[Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska]
"Our Rock Is Christ"
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—Third Sunday in St. Laurence' Tide
St. Matthew 16:13-20
August 21, 2011
[Jesus said,] "And 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." [v. 18]
IN NOMINE JESU
In an early episode of the television series "M*A*S*H," the surgeons of the 4077th were faced with a surgical dilemma. A wounded soldier was transported to the unit with massive damage to a major artery in his leg and faced potential amputation. A visiting surgeon, played by guest star Robert Alda (father of Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye on the series), on a lecture tour from the United States, told the surgeons that they could save the leg and how they could do it. They needed an arterial graft, a piece of artery that would have to come from a soldier who was killed. Keep in mind that this was to be taking place in the early 1950s, when such operations were new to the medical world. Dr. Berelli (Robert Alda's character) had seen this done many times successfully and promised Hawkeye and Trapper that he'd be there to perform the operation once they found a graft. Over the course of the episode, Dr. Berelli was showing signs that his confidence was starting to wane a bit. As the episode reached its climax, the surgeons had located a graft and had returned for the operation, only to find Dr. Berelli in no condition to operate, as he had been drinking. During the exchange with an upset Hawkeye, Dr. Berelli said Hawkeye and Trapper could perform the operation, while he would be giving them instructions during the operation. Following the surgery, Dr. Berelli explained to Hawkeye what had happened to him. At the beginning of the show he was confident and happy. By the end he told a very angry Hawkeye he was going through the three sure signs of middle age: the gray hair, the "spread," and feet of clay. He had wavered in his confidence as a surgeon. He was not the man he was when he was younger and full of confidence. As a young man he was a rock. As he got older, that rock had begun to soften, lacking the self-confidence he once had. He had become less sure in his abilities; he had doubts—uncertainty—about himself.
We are creatures who like certainty. We want confidence. We want to know that the doctor will give us the medical care we need. We want to be confident that the food we buy will not only taste great, but that it won't make us sick. We want to be sure that the car or the house we buy will keep us safe. We want to be able to rely on friends who will be there for us in good times and in bad times. We don't want to be left wondering. We want absolute certainty. We want the goods and services we seek to be rock solid. We want no doubt that we're getting what we're paying for and that our friends and loved ones will be there for us. When it comes to our faith, we want to be absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have a God who loves us and who will take care of us. We want to know that we can come to Him when we need His help. We want Him to be a rock for us—solid and unshakeable.
In our text there was some uncertainty about who the Son of Man really is. The term "Son of Man" is used a lot in Matthew's Gospel. This Son of Man is also the Son of God, and as the Son of God, He is God Himself, God the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought he was. The disciples responded and said the people thought He was John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. They didn't know. They weren't certain who He was. Then Jesus gets down to the nitty-gritty. He asks His own disciples point-blank, "But who do you say that I am?" [v. 15] Jesus was testing them in their knowledge and in their faith. He put the question to all twelve disciples at the same time. Jesus wasn't playing favorites with His disciples. He asked them all. One disciple spoke up. It was Simon. He was known for speaking up, even when it wasn't his place to do so. But here he spoke up. He spoke when he was spoken to. He answered Jesus' question. He said what his fellow disciples were thinking. Someone had to say it. So Simon answered, not for himself alone but for his eleven fellow disciples as well. Jesus praised Simon for his confession of faith, not because this came from within him but because God the Father had revealed the identity of Jesus Christ to him. Jesus gave Simon the name Peter, which means "rock." Jesus then said, "On this rock I will build my church." Jesus was not building His Church on the man Simon Peter, as this form for "rock" is masculine. The rock that would become the basis—the foundation—for Christ building His Church was Peter's confession of faith is given in the Greek in its feminine form because the Church is the bride of Christ, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5, and all things pertaining to the bride of Christ are given feminine word forms. So Christ is not building His bride, the Church, on Peter himself but on Peter's—and the Church's—confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Peter's confession of faith is rock solid because God the Father gave Him this knowledge, and God the Holy Spirit gave him this faith that led to his confession. Peter's confession of faith is the confession of the apostles, as they were all in one accord. The apostles' confession of faith is the Church's confession, as they taught the first Christians all things the Lord gave them. The Church's confession of faith is our confession as well, for "we, though many, are one body in Christ" (Rom. 12:5a), as the apostle Paul teaches us in our Epistle for today. We confess the faith God gave the apostles and our forefathers in the faith to confess, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We made the good confession a few moments ago in the Nicene Creed, as we with one voice, with Christians around the world as one Church confessed our faith "in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…." The use of very indicates our God-given belief that the Father and the Son are ONE God, now and forever—that He exists, that He is living. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is our confession, and it is rock solid, for Christ Himself is our Rock.
Jesus is our Rock, for He cannot be shaken. But can the same be said about us? The answer is no. We are not solid in our faith as we should be. The confession is rock solid, but the ones confessing it are not. We have spoken the words in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds so often that they begin to pour out of our lips, without our putting any thought into what we are saying or confessing. Our minds are distracted by so many things: our health, our finances, this fall's harvest, the well-being of our friends and loved ones, going back to school, our future. We are troubled by many things and have lost sight of the one thing needful: to hear the Word of the Lord and keep it. We worry about this, that, or the other. We are to place our trust in the Rock, but we get distracted by the pebbles. Adam and Eve lost sight of the Rock that is their Creator (and ours). The devil did his work on our first parents, and he seeks to work his woe on us every day. Sometimes the littlest thing he sets in our path will take our eyes off God, and he seeks to rip us out of our Father's hand. When we take our eyes off Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, we are without a foundation and far from perfect. When we lose sight of the Rock that is Christ, when we don't stand on the firm foundation that is Christ, we are in spiritual quicksand, and we are sinking in our sins, especially our sin of not fearing, loving, and trusting in Him above all things.
For years an insurance company called the Prudential has used as its logo an image of the Rock of Gibraltar, to give its clients and customers the comfort of knowing their policies and investments are safe, stable, and secure—rock solid. For decades its slogan was "Get a Piece of the Rock." They wanted you to have that comfort of knowing they would always be there for you, that they're not going anywhere. One could almost say the same thing here in the Church, BUT here we don't come to get a piece of the Rock, we have come for the Rock Himself, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. You see, when our Lord seeks to give us His gifts, His good stuff, He doesn't give piecemeal. He doesn't give fractionally. He doesn't give in percentages. We don't get bits and pieces of the Rock. No, we get the Rock, the whole Rock, and nothing but the Rock. Jesus gives Himself completely to us. There is nothing lacking when the Lord gives to us. When He gives to us, it is total, complete, and perfect. We have received total forgiveness of our sins in the Absolution. We receive it again as His Word is read and preached in our hearing. We will again receive it in the Lord's Supper.
There has long been a philosophical question asked about God, and it is this: Is there a rock so big that God cannot lift it? There IS an answer to this question, but it is not philosophical. The answer is firmly rooted in Scripture, and it is real. God lifted the greatest Rock of all when he lifted up His Son on the cross to give His body and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
It's been said you can't get blood from a stone, but Jesus, our Rock, bled and died to take our sins away bleeding from the nails, the crown of thorns, and the whipping He received in our place. God lifted this same Rock by raising Him from the dead so that we would have life with Him in heaven forever. This Rock has been lifted up on the cross to die for us, raised from the tomb, and has ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. In a few moments this Rock will again come down to earth, not from gravity but from His promise to be present in His body and blood as He gives us His Supper. This is a rock-solid guarantee and promise, for He has given us this certainty in His Word. Through His Word and Sacraments, our Lord takes us weak-kneed piles of clay and makes us strong—strong in Him. He makes us stronger than even "Army Strong"; He makes us God-ly strong, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him—or against us in Him. It is on Christ the solid Rock we stand; all other ground is sinking sand. In a few moments we will stand before His Table, where He will again feed us to make us strong and solid—rock solid in Christ. He is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Might. As He feeds us on His body and blood, we get not a piece of the Rock, but the WHOLE Rock, His body given and His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life, and for salvation—for the strengthening of the foundation of our faith.
May the words of one of our great hymns serve as our prayer today and always: Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ our head and cornerstone, Chosen of the Lord and precious, Binding all the Church in one; Holy Zion's help forever And our confidence alone. [LSB 909:1]
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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