephas and Peter are the Aramaic and Greek variants of the word — rock. Hence many times in the bible we hear about the disciple Simon Peter — Simon the Rock.
It’s unusual that we should focus on Simon Peter in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany concerns itself more with the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, as Jesus the Christ, Son of the Father from eternity. However, we hear in the Gospel, while Jesus is being named the Lamb of God, Rabbi, and the Messiah (or the Christ), he names Simon — Peter — the rock.
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:35-42)
So why does Jesus rename Simon — Peter. Why does he call this man — rock? And what is a rock anyway? Is a rock or a stone a good or bad thing?
Some might say rocks and stones are bad things, especially if one’s brother or sister or enemy is throwing stones or rocks at them. But then again, stones and rocks might be your best friend if you need to scare a ferocious animal.
If ascending a hill on foot or in a vehicle, stones and rocks can prove to be hazardous regardless of their size. Large rocks can make the climb impossible; small stone can act like marbles making the hill a slippery slope to scale. But once at the top if one slips back down, rocks and large stones, might be the very thing that stops the deathly descent to the bottom.
So if we see Simon Peter as the rock, designated by Jesus Christ, we might see him as a hazardous hindrance, or alternatively, a heavenly help. And in the bible Peter definitely fills the bill as both a help and a hazard in the ministry of the Gospel. So too stones and rocks prove to be objects causing one to stumble or fear, but also represent stability and strength as we hear God’s Word.
The bible is full of references to stones and rocks. In Genesis, Jacob used a stone as a crude pillow when he slept and saw the ladder descending from heaven at Bethel. Then in Revelation we hear of heaven in all its perfection, full of precious stones, such as jasper, sapphire, emerald, and topaz — to name a few.
In the Gospels we also hear of many different uses of stones. And Jesus makes many references to stones and rocks too. One that must be mentioned, because it sits with the Gospel reading, is from Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says again to Simon Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
So what kind of rock was Peter? The church regards him as the leading Apostle; he is the foundation stone on which Christ places the church. Yet Peter acted more like a stone that crumbles and disintegrates under pressure. Perhaps he is more akin to what Jesus said in the parable of the sower, “A farmer went out to sow his seed… Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” (Matthew 13:3b, 5, 6)
And Jesus’ explanation follows, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)
Jesus’ description of rocky ground goes a long way in giving us a picture of Peter the night the roster crowed three times. Peter is the disciple who confessed to his Christ that he would never fall away, but stumbled at the moment he was asked if he was an associate of Jesus.
So on what kind of foundation was Jesus to build his church? It must have looked pretty dismal with Peter weeping bitterly having just disowned his Lord, who was on death row. It seemed that all was lost, the crucifixion being the stumbling block, the tomb in the rock and the large stone over its entrance an impassable foolish end to Simon being the rock, and the man from Nazareth being the Saviour — let alone the Son of God.
But where failure and faithlessness seem to have won out, it’s precisely here where the victory of all victories exists — hidden.
Paul tells the church at Corinth, a church failing in the weaknesses of heresy, dissention, disorder, and sexual chaos, that God will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Furthermore in Isaiah 49 we hear, “This is what the LORD says — the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel — to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:7)
So in Jesus Christ — in his weakness and death and in his resurrection and life — we find the true rock foundation of our faith and Peter’s faith too. Despite our weak and faithless nature, God’s faithfulness is real and victorious, through Christ at the Cross, and the Holy Spirit faithfully putting the cross and the Rock of our salvation back in front of us. And we see it by faith — trusting God’s faithfulness to us.
Therefore, Jesus tells us, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)
Added to this we know Jesus also said of himself, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes? He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:42, 44)
Peter is the rock on which Christ built the church. Incidentally the name Simon or Simeon is derived from a Hebrew word meaning to hear or announce. We know Simon Peter was the hearing rock and was the rock that announced what he had witnessed. But it’s only because of God’s faithfulness to Peter that allowed Peter to hear, be built up in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and to proclaim God’s faithfulness in Christ Jesus.
This is also God’s will for us too. We like Peter, flounder and fight against faithlessness and failures. And so our hope, our hearing and our witness to others, is built and stands on nothing less, than on Christ the Solid Rock. Amen.