Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are basically two ways to take Jesus. One way is how the disciples answer Jesus’ question: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? They give various answers: Some (like Herod) say, John the Baptizer; others, Elijah (whom the prophet Malachi said would come before the great and awesome day of Yahweh); others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. So these various people, whom the disciples had heard talking about Jesus, had heard what Jesus was saying; they had seen what He was doing. Maybe they examined the Scriptures. They put the pieces together, and they came to their conclusions. Out of their experience, their knowledge, their expectations, they put together an answer about who Jesus was. Which isn’t all that different from how most people in our culture—maybe even how we—come to our conclusions about Jesus. We take what we know, what verses we’ve collected, what we’ve experienced, what we expect, and we put the pieces together; we come to our conclusions about who we think Jesus is. You can see this on almost any issue. It doesn’t matter whether you’re left, right, or center; people co-opt and adopt Jesus for almost any cause, almost any issue, almost any agenda. Sometimes they even fight over which side Jesus would be on—that is, if He were around, which—apparently—He’s not!
That’s one way to take Jesus. The other way is what we see when Jesus turns the question toward His disciples: who do you say that I am? See, the question has shifted significantly: it’s no longer third-person and abstract: who do people say that the Son of Man is? Now it shifts: who do you, disciples, say that I am? And Peter, as usual, answers for all of them: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The disciples had already said something like this. We heard it a couple weeks ago, in chapter 14. Remember, the disciples were in a boat, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the night, and Jesus comes walking on the water toward them. They cry out in fear, thinking that He’s a ghost, a spirit, and maybe they’re going to die. Jesus says, “Stop being afraid, it’s Me.” He saves Peter from drowning, they get into the boat, and all of a sudden there are no more waves, no more wind. The disciples see that He is the Lord of creation, they worship Him, and they say, “Truly, You are the Son of God.” Peter says that here, also, but he adds something: “You are the Christ.” Christos is the Greek word for the Hebrew meshiach, Messiah: Anointed One. As with the Son of Man, people said various things about the Messiah: maybe He would be a king like David, reuniting the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Maybe He’d be a conquering military hero and throw out the Romans and give Israel back her land. Probably a number of other answers. But whatever anyone expected, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Instead of working out what the Christ might be, Peter shows us that one ought to work back from Jesus to see who the Christ is. What Jesus says, what Jesus does, that’s what the Christ would do and say.
Peter confesses Jesus, and then Jesus confesses Peter, just as He said He would do in chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel. “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father in Heaven. Whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father in Heaven.” So He does. Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus says, “You are Peter.” You are Petros, and on this petra, on this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” On this rock I will build My Church. What rock? The rock of Peter and the Apostles gathered around Jesus, proclaiming Him as the Christ. Just as Paul says in Ephesians: we are all members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself the cornerstone, in whom the whole building holds together (2:20).
If Jesus isn’t the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets—and we—can do anything we want, and the Church will fall. But if Christ is the cornerstone, in whom all things hold together, then He builds His Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and nothing will overcome or tear down what Christ has built. Not the hordes of hell that constantly attack the Word of Christ—Paul says it: we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. But even if devils all the land should fill, we do not fear because Christ our Lord fights for us. He has already stormed the gates of hell, and He has purchased and won all who were previously under the reign of death and the devil. He suffered, died, and rose to buy us back, so that we might be His own, and no longer be under the devil and His reign, but under Christ and His reign. That we might belong to Him, and live under Him in His Kingdom, in righteousness and purity forever.
Notice that Jesus does not say to Peter: I’m glad you finally figured it out. Took you long enough. You finally put the pieces together in the correct order and came to the right conclusion, unlike all those other people who came to wrong conclusions. No, He says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you. You didn’t get it from mere human beings, not from yourself and your experiences, opinions, knowledge, understanding. But My Father in Heaven revealed it to you.” No matter how much you know about Jesus, no matter how much you’ve heard or how much you’ve seen; no matter how much proof or evidence has been presented, you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord or come to Him. It simply is not possible. Only when the Father reveals it to you, when the Spirit calls you by the Gospel, can you hear, believe, and confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
But to Peter, the other apostles, and to the Church, to those who confess Him according to His own Word, Jesus says, To you, Peter, and to the other Apostles through Peter their representative, I give you the keys of the Reign 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. Sometimes we have trouble with this sort of thing, where Jesus gives this incredible authority to sinful men. But, for whatever reason, that’s the sort of thing the Lord does.
Now, recognize that Jesus is not saying that Peter somehow has his own authority to do whatever he sees fit. In the Revelation, it is clear that these are still Jesus’ keys: He holds the key of David, and what He opens, no one can shut, and what He shuts, no one can open. But Jesus still allows Peter and the apostles to exercise these keys. Here it seems broader than just the forgiving and retaining of sins, as we see in Matthew 18 and John 20. It is probably the broader authority connected with the entire word from and about Jesus. Whatever teaching points to Christ and shows Him on earth is as good as done in heaven. And whatever teaching contradicts and points away from Christ on earth is as good as cursed in heaven. The authority is exactly the same as at the end of the Gospel, where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me; therefore, make disciples. How should you make them? However you want, and in whatever way you think might work best? No, by baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep everything that I have commanded you. Then, you can be sure that I am with you all the days until the completion of this age.” It’s no open-ended authority; it’s Jesus’ Word being as powerful on earth as it is in heaven.
And isn’t that what we pray for? That it would be on earth as it is in heaven? That God’s Name would be holy on earth as it already is in heaven? That God’s Reign would come on earth as it already is in heaven? That God’s Will would be done on earth as it already is in heaven? These words to Peter and the apostles are simply the promise of Jesus that God will answer the prayer He gave them earlier. That in spite of the gates of hell, in spite of the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh, which do not want God’s name to be holy, or His reign to come, or His will to be done, that He would accomplish all of those things. That when Jesus gives a word to be spoken on earth, it’s as good as done in heaven. He has authority here, as well as there. He has accomplished everything and now He gives His Apostles and those who follow them the authority to deliver that gift to people.
So when He uses stupid, sinful men to speak His word in connection with water, those baptized are received in heaven, just as they are on earth. When He uses sinners to say, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, sins are forgiven in heaven, just as they are on earth. When He uses sinners to say His Words in connection with simple bread and wine, His Body and Blood are present here, just as He is in heaven. It’s no contradiction; it’s no imaginary, human wish-fulfillment: it’s the holy Promise of Jesus Himself: in heaven, just as it is on earth. Just as Peter confesses, all God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus. All of them are “yes” in Jesus. Every prophecy has its fulfillment in or through Jesus. If you have a prophecy of God and it’s not fulfilled in or through Jesus, it’s not actually a prophecy from God. And what God says in heaven is as good as done in Christ on earth. When He says He’ll never leave you or forsake you, it’s as good as done. When He says nothing can separate you from His love in Christ Jesus our Lord, it’s as good as done. It will be on earth, as it is in heaven. That’s a promise for you here and now, on this earth, at this time, as well as forever, into the new creation. Here His Name is holy as people hear His holy, saving deeds. Here His Kingdom comes, as He brings faith to sinners who couldn’t find their way out of unbelief’s paper bag. Here His will is done, as His word is preached and people believe it, even in spite of the hordes of hell. Blessed are you! Because the Father has revealed this to you through the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/25/17