Monday, August 28, 2023

Four Truths from Christ

[Below, you'll find the message shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. You'll also find live stream videos of both our 8:45 AM traditional and 11:00 AM modern worship services.]

Matthew 16:13-20

Today’s Gospel lesson finds Jesus leading the twelve disciples into the town of Caesarea-Philippi.

Caesarea-Philippi was a bad place. It’s where Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great, the puppet king of Rome, lived. 

Idolatry was rampant there. The town had one temple devoted to the Roman god Pan, the god of unbridled sex--sex without meaning or love, and another temple devoted to the worship of Caesar.

It’s here though that Jesus starts an important conversation. There are four truths that Jesus reveals in this conversation that I want to hold up to you this morning.

Truth #1: Jesus is higher and greater than the world, by its own knowledge or wisdom, could ever know.

Jesus started this conversation by asking the Twelve, referring to Himself, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)  

The disciples tell Jesus what they’ve heard people calling Jesus: “John the Baptist…Elijah…Jeremiah…or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

All of these are high titles to apply to Jesus. But they’re not nearly high enough! 

After hearing what titles the people of the world are giving Him, Jesus asks the Twelve: “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Simon’s answer is breathtaking: “You are the Messiah [that is, the Christ, the anointed King and Savior promised by God for centuries], [and, if that wasn’t enough,] the Son of the living God. [God the Son, God in the flesh.]” [Matthew 16:16]

Now, if Jesus was anything less than all that Simon claimed Jesus to be, Jesus’ response to Simon’s confession would be monstrous. Jesus could then be dismissed as a madman or a liar.

But Jesus tells Simon: “Blessed are you [Justified are you, made righteous are you, by this confession you’ve just made], Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) “You’re right, Simon,” Jesus is saying, “You’re blessed with saving faith in Me as God and Christ, as God and Messiah.”

But how did Simon, of all people, know this about Jesus? 

It wasn't because he was smart, wise, perceptive, or insightful.

It was God Himself Who revealed Jesus’ identity as Christ and God to Simon.

In our own power, by our own intellects, no human being could ever figure that out about Jesus. God Himself must show us Who Jesus is. The Bible says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

One of the reasons regular worship attendance is essential to Christians is that the Holy Spirit uses the Word and the Sacraments, which we know are God’s Word made visible, to lead us to the same confession about Jesus made by Peter, that Jesus is our King and our God.

As the Holy Spirit uses these means--Word and Sacrament--to give us faith and build our faith, we’re able to confess that Jesus is “...the [very] image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16)

Truth #2: Being led by God the Father to confess Jesus as our God and our King changes us forever.

After Simon makes his confession, Jesus says to him, “I tell you that you are Peter…” (Matthew 16:18) He gives Simon a new name. In Jesus, our old sinful selves are killed and our new selves rise to new life with Him. The confession that God empowered Simon to make changed his identity.

My identity was changed when I was baptized as an infant, when God’s Word and promise and water met and through the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, I was claimed by God. The pastor said: “Mark James, child of God [not Mark James Daniels, the name my parents used for me when I was in trouble], you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.”

Of course, those whom God has claimed and those who have confessed Jesus as God and King can walk away from God. They can shut down their relationship with God by turning away from Jesus and His people. I did that for ten years of my life.

Sadly, people walk away from Jesus. 

But Jesus never gives up on His lost sheep and like the prodigal son’s father, will run to us when we turn to Him. The God Who woos us to faith works to “seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Truth #3: Jesus will build His Church through those who receive the gift of faith in Him.

Jesus tells Simon Peter: “on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18) The word Jesus uses for rock here is slightly different from the name He’s just given to Peter. So, it isn’t Peter the man on whom Jesus builds His Church. He builds His Church through all the people God has led to faith in Him.

And the Church remains on a strong foundation not because of programs or the charisma of its pastors and teachers, not because of its buildings or membership rolls, but because of Jesus Christ alone.

Wherever the God we know in Christ is faithfully proclaimed and the Sacraments are rightly shared, Jesus Christ is building His Church. Just as our salvation is His work alone, the life of His Church is His work alone; our call is to attend to His Word and His Sacraments, to gather with His people to receive His gifts. This is how Christ builds His Church, no matter the size of its denominations or congregations.

Truth #4: Satan will assault God’s people, the Church, but nothing, nothing, will defeat the Church.

Jesus says, “...the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

We can expect Satan to hate it when we as congregations and individual Christians confess faith in Jesus.

In the last parish I served, I made known my belief that the denomination of which we were then a part was departing from the authority of God and of His Word over His Church. In the course of a few months, our house was broken into and robbed, the church building was broken into and robbed six times, a drunken man slammed into and totaled both Ann’s and my cars and proceeded to bring a handgun onto our front porch as we waited for the police, and, despite having none of the expected underlying conditions, I had a major heart attack. A Christian woman with whom Ann worked observed, “Someone doesn’t want you two around here.” But we prayed and continued; today, that congregation is part of the North American Lutheran Church. 

Jesus says elsewhere: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Whether in this life or on the Day of His return when He calls we believers from our graves, we can trust His promise: “...the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Satan cannot defeat, destroy, or rob us of saving faith in Christ and everlasting life with God. We know that Christ and His Church will prevail!

At the end of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the Twelve not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah.

The reason for this is that He still hadn’t gone to the cross, where He bore the punishment for sin that we deserve and He still hadn’t been raised to life so that all who turn to Him in repentance and faith will have everlasting life with God.

Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be a magical military or political leader who would wave his scepter and make the country’s borders secure, give everybody wealth, and keep foreigners out, none of which had they taken place, could overcome human sin or the condemnation and death our sin brings.

In fact, I think that the worst thing that can happen to us is for us to get our ways because when that happens, it makes us satisfied with the goodies of this life rather than hungering for life with God that never ends!

Jesus is our Messiah, our King, because, on the cross, He destroyed the ability of sin and death to keep us from life with God. Jesus delivers the fruits of His crucifixion and resurrection–the fruits of forgiveness, new life, eternity with God–to those who, empowered by God just like Simon Peter–can daily turn from sin and daily turn to Christ in trust and hope.

Jesus has given these four truths to you to receive and believe today and so that you too might be blessed with faith that, through Him, every one of your sins is forgiven and you have life with God right now and forever. Amen