Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember the Gospel lesson from last week? (Matthew 16:13-20) I’ll remind you just in case you’ve forgotten. In it Jesus asked a very important question of His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answered with a dizzying array of answers, from John the Baptizer resurrected to a prophet returned. You see, people knew Jesus was something special. They just didn’t quite know what label to give Him; they just didn’t know what box to put Him in. They had seen Him to many wonderful things; they knew He was at least as special as John the Baptizer or the old prophet Elijah. But their answers fell short of the truth. Then Jesus turned to the Disciples. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter speaking for the twelve answers correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is an answer full of conviction, full of power. Peter couldn’t have answered any better than he did. Jesus is all that; the Christ who comes to save His people from their sins; the Son of God; Second Person of the Trinity; God and man united together to make God’s promises come true. That is all in what Peter answered. He couldn’t have said it better and Jesus commends Peter and tells him that he is blessed, because God has revealed this fact to him. “It’s not an answer you’d come up with on your own, but God gave it to you through the Holy Spirit.”
And that brings us to today’s Gospel lesson where The Lord seems to take back all the complements He gave to Peter by calling him “Satan.” But before we talk about that I’d like to dwell on that question that Jesus asked the Disciples for just a moment. “Who do you say that I am?” You know the
It has become very popular in the churches today to set aside the Creeds in an attempt to be more relevant. But without declaring Jesus for who He is clearly and completely we have nothing to give the world. Without declaring Jesus for who He is we aren’t relevant to people’s real needs. We are trying to tell God what kind of a God He should be instead of letting Him be the God who offers forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son. Here in this church we confess the creeds because Jesus asks us the question, “Who do you say that I am?” and we want to confess faithfully just as Peter did.
Now it is true that Peter answered clearly about Jesus. And Jesus commends him for it. But only a few lines later you see Jesus calling Peter “Satan.” It’s quite a contrast. I wonder just how Peter could go from getting it so right to getting it so wrong. How does he go from the high of “Blessed are you…” to the low of “Get behind me Satan…?”
Well the thing is that Peter is a normal human being. He’s just like you and me and that comes out very clearly in this text. Just as you and I do, He confesses Christ rightly according to what God has revealed to him through the Holy Spirit. And then he showed that he had no real idea about what that really meant. What he does is turn around and confess from his own heart about what he thinks it means that Jesus is the Christ, and that’s where he gets it all wrong. He was ok with Jesus being “The Christ” in the after glow of Jesus feeding 5000 people with a few small loaves of bread. It was when Jesus told him what being the Christ really meant that Peter didn’t like what he was hearing. When Jesus said that he must go to
I just can’t help but see myself thinking and speaking just like Peter. Isn’t that were Peter sounds just like you too? When he tells God what kind of a God He should be doesn’t he sound just like you and me? We love to tell the Christmas story about God the cuddly innocent baby, “God came for you at Christmas!” It’s much harder to speak about a bloody Christ crucified for the sins of the world. We avoid telling people about their sin, out of some mistaken notion that we are not to judge. God commands us to confront sin with His law, and comfort sinners with the Good News that Christ died on the cross to forgive their sin. We also want to tell God what He should do for us in the rest of our lives, too. God, you should heal me so I can get back to my regular life, I won’t forget it if you do. God, you should make a big miracle in my life (like the Lottery). If you did that my faith in you would be stronger. God, you make gas prices go down and I’ll give more to the church. God, I’ll let you take care of the hard stuff in my life, you take away my pain, you deal with my enemies, you answer all grand wishes and desires, and I’ll take care of everything else. I’ll deal with my life from day to day on my own. I’ll handle my money. I’ll keep company with the people I want to hang out with and I’ll get around to mentioning you only when it’s comfortable for me to do it. God, You give me the “good stuff” and keep it comin’. That pain and suffering, you just let that go right on past me, I don’t need it. And if that’s what you want to bring in to my life, I don’t need you, either.”
And the real problem with this attitude, and let’s be frank and honest about it, we all have this attitude at one time or another, is that we set ourselves over God. We think we know what’s good for us. We think we know what kind of a God we need. Well, Jesus doesn’t let that mistake notion stand. He is the God who suffers and dies for our sins. He is the God who knows what’s best for your life, and he gives it even if it makes you and I uncomfortable.
I think this attitude comes out very clearly and very dangerously when we give the impression that Christians have life easy, as if to say, “All you have to do is be a Christian and life will be easy, life will be good. If you are faithful to God he will make you rich!” Well, I think Peter would have something to say about that. After all, after being a faithful disciple of Jesus and proclaiming the Good News about Jesus at every chance he got, he was crucified upside down, for entertainment. God didn’t spare him pain and suffering. God didn’t make him rich. He died for the sake of his confession… the confession that we make here every Sunday. “You, Jesus, are the Christ the Son of the Living God!”
Thanks be to God, Jesus isn’t the kind of God we want, He’s the kind of God we need. That’s also something we confess in answer to Jesus’ question. When we would have rather lived life running headlong for hell He reached out and saved us from it. When we would have rather lived in the cesspool of our own sins He dragged us out and washed us clean. When we would have rather followed our own sinful desires and wishes, He killed our sinful nature on the cross. And when we would have rather been dead to God, living for ourselves and our appetite, He raised us up to a new life again in Him. Our God, Jesus Christ, is the God who knows what we need. He isn’t about giving us just what we want. He isn’t about taking care of just the stuff we can’t handle. Without God we can’t handle anything. He is about being the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
I know. You can go to any number of churches around the county and hear that if you are faithful to Jesus, He promises to give you a healthy and happy life. If you just love Jesus, He’ll make your life easy breezy. I will make you no such promises. God makes you no such promises. There is no better proof of that than the thousands and thousands of people who faced death rather than give up a faithful confession of Jesus. This is what I will tell you. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He comes to you in His Word and Sacraments to bring you forgiveness of sin. Through the promise of forgiveness of sins given to you in Baptism, through the promise of forgiveness of sins that He gives you in His Body and Blood, He gives you eternal life. He is not willing that you should lose your eternal life with Him for the sake of gaining the whole world.
Now, just so you don’t think I’m saying that your life is going to be all suffering and trouble… There will be joy in your life too. Really we handle the joy the same way we handle the sorrow. By confessing who God is through Jesus Christ. As Peter confessed, as our brothers and sisters in Christ have confessed over the many years, so you and I confess in good times and in bad, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.