August 27, 2017
Text: Matt. 16:13-20
What does the world say about Jesus? “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13; ESV). The disciples gave the answers of their own people. Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (v. 14). The answers in our day are not that different. A holy man. A great teacher. A moral example. The reality is, though, in the minds of a fallen people, and particularly those of us living in post-modern America, Jesus is, for us, whoever we want Him to be. What’s that old Mark Twain quip (if it really was Mark Twain who said it): God made man in His own image, and ever since, man has been returning the favor. That is to say, we’re pretty good about imagining God, imagining Jesus, as we’d like Him to be, rather than taking Him as He is and as He reveals Himself to us in the Bible. We say things like, “I just can’t believe in a God who would…” or “My Jesus would never…” Repent. Those words should never cross the lips of Christians. We don’t get to pick and choose the things we like and don’t like about God and His Word. We are given to confess Him as He is and His Word as He speaks it. Jesus asks the disciples what the world out there says about Him, but that’s not really what He’s getting at. He wants to know about the disciples. He is giving them to confess. He wants to know about you: “who do you say that I am?” (v. 15).
He’s not looking for the answers revealed by flesh and blood. He’s looking for the answer revealed by His Father and yours, the answer of faith. Peter answers on behalf of the Twelve, and for all of us: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Here we learn from St. Peter what it means to be a Christ-confessing Christian, which is to say, a creedal Christian. We confess that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Christ (that’s Greek), the Messiah (that’s Hebrew), the Anointed One, the promised Son of Eve, Son of Abraham, Son of David, come to be our King and save us from our sins and from death. And He’s the Son of the living God, God in the flesh, the God who is born and who suffers and who dies for you. And the Man who is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father for you. The earliest Christian Creed, from which all of our Creeds have developed, is simply, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). This is shorthand for all that Peter here says of the Son of Man, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And that is a summary of all that you confess in the Creed. You’re confessing the Man, Jesus, is God, and your only Savior from sin.
And that’s the rock upon which Christ builds His Church. The rock isn’t St. Peter. Peter means little stone. It is a play on words, to be sure, when Jesus names Simon “Peter.” But the rock our Lord then speaks of is a solid slab serving for a foundation. Make no mistake, Peter takes the lead when it comes to the apostles. Don’t let your Lutheranism get in the way of recognizing that. He speaks for all of the apostles when he makes his good confession, but don’t lose sight of the fact that he speaks for all of the apostles. He’s one of the three in Jesus’ inner-circle, including James and John, and he’s always mentioned first. And he’s clearly the leader of the disciples in the Gospels and especially in Acts. In fact, one of the main purposes of the book of Acts is to compare St. Paul to St. Peter, in order to legitimize Paul’s apostleship. So we’re not knocking Peter in any way when we say he is not the rock. But we are exalting his confession. The confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the divinely revealed truth upon which the Church is built. And resting on that rock, on that confession, on that faith, the gates of hell cannot prevail against her.
It will certainly look like the gates of hell are prevailing. The world will always dismiss the Church and her confession of Christ in favor of their own designer Jesuses. The world will always mock the Church and the world will always persecute the Church. The diminishment of our religious freedom in our land should not surprise us. Our brothers and sisters elsewhere suffer torture, beatings, and imprisonment for the sake of Jesus. At this very moment, as we sit in padded pews, ISIS is beheading, burning, and crucifying Christians in the Middle East. Children are boiled alive. Why? Because they confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. There is a cost to this confession. St. Peter was crucified upside down for it. St. Paul was beheaded. Your friends may laugh at you. Your pastor and your Church may be fined into oblivion for not performing a gay wedding. It’s not really you they hate, or me, or Peter. It’s Jesus. But there is this promise none of them can take from you. The gates of hell will not prevail. In the end, Satan loses. He already lost at the cross. In the end, sin and death and hades and the demons are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and you inherit the whole cosmos. Take they our life, goods, fame, child, or wife… It will hurt for a time. It will hurt very deeply. But we get them back, for good, and for better. The Kingdom ours remaineth. You can count on it. You have our Lord’s death and resurrection on it.
And because this is all true, look what you have. Your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. For this purpose, Jesus establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry for His Church. Jesus gives Peter and His confessing Apostles the Office of the Keys: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). This is another way of saying what He says in St. John’s Gospel after He is risen from the dead, when He breathes His Spirit on the disciples and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). The keys are Holy Absolution. When Absolution is withheld from an unrepentant sinner, the pastor binds the sinner in his sin until he repents. This is done only for the purpose of driving the sinner to repentance, that he be forgiven. When Absolution is given, be it upon the confession of sins, or in preaching and the Supper, the sinner is released from his sins. Beloved in the Lord, I said it once already this morning, and I say it again: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” You are loosed from your sins. You are released. You are free. No more guilt. No more condemnation. Death and the devil can go to hell and hell can go jump in a Lake of Fire named Gehenna. They have no claim on you anymore! You belong to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
Now, this is not the Jesus of the world. The world would not have a Jesus who calls a sin a sin, and a sinner a sinner, and actually treats the devil and hell as real. But that’s not your opinion anymore. That opinion has been drowned with your Old Adam in Holy Baptism. You are no longer of the world. You are in the world, and for this purpose. That as you love and serve your neighbor in the vocations to which Christ has called you, you would make the good confession: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You would confess the Creed. And, if necessary, die for it. Because in dying, you do not die. Not really. Christ is risen, and you are baptized into Christ. You died with Christ at the font, and you are raised with Christ at the font. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and that is why hell appears to prevail. But in the end, it will not be hidden. In the end, the whole universe will see it, that the living God is your Father. You are redeemed by Jesus. You are God’s own child.
Who do you say Jesus is? You say He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You say, “He is my Savior.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.