10 Pentecost proper A16
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 16:13-20 sermon
August 21, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
747 WOV "Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation" (now playing)
467 TLH "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
462 TLH "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord"
NAME RECOGNITION IS IMPORTANT
TEXT vs. 13-16: “13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' 14And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 15He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' 16Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"
Daniel Lawrence Whitney. Does that name ring a bell for you? I'm sure that at least a few of you know that name, but the mere mention of it leaves most folks scratching their head. It's a name that few people know.
Let me tell you a little bit about him. He was born on February 17, 1963. He grew up as the son of a hog farmer near Pawnee City, Nebraska. There was nothing really outstanding or spectacular about him, just a normal farm boy from rural southeastern Nebraska.
As he got older, he realized he had the ability to make people laugh. And so, he became a type of radio call in personality on an Omaha radio station. He took his Nebraska farm boy accent, and thickened it up a bit. Then he needed a name to go with the character, so he decided to use his middle name, Lawrence, and shortened it to Larry. Then he needed an occupation to go with the character, so for the lack of anything better, he chose to be a cable television installer. And that's how the comedian, Larry the Cable Guy was born. We know Daniel Lawrence Whitney as Larry the Cable Guy.
Now when I mentioned his real name, Dan Whitney, you really didn't have a clear picture of who he was, other than what I first told you about him, that was the son of a Pawnee City hog farmer. But when I told you his stage name, the name most of the American public know, then you had a real clear picture. Then you got the picture of this guy in blue jeans, a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off, a cap, and a beard. You can almost hear him saying his very famous catch phrase, "Git 'er done!"
People's names are very important things. It identifies not only who they are, but what they are as well. If you consider the political arena, candidates for public office spend enormous amounts of money for name recognition. They want their names to become household words, so that when people go to the polls, they will vote for a name that they know, sometimes without fully realizing what they stand for. People will look at a list of candidates and say, "Oh yeah, I know that name," and cast their vote accordingly. This is where name recognition really pays off.
We don't really have to go too far back in history to see how this has worked. How many years have you known the name of Barack Obama, or Sarah Palin, or John McCain, or Al Gore, or John Kerry? Certainly these people have been at least somewhat famous for a long time, but their names haven't been household words for very long. But thanks to name recognition strategies, their names have been brought into the limelight. And the political candidates who have not done this are those who are not usually elected to office, irrespective of what their platform might be. That's the way things generally work out.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is dealing with a name recognition issue. And we can be sure at this point in time, the name of Jesus was well known to a lot of people. But how was that name known? What was there about Jesus that made people remember his name? What was his claim to fame?
If we go back in time, Jesus' early years were not that notable. He was the stepson of a tradesman, a carpenter. They weren't people of great means or social stature, just normal everyday people living in the small hamlet of Nazareth. This was evident when Jesus returned to his hometown during his ministry. Matthew chapter 13, verses 54-57 records what happened: "54 And coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, 'Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Isn't this the carpenter’s son? Isn't his mother called Mary? And aren't his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?' 57And they took offense at him."
Even though Jesus had said and done some very powerful and wonderful things, this is who the Nazarenes said he was. And they just couldn't get past it.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is taking a type of straw poll amongst his disciples as to what people were saying about him. And the responses were: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The people were at least on the right track. They recognized Jesus as one of God's spokesmen, and somebody God was actively using to do his work. But even though they were on the right track, they still didn't have it exactly correct.
That's where Jesus gets down deep and personal. What others were saying was one thing, but what the disciples were proclaiming was an entirely different matter. They had to get it right, or their ministry would be way off track. So Jesus asks the question very directly, "But who do YOU say that I am?"
This is where Simon Peter really comes shining through. Without even a moment's hesitation, he replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This one simple sentence captures a complete system of theology that clearly defines the Christian Church right to this very day. This is why we are here today.
When Simon Peter identifies Jesus with the name of Christ, it means that he was the anointed one sent by God. The word "Christ" in the New Testament Greek is the same word "Messiah" in the Old Testament Hebrew. They mean exactly the same thing. Jesus was this promised Messiah foretold by the prophets for centuries. This was the Saviour who would take away the sin of the world. This Messiah or Christ would be the all-atoning sacrifice for sin, ending all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Jesus was the one for whom the people were waiting and hoping. So the name of Jesus is inseparably linked to the Messiah, or the Christ. That is who Jesus is.
Secondly, Simon Peter identifies Jesus as the Son of the Living God. He is THE son, and not just A son. This is clear testimony that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the one who was present at creation. This only Son of God came to this earth by taking on human flesh and blood, and living the life we could not live, and dying the death that we by our sins deserve.
Simon Peter knew what he was talking about. He firmly believed what he said. If we go ahead a little bit to Acts chapter 4, we read the account of Peter and John being dragged before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. Listen to what Simon Peter told these adversaries of the Christian faith in verses 11-12: "11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Now that is really name recognition!
But Simon Peter was able to answer Jesus' question correctly. And like most people, I would guess that he was feeling pretty good about himself right about then. Don't we all brag a bit when we ace a test, or get good reviews on a paper we've written? We've earned that good mark! We have done well for ourselves. And so, we're prone to kite a bit about it.
However Jesus immediately stops any of this. He immediately responds in verse 17, "...For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Simon Peter didn't figure this out by his own will or logic. He would have been completely incapable of that. God himself was the one who gave Peter the faith he so boldly professed. It was all the Holy Spirit's working in Simon Peter that brought this about.
It's the same way with us. The Apostle Paul explains this in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 3-4: "3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus is accursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit." That takes the focus away from our own intellect and will, and gives God all of the credit for bringing us to faith in our Saviour Jesus. I've often said that it is impossible for sinful humanity to make a decision on behalf of a holy God. Jesus makes this perfectly clear in our Gospel reading for today.
As we move along, Jesus then says in verse 18 of our Gospel lesson: "18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The name "Peter" simply means "rock." That's where we get the English word "petrified." When something is petrified, it means that it is rock like or stone like in some way. So when Jesus tells Simon that he is Peter, or rock, and on this rock he will build his church, does that mean that the church is built on Simon Peter himself?
People have frequently made the mistake of thinking this way. But we know that Simon Peter was a sinful individual, and his sin showed itself in some very big ways. For Jesus to build his church on a sinful human being would be absolutely ludicrous. That's not what he is talking about.
This doesn't come out very well in the English, but in Greek, Simon's name Peter is the word "rock" written in the masculine form. The word "rock" in this same verse, upon which the Church is built, is written in the feminine form. Every time the Church is written in Greek, it is always referred to in the feminine case, using feminine pronouns. This comes through in some of our hymns: "The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ HER Lord," or as we will sing in our closing hymn today, "For HER my tears shall fall, for HER my prayers ascend." Since the Church is regarded as Christ's bride, this is only fitting.
So the rock Jesus is referring to, upon which the Church is built, is the confession Simon Peter made. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." That's the rock of Christ, who is the cornerstone of his Church.
As we near the end of our Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks the following words in verse 19: "19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Again, Jesus is speaking of the Church, and not Simon Peter himself in particular.
In the Church, this verse describes what we call "The Office of the Keys." In particular, there are two keys; one is called the binding key, and the other is called the loosing key. So what are we binding and loosing?
This brings us to the heart and core of Jesus' ministry, where we experience the forgiveness of sins. This is what we are carrying out in the Church in Christ's name. When somebody comes confessing their sin and desires forgiveness, we can proclaim with all assurance that their sins are forgiven. When, as a Pastor, I say to you "I forgive you all your sins," all I am really doing is declaring to you what God in heaven has already done. I can assure you that, based upon your confession of sins, God does in fact forgive those sins. Those sins are loosed in heaven. That's the assurance of forgiveness we all need. That's the loosing key.
But on the other hand, there's the binding key. It's there as a warning to the unrepentant sinner and the unbeliever that as long as they continue in the manner they are, that there is no forgiveness for them. When we use the binding key, we do so with the hope that the person will heed the warning and come to faith in Christ Jesus their Saviour.
As we gather together as a congregation of Christians, there's a whole lot connected with the confession of Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Everything we do serves that end. It is our duty to carry this name to the world, so that all people may know the forgiving love of Jesus and the Church that is built upon it.
Daniel Lawrence Whitney built an entire career upon a name that is very readily recognized. There aren't too many people in the United States who haven't heard of Larry the Cable Guy. He has become one of the most popular comedians of our day, and he has a name that identifies who he is and what he does.
Today we are focusing upon the name upon which our Church is built. Today Jesus comes to each and every one of us with the question, "And who do you say that I am?" A Muslim or Jehovah's Witness might tell you that Jesus was a good guy, a great teacher, and even a martyr. But only the Christian will say, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And as we walk out that front door, this is the message we need to continually have with us to share with the world. We, who are sinners, redeemed and restored through faith in Jesus our Saviour, need to show others that it is only in his name that true forgiveness and hope is found.
I'm going to close today with the words the Apostle Paul wrote to the congregation at Philippi, in Philippians chapter 2, verses 9-11: "9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."