Pentecost 14c

Preached: September 18, 2011

You, Dear Christian, Are Peter
Matthew 16:13-20

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit builds our faith on Jesus is Matthew 16.

When Jesus came into the area of Caeserea Philippi, he began asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

They said, “Some say John the Baptist. Other say Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“As for you,” he asks them, “who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, Jonah’s son, since flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven did. And I now say to you that you are Peter. On this bedrock I will build my church and the gates of death will not stand against it. I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

Then he commanded his disciples not to say that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20).

This is the word of our Lord.

Robert, Rob, Bobby, Bob, Margaret, Maggie, Marge, Peggy. Sometimes people have a lot of variations to their name. And what about the nicknames people pick up because of a certain trait or characteristic? But whether you go by a lot a names or only a few, here is a new name for you today. You, dear Christian, are Peter. Let’s see why you have that name and what that means for your life, as we take to heart the words Jesus speaks to his disciples and to us.

A. Your faith is built on Christ

1) Why did Jesus give Simon the name Peter?

Why did Jesus say to Simon, the son of Jonah, “I tell you that you are Peter” (Matthew 16:18 NIV1984)? Let’s look at the context.

Jesus had asked the disciple what the people were saying about him. The crowds had various opinions but it boiled down to that Jesus was a great prophet. And still today many would agree and rank Jesus among the greatest of people who ever lived. But Jesus is much more.

Peter believes that Jesus is more, and so do the other disciples. Speaking for the rest, Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NIV1984). Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, both of which mean Anointed One. Do you, dear friends, comprehend how much Peter is confessing with that one word?

“You, Jesus, are the Messiah, the Anointed One, whom the Lord had promised long ago to come from David’s family. You are the promised King anointed to rescue us from sin and death. You are our Hope and Salvation. You are the One we’ve been waiting for. The Father sent you, appointed you, anointed you, to do that work that no mere human being could do. For as the Christ, you are the Son of the living God. Even though you stand before me here in flesh and blood from the town of Nazareth, you, Jesus, are my God, the Son of the living God, who has come to bring us life from the Father.”

Mighty words from a fisherman! How did he ever come to believe the truth about who Jesus really is? It didn’t match the popular opinion of the man on the street. It certainly didn’t match the opinion of many of the religious leaders, the experts. How did Peter figure it out? He didn’t. “[T]his was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 NIV1984), Jesus says. That’s what made Peter blessed. Through the word of God, the Father had drawn Peter to the Son. Through the word of God, the Father had enlighten Peter’s mind with the Holy Spirit. Through the word of God, the Father had brought Peter to know and believe and confess the truth: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. How blessed Peter was that the Father had revealed it to him through the word!

2) How does the truth that Jesus is the Christ change our lives when our faith is built on it?

And you, too, dear Christian, have been blessed with that same knowledge and faith through the word of God. That’s why today I call each of you Peter. Just like Peter your faith is built on Christ, for you believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God, your only Savior from sin and death.

Do you see, dear friends, the power of this message? That man from Galilee bled and died for you. That man overcame death for you, rising from the grave. That man is your God and Savior. He is the Christ. What a rock-solid foundation that changes our life! Yet how often I have to confess that this truth can seem to be just another fact -- a very important fact for me since my job revolves around it -- but that’s not the same as being the life-changing truth on which everything I think or say or do is built.

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NIV1984). Let this truth sink deep into your soul, dear friends, so that it is the rock on which your faith and life is built. Make that rock the foundation of all that you think and say and do. You know how often you’ve tried out other foundations. The promises of happiness, health, and home, the hopes for security, well-being, rest, appreciation -- those and many other things have pushed Christ aside in our hearts far more than we want to realize or admit. How easily they tempt us to build our happiness and hope on them!

But your past is behind, nailed to the cross, forgiven, washed clean. You, dear Christian, are a new creation, created in Christ Jesus. He has raised you from death to life, for he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Through the Word the Father has drawn you to the Son. Through the Word he has enlightened your heart. Through the Word he has poured out the Holy Spirit on you. Through the Word he has brought you to know and believe and confess. For you, dear Christian, are Peter. You are built on Christ, the solid Rock. How blessed you are!

B. You hold the keys of the kingdom

1) What are the keys of the kingdom?

Since you are built on Christ, you are Peter. And what’s more, since you are Peter, you, dear Christian, hold the keys of the kingdom.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 NIV1984), Jesus says. He gives the keys to all his believers as he makes clear after his resurrection, when he breathes on his disciples and says to all of them there, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22, 23 NIV1984).

And that, dear friends, is what the keys of the kingdom are all about. Forgiveness. Not simply our personal forgiveness toward others, but divine forgiveness. You, who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did -- you have the power to announce God’s forgiveness to the penitent sinner who longs to be right with God. Tell him or her about Jesus the Christ and the forgiveness he purchased for them with his blood shed on the cross. Tell him or her about Jesus the Christ and how he rose from the dead because God has freely declared all sinners, including them, not guilty because Jesus suffered for all the sins of the world as our Substitute. Say to them, “In Christ Jesus, God has forgiven you. You are fully and freely forgiven. Your sins are no longer bound to you. They are loosed, untied, unchained. Heaven is open to you because of Jesus, the Christ.” Speak to them with the sure confidence that this is the truth. For what you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven, where Jesus reigns.

Likewise, you, dear Christian, have the power to withhold forgiveness from the impenitent sinner who refuses to change his or her sinful ways. Their unrepentant attitude has already cut them off from God whether they realize it or not. So when you tell them that their sins are not forgiven because they are rejecting Jesus by their willful sinning, you are speaking a strong, loving warning, like that sign that says: “Bridge out ahead”. If they keep on speeding down that road they’re headed on, they will crash and burn endlessly. Their impenitence has tied their sins to them and locked them out of heaven. When you tell them that their sins are still bound to them, that’s not your personal opinion or judgmental attitude, but those sins will have been bound to them before God in heaven, locking them out.

2) How do we use the keys?

These are the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which you hold, dear Christian, for you are Peter. Don’t let them grow rusty. Use them. Use them, for Jesus himself has given them to you. This is the greatest work you can do as a Christian. Yes, we certainly want to also do works of kindness. We want to serve our neighbor, our community, our country. But the greatest service you can give is using the keys of the kingdom. Even an unbeliever can feed the hungry, help the needy, give to charity, visit the sick and elderly, do their neighborly duties. But only you, dear Christian, are Peter. Jesus has not given the keys to the unbeliever, but to you. You hold the keys. Use them.

How do we use them? When you call a sinner to repentance, remember that you too are a sinner. That doesn’t mean to say nothing. For if others had said nothing to you or me, we would still be headed for hell. There is nothing hypocritical about pointing out sin when we confess that we, too, are as guilty as anyone else. My sin is as damnable as theirs, whatever that sin might be. Only Jesus can take away my sins and save me. So since we are entirely dependent on Jesus for our forgiveness, there is no place for pride or self-importance or self-righteousness when we call others to repentance.

And what a wonderful work Jesus does through you as you use the keys! Think of how Jesus uses you and your words to point others to his cross and his empty tomb. He uses you to unlock the kingdom of heaven to the repentant sinner, loosening their sins, setting them free, telling them: “Jesus has taken away your sin. He has died for you and rose from the dead. You are forgiven. Heaven is your home.” What a blessed work to do! You hold the keys of the kingdom, for you, dear Christian, are Peter.

3) What gives us courage to use the keys when Satan tries to stop us?

Can you see why Satan is going to try to stop you? You are rescuing his victims whom he has marked as his own. He’ll do all he can to make you keep your mouth shut. If he can’t have you, that’s bad enough. He certainly doesn’t want you unlocking heaven for others. He’ll send his forces out of his gates against you. They’ll tempt you to neglect the keys or to doubt their power or to misuse them for selfish reasons or to think other things are more important. He’ll even aim to get you to question whether the keys have really loosed your sins so that you’re forgiven.

But look to Jesus, your Rock, dear Christian. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That truth is the foundation, the bedrock, on which your faith is built. “[O]n this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18 NIV1984), Jesus promises. No matter what Satan throws at you, dear Christian, Jesus is your Rock, your Fortress, your Salvation. Look, he’s the Son of the living God, so Satan doesn’t stand a chance, no matter what forces he sends out of hell’s gates. So keep your faith built on the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And with that confidence use the keys of the kingdom.

In fact, as you use the keys of the kingdom, you are taking the attack to Satan himself. You are storming the gates of death, rescuing those who are still held captive by their sins. Yes, those born dead in sin are raised to life in Christ through his word, which you speak. The gates of death do not have the power to stand against Jesus’ words. Those who believe his message have passed over from death to life. For he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313