Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Confession of St. Peter
Acts 4:8-13
Psalm 18:1-7, 17-20 (or 18:1-6, 16-19)
1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Matthew 16:13-19

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In today lesson, Jesus asks one of the most important questions of faith, "Who do you say I am?" The answer to this question can mean the difference between faith in Christ and faith in a false Jesus. There are many out there who believe that Jesus existed, who attribute great and wonderful things to His life and ministry. Yet, they do not confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

There are books dedicated to listing the names, titles and characteristics of Jesus. You can ask nearly everybody on the street and they will have some sort of answer about who He is, whether he or she is a Christian or not. Most of the world's religions mention Jesus in their statements of faith, giving Him a wonderful and powerful place in their history. He is known as a great rabbi, teacher and prophet. He is called friend and brother. He is recognized as a good example of compassion and justice. He is even called Lord and Master by many.

I can name people in my own life that fit many of those descriptions. I've had teachers who changed my life with the knowledge they shared. We can name people throughout the ages who have been compassionate shepherds for Christians, those who have willingly died for the Gospel of Christ and have done anything to help the world see the light. Throughout the ages there have been prophets who have spoken the truth. Hopefully we have all known a friend who would lay down their lives, or people we could call brothers or sisters who love us. I can name hundreds of people over the years that have been good examples of compassion and justice. There are even those who could be called lord or master - rulers and authorities - who have done well and lived in the truth.

Yet, none of these people are worthy of worship.

Today's Psalm describes the Lord who is worthy of worship. He is our strength, our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our refuge, our shield, and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold. He is worthy of our praise. The psalmist tells us, "He sent from on high, he took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from them that hated me; For they were too mighty for me." He is our support. Why did He do all this? "He delivered me, because he delighted in me." Imagine that. The Lord God Almighty delights in His people.

A rabbi, teacher, prophet, friend, brother, lord or master might be able to do some of those things. I have known people to whom I could turn in difficult times, who have given me refuge and strength. Yet, it has been fleeting. They also have brought disappointment, anger, confusion and doubt. They have shown their humanity, their frailty, and their corruptibility. There are none who are worthy of worship but one.

Not even Moses. Paul tells us in the passage from 1 Corinthians that the exodus out of Egypt, the escape through the Red Sea, was like a baptism. When the people followed Moses through the parted waters, they were baptized into Moses. In the wilderness they ate manna and drank water that came out of a rock. Paul tells us that this was the same spiritual food and drink, that which comes from the Rock, the Rock which is Christ. The faith by which they had the strength and courage to follow Moses into the wilderness was like that which we have when we celebrate the sacraments of baptism and communion. Yet, the deliverance they received from Moses was not permanent. It did not take long before they failed and God was not pleased with them.

The baptism of the Red Sea was not enough because it was not in Jesus' name. Moses could not save, only Jesus can. Moses is not worthy of worship. Jesus is.

Peter and John were on their way to the Temple when they came across a crippled man who was begging at one of the temple gates. He asked them for money. He wasn't paying much attention to what was going on. All he did all day long was sit near the gate asking for money. He never expected much and did not even look at those he was asking. Peter and John looked at him, and then Peter demanded he look at them. Peter and John had nothing to give. They were fishermen who were no longer even fishing. They were sharing the Gospel of Christ, not a business that paid very well in their day. Peter said to the man, "Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." From that moment the man was healed. He jumped to his feet and walked.

The people who saw this happen were amazed. How could this man walk, since he had been crippled from birth? The people ran to Peter and John, but Peter would not allow a false impression. He said, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?" It was not Peter or John or any power of their own that saved the man from his illness.

In today's Gospel lesson, Peter faced the Sanhedrin, the governing council made up of elders and chief priests in Jerusalem. They were upset by the events surrounding Jesus, and when they learned that Peter and John had been with Him, they wanted to know more. They did not want anyone continuing to teach as Jesus did so they put them in jail for the evening.

They next day they met together and asked the apostles, "By what power, or in what name, have ye done this?" Peter was irritated by the situation. "A guy is healed and you call us to account for this act of kindness?" Then by the power of the Holy Spirit he told them, "If you really want to know, this man was healed in Jesus' name. Yes, the Jesus that you killed but God raised." God overcomes the evil that man does in this world. The Jews crucified Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead. Man destroys, but God gives healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.

The man was healed in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter quoted Psalm 118; "He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner." They rejected Jesus, but Jesus has become the very foundation of salvation. Peter said, "And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved."

Jesus is the One who can save; He is the deliverer that brings eternal freedom and life. He is more than a great rabbi, teacher or prophet. He is more than a friend or brother. He is more than a good example. He is even more than lord and master.

Verse 13 of the passage from Acts tells us that the Sanhedrin saw the courage of Peter and John and that they had no education, except that which they had received from Jesus Christ. Yet, they spoke with power and authority, with strength and conviction. They were ordinary men doing extraordinary work in the name of Jesus Christ.

Today's Gospel lesson comes from well into the ministry of Jesus Christ. He'd been around the block a few times, had done hundreds of incredible things and had preached the Kingdom of God to thousands of souls. Jesus made an impression and people were talking. The disciples must have overheard conversations about Jesus every day, people wondering about this man who could do such miracles.

One day Jesus asked, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" This was a title Jesus often used for Himself, one no one else used to describe Him. It was Messianic, referencing Old Testament prophecy about the end times and the Savior whom God would send with authority, glory and power. The disciples answered, "Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." In today's world many continue to equate the work of Jesus Christ with these great men of faith. They give Him titles and characteristics that are honorable, but they do not give Him the honor or glory that is His alone.

Then Jesus turned the question around and specifically asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" They were not to base their faith on the hearsay of others. Peter spoke up and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter could not have made this confession on His own. Jesus tells him that it was God Himself who gave him the revelation. The same Spirit that gave Peter the power to witness before the Sanhedrin gave Him the words to confess faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus called Peter blessed because the Father had given him a great gift. The same is true of all those who confess Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, made Himself known by grace.

Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." What is the rock on which the church has been built? It would have to be something that is firm, someone who is worthy. It is through the Church that God brings salvation to the lost souls in this world. Could the Church be built on a great apostle, teacher or prophet? Could the Church be built on a friend or a brother? Could the Church be built on a good example or fine leader? No, the Church is built on the Rock, which is Christ, and the confession of faith in Him. Only Jesus can save and only is He worthy of our worship and praise.

Jesus told Peter that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. What are these keys? Keys unlock the door, what would unlock the kingdom of heaven for people to enter? The only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. The grace given to us through baptism and the Lord's Supper are shared with others as we speak His word into their lives. They hear the message of the Gospel, the confession of our faith, "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God" and by these words they are saved for in them we find mercy and reconciliation. We spend most of the year listening to the wonderful stories about how Jesus brought knowledge of God, healing and peace. But our faith is founded on the answer to just one question. "Who do you say that I am?" He is the Christ and by His name we are saved. There is no one else who can do it. Only He is able and only He is worthy to be praised.

We can think of Jesus the way others do - think He is like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or a prophet. We can think of Him as a rabbi, teacher, friend, brother, prophet, lord or master. But that is never enough to be saved. Through grace He reveals Himself that we might see He is more. By the power of the Holy Spirit we confess that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and receive the forgiveness that only He can give. Then we will see the doors of heaven open and enter into eternal life with Christ. Thanks be to God.

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