John Bradshaw - Upon This Rock
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me in Poland. It's a fascinating country with a vibrant and a turbulent history. It has gone to war with Prussia, and with Russia, more than once. Poland was invaded in the 13th century by the Mongols, and by the Swedes in the 17th century. Even Austria controlled part of Poland at one time. A million Poles died in World War I. World War II was especially hard on Poland. World War II began in 1939 following the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. Six million Poles died during World War II. And Poland was a Communist country from 1945 to 1989.
Today, Poland is a beautiful country and culturally rich. Warsaw's international airport is named after the Polish pianist and composer Frederick Chopin. The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, in her case, in physics and chemistry, was Poland's Maria Sklodowska, better known as Marie Curie. Nicolaus Copernicus, the mathematician and astronomer who set a cat among the scientific pigeons when he claimed the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the universe, was Polish. He advanced the idea that the earth rotated around the sun, and not the sun around the earth.
But perhaps Poland's favorite and most famous son is Karol Wojtyla, who was born here in 1920 in the town of Wadowice in the south of Poland, about an hour from the border with the Czech Republic. His father served in the Polish army. His mother died before he was 9 years old. He had a sister who died before he was born. His older brother went on to become a physician. Karol became a priest in 1946, a bishop in 1958, an archbishop in 1964, and a cardinal in 1967. He was the archbishop of Krakow from 1964 until 1978. In 1978, the white smoke billowing from the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel indicated the College of Cardinals had elected him pope. He succeeded Pope John Paul I, who spent only 33 days in office. British author David Yallop's book, "In God's Name," sold 6 million copies, and was subtitled, "An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I".
There was enough mystery about the death of John Paul I that claims like that don't come as a surprise. But Yallop's journalism has been strongly opposed. And that's not a surprise, either. John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church for 27 years, until 2005. They love him here in Poland. Tourists flock here to the home where the pope grew up. He was raised in this home right behind me. And years later, it's easy to underestimate just how popular he was. The first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years visited 129 countries during his reign. Five million people attended an open-air church service he conducted in Manila in the Philippines in 1995.
As a teenager, I made my own pilgrimage to see and hear Pope John Paul II. Five days before his 61st birthday, while he was greeting a crowd in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City, he was shot four times by a 23-year-old Turkish man. Just two years later, the pope met with that same would-be assassin in prison, calling him "my brother... whom I have sincerely forgiven". The gunman served 20 years of a life sentence in Italy before being released and deported to Turkey, where he served more prison time on other charges. In 2014, he returned to the Vatican and visited John Paul II's tomb. As not only a church leader but also a head of state, John Paul II had a major political impact on the world. He was responsible for regime change in several different countries and has been credited with bringing about the demise of European Communism in the early 1990s. His support for Poland's Solidarity movement, led by Lech Walesa, weakened Communism in Poland and throughout Europe.
When President George W. Bush presented John Paul II with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he said that John Paul's "principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple Communism and tyranny". He met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, shortly before the fall of Communism. Gorbachev said later, "The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II". As pope, Poland's favorite son was considered to be the successor of St Peter. And while he was loved and respected by many people all around the world during his reign, 500 or so years ago, he might have been viewed rather differently. I'll tell you why in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla was the archbishop here in Krakow, Poland, for 14 years. Krakow was the capital of the kingdom of Poland for 500 years. The place is beautiful. It's overflowing with history. The historic center of the city is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The parks surrounding the old town follow the paths of the city walls that surrounded old Krakow in medieval times. Wawel Castle was built in the 14th century, the 1300s. For hundreds of years, it was the residence of Polish kings. Beside Wawel Castle stands Wawel Cathedral. About three dozen Polish kings and queens have been crowned here, and a number of Polish monarchs are buried here. The first cathedral constructed on this site was built in the 11th century. The one there now has been standing for about 700 years. Wawel Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Krakow. It's where John Paul II served as archbishop for 14 years.
Before World War II began in 1939, between 60,000 and 80,000 Jews lived in Krakow. When the Krakow Ghetto was formed, 15,000 people were pressed into an area designed to accommodate 3,000. There are still some small sections of the wall built around the Krakow Ghetto standing today, a grim reminder of a tragic past. The plaque on the old ghetto wall reads: "Here they lived, suffered, and perished at the hands of Hitler's executioners". The vast majority of Krakow's Jews perished in the Holocaust. Auschwitz is only an hour west of here. Just across the Vistula River from Krakow's old town are two museums, housed in what used to be an enamelware factory operated by a man named Oskar Schindler. Steven Spielberg's Academy Award winning movie "Schindler's List" was filmed here in Krakow. The 1,100 Jews saved by Schindler worked in this very building.
Karol Wojtyla became the archbishop of Krakow 32 years after World War II ended. He died in 2005. His funeral at St. Peter's in the Vatican City was an enormous affair. It was attended by kings and queens, by more than 70 heads of state, including the President of the United States and two former presidents. The people of Krakow are immensely proud of him, especially that now he's known as St. Pope John Paul II. He was canonized in 2014. Now, the Catholic Church doesn't canonize someone without what they call "a verifiable miracle" having occurred, attributable to the person canonized. In 2011, a Costa Rican woman with a brain aneurysm was reading a magazine with John Paul II's photo on the front cover, when he appeared to her in a vision. She says she was healed.
Doctors seem to agree. The church says there's no medical rationale for the lady's healing, or for the healing of the French nun who was healed of Parkinson's in 2005 after praying for John Paul's intercession. Fifty two of the first 55 popes have been declared saints by Rome. When the Reformation began 500 years ago, Martin Luther began speaking out against the papacy and its teachings. Now, even though there have been some unsavory popes down through the years, some who bought their way into power, some who sold indulgences, allowing people to buy their way into heaven, some criticized for not doing more to speak out against the Holocaust, others who were famously immoral, Martin Luther's beef wasn't really with individual popes. Martin Luther and other reformers had an issue with the papacy as an institution.
Well, what would Luther say about the papacy today, especially with popular popes winning hearts and making friends all around the world? Well, Martin Luther did not believe that the papacy was instituted by Jesus. The Roman church teaches that Peter was the first pope; that the current pope is the successor of Peter, and that all popes after Peter have the same authority that Peter had. This is something called "apostolic succession". Luther knew that there's nothing in the Bible that suggests Peter was ever a pope. There's nothing that suggests Peter's authority was passed along to each subsequent bishop of Rome. Luther knew Jesus didn't ever appoint Peter as the leader of the church. In the Jerusalem Council that you read about in Acts 15, the authority figure was James, not Peter. If Peter was the bishop of Rome, it's unlikely he'd have referred to Rome as Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13: "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son".
In Old Testament times, Babylon was the persecuting idolatrous city-state. In the New Testament book of Revelation, written by John, a contemporary of Peter, Babylon represents Rome: "And on her forehead a name was written: Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth". Revelation 17, verse 5. Keep in mind: John is referencing Rome here, in an uncomplimentary way. When John said "Babylon," his readers said, "Yes, we know who you mean. You're talking about Rome". So when Peter was writing about Babylon, he definitely was not bragging. He wasn't saying that he was the head of the Roman church. Besides, Peter was married; popes today don't marry. Matthew 8 and verse 14 refers to Peter's mother-in-law.
Now, the counter to that is when people say, "Well, Peter's wife had died, so when he was involved in ministry, he was no longer married". But the Bible doesn't mention that. That's conjecture of the worst kind. There's nothing in the Bible to indicate that a priest or a pastor or a minister or a pope or a bishop or an archbishop or a cardinal or anybody else should not marry and should be celibate.
Now, of course, if that's the lifestyle that somebody chooses, that's between them and God. But there's nothing at all about mandated celibacy in the Bible. Five hundred years after the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, we have a church declaring people to be saints, dispensing God's grace through sacraments, claiming the authority to forgive sin, selling forgiveness for money, and claiming church tradition is as authoritative in matters of faith as is the Bible. Now, these were things that Martin Luther opposed. They sparked the Reformation. But 500 years later, the same conditions still exist. What would Martin Luther say today? What should anyone say? Now, didn't Jesus build His church upon Peter? Well, Martin Luther didn't think so. I'll tell you why in just a moment.
Karol Wojtyla was the archbishop of Krakow for 14 years before becoming Pope John Paul II. He was the leader of the world's 1 billion or so Catholics for 27 years. But did Jesus really establish the papacy? Was the church founded upon Peter, and was Peter really the first pope? In Matthew 16, the disciples say to Jesus, "Some say You're John the Baptist, some say You're Elijah, some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets". Jesus says, "Who do you say that I am"? And Peter says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". That's verse 16. So Jesus says to Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven". And Jesus then says in verse 18, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it".
Now, this is straightforward. Jesus said, "You are Peter". In the Greek, in which this passage was originally written, Jesus says, "You are 'petros,'" a "stone". And then, referring to Himself, Jesus said, "Upon this rock", "petra," a large stone, maybe a boulder even, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". Jesus didn't build His church upon Peter, or upon any man. He built the church upon Himself. Besides, the gates of hell did prevail against Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus was referring to Himself when He referred to a "rock". First Corinthians 10, verse 4 says, the "Rock that followed them", in the wilderness, "was Christ". Psalm 18, verse 2 says, "The Lord is my Rock". Psalm 89, verse 26 calls God "the Rock of my salvation". Jesus called Himself the "chief cornerstone" in Matthew 21 and verse 42.
The church was built upon Jesus, not Peter. And that's no disrespect to Peter. He was a fine man. He was a great man. God worked miracles through him. He preached at Pentecost. He wrote two books of the Bible. He was a great guy. But he wasn't a pope, and he wasn't the rock upon which Christ built the church. Jesus was that rock. The church was built upon Jesus Himself. A pope is said to be infallible when he speaks "ex-cathedra," something that only happens very occasionally. Yet in Galatians 2, verse 11 Paul writes: "Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed".
Now, the passage would make you think that Peter had no more or less authority than any of the other apostles. There's nothing to suggest that Peter ever possessed anything like infallibility, ever. The Reformation began 500 years ago, and even though, since that time, men like Pope John Paul II of Poland have done a lot to make the papacy very popular around the world, you'd have to imagine that Martin Luther would feel much the same about the papacy today as he did half a millennium ago. Luther had major problems with statements made by Rome, statements such as this one made by Pope Boniface in 1302. Boniface wrote: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff".
One thing that troubled Luther in his day was that the church exerted an enormous amount of influence on the government, taking a lot of positions that are not found in the Bible. Five hundred years later, you still have the same thing. Back then, it was reason to start a reformation. So let me ask you who you're building on. Who does your faith rest upon? In the parable, Jesus spoke about a wise man who built his house upon a rock. When the rains came, and the floods came up, and the wind blew, the house on the rock stood firm. He also talked about another house, built on the sand, and when the same thing happened, that house fell. It wasn't built upon the rock.
In San Francisco, there's a luxury apartment building called the Millennium Tower. It's said to be one of the 10 best residential buildings in the world. It's 58 stories high. But in the last few years, the building has sunk 16 inches. Which isn't altogether alarming. Buildings do settle. But not only has it begun to sink; it's also begun to tilt. It's not the Leaning Tower of Pisa by any means, but it has a little lean that's noticeable if you're living in the building. So why is it sinking?
Well, there are varying theories. Some say it's because of a tunnel built nearby for a transit center. But what we know is the foundations of the building go down 80 feet, into sand. The rock is 200 feet or so down. The building isn't built upon the rock. What's your faith built upon? Jesus is the Rock of Scripture. He's the Savior of the world. He died on a cross for the sins of the world, and He did that for you. Are you building upon this Rock, Jesus? Are you basing your life on His Word? Are you taking time to allow God's Word to mold you, to shape you, to change you? Are you allowing God to transform you? Jesus is coming back soon. In that day we'll see how important it is to build upon Jesus, to build upon His Word, and to lean your life totally on Him.
Our Father in heaven, we are thankful today for Jesus, the Rock of Scripture, the Rock of our salvation. We thank You for Your Word, which shines light on our pathway, to lead us away from darkness and fully into Your marvelous light. Father in heaven, I want to pray today that, that we would open our hearts to You, that Your Spirit would take over our lives, that we would seek to follow and honor and worship and obey Jesus, that Jesus would be everything to us.
Friend, how is Jesus to you? What are you building your life on? It might be a tradition. It might be a teaching that's not in the Bible. It might be the say-so of somebody else. It might be pleasure and self-seeking. Perhaps you're neglecting this Jesus the Rock. Perhaps you're not taking the Bible seriously. Are you reading God's Word? Are you allowing it to be your strength, your source of wisdom and guidance? Friend, if it's time now for you to surrender fully to Jesus, do so, would you? Lift up your heart to Jesus. Raise your hand to Jesus. Open up your life to Jesus.
Father in heaven, take our hearts; make them Yours. Give us grace to allow Your Spirit to guide us and keep us and join us inextricably to Yourself. We thank You, and we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Thanks for joining me today. I'll look forward to seeing you again next time. Until then, remember: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"