The Revisionist History of the Gospel

Do you ever get the sense from any of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s calling his disciples that he is looking for the cream of the crop?

Does it appear as if Jesus is making a bee-line for the seminaries and the synagogues to find the A-list ministry studs?

Even after three years walking side by side with their Messiah these fellows can’t quite get their acts together. With the cross looming ever nearer on the horizon and blood sweating from his brow, his motley band of losers is napping on him. They’re sleeping. He’s bleeding.

He must really love them.

Jesus, of course, is not surprised by any of this. He knew what he was getting. He knew what he wanted. I find it staggering, for example, that Jesus, knowing everything Peter would say and do—including deny Christ publicly—still says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

If you understand just what Jesus is doing here, it’s almost laughable. It’s laughable, that is, if you don’t understand the gospel.

Peter is perhaps the most impetuous of all the twelve. Peter speaks before he thinks. Peter is all “ready, fire, aim.” Peter is jumping out of boats, chopping off ears, setting up tents instead of worshiping. And in Matthew 16, Jesus calls him a rock. N. T. Wright says Jesus calling Simon Peter a “rock” is like when we nickname a fat guy “Slim.”

And yet, this is a dynamic we see over and over in the Scriptures, that God calls sinners beloved.

The revisionist history of the gospel makes us more than we are:

Gideon is down in the winepress, laying low out of fear of the Midianites, and the angel of the Lord greets him as a “Mighty man of valor.”

Peter himself says in 1 Peter 3:6 that Sarah called Abraham lord and Christian women are her daughters if they don’t fear anything frightening, which is weird because Sarah seemed frightened all the time, as well as fairly manipulative.

If you think those are interesting character revisions, consider that in Romans 8, Paul says you and I are “more than conquerors.” I mean—have you met you?

And here Jesus calls Peter a rock.

What is happening here? It’s the revisionist history of the gospel at work. That we sinners could be called holy must mean that the good news is really good, and that’s entirely of grace.

Last year we commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, from which we are reminded of the monumental recovery of the biblical tenets of salvation by grace alone received through faith alone. And what’s so wonderful about the doctrine of “faith alone” is that it reminds us that we need not be strong to receive the strength of Christ, just trusting. The church Christ is building is built by grace alone. And the sinners who find refuge in this church are grafted in by grace alone. They are grafted in by grace alone received through faith alone into the one who alone has conquered sin and death and will eternally live.

To repeat: what’s so wonderful about the doctrines of grace alone and faith alone is that you needn’t have a strong faith to receive all the riches of grace, just a true faith.

Clearly salvation is all of grace.

And this is why, by the way, I don’t think the most reasonable interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is that the “rock” immediately being referenced is Jesus himself but rather the Peter who is confessing Jesus. I was always taught that the rock Jesus is referring to is himself—and in a way this is true—but that is not the plain reading of the text. He is saying “I call you rock. And on this rock I will build my church.”

Now, the Roman Catholics base their entire system of the papacy upon this reading of the text and say that Jesus is establishing Peter as the first pope. You have to piggy-back a whole lot of assumptions and a whole lot of extrabiblical theology into this verse to make it mean that. But I think evangelicals have often overcompensated trying to avoid that interpretation by saying the rock in question isn’t Peter at all. But if we understand the theology behind what Jesus is doing here, we shouldn’t have a problem with it.

In a way, this is a parallel to what Paul develops further in Ephesians 5: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

So is the church being built upon sinners? Yes—sinners who confess Christ as Lord and their only hope for escaping hell and conquering death. With Christ as our chief cornerstone, the church is being made up of all kinds of sinners all over the world, Jew, Greek, slave, free—anyone and everyone who is able to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He builds his church up out of the redeemed.

In other words, Jesus is the Rock, but Peter is a rock. And so are you and I. And God is building his church out of us.

This is simply another way of saying that you and I part of the body of Christ.

So how can he say this? How can he say that his building his church on quote-unquote “rocks” like Simon Peter and like you and me? Because anyone who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God has raised him from the dead is an unconquerable, unstoppable person.

I know, I know—you don’t feel unstoppable. I don’t either. But in Christ, that’s exactly what we are. In Christ, we are new creations; the old has passed away, and the new has come. We have died with him and been raised with him. We who are sinners are now declared saints because of the righteousness of Christ credited as our own righteousness. How great is that?

So by faith we are counted righteous, and God remembers our sin no more. In Christ, because of his obedience, it’s like we never sinned!

Thank God for the revisionist history of the gospel.