+ Pentecost 12 – August 27th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Identity is one of the buzzwords of our day. Businesses and institutions promote their identity to consumers. Identity politics runs wild on both sides of the political aisle. Many of us have online identities of our real selves on social media. Still, many others self-identify as something or someone else they desire to be. In many ways society is going through a collective identity crisis. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?
And the more the world continues its death spiral, the more often we, the body of Christ, his baptized people, find ourselves asking similar questions. What is the Church’s identity?
But if we are to know our identity as Christ’s bride, the Church, we must first know the identity of our bridegroom Jesus. If we look to ourselves for answers, we’ll only come up empty, but if we look to Jesus crucified and risen…as St. Paul says, all God’s promises find their yes in Jesus.
And so Jesus asked his disciples:
Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
If you walked around Jerusalem, conducting one of those late-night talk show “Man on the Street” style interviews, you’d have plenty of material. The disciples’ initial answer to this question reminds me of that old joke about opinions and peoples’ noses. Everybody has one.
The rabbis of Jesus’ day would say that the “son of man” is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament; some say it’s just another name for human being, while others say it’s a more Messianic title. In the general population, answers would vary even more. Some thought the Son of Man was a great prophet like Jeremiah, Isaiah, or John the Baptist come back from the dead; others thought the Son of Man was a priestly figure, a new Moses or Aaron. Still, others looked at the Son of Man like royalty: Hosanna to the King of David!
If we asked Jesus’ question today, many would answer: “Well, he’s a moral example, an obedient Jew, a miracle worker, an exorcist, a wise teacher, a liar, a lunatic.” Some have even made the ridiculous distinction between the Jesus of history - the carpenter rabbi who was crucified - and the Christ of faith, the guy the church made up. But that’s rubbish. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, if Christ is not crucified and risen from the dead, then we are of all people most to be pitied. The “historic Jesus” is the “Christ of faith.” They are one and the same.
If you think about it, a person’s answer to this question will tell you a lot about what they believe (or what they don’t); it’ll tell you a lot about where their faith, hope, and trust are grounded.
Jesus’ question confronts the disciples with the very essence of the Christian faith. Who is Jesus? Is Jesus just another moral teacher or is he, as he claims, the Son of God come in human flesh to save us from sin and death?
Think about it another way…if you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean, do you need Olympic gold medal swimmer, Michael Phelps, to give you some tips on how to swim a better butterfly stroke? No. You need a big orange Coast Guard helicopter to drop a rescue swimmer, and save you. So, in this world of guilt and shame, sin and death, do you need a life-coach, a guru, or a guide to show you how to save yourself? No. You need Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried for you.
We need rescue. We need the real Jesus that Peter confesses to save us from our real sin and death.
Jesus turns to the disciples more pointedly and asks. Who do you say that I am? And like that one kid in class who’s always first to raise their hand, Simon Peter speaks up for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Though he doesn’t know the full weight of his words, nor understand entirely what Jesus is doing until after his death and resurrection, Peter makes a faithful confession.
And Peter says a lot in this short confession. You are the Christ. You are God’s anointed, his chosen One. You are the Messiah, foretold by the prophets. You are the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Old Testament for his people Israel and for the world. You are like Moses and the prophets, but greater, for you are the One, true Mediator between God and man. You are the Word of God made flesh, the Son of the living God. You are like Aaron the priest, only greater, for you yourself will be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You are like David the king, only greater, for you will reign forever as King of kings from your throne on the cross to the throne room of heaven.
And like all of God’s servants in the Old Testament – the prophet Moses, Aaron the priest, and King David – Jesus is God’s anointed. And this means Jesus is anointed to for a purpose. Peter not only confesses Jesus’ identity – that he is true God and Man – but also that Jesus has come to reveal what the Christ must do, for Peter and for all. To die and rise again for Peter, for you, and for all.
This makes Peter’s confession our confession too. “To confess” means to say back what you have heard, to say the same thing. So, we confess our sins – saying what God says about our sins is true. We confess the Creeds – saying for ourselves and our neighbor what the Scripture teaches and what we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. We confess in our hymns, prayers, bible studies, and preschool, and everything we do in this church and school – Jesus crucified for you. And confession is always God’s gift, just as it was for Peter.
Peter didn’t come to this conclusion by his own reason or strength. Jesus declared, Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
We say the same thing in the Small Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified me in the one true faith.
But we don’t always confess this do we? No. We do the opposite. We deny. We deny Christ both with our lips and with our lives. With our lives by our attempts to justify ourselves, to be Christ for ourselves, to live as though God did not matter and as if all that mattered was Me. We deny Christ with our lips when we refuse to sing His praise, to confess His Name, to pray, praise and give thanks for what He has won for us. When our worship and prayers falter. We deny Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.
For these, and for all our sins, we need Peter’s confession. After all, Peter’s confession wasn’t for Peter alone, but for the whole Christian church, for you.
On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Peter’s confession, like his later work as an apostle and the letters he wrote, points us to Jesus, the foundation of our confession and Peter’s. Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is crucified and not once does he deny us, but takes all our denial, and Peter’s, along with him to the cross. Jesus, the Christ is anointed to be our sacrifice for sin, so that we would be chosen and called children of God in his cross, through our Baptism into his death and resurrection. Jesus is enthroned on the cross for us so that his kingdom would come to us in his saving word, his comforting absolution, and his healing body and blood.
These words, this saving message gives you a new identity. No longer are you a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, but you are God’s own baptized child. No longer does God look at you and see denial, sin, and death...no, in Jesus, the Father sees the blood of his only Son, shed for you. Jesus’ crucified is the key that opens paradise for you, and for all. This is your identity: baptized, redeemed, and beloved by our Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.