15th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
For over two years the twelve disciples had been following Jesus. They had seen Him perform miracle after miracle. They had been there to witness Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for their devotion to follow the traditions of man rather than to follow in the ways of God. The disciples had been around the people, hearing what they thought of this teacher from Nazareth, who healed the sick and proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God. So when Jesus stops them on the way to Caesarea Philippi and asks them this question: Who do people say that the Son of Man is; the twelve disciples were not without an informed opinion of who the people believed Jesus to be.
They answered: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Their report consisted of the several different theories on just who this Jesus of Nazareth really was. There were those who considered Jesus to be John the Baptist, back from the dead. These people recognized that John and Jesus both proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God and called the people to repentance. There were others who claimed that Jesus must be Elijah, again, brought back from the dead. These people were therefore familiar with the words of the prophet Malachi: See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes (Malachi 4:5). Still others, not so sure of themselves, thought Jesus might be another of the Old Testament prophets, perhaps Jeremiah, yet again, back from the dead. The various opinions of the people showed that they thought Jesus was as a special man of God and regarded Him highly, but they did not regard Him highly enough. They were not much different from many people of our own day who praise Jesus as a great teacher but don’t know Him as their Savior and as the only Savior of the world.
Then Jesus asked of His closest companions: But who do you say that I am? They had been with Him for over two years, and seen His many mighty works; heard Him teach about God’s kingdom, and about himself. He wanted to know if, after over two years, did His closest companions, those who had been with him throughout His ministry, did they too believe as the people did. Peter, the spokesman for the twelve, boldly confesses: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. No, we do not believe that you are John the Baptist, back from the dead. Neither do we believe you to be Elijah, back from the dead, nor even one of the great prophets such as Jeremiah, back from the dead. Peter, the one who spoke for the other disciples declares: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are not one of those dead prophets. We know that while you teach the same message as John the Baptist, you are not him. We know that you are not Elijah, for we remember what you said, For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:13,14). We know that you are not one of the other prophets of the Old Testament times, come back from the dead to carry on. We know you to be the Christ, the Anointed One of God. We know you to be the Son of the living God. We know you to be the one promised to us from the time of our first father Adam. You are the one who, again, God promised to His servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You are the one we have been waiting for to rescue us from sin, death, and the power of the devil since sin entered the world. The entire Old Testament speaks to us about your coming. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Jesus, satisfied with his answer, replies: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He says, “Simon you are a child of God. This truth which you speak, you didn’t figure it out by yourself; you did not come to this belief by your own understanding. It was my Father, who is in heaven, who has revealed this truth to you. Simon son of Jonah, Peter, you are a stone, and what you have confessed about me is true, and upon this confession, this bedrock, I will build my Church, for I will be its foundation. The gates of hell, all the powers of evil that Satan, his angels and his followers among men can muster, they shall not overcome my Church. My Church will stand victorious to the end of time.
Jesus calls to attention what Peter’s confession is, it is the truth that has been revealed by our Father in heaven. How Peter must have felt, hearing that he had spoken correctly, and how, upon this confession Christ would build His Church. There are times when we are as bold as Peter, confessing Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Yet Peter didn’t always stand up and boldly confess Christ. Do not forget, he is the one who denies Christ three times in one night, before the rooster crows. Like Peter, there are times in our lives when you and I do not confess who Christ is as well aren’t there? In one manner or another, we do not confess that Christ is the Son of the living God. Perhaps we are too embarrassed to bring it up to our friends or loved ones who express a different faith. We don’t want to rock the boat, as they say. Religion is, after all, one of the three topics you are not supposed to bring up in a discussion. The other two being politics and money. Or perhaps we missed that opportunity to witness to an individual. We get so wrapped up in inviting them to church that we miss what the Church is built on, this bedrock of a confession. Our sinful nature gets in the way. It mars us and holds us from being able to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Yet even when we fail as Peter did, to stand and boldly confess who Christ Jesus is, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Christ has assured us that the Church will prevail. What a gracious Lord and Savior we have. That even though we fail to confess Him each and every opportunity we have, when sin and Satan and all the horde of evil prey upon us and bar us from proclaiming who Christ is, we have the tremendous promise that the gates of hell, all that can be put in our way, will not triumph over His Church.
Christ Jesus is so confident that the Church will not fall that he has given to the Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and has told His Church whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. You see, these keys were not given to Peter alone. Consider that later in Matthew, in the 18th chapter, Christ says to all the twelve disciples the same thing: Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18). Or Consider in the 20th chapter of John, Christ, after he has risen from the dead breathed on His disciples and said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld (John 20:22, 23). It wasn’t for Peter alone that the keys to the kingdom of heaven were given, but to the Church. The Small Catechism affirms this truth when we read: “The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent” (Small Catechism p.29). So even though you and I may and will fail to confess Christ, as Peter did on that dark night, as all the saints who have gone before us have at one point in time or another, you and I can rest in the assurance the same as Peter and all the saints that we are forgiven. Imagine a Lord so generous in grace, that even when you fail to confess him, He still forgives you, for that is the Savior you have. He died upon the cross for each and every time we have failed to confess him as our Lord, the Son of the living God. He was crucified, so that in spite of all of your sins, and my sins and the sins of the whole world, we can stand blameless and without sin before our Father in heaven. That is what Jesus took upon Himself when we gave Himself up to be crucified. He stood in our place and took the wrath of His Father for our sin, for your sin, and for mine.
What a truly magnificent promise our living Lord and Savior makes, when he says, I will build my church. Yet have you ever wondered, what church does he mean? Surely He can’t mean only the Lutheran Church – Missouri synod? As a synodical body the LCMS is only a little over 160 years old; and look at all the turmoil and tribulation that has rocked our church in that short amount of time. Nor can he only mean the Lutheran church since Martin Luther posted those thesis against indulgences, sparking the Reformation, a little less than 500 years ago. What church, therefore, does he possibly mean? Dear Christian friends; the church Christ is talking about is the Christian Church, the Church that contains all true believers in Christ. We confess as much in our creeds. In the Nicene Creed, we confess, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” In the Apostles’ Creed we confess, “I believe in…the holy Christian Church.” You and I cannot see the entire Church, only God, who knows man’s heart can. What we do know is that the Church is the people of God; those who have truly repented of their sins, those who have put their faith in Christ as their Savior.
That is the Church, our Lord promises, which will prevail against the gates of hell. Even to the Last Day, when our Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. We wait in anticipation for the day, and that day must come soon, we think. Surely in this day in age, with all the foreign missionaries, and the countless copies of the Bible being given to those who do not know of Christ; with all the technological advancements we have to deliver the message of Jesus Christ, surely the Word has been preached into all the world. Why then hasn’t he come back? Dear Christian friends, though to you and I, it seems as if the whole world may be accessible to the knowledge of Christ Jesus, to our Father in heaven, there are still souls that need to hear. That is our calling as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to go into all the world, even if to us the world seems to already have heard, and proclaim that Christ died for the sins of the world. We are charged to bring the good news to those who do not know what to do about their sin. We have been given the promise that His Church shall not falter against the gates of hell but prevail, and so we, like Simon Peter, are to boldly confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We didn’t come to this conclusion by ourselves, but again, like Peter, our Father in heaven has revealed it to us. He then also gives us the tools to go out and proclaim this truth.
From the very mouth of our Lord and Savior comes this tremendous promise; that the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His church]. Even in these dark times of war, human injustice, catastrophes, and all other sorts of devices the devil uses to wear down the children of God, to coerce them to give in to the dark side, as it were, we can stand firm on the foundation of Christ, knowing that the Church of God will never succumb to the powers of the devil. Christ’s Church will not be destroyed, it will prevail. In these dark times, it may be difficult for us to see how the Church will survive. We may look at the Church and wonder if Jesus is really keeping His promise. For many, they may believe they can hear the death rattle of Christianity. In our society today, Christianity may be passed off as a dying religion, a passing phase. Yet do not be fooled by the tempter with his bag of tricks. The Church has this incredible promise, given by our living Lord and Savior that it will not be overcome, but shall prevail.
For the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. She is his new creation, by water and the Word. From Heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. As Peter so boldly confessed that day on the road to Caesarea Philippi; Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He came into this world, incarnate of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He is both true God and true man. He established His Church by going to Calvary’s cross as your substitute and mine and there, bore our guilt and our punishment. He bore hell in our stead. He merited heaven and eternal life for the entire human race. His Church still stands today. Over 2000 years after he gave himself up to be crucified, His Church still stands. Through persecution, heresy, dissent, and apathy, His Church still stands. Fire, dungeon, calamity, and sword have not brought about the end for the Church. For His Church still stands. There have been countless Christians who have gone to their death and yet the Church still stands. And not only does it stand, but it continues to grow. For wherever the Gospel is proclaimed by His Church, souls are won. When you and I and all believers in Christ, tell of the good news, that Christ died for the sins of the world. When we proclaim that upon the Cross Christ suffered for each and every sin of the world and that he did it for us, for you and for me. Christ’s Church not only stands but grows. Through us, God delivers His message of reconciliation. You and I will never make a believer out of someone, but when we hold firm to the truth and proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that he died for us, for you and for me, the Holy Spirit sows the seed of the Gospel and brings our fellow neighbor to the belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world. Yes, dear Christian friends, Christ’s Church still stands. For it is the one institution that will last unto eternity. Never doubt it for a moment, the Church will not fall. God has promised as much and has sealed this promise with His precious body and blood, given and shed upon the cross. Amen.
And now the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.