Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pentecost 10 (Proper 16), Series A

Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 21, 2011 (Proper 16, Series A)

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” If you took a survey today and asked people what they thought of Jesus, the answers you would get back would be just as varied as the answers the people gave when Jesus asked the question in our text. Some would say that He was a great teacher. Others, like the Jews, would say that He was a fraud. Some might say that He was a good example for us to follow. Others, such as the Muslims, might call Him a great prophet, one of the more honored predecessors of their own prophet Mohammed. Other people you ask might not care who Jesus was. This last group are the ones we are more likely to meet, in fact, many of them are our friends, neighbors, and even relatives. They have never even given the question of who Jesus is much thought.

But the question is an important one. It is important because who Jesus is determines who we are. This is why after hearing the answers the apostles had gleaned from the people around them, He asked the question again, only now it was personal. “Who do you say that I am?” This is a question we all must face if we are to be sure that what God has to give us, namely salvation and eternal life, is indeed ours. It is a question we face as we examine ourselves in preparation to confess our sins and receive Holy Absolution, as we examine ourselves in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, and especially as we daily examine ourselves in preparation for Judgement Day, which could come at any time. Who do you say that I am? What do you believe about Jesus? Who is He? How do you answer that question?

In our text, Peter spoke up in behalf of all the apostles when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter confesses his faith that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, who has become man in order to save us. Peter’s confession is not just his own, it is the confession of all the apostles. Peter becomes their representative, their spokesman. In fact, Peter represents the entire Church, both of the Old Testament saints who expected Christ’s coming, and of the New Testament saints such as you and me who look back to His first coming and forward to His return in glory. All of us were represented by Peter when he spoke those words. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The one in whom we believe, in whose name we pray, is the Christ, the anointed one of God, who is Himself God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This is the root form of the Church’s confession throughout the ages. Even the creeds we say on Sunday morning are simply an expansion of this basic confession.

Jesus points this out when he says to Peter (a name which means “rock”) that on the rock of this confession He will build His church. Of course this does not mean that the Church is built upon Peter as a man, since no man is perfect enough to serve as the foundation stone for the Christian Church except the God-Man, Jesus Christ. But it does mean that it was the confession that Peter spoke which would indicate, at the most basic level, where the Christian Church is to be found. Peter himself, of course, was one of the more prominent apostles, being one of the three disciples closest to Jesus, and playing a very prominent role in the first half of the book of Acts. But it was not anything worthy in Peter that made him this way. Peter was an impulsive, headstrong individual who often got himself into trouble by letting his mouth get ahead of his brain. Peter became a leader in the Christian Church because of what God had given him, namely the confession of the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus points this out to Peter in our text. “This was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.” The knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, came only from God Himself. It was only because God had first revealed this to Peter that he could confess it to the world. It is the same way with us. God must first speak to us before we can speak back to Him. After all, like Peter, we are sinners. We are not able to believe what God wants us to believe in our natural minds. The fact that this Man Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is a fact that seems impossible to human reason, and in our sinful pride we think that our reason must be the judge of all truth and falsehood. Our sinfulness causes us to reject Jesus our Savior because who He is and what He is don’t go along with our reason and our senses. It is only when God reveals the truth to us and gives us the ability to believe it by creating within us a clean heart that we are able to believe, and to confess, what He has said to us.

And that’s what “confession” is. It is saying back to God, and to each other, and to the world around us, what He has first said to us. He tells us that we are sinners. We repeat back to Him what He has said to us when we say that, yes, we are sinners, as we do every Sunday morning and every day when we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God then tells us that we are forgiven for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. We repeat back to Him what He has said to us by confessing our faith, as we do on Sunday morning in the words of the creed, as well as in all the other words of the liturgy which speak of our salvation through Christ. We also confess to each other and to those around us as we comfort and encourage one another in Christ and testify to those outside the Church what Christ has done for us. We speak what God has first spoken to us.
Through our speaking what God has spoken to us, God Himself speaks through us. God has given me the vocation of preaching His Word to this congregation and administering His Sacraments. Through my mouth and my hands, Christ’s Word and Christ’s hands work on you to give you salvation. I don’t speak my own word, but God’s Word (and of course one of your responsibilities is to make sure that what I say is in fact God’s Word by cross-checking my preaching against the Holy Scriptures). If I speak God’s Word, which He has first spoken to Me, then He is speaking through me to you. As you confess to your neighbors who do not know Christ concerning the salvation that He has given you, as you comfort and encourage one another with the Gospel, and even as you confess your faith through the words of the liturgy and hymns here on Sunday morning, God is speaking through you. He is speaking the words He has first spoken to you, but He is now speaking through you.
God continues to speak to us. He continues to give us life through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, as well as through the conversations and the comforts we receive from each other. It is only through God’s speaking to us, both in the spoken Word and in the edible and drinkable Word of the Sacrament where He gives us the body and blood of Jesus, that God strengthens us. To receive the Lord’s Supper is also to confess your faith that this Jesus whose body and blood we receive is in fact the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This body and blood will strengthen us in our confession to God and our neighbor of what He has done for us. And our confession is blessed, for this was not revealed to us by men, but by our Father, who art in heaven. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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