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LSB Confession of St. Peter Sermon – Mark 8:27–9:1

January 19, 2015

January 18, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” … And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”

“I really want to know what you honestly think.” That statement is meant to elicit a response. It draws out an answer from the person who hears it. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, if what we honestly think is something that we believe will hurt the person to whom we say it. So we might couch the answer in oblique terms. Other times, we relish the opportunity to give our opinion on a matter. Perhaps we haven’t had the chance, so we pull both triggers and speak it plainly.

In the conversation that Jesus has with His disciples, He’s looking for the honest answer. He doesn’t want the cushioned response. He’s asking the disciples to speak it plainly. After hearing their reports about what others say about Himself, Jesus wants the Twelve who have followed Him and seen the signs performed and heard His teaching to be open about their thoughts concerning His identity: “And He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” And the response comes: “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”

Peter’s statement of faith—his confession—about Jesus is what the Church commemorates on this day. Peter speaks rightly about Jesus’ identity, when he says: “You are the Christ.” Jesus is the LORD’s Anointed Servant, who has been sent to bring salvation to the world. That anointing took place at His Baptism, as you heard about last week. Through His miraculous deeds and His revelation of the LORD’s will, Jesus shows Himself to be that Christ.

But just as plainly as Peter gave his confession concerning Jesus’ identity, Jesus also speaks plainly about what that identity would include: “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He said this plainly.” Jesus reveals that the suffering, rejection, and death were essential aspects of His being the Christ. Yet what happens when Peter hears that? “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” He does not receive the plain testimony that Jesus gives about being the Christ. Peter honestly believes that what Jesus says is not correct, that it should not be. And that puts him at odds with Jesus.

That is why Jesus responds so bluntly to Peter: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Jesus confronts and rebukes Peter. And He plainly shows why Peter’s thinking must be changed: “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it…. For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” 

Had Jesus left Peter in the refusal of His statements about suffering, rejection, and death being part of the His identity as the Christ, He would have had Peter be someone who spoke the right answer but did not believe it. Suffering, rejection, and death followed by resurrection is the way that Jesus has brought salvation. That is what His Father had established and had sent Him to undergo. They are “the things of God.” It is the Divine Will that this should take place. Being ashamed of this brings nothing good; receiving it leads to life everlasting.

Jesus’ correcting Peter moves him back into discipleship. Peter is called to follow Jesus. He is to benefit from the suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection that Jesus undergoes. And after Jesus experiences these things, He instructs Peter to speak plainly about it, to make that open confession that Jesus is the Christ. And that is what you heard in the First Reading, where an excerpt from Peter’s preaching struck your ears: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This was no longer Peter being ashamed of what Jesus said or rebuking Jesus for saying it. No, this is Peter boldly confessing the identity of Jesus. That’s what Peter honestly thinks about Jesus.

The same type of correcting and moving people back into discipleship happens for you. Like Peter, you are asked what you honestly think about Jesus. The question is put to you: “But who do you say that I am?” You answer that question many times. You say about Jesus: “You are the Christ.” That answer is spoken in the Creed that you confess in the Divine Service. The same confession takes place at baptisms, confirmations, and receptions of communicant members. It is the content of many hymns and portions of worship. Even your title, Christian, expresses the truth that you belong to Christ.

So you state that Jesus is the Christ. But in your lives, there are many temptations to find fault with what Jesus says. There is that pitfall which Peter fell into. Now, it won’t likely be a rebuke of what Jesus says concerning His being rejected, suffering, dying, and rising to life. If that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be a member of a church, let alone one that has a nearly life-sized depiction of the Crucified Jesus right up front so that everyone sees it upon entering the sanctuary. But what about Jesus’ statements about denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Him? Or Jesus’ warning about being ashamed of Him and His words? Now those provide stumbling blocks.

For what do you think about what Jesus says? What about those exclusive claims that are made about His being the sole source of salvation, the only way to the Father? Remember what Peter said: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” And what about the requirements that Jesus puts on His disciples that govern all aspects of their lives—the way they are to use their possessions, their minds, and their bodies? Or what Jesus establishes as the way His disciples are to interact with one another? Then there are the moral teachings that Jesus gives.

Perhaps none of you would say that you are ashamed of Jesus and His words. But uncomfortableness with them gets awfully close to shame, if not crossing the line. Then there is the confession that you make by your deeds, as actions speak louder than words. The violation of the way of life that Jesus lays out, especially any deliberately done act, becomes a rebuke of Him.

So what happens then? The same thing that Jesus did when hearing Peter’s rebuke: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” Hearing such condemnation seems harsh. It certainly feels that way. But it is Jesus’ correcting you and moving you back into discipleship. That call to repentance and turning is done to once again set your minds on the things of God. It is to move you out of the way of stepping in front of Jesus to being behind Him again as a disciple. It happens to take you from being opposed to Jesus to confessing Him as the Christ in both word and deed.

Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was not a dismissal, but part of his restoration. The same is true of the rebuke that is leveled at you when the condemning statements of the Law found in Jesus’ words are spoken. For the desired outcome that your Lord has is to have you become a faithful and bold disciple. This isn’t done by building yourself up, but by having your Lord establish you. Jesus calls you back to what He first made you, as Peter wrote to your fellow disciples of Jesus: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

When Jesus speaks with His precious and very great promises, you are restored. That promise was made to Peter after the rebuke he received from Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus calls you back to the promises which are rooted in His being rejected, suffering, dying, and rising to life. He applies the merits of His death and resurrection to you in baptism, absolution, and meal. Through the work of His Spirit, you are made to confess again that Jesus is the Christ who died and rose for the salvation of your soul and body. You are scooped up to daily take up your cross and follow Jesus. You are put back into full trust and reliance on what Jesus says. You are reestablished in your allegiance to your Lord.

When you are restored this way, it isn’t just back to square one. No, you begin to abide by Peter’s exhortation: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Exercising these, you confess with your deeds that you are one of Jesus’ disciples. You will become like Peter, having your mind set again on the things of God. Your place will be with him, not as an obstacle in front of Jesus, but faithfully following him like His chief apostle. And you will honestly say what you think about Jesus: “You are the Christ.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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