“Who do YOU say Jesus is?” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

12th Sunday after Pentecost August 23, 2020

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            Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from Matthew 16:13-20 previously read.

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That’s an easy question.  It requires no commitment.  Some say John the Baptist.  Others say Elijah.  Still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  But Jesus’ follow up to the Twelve is more personal, “But, you, who do you say that I am?”  On the answer to that question hangs life and death, eternal joy in heaven or endless agony in hell.  Who do you say Jesus is?  Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven.  Whoever disowns Me before men, him will I disown before My Father in heaven.” 

Peter made the good confession not revealed to him by men – not the product of human intellect or reckoning, rather it was a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit - revealed by God the Father in heaven.  Faith is never from us, but always comes as a gift of the Spirit. In John 6, Jesus said, “No one comes to Me unless the Father draws Him.” Our Epistle reminds us, God “transforms us by the renewing of our minds.

Contrary to many a television preacher, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”  So, don’t go around patting yourself on the back.  That you love Christ your Savior isn’t because you connected the dots; it’s God’s grace alone. 

That’s what we learned from the Small Catechism, the 3rd Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

            Not Peter himself but St. Peter’s answer became the faith that Jesus sent the 12 to preach, the Rock upon which Christ builds His Church.  Ephesians 2 says, “[The Church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone.”  The Word that God sent the Apostles to preach about Jesus is the Rock-solid, God-guaranteed foundation for God’s Church, because it points us – not to Peter - but to Jesus our crucified and Risen Redeemer.  1 Corinthians 3 says:  “There is no other foundation than that which has already been laid, even Jesus Christ.”  That’s why our Church exists, why it teaches her children and insists they learn; it’s why she supports missionaries, preschools, elementary and high schools, universities and seminaries – because it’s important to build on the Rock of Christ. 

If you never use your time or your talents or the gifts God gives you for His Kingdom work… that’s your answer to the question: What do you say about Jesus? When we look at our church budget or you look at your family budget and how you use your time, whether to serve God or amuse yourself, “Are we building our lives on Christ the Solid Rock?”  If you were asked to reflect on the amount of time you spend in God’s Word and doing your prayers and devotions, how much time you spend praying with your children as opposed to taking them to practices or games; what answer does your life give to the question: “What do you say about Jesus?”  Do your choices confess His importance and priority in your life? Or is He an afterthought… an add-on?

            The question put to the 12 in our text is the question put to you each day of your life:  “Who do you say that I am?”  Our students, hopefully sometime this year, in school hallways or on busses or at parties are by your words and actions confessing something about Jesus – does your confession say that you believe He’s the most important thing – the Son of the Living God.  Our failures to stand for Christ, speak volumes… those times when we avoid standing for God’s unchanging truth so as not to offend family or friends, and so offending against God’s Word.  But refusal to speak or act on your faith is also an act of confession – just not the right way!

We miss opportunities when we don’t view our lives in the context of Christian confession.  You are here for a God-appointed purpose to “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  God uses your hands and feet to serve others.  God would teach His little ones about Christ, speaking through your lips, using you to invite your neighbors or friends who have fallen away from Christ.  Even simple acts of kindness, offering your bodies as living sacrifices “in view of God’s mercy” are confessing moments.  Your dollars and offerings and volunteer hours support our ministry here at Mt Calvary, and through our Synod your gifts confess Christ around the world. 

We confess Christ our Savior, firstly, by being people of His Word, loving true doctrine and rejecting the moral drift all around us.  Confessors don’t look for parts of God’s Word to downplay or compromise, but heed Jesus’ call “Obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Secondly, we confess Christ by living in Christ through faith, and in our neighbor through love.  Romans 12 says, “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” 

            Peter did great in today’s verses, but within a few verses he went from his shining confession to trying to talk Jesus out of the cross… to which Jesus answered, “Get behind me Satan!”  Ouch!  I don’t know about you, but that’s about the way it is with me too.  It’s pretty easy to get it right when I’m with Jesus on Sunday morning, but I don’t do so well when my confession is demanded from the world as I leave this place. We use God-given time, God-given talents and God-given treasures, not to confess Christ, but to amuse ourselves…  When you and I leave church, we really are entering the mission field our lives become an ongoing confession of what we believe, whom we love, what’s most important.  And so many times my life confession is a disastrous failure.  We waste our chances to speak and act, or we act the wrong way.  When that’s the case, as it is too often, there’s only one answer: Repent.  And if you are led to that repentance, that too is not revealed by flesh and blood, but by your Father in heaven.           

But here’s the Good News… There’s One who always made and makes that good confession – there’s One Who in every moment lived a sinless and spotless life… One who, when on trial for you, and when High Priest Caiphas put Jesus under oath, He made the perfect confession… I am the Christ.  Before Pontius Pilate again Jesus made that good confession for you and me.  He could have saved His life and avoided the cross.  By His redeeming death, the sinless Savior confessed your sins to be His own and swallowed up the judgment you and I deserved.  In the darkness of the cross, Christ made the greatest confession with His dying breath, “It is finished.”  Your debt is stamped – Paid in Full. 

            In the long litany of our failures, you and I have a Savior Who confessed without fail or fault; a Savior Who atoned for your sins and mine; a Savior Who loved you more than all the treasures of heaven:  “Who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”  This is the Divine-human Savior in Whom we put our trust.  He is the One who promises:  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  He is the living “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Only God knows how you and I will be called to answer the question put before us by the world:  “Who do you say Jesus is?”  Hopefully, our lives will be blessedly uneventful, exciting, but filled with more or less ordinary opportunities to confess Jesus by talking to our grandkids, loving and serving our spouses, or inviting our neighbors to church, by lives of prayer and being in God’s Word.  It may be that a much heavier cross lies in your future, a debilitating disease or something worse.  No one knows what the future holds, but we know the One who holds our future.  Your Savior carried His cross before you.  He confessed His love for you with His very life. This was revealed to Peter and to you by your Heavenly Father. 

In you God has undertaken to build His Church, those redeemed in the blood of Jesus.  The gates of hell are no match for Jesus.  Built on Christ the Rock of Ages you can be sure the gates of hell can’t harm you either.  “Neither death, nor life, angels nor demons, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  Amen. 

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.