8/27/2017 Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 16:13-20.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is Peter’s rock-solid confession made in the presence of Jesus and the other disciples – and it is upon this rock that the church is formed. These words of faith are not a rock of slate that breaks easily, or a rock of pumice that crumbles under pressure. It is solid and hard. It is a rock that can endure the forces of nature and all the forces of evil that would destroy it. It is a rock worn smooth by an ocean of tears and crusted by the hopes and dreams of many witnesses who died proclaiming their faith. This rock endures and the people who build their lives upon it will live forever. And yet, such a profound profession of faith is not easy to make. It wasn’t easy for Peter and it is not easy for us.
Peter was able to affirm the identity of Jesus, his teacher and his friend, only through the grace of God. Through the eyes of faith Peter was able to see in Jesus God’s gift for a broken world. The other disciples were unable to speak the same words of truth. They would need to witness a death and a resurrection. They would need post-resurrection appearances and the ascension to be able to join Peter in confessing Jesus as the Son of the living God.
It’s not surprising that the disciples, who had witnessed miracles and spent night and day with Jesus, were confused. After all, there was no end to the amount of talk about this man, Jesus. And as you and I know, what you hear about someone or something often influences what you believe. What you hear can change what you think about what you have seen with your own eyes or experienced in your own life.
To some, Jesus was a religious fanatic – someone to be dismissed and disregarded. To others, Jesus was a big phony, a dangerous man who needed to be discredited before he could do any more damage than he had already done to disrupt the status quo. And yet, to others, this Jesus was John the Baptist, a voice in the wilderness, or Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah, or Jeremiah, a major league Old Testament prophet.
Certainly, Peter and the others had some first-hand knowledge about Jesus. They had followed him and listened to him and had experienced the reaction of the crowds. They had seen what he could do with their own eyes and had heard his words with their own ears. So, they definitely would have seen Jesus as a great man. But, to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God could not be done through first-hand experience. For, there were no guidelines for identifying God in human form.
It was with the help of God that Peter, the disciple known for voicing brash loyalty and cowardly denial in almost the same breath, was able to respond to Jesus’ question with the words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And, it requires the help of God for us to say the same – for us to recognize the man, Jesus, as the author of our life and our salvation.
We may hear and study this good news in Sunday school and worship. Yet, the words themselves, the news of Jesus, cannot bring us to confess that Jesus is the Son of God any more than Peter’s first-hand experience would convince him of this and bring him to make such a bold confession. We listen over and over again to the stories of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, and while these stories are powerful witnesses to the true identity of Jesus, the stories alone cannot make us believe that which is too good to believe – the fact that God so loves us that he came down from heaven to help us. The stories themselves, like the experience itself, cannot bring us to such faith. It is not by our own understanding or effort that we can believe in Jesus, the Son of God, or come to him. It is the Holy Spirit, God himself, who calls us through the message and work of Jesus – that is through the gospel, the good news that we hear and experience. It is God himself who enlightens us with his gifts and sanctifies and keeps us in true faith. Every time we say the Apostle’s Creed, we publicly profess our faith.
Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, was a public profession. But, Peter did not really understand what those words meant. Peter did not have the whole story. That would come later through a cross, an empty tomb, an appearance behind locked doors, and the gift of the Spirit. We have a fuller version of the truth. We have the confession of Peter and the witness that affirms his words. And, yet, Jesus’ identity still remains a mystery to many.
To some, Jesus is a superstar; to others, he is a good buddy. To some, he is a revolutionary; to others, he is a personal savior. To some, he is the granter of wishes and a giver of gifts; to others, he is just another man who talks a good line. And yet, to those who are blessed with the eyes of faith, he is none other than God himself – the Son of the living God.
Who do you say that he is? Is he another prophet or teacher? Is he merely a man who says a lot of good things? Is he simply a guide to right living? Or is he someone to be trusted and believed, someone to stake your life on? This, my friends, is the age-old question, the question that has been around as long as Jesus himself. And how you answer this is a matter of life and a way of living. For, while Peter wasn’t expecting a suffering God and Peter wasn’t expecting a Son of God who would die; Peter wasn’t expecting a God who would share our pain and our sorrow, our humanity, our defeat and death; this is exactly what he got in Jesus.
Is this the Jesus you expect? For, what Peter received is what we get. In Jesus is found freedom to live as God would have us live. In Jesus is found love and hope and salvation in a world that is lacking in justice and mercy. In Jesus is found peace, a peace beyond our understanding. In Jesus there is forgiveness and grace, the blessings of this life and a life to come.
May God grant you the faith to believe this and the courage to confess this with our hearts and minds and lips every day. For, this is the rock of our salvation, the confession of our faith and our hope for generations to come. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.