Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 In our Gospel for today, Jesus asks his disciples:
[St. Matthew 16.13]
Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
The answers they give reveal a lot about people's perceptions of Jesus. Some, like Herod, think he's John the Baptist, come back from the dead. Others hold that he's Elijah, come to make things ready for a Messiah who will follow. Still others put him in the company of the major prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel.
2 What's clear from all these answers is that most folks don't really know who Jesus is. Their answers aren't too far off, but they are still incorrect. Jesus is not simply some prophet like St. John the Baptist or the Blessed Elijah or Jeremiah or any other. Yes, Jesus is a prophet, but he is not only a prophet: He is much, much more. How much more? God the Father reveals to St. Peter the fullness of Jesus' true identity, and by the Holy Spirit, he reveals it to us today. When Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, holy, inspired words flow forth from St. Peter's mouth:
[St. Matthew 16.16]
Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
3 St. Peter answers on behalf of all the apostles and he answers with the truth revealed to him by God: Jesus is the Christ. He is the Messiah, for whom St. John the Baptist was Elijah, preparing his way. Jesus is the promised one whom all the prophets foretold. From Moses to Malachi, the prophets proclaimed the promised Messiah and their prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus. For he is our God, come to us from our sins. Jesus is God's Son, eternally begotten, and now in flesh made manifest. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God's promises to restore us, and renew us, and redeem us. And St. Peter's words sum it all up beautifully: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
4 Today, Christ's question rings out once again.
[St. Matthew 16.15]
Whom say ye that I am?
We know St. Peter's answer. We know the apostles' answer. And we know the answer of the people they met and spoke with. But today Jesus wants to know your answer. Jesus asks each of us: Who do YOU say that I am? Do you really know who Jesus is? For many in this world, their answer is similar to the popular responses of long ago.
Jesus is a prophet like St. John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah.
Jesus is a great man with an uncanny understanding of God.
Jesus is a wonderful teacher or great ethicist.
Like the answers of folks millennia ago, these answers are actually pretty close to being right. But when it comes to Jesus' identity, pretty close isn't close enough.
5 When Jesus asks us who we say that he is, the correct answer—the only answer—the faithful answer—is the one St. Peter gave. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." We may be tempted from time to time to think that Jesus is only a prophet. Perhaps it's easier in polite company to confess him only as a great man. In times of frustration or anger or despair, we may succumb completely and doubt his divinity, his mercy, and even his redemption and salvation. But to do so is to sin. To confess Jesus without confessing him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Savior of all mankind—to confess any less is to deny Jesus; and such denial is deadly dangerous. Our Lord says in St. Matthew, chapter 10:
[St. Matthew 10.32-34]
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
6 Today the Holy Spirit calls us to repent of each and every time we've not confessed Jesus with full faith in his identity as our Lord and Savior and Son of the Living God. Thus St. Paul pleads with the church at Rome and with us:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
7 This is St. Paul's response to Jesus' question about who he is, and it fits very well with St. Peter's. St. Peter states unequivocally that Jesus is the divine Son of God, and St. Paul states just as strongly that in faith in him we should live our lives fully dedicated to him as our Lord and Savior. So we present our bodies as living sacrifices. We strive to offer reasonable service to our neighbors as a reflection of God's love. We long to be transformed by Christ as he renews our hearts and minds. Because he, and he alone is the Christ; the Messiah, the promised Savior of all mankind. And he is the Son of the Living God, our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer.
8 By our words we make St. Peter's confession our own, and by our deeds, we lay hold to St. Paul's confession. And by faith we hear the Holy Spirit direct us always to Jesus' call for faithful repentance. When we repent of our sinful, incomplete, or even non-existent confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus, the Son of the living God, forgives us. He opens our eyes to see him at work, making the ultimate sacrifice of his life upon the cross. Through his forgiveness, he opens our hearts and our hands to take part in the reasonable service that cares for the needs of our neighbors. Through his forgiveness, accomplished by his death on the cross, Christ our Lord transforms us from people whose confession may be weak, or incomplete, or not even there—to men and women whose lips utter words once spoken by St. Peter, and utter them with full faith and confidence of the mercies of God. So when Christ asks you and to me, "Whom say ye that I am?" we say what the God the Father has revealed to us by his Holy Spirit: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Christ's name thus be praised now and forevermore. Amen.
Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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