Sermon for Pentecost 12 – August 23, 2020
+ 12th Sunday after Pentecost – August 23rd, 2020 +
Series A: Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
“Who is Jesus?”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In high school at Portland Lutheran, Mr. Thurman taught an elective for the school newspaper, teaching us the fundamentals of journalism: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And the bonus question – how?
Those are good research questions for a news story. They’re also good questions to ask when reading the Scriptures. They’re same kinds of questions asked throughout Matthew’s Gospel. “Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for another?”, John the Baptist asks. “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?”, his disciples ask. “Who is this who teaches with such authority?”, the crowd and critics ask.
Who is Jesus? That’s the question that’s been building like a tropical storm throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Only this time, Jesus leads the interview, man on the street style:
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
This is one of Jesus’ favorite titles for himself. It reveals his humility and his humanity, and his passion and suffering. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Not surprisingly, the disciples give several answers. Like today, 1st century opinions about “Who is Jesus?” were like noses…everyone had one. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Others thought he would be a priestly or kingly figure. A warrior. The Son of David. Now, in a way, all of these Old Testament titles, offices, and expectations of the Messiah are correct, and are fulfilled in Jesus. That is, if viewed through the lens of Jesus crucified and risen for you and for the world.
Like a good interviewer, Jesus asks his question a second time, more pointedly. Directly. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And now, we get to the heart of the question. Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Here’s the climactic moment. The revealing answer to the question that’s been burning in peoples’ minds since Mary’s stomach started showing over 30 years ago. Who is Jesus?
The Christ. Now, the Christ is not – like I thought in grade school – Jesus’ last name. It’s a title loaded with more Old Testament meaning than a mile-long freight train rolling through the Puyallup Valley.
The Christ is New Testament language for the Old Testament word Messiah. The Anointed One. Priests. Kings. Prophets. They were all anointed in the Old Testament. Set aside for a holy purpose. The Messiah will restore, redeem, and rescue God’s people.
Peter’s confession reveals that the prophet who is like Moses, only greater, has finally come, not in the burning bush but in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The true King of Israel and Son of David who will rule on an eternal throne is here. The great high priest to whom Aaron pointed has come as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. It all happens in Jesus, the Christ. Son of Man and Son of the Living God. All God’s promises find their yes in Jesus.
Now, does Peter understand all of this yet? No, of course not. He and the rest of the disciples won’t get it until after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. For it’s on the cross that Jesus reveals most fully how he is the Christ.
Still, Peter’s confession is glorious. And a divine gift. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
This is how it is for all confessions of faith. For Peter. For you. For me. Faith and confession in Christ must be revealed to us. Given to us. Planted like a mustard seed. This is always God’s work.
The other thing about a Christian confession is that it points away from ourselves – where we usually like to spend our time – to Jesus. This is one reason we confess one of the three historic Creeds of the church every Sunday. Confessions, like Peter’s, point us to Jesus crucified and risen.
Then Jesus makes a promise. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.
It’s a word play between Peter’s name which means rock in Hebrew and the Greek word “rock.” “You are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church.” Jesus builds his church on this confession of faith and on Peter and the apostles who are called to confess this faith and preach this faith. Christ alone is the rock, the chief cornerstone. Everyone else is built on the rock of Christ. Just as Israel was cut from the rock of Abraham and hewn from the quarry of Sarah. By grace, God makes us the wise man who builds his house on the rock of Christ’s death and resurrection, not the sinking sand of our sin and folly.
Jesus promises more. The gates of hades shall not prevail against it. That’s a strange phrase in our ears. We hear it and think the gates of hell are on the offensive, but it’s the other way around. Gates are defensive. Gates are often the weakest point of a city or fortress. Breach the gates and you win. When it comes to Death and Hell, Christ is on the offense.
This is what Jesus is anointed to do, to storm the gates of hell. The gates of death. In Jesus’ death, the gates of death will not stand against him. For he comes in the power of his life, death, and resurrection. His is a victory that destroys death. Death is utterly, completely defeated in Jesus dying and rising for you. On the rock of Golgotha and out of the rock of his tomb, Jesus has taken down the gates of Hades. Ripped them off their hinges. Trampled them underfoot. Death is dead. Done. Sin, death, and the devil hold no more power. Not over Jesus. And not over you. This is what Peter’s confession means. It is the confession of Jesus who overcomes death. And in Jesus, you overcome death as well. No matter how bad it looks in the world right now.
And he who holds the keys of death, also opens the way to everlasting life for you. 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.” The cross of Christ is the key to paradise. Today. Death is swallowed up in victory. Today, heaven is open to you, and so is our Lord’s table, Today, Jesus, the prophet speaks his word. Today, Jesus the high priest prepares his sacrifice on the cross in a holy meal for you. Today, Jesus our king rules and reigns in bread and wine for your pardon.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come to charge the gates of death to save you. That is who he is and what he has come to do for you.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.