In those days our Lord and the Twelve were continually going about from place to place, mostly among heathen people. Wherever they went, they walked; and as they walked, they talked. Many people passed them on the road without looking at them twice. Men with garden stuff to sell at the next market pushed on, leaving the Twelve and the Master in a cloud of dust; and when their wives said, "What did you see when you went to town to-day?" they shook their heads, saying that they had seen no sights. They had passed St. Peter and St. John and St. Andrew and St. James and eight other apostles, and the Lord in the midst of them! If a single marketman had but stopped and asked two sensible questions, no matter what, and then when he reached home had written down the answers and kept them for us, he would have been one of the benefactors of the race, and famous to the end of time. Suppose he had said, "What is it of which you men are talking as you walk and are glad?" But they all went on about their dull business and asked nothing.
One day, as the Twelve were speaking of their experiences in their own country, before they were driven out, our Lord said, "What do they say of me? What did you hear as you went about? Whom do men say that I am?" The Twelve answered, "Most men say that you are John the Baptist come to life again; though some think that you are Elijah; while others have a vague idea that you are one of the old prophets, they know not which."
The people do not seem to have thought of him as meek and lowly. Both John the Baptist and Elijah were strong, masterful persons, who came with a great message from God, and defied kings. The prophet, as I said, was commonly a revolutionist, dangerous to all bad men. Such was the impression which Jesus made upon such of his countrymen as were but slightly acquainted with him. They saw that he was a kind and tender friend to all who were in trouble, and that he seemed to belong to heaven rather than to earth, like a saint come down from Paradise on a short visit; but they saw also that he was very stern to those who were setting their customs above the word of God, and wearing pious faces to make men think them better than they were, and that he was one who at any moment might begin to cast down the mighty from their seats. Many persons, for excellent reasons, were afraid of him. This is what the apostles had heard as they sat at people's tables in the country towns.
"But whom say ye that I am?" Then Peter, who was a quick, impulsive person, always first to speak and first to act, said, "Then art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And the Lord answered, "Blessed art thou, Peter. No man told you that. You have been taught it from heaven. And now I say that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Towns had gates in that country, and there men gathered together, talking and making plans and bargains. Our Lord said that all the plots of the wicked should not prevail against his church.
Had he been teaching them about the church? We do not know. All that we know is that for a moment he looked into the long future. There he stood, hated by the leaders of the church to which he belonged, forsaken by most of his disciples, with only the Twelve about him, and they, like him, fugitives from their own country, in the midst of strangers. It seemed a situation which called for grief and discouragement. It looked like utter failure. But he knew how that which we call failure is sometimes splendid success in God's sight. He saw the church founded on a rock, and builded to the skies.
Peter's name was Simon, and when he was called by his full name, it was Simon Bar-jona, which means in English, Simon Johnson. But our Lord had named him Peter, meaning stone or rock, as a man on whom he could depend. Peter had now said the word on which the church should stand: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Immediately our Lord warned the disciples that they must keep all this a secret. Peter had spoken the truth; they knew now who their great friend was; but they must not tell. If they did tell, it was certain that the Pharisees and Sadducees would kill him.
For neither the Sadducees nor the Pharisees could believe that one so unlike themselves was the Son of the living God. If he was, then they were all wrong, and must change the whole course of their lives. Everything that they stood for was at stake. They already suspected that this was what he claimed to be. Once they tried to get him to confess it, saying, "How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." But he would not tell them. The moment he told them, his ministry and his life together would come to a sudden end; he would die a death of violence. Sometime, indeed, they must be told, but not yet; and when the time came, he himself would tell them. Meanwhile, he made the apostles promise to keep the great truth to themselves. Even they could hardly see more than the beginning of its meaning. They were like the man who saw men looking like trees. But there it was, the supreme truth which is at the heart of the church, and by which we all live; that in Jesus Christ God spoke to us and dwelt amongst us. On this rock, as on a corner-stone, the church is founded.
He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected and be killed. He added that he would be raised again from the dead, but they did not understand that. The fact which affected them was that their Master must die. Now that they really knew him, and knew that he was divine as well as human, he must be violently parted from them, and be put to death. Why must he die, a young man, hardly more than thirty years of age? They could not bear it. And Peter, speaking again in his quick way, cried, "Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall never be unto thee." To which he replied in words which mean, "I know how hard it is; I who love life and hate death. All my human nature bids me to escape. I pray God even now that this bitter cup may somehow be taken away from me, that I may not drink it. But I know that the end will be as I have said. And you too, friends, must suffer. You in your turn must take up your cross and follow me to death."