Matthew 16:13-20 (11th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 16)
“Who Do You Say that I Am?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 24, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 16:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-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. 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.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
One of the songs we learn during our Pre-School chapels is called “Who is Jesus?” It’s sung to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” The song goes like this: “Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? He’s God’s Son. He’s God’s Son. Born to be our Savior, Born to be our Savior. Follow Him. Follow Him.” This little song is a simple way of teaching pre-school students who Jesus is. That’s also what our Gospel lesson focuses us on this morning. Who is Jesus? But the Gospel contribution of our text doesn’t stop with that. Not only do we find out who Jesus is, but we also learn how we find out who He is and what we do with what we find out about Jesus.
First, who is Jesus? That’s the question He puts before His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Notice that Jesus is not asking the disciples’ for their opinion; He asks for the opinion of the people. Why? In order to contrast the opinion of the people with the disciples’ answer to the second question, “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus’ enemies (the Pharisees) had called Him a lunatic, a glutton, a drunkard, or a tool of Satan. But the ordinary people generally thought Jesus to be John the Baptist (raised from the dead), Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other Old Testament prophets come back to life. Today people answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” by calling Jesus a humanitarian, a wise teacher, or a charismatic leader. The irreverent answers of the Pharisees as well as the complimentary, partly correct answers of people are all ruled out. Jesus is not John the Baptist or one of the famous Old Testament prophets come back from the dead. He is not a mere humanitarian, wise teacher, or charismatic leader. He is, in the clear words of Peter, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus is God. He is the promised Messiah-Savior. In fact, after our text, Jesus foretells His death and resurrection to the disciples. If Jesus were not the Christ, not God, His future suffering, death, and resurrection would have little practical value. But since Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), and since He is God, His suffering, death, and resurrection are of infinite value, paying for the sins of the whole world.
So Peter got the answer right. Jesus doesn’t correct Him or tweak His answer. Jesus celebrates the answer that Peter spoke on behalf of the Twelve, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of John!” It was as if Jesus had said, “Praise God that you have given the good answer, the accurate and correct answer. I am the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But how did Peter know that? How do we find out who Jesus is so that we also give the good, accurate, and correct answer? Jesus tells us how.
Jesus answered Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of John! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Neither Peter, nor you and I, find out who Jesus is through our own effort or wisdom. We come to know who Jesus is only from God Himself who reveals Jesus’ identity to us through the Holy Spirit. We confess, “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 and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. . . . This is most certainly true.”
God the Holy Spirit calls people into the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, using the Word and the Sacraments. Peter was in the very presence of the Word of God-Made-Flesh. Through Jesus’ preaching and teaching, through the witnessing of the miracles, the Holy Spirit created faith in Peter’s heart (and the hearts of the other disciples) to know who Jesus is. The Spirit does the same for us disciples of the Lord. Through the water and the Word of the Gospel in Holy Baptism, the Spirit created faith in us which believes Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is that faith which also receives the blessings of Jesus: forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Through the proclaimed and read Word of the Gospel in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit shows us who Jesus is and creates and sustains in us that saving faith in Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Spirit is at work there as we eat and drink Jesus’ true body and blood. In the eating and drinking, with faith in Jesus’ words “given and shed for you,” the Holy Spirit strengthens our God-given knowledge that Jesus is true God and true Man who comes to us with His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That is Good News indeed!
So you and I find out who Jesus is because God reveals Jesus identity to us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the Sacraments. Knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, as true God and true Man, is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Now we’ve come to the final point in our text: What do we do with what we have found out about Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit? Jesus responded to Peter, “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.”
Christ stood in our place in suffering the punishment for our sin. He went to Jerusalem where He suffered many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes. He was killed on the cross for us, paying for your sins and mine so that we would have the gift of forgiveness—complete release from the penalty and the guilt of sin. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead conquering death for all of us. This He did because He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the world’s Savior, God who became flesh and dwelt among us to serve us and to give His life as a ransom for ours. (Matt. 20:28)
Jesus thus builds His Church upon the same confession and faith which Peter had. This is our faith and confession because God the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus to us. The Church that Jesus builds upon the saving truth that He is Savior and God is on such a solid foundation that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Because Jesus stood in for us when He suffered, died, and rose again winning our forgiveness, we now, as believers in Jesus, stand in for Him in pronouncing the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name! Our Lord said, “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.” As Christians, we take the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done for us and all people through His cross and resurrection and we use the “keys” which He has given us to forgive sins in His name.
Because we have been given the gift of faith in Jesus, since we know who Jesus is—the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior—He gives us the privilege of working to build His Church through the giving out of forgiveness. We call this the Office of the Keys. This office belongs to you who live by faith in Jesus Christ. As the Church, we are given the great task of proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to all who repent. As individual Christians within His Church, Jesus has given you the wonderful responsibility of sharing His forgiveness with others who are sorry for their sins and seek the mercy and grace of God in Christ. This is what the Christian Church is really all about—proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, who purchased and won the very forgiveness which He asks us to share with others. When forgiveness is announced, sin is removed by the blood of Jesus through that forgiveness. And not even the devil and all of hell itself can undo this.
So what do we do with what we have found out about Jesus? We freely give away the forgiveness of sins which Jesus has given us to distribute to the world! God has revealed to us the saving knowledge of who Jesus is so that we can share that faith with those who do not know Him. God has gifted us faith and forgiveness so that we can give it away in Jesus’ name. Then, many more people will experience the joy of sins forgiven and the eternal life and salvation that come along with forgiveness.
In the days and weeks ahead, give away Jesus’ forgiveness in abundance. Invite people who are burdened with sin and guilt to come with you to the Lord’s house so that they can hear God’s Word of forgiveness with other believers in Christ who will love and care for them in Jesus’ name. After all, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has won your forgiveness. In His name, be the people of faith who give away that forgiveness to those in need of His love and peace. Amen.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 330 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).