Look To The Rock

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I am no seer, but I do see things.  I am no prophet, but I do read the times through the words and visions of the prophets.  I am no doom-sayer, but I do glimpse signs of warning at every turn, as did the Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George (1937 – 2015) who said of this and future generations:

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.1

Cardinal George denied that this was a prophetic utterance, but I think otherwise.  Time will tell.  But, if prophecy is Godly social commentary — the world seen and judged through God’s eyes, if prophecy is Godly warning about what will likely transpire if the course of a people does not change, then this statement may well be prophetic.  Time will tell.  But time may be what we do not have in abundance; time may be growing short.

I am convinced that one of the most pressing challenges facing the Church is the formation of confessors and martyrs:  people who know the truth, people who will confess the truth before the world and its powers regardless of the personal cost, people who will die for the truth with the words, “Jesus is Lord” and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” on their lips.  It is time for such formation and for such people.

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.

Such things do not happen overnight; there is a slow but accelerating progression.  Culture moves the Church from influential to tolerated, from tolerated to marginalized, from marginalized to silenced, from silenced to criminalized, from criminalized to exiled, from exiled to martyred.

I think we must do two things at once now:  pray to God that this is not the path we are on, and prepare — for God’s sake — as if it is.

The truth:  that’s the key to the formation of confessors and martyrs — the truth.  And here we must reckon with and answer Pilate’s question:  “What is truth?”  Where is truth to be found?

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

The truth rarely lies on the surface; you have to dig for it, you have to excavate it.  And people are digging today; all around us people are digging, looking for truth.  But mostly they are digging shallow holes, dry wells, broken cisterns that won’t hold water.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

Disciples, confessors, martyrs:  these have to dig deeper; these have to strike rock.  Even that image is not quite right.  It is God who has done the excavation; it is God who has hewn us out of the rock; it is God who has quarried us.  Our task is to remember what God has done, to reckon who we are, and look to the rock from which we were hewn.

Isaiah 51:2 (ESV): Look to Abraham your father 

and to Sarah who bore you; 

  for he was but one when I called him, 

that I might bless him and multiply him. 

This is the rock from which we were hewn, the quarry from which we were dug:  Abraham, Sarah, and the covenant God made with them to bless them and to make them a blessing to all nations.  This is our story, the story we are to confess before the world:  the story of how God did not abandon the world to its own corruption, but chose a people through whom he would redeem and restore the world, a people through whom God’s justice would shine forth as a light to all peoples, a people through whom God’s righteousness would be displayed and God’s salvation made manifest:

Isaiah 51:4–6 (ESV): Give attention to me, my people, 

and give ear to me, my nation; 

  for a law will go out from me, 

and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 

 5  My righteousness draws near, 

my salvation has gone out, 

and my arms will judge the peoples; 

  the coastlands hope for me, 

and for my arm they wait. 

 6  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, 

and look at the earth beneath; 

  for the heavens vanish like smoke, 

the earth will wear out like a garment, 

and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; 

  but my salvation will be forever, 

and my righteousness will never be dismayed. 

This is the rock from which we were hewn; this is the quarry from which we were dug.  But the digging must go on; we are not yet at bedrock.  Down through the strata we chip away to reveal Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Egypt, slavery, Moses, exodus, the Law — this is our quarry, the quarry of the Lord — Joshua, the Promised Land at last, the Judges, the Kings — Saul, David, Solomon — the civil war and the divided Kingdom, the Prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel — the idolatry and destruction of Israel, the injustice and unrighteousness of Judah, the exile, the return, the waiting, the expectation and longing for God to fulfill his covenant at last.  The digging is getting harder now; we are nearing bedrock, the strata laid down from the very foundations of the world, the pillars of the earth on which all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth rest.

Matthew 16:13–18 (ESV): Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

On this rock:  there it is.  We have now reached the bedrock, the foundation of all things, the one place where we can build without fear of being shaken.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  This is truth, the Truth which Peter confessed before the world and for which he was martyred.  It is the Truth proclaimed by all faithful confessors and martyrs for two millennia, and it is the Truth the Church must confess today regardless of cost or consequences.  In a grand mixing of biblical metaphors, this is the rock from which we were hewn, this is the quarry from which we were dug, this is the rock upon which the Church is built:  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

There is a divine ambiguity in the language of this passage.  Simon, son of Jonah, confesses Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus acknowledges his confession as a revelation that Simon has received from God and blesses him for it.  To acknowledge this profound moment Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, Πέτρος, a word which sounds like rock, πέτρα.  Then Jesus says:

18 [And] I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

How do we parse this text?  Who or what is the rock?  Is it Jesus himself?  Is it the revealed truth of Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?  Is it Peter?  Yes.  Yes, it is, yes to all and thanks be to God we do not have to pick and choose among the meanings, because that holy ambiguity enables Paul later to say of us:

Ephesians 2:18–22 (ESV):  19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Jesus is the cornerstone that orients, stabilizes, and holds together all else.  Peter as representative of the Apostles, and the prophets as representatives of Israel, are the foundation stones affixed to Jesus.  And we are there too, living stones being built upon this foundation, being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” as we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, not only with our lips, but in our lives.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

The Father’s love is the quarry.  Jesus is the rock.  The Holy Spirit hews and builds and fills the temple made of living stones.  Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promises that the Church built upon this rock will conquer the very gates of hell.  To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God is to engage battle until the end of your days, to fling yourself upon the gates of hell and to storm them with all the power the Spirit provides.  I know that martial language — battle talk — is out of favor today; few sing Onward, Christian Soldiers anymore.  But Scripture is not hesitant to speak of warfare or to sound the charge.

Ephesians 6:10–13 (ESV): [Finally,] be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 

Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in this great battle.  It has always been so, though I fear the Church of recent years has mistaken the absence of open hostility for peace.  But the enemy has been on the move.  Rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces have stealthily wormed their way into culture, structures, organizations, laws, politics, education, and yes — Lord, have mercy — even the Church.  Our culture is post-Christian, more concerned with deconstruction than with recognizing the faith once delivered to the saints.  Our structures and organizations have largely abandoned the faith that gave them birth and nourished them.  Our laws, in the name of freedom and equity, permit practices that would have been unthinkable two generations ago.  Our politics…I will say no more.  Our public schools train students for productive employment but do not have adequate time, resources, or mandate to teach students to think deeply about beauty and goodness and Truth.  Good, faithful Christians labor in all these areas, to be sure, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven as near earth as they can.  Those who so labor faithfully are missionaries.  They are Christian soldiers, to whom we say “Onward!”  Thanks be to God that they have not abandoned the public square to its own devices and desires.  Theirs is not an easy task.  They are confessors, and daily their confession becomes more costly.  So they must dig deeply into the Truth.  They must look to the rock from which they were hewn, and to the quarry from which they were dug.  They must hold fast to the Truth.  So must we all, for we are all engaged in the great battle.

A good place to start is with The Sermon on the Mount.  Dig deeply there.  I think this sermon must become the Rule of Life for all Christian soldiers, confessors, and martyrs.  Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those words.  And then, with God as your helper, live them.  To conclude that sermon, to show how crucial it is, Jesus told this parable:

Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV): Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Is the theme emerging?  Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;” yes, and upon this rock I will build my church.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like the wise man who built his house upon the rock.”

We are in a storm.  Plague stalks us.  Institutions fail us.  Justice is denied to too many of us.  Politicians pander to us.  Cultural norms shift under us.  The wind is blowing and beating on our house.  Will it stand?  Many won’t.  Many builders did not look to the rock from which they were hewn, to the quarry from which they were dug.  Many builders do not confess the rock solid truth that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.  Many builders do not hear and heed his words, and so fail to build upon the rock.  Beloved, the rains will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will blow and beat against all houses.  The houses of soldiers, confessors, and martyrs will stand, because they are founded on the rock.

And this brings me back to Cardinal George:

I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

I don’t know if this is right, if we are there yet, or even nearly there yet.  God knows, and time will tell.  But we must live as if we are.  We must look to the rock from which we were hewn, and to the quarry from which we were dug.  We must confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, for that is the rock upon which the Church is built.  We must sink our foundations deeply into the truth of the Sermon on the Mount and build our houses on that rock.  We are all soldiers in the great battle.  We must all become confessors.  We may — some of us — become martyrs.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Daniel’s day.  And Daniel, who was both an exile and a confessor, told him what his dream was and what it meant.  A great statue — an idol — appeared before the king, an image constructed of many different materials.  These represented kingdoms that would rise and fall in the future — awesome and awful kingdoms.  But as the king looked, there came a stone cut out from a mountain by no human hands, and it struck the image and broke it in pieces.  The wind blew and the dust from the shattered image scattered like so much chaff so that not a trace of the former kingdoms could be found.  But the stone grew and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.  And Daniel confessed to the great king Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom would fall and be ground to dust by the stone, by the kingdom of God that will stand forever and fill the whole earth.

Isaiah 51:1 (ESV): “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, 

you who seek the Lord: 

  look to the rock from which you were hewn, 

and to the quarry from which you were dug. 

Amen.

1https://www.ncregister.com/blog/tim-drake/the-myth-and-the-reality-of-ill-die-in-my-bed

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN.
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