Monday, August 22, 2011

Who do you say I am?

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 16:13-20
August 21, 2011
Pentecost 10-Proper 16A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Will you marry me? Would you like fries with that? Do you promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Paper or plastic? Radiation or chemo-therapy? Are you pregnant? Not all questions are created equal! Are they? Some questions are matters of life and death; others are so routine that we don’t even think about the answer. But of all the questions ever asked or answered, none is as critical as the question posed by Jesus at the heart of today’s Holy Gospel.

Jesus asked the question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter spoke the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And for once, Peter got it right. He nailed it! Peter—who had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time—gave the perfect answer with perfect timing. Peter couldn’t have given a more perfect answer if God Himself had revealed it to him. Oh . . . wait. That’s actually what happened. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Peter had some heavenly help with his answer. Peter could confess Jesus as Christ and God not because he was super-duper spiritual or incredibly smart. No, the answer Peter gave came straight from heaven. To know and believe and confess who Jesus is cannot be calculated by human intelligence. As it says in 1 Corinthians, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Or as it says in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” To know who Jesus is—to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior—is a gift.

Lots of people think they know who Jesus is. Still today, Jesus has very good name recognition. Jesus has a favorability rating that most politicians would love to have. The people—the crowds—thought that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah—all very flattering and favorable ideas. But all of them wrong. Dead wrong. People still have lots of flattering and favorable things to say about Jesus—that He’s a good example to follow, an inspiration who stood up to corrupt institutions, a champion of peace. That may be true. That may sound nice. That may garner favorable ratings. But it’s not enough--not nearly enough.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He came to save His people from their sins, to seek and save the lost. He came to destroy death, that you might have life and have it abundantly. He came as the one mediator between God and man. He loves you and He gave Himself for you. He became obedient unto death—even death on a cross. This is Jesus! Our Savior! This is the Jesus revealed to us in the pages of the Scriptures. And if we don’t know that—if we don’t believe that—if we have the wrong answers about who Jesus is, then we don’t even know who we are. Get Jesus wrong; get yourself wrong—and others too. But get Jesus right and get yourself right too. Know Jesus and know yourself.

Who are you? Who do you say you are? Are you just a random collection of DNA, a product of evolution? Are you just a very smart animal? A product of society? Are you defined by your grades? By your career? Your income? The car you drive? This isn’t just an exercise in existentialism: Who am I? Who are you? What are we doing here? For if you know that Jesus is more than just a nice guy—that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God—then you know who you are too. You know the truth about yourself—that you are a sinner who deserves death and hell; but that in Jesus you are loved. You are redeemed. You are forgiven. You are not your own. You were bought at a price. And you will live forever with Jesus. That’s precisely who you are.

If you know who Jesus is, then you know yourself as well. And if you know yourself, then you also know those around you—who they are. If you can confess Jesus correctly, then you have the proper perspective to view the whole world, starting with the teeny, tiny baby. In fact, you know the truth about babies still in their mothers’ wombs. The unborn child cries out, “My father says I am an accident. My mother says I am a problem—a terrible inconvenience. My doctor says I’m a risk. But what about you in the church of Jesus Christ, who do you say I am?” And we know. We have the right answer—the revealed truth. We know that the unborn are human beings in the sight of God—lovingly created and fashioned by Him, fully deserving of our protection, our help, our love, our sacrifice.

If you know Jesus—who He is—then you also know yourself and those around you. It means knowing the sick, the disabled, and those confined to centers of care. The sick and disabled person cries out, “My doctor calls me a hopeless case. My insurance company says that I’m not worth the money. My own children say that I am a burden to them. And sometimes I think they’re right. But what about you in the church of Jesus Christ, who do you say I am?” And we know. We have the right answer—the revealed truth. We know that the disabled, the dying, the infirm—that Jesus calls them His very own brothers, promising, “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it unto me.”

Jesus unites Himself with the weak and vulnerable to such an extent that when you show mercy to such a person you are really serving your Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Some view these people burdens. But we have the right answer—the revealed truth. We know that those who follow Jesus Christ are in the burden-bearing business. Bearing the burdens of others is what we do, because bearing the burdens of others is what Jesus did. And we know Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

I suspect that many of you have known that truth about Jesus and carried it around in your heart since the day you were baptized. Oh, perhaps you weren’t able to articulate it just as perfectly as Peter did. But in that miracle of water and the Word, God the Holy Trinity declared, “Blessed are you.” From that day on, you’ve known Jesus by faith as your Savior. And that knowledge—that faith—it was revealed to you as a gift.

The Jesus revealed to you in baptism is continually being revealed to you in new and wonderful ways—every time you read your Bible, every devotion, every sermon you hear, every time you come to this altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, the Savior speaks to you just as He spoke to Peter: “Blessed are you. Blessed are you.” He reminds you that even though the gates of hell are set to swallow you up, yet you are safe and secure—you are on rock-solid ground when you can believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus warned His disciples at the end of this scene not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. Keep it a secret. But don’t worry; He’s not talking to you. You can tell anyone and everyone that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. They just had to wait until Jesus died and rose again—until the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus was revealed as the living Lord. That’s the rock solid proof that changes everything. It sharpens our vision so that we can know Jesus, know ourselves, and know what’s good and true in this dark and dying world. The very doors of heaven have been unlocked for you by Jesus Himself. And He says, “Blessed are you.” Amen.

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