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. (Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Well, the confession doesn’t get any clearer than that. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter surely doesn’t understand all the implications of the confession, but he is saying something miraculous. The man, Jesus, his friend, his teacher, standing before him, breathing the same air, eating the same food, wearing out the same sandal leather, this human being is from God, himself; the promised Messiah; the Christ. Christ is a title that means “the anointed one.” Saying that Jesus is the anointed one is saying that he is the one set aside and appointed to do a specific task for God. The specific task of the Christ is to save God’s people from their sin. Peter was saying exactly that. He knew who the Messiah was supposed to be and why he was supposed to come. That’s the promise of God that Peter heard from his parents and his church. That’s the promise of God throughout Peter’s bible.
Peter may be thinking about the promise made in the garden:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
It means that Satan is defeated. He won’t have control over God’s people anymore. This is the first promise of what the Messiah, the Christ, is going to do.
Peter may have been thinking about the promise made to Abraham as he sheathed the knife that was held at Isaac’s throat. You remember the story. God tells Abraham to take his son, his only hope for the future, and offer him as a sacrifice, a burnt offering. Abraham faithfully obeys all the way to placing the knife against the soft flesh of his son’s neck. God intervenes and provides a substitute and a promise. A ram is caught in the thorns. The lamb’s life is sacrificed in place of Isaac’s. Isaac is spared. A different sacrifice is given. Its blood is shed instead. And God promises Abraham:
and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18 ESV)
This event isn’t just a picture of Abraham’s willingness to do what God said. It is a picture of faith, but also a picture of the object of the faith. It is a picture story of the Christ and Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus is the substitute in death for the sin of the world. Jesus is The Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world.
Peter may have even been thinking about the confessions of the prophets. Like King David who writes in Psalm 22 the very words Jesus uses on the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)
Jesus is suffering the just punishment for sin. He uses David’s words (which are God’s Words) to describe it. God turns away from Jesus. God abandons Jesus to punishment and death and hell. Jesus receives the just punishment for sin, eternal separation from God, that’s exactly what hell is. The just punishment for sin is poured out on Jesus on the cross.
Peter may have been thinking about Isaiah. He describes the Christ as the one who carries the load of sin. The Messiah is the one who removes the punishment of the sins of the world, by bearing its burden.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)
All this is Peter’s confession. It comes from God’s Word. All this is what it means when Peter says that Jesus is the Christ. It is something miraculous and amazing. He didn’t just figure it out on his own, God, the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. God, the Holy Spirit spoke through him. And it isn’t just the words that are amazing it’s also the fact that Peter utters them so clearly without reservation. In this instance Peter lives us to his nickname, the Rock. He is rock solid, faithful, and confessional.
My friends in Christ, Peter’s confession are our confession. “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” We’ve said it already a half a dozen times this morning. We’ll say it more times before our worship time is through. It is one of the reasons we gather as a congregation; to say clearly what God has given us to say about Jesus; to confess our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, our Savior from sin, death and hell. To worship God by proclaiming who He is and what He has done for us.
Peter gives a great confession. But he very shortly erases all that he said. When Jesus tells the disciples all what it really means to be the Christ, Peter reacts outside of his clear confession.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)
Jesus sets Peter in his place. It’s as if he says, “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection, all that I have come to do. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me again as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”
But we are no different than Peter. Life happens. Stuff happens. Roofs leak. There are bills to pay. Pastors come and go. Long faithful members die. As the community shrinks attendance declines. Families fight and struggle for power. We worry and fret about survival. And our confession evaporates in a cloud of trouble. Jesus is not at the center anymore. So our Lord Jesus rebukes us. “Get behind me Satan. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but instead the things of man have been put at the center.”
Jesus puts us in our place. “You’ve forgotten what you just confessed. You are off topic. You’ve got something else at the center instead of me, and my life, death and resurrection. You are listening to Satan speaking to your heart instead of the Holy Spirit that spoke in your confession before. Get back on track. I am at the center. Confess me as the Christ. Keep clear what I have come to do for you.”
How do we survive at such criticism? How do we react to God’s Word that convicts us of our sin? It is all in the confession. It is in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come into the world to bring us forgiveness of sin. This isn’t some un-practical, un-revelevant thing. You and I are sinful. We tend push Jesus out of the center. We do it not only as the church, but also in our personal lives. As we just heard:
“… we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” (Divine Service, Setting Four, LSB, p. 203)
Life happens. Stuff happens. Our sin comes to the surface again and again. We pay for it over and over again; broken church, broken lives, broken promises, and broken friendships. It never ends as long as we live. We cannot free ourselves. And more than that, when we die in our sin, without faith in Jesus, there is only eternal punishment. There is nothing more relevant, more important than the message spoken by Peter, “Jesus, you are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
My dear Christian friends, today I come to you to proclaim exactly what I did the first time I spoke from this pulpit. With Jesus there is forgiveness. There is forgiveness in Jesus only. He has forgiveness for your failures, forgiveness for your broken promises, forgiveness for your thinking more of money than of Jesus, forgiveness for thinking that it is your job to save the church, forgiveness for thinking of yourselves first instead of others. Forgiveness is all here, in Jesus Christ. It is found here at the font, where born sinful people are washed clean and adopted by God; where sin is washed away forever; where God’s promises put on people with His name. It is found in Jesus on the cross. It is found in Jesus in His holy and precious blood shed for you. You receive it right here in, with and under bread and wine, Jesus’ special meal for you. It is found in his suffering and death as payment for the debt you owe for your sin. It is found in his bearing of your grief and sorrow over sin. He is wounded for your transgressions. He is crushed for your iniquities.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 ESV)
What does that forgiveness mean? It means that as life happens, as stuff happens, our sin is taken care of. We can serve each other without fear. The things we do for one another are washed clean of sin. Our self-serving motives are taken to the grave by Jesus. Dear Christians, confess with me and Saint Peter, the confession that makes all the difference for us. Jesus is 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.