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Pastor Dean M. Bell

Pentecost 11, Proper 17, series A
Unknown Location  

Sun, Aug 28, 2011 

+In Nomine Iesu+

+In Nomine Iesu+

PENTECOST 11

St Matthew 16:21-28

28 August 2011

In the gospels Peter stands as the example of every Christian.  He is, to use Martin Luther's phrase, "simul iustus et peccator" - "at the same time, saint and sinner."  One moment he is gloriously confessing Christ as the Son of God - and the next moment he is denying the very purpose for which Christ came into the world.  Reacting to Jesus' announcement of His impending crucifixion, Peter is adamant: "Far be it from You, Lord!  This shall never happen to you."

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Peter had just made his confession of faith - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  It was a confession that Jesus accepted as true - "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven," Jesus had said.  Having been acknowledged for his confession, Peter figured he had this discipleship thing pretty well worked out.  He's just like us.  Or, should we say that we're just like him.  We make our confession of faith on Sunday morning and we're quite happy with ourselves.  We can easily begin to think, "there, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

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But what happens to Peter?  No sooner has he made his confession than Jesus begins to explain the purpose of His coming into the world.  Jesus may have hinted earlier at what was to come, but now His words become very plain.  We hear, "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."  There it is.  Suffering and death.  That's the purpose of Jesus' life.  Never mind the fabulous feedings of 5000 and 4000, or the walking on the water, or the stilling of the wind and waves.  Those miracles of physical control over nature are not the main thing.  They never were. 

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Rather, death is the main thing.  Why?  Because death is a curse.  Indeed, death is the curse - the enemy that hangs over mankind.  Death awaits everyone.  Ever since Adam and Eve doubted the faithfulness of God and sought to take things into their own hands, death has reigned over life.  And what did the doubt of Adam and Eve amount to?  Sin.  They disobeyed.  They broke God's law.  They worshipped something other than God.  Really, they worshipped themselves.  They became their own idol.  They pushed the First Commandment to the side and took their lives into their own hands.  And the result?  The day they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they died.  Not 'dropped dead' died.  No.  They began to die in stages.  And in their dying they became separated.  Separated from God first of all - remember they sought to hide from Him.  But, also, separated from each other.  They made aprons to hide their nakedness.  They sought to hide themselves from each other.  That's what sin does.  That's what guilt does.  It separates.  Separates us from God, and from each other.  Sin causes us to hide.  We hide in any number of ways, but especially behind a carefully constructed veneer of personality.

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Look what Peter has done.  In his boastful Christianity - his confidence in himself - look what he's done.  He has separated himself from Jesus.  He has separated himself from the Son of God - his Savior.  "Get behind me Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."  That's separation.  Thinking that he really has his act together, Peter is told that his attitude is worse than simply wrong - it is an obstruction, a hindrance to God.

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Here is the crux of the matter.  Here is the danger that faces all who would follow Jesus.  Confession of the truth when skies are blue and birds are singing is one thing.  To make that same confession in the face of the storms of life is another.  And to make that confession in the face of death?  That's the hardest thing of all.  It is the hardest because it claims life where only death appears to exist.  Like Peter we are willing to confess Jesus when there is no danger.  But when the possibility of physical death enters into the picture - well, now, let's not be too hasty.  Or when our career will 'die' if we make the true confession we might well become hesitant.  Or perhaps it's our reputation that will 'die.' Or maybe it's that plaster saint we have so carefully and patiently fashioned around our ego that must 'die.'

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But death is always the reality.  And always mankind faces death in one of two ways.  Either man faces death by himself - and only after all efforts at avoidance have been exhausted.  Or, man faces death in Jesus.  If we face death by ourselves, we have no defenses.  The verdict is always clear.  "You are guilty."  Guilty of what?  Guilty of disobedience.  And, really, our disobedience is no different than that of Adam and Eve.  They doubted the faithfulness of God.  They doubted God could be trusted to care for them.  Our sin is the same.  We doubt God.  And thus we devise our own set of rules under which we will live.  And the first "rule" is always the same.  We will be the god of our lives.  We become our own idol.  Thus the First Commandment crashes to the ground - and with it, all the rest.  Our lives are spent serving ourselves, and looking over our shoulders to see if anyone is gaining on us - threatening us.  It isn't that we break some of the commandments some of the time.  It is that we are guilty of sin.  We are simply guilty of the Law - all of it, all the time.

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Here is where the other possibility enters in.  To die in Jesus, instead of in our selves and in our sins.  St Paul declares, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."  But, how?  How is Christ the end of the Law?  Remember, since the fall of man into sin, the law has had only one function.  It kills.  It even kills Jesus.  The law kills us unwillingly.  But, with Jesus things are different.  He is killed willingly.  He willingly bares himself to the attack of the law.  He accepts the law's verdict.  "Guilty."  And on the cross that verdict is carried out.  The innocent One becomes blameworthy - culpable.  But it's all willingly, gladly endured by Jesus.  He dies on purpose.  Jesus - the One who gave the law fulfills the law, and absorbs its verdict -- guilty.

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Jesus may have alluded to all this previously, but with this morning's text and its aftermath the message becomes crystal clear for the disciples.  It is the necessity of the cross that trips Peter up.  It's almost as if Peter didn't hear the last words of Jesus as He predicted His death.  ". . . and on the third day be raised."  We often don't hear very well either.  We look at a dear, faithful, baptized Christian lying in a casket and the reality of death cannot be avoided.  It is death that we see.  But often our ears don't seem to be working.  The promises of the resurrection seem to be blocked out.

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What is it that Jesus says?  "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."  And what is the cross that we are to take up?  It is our death.  We take up our death and follow Jesus into His death.  "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  Life lived apart from the death of Jesus is "loss."  It is to die eternally.  But life lived in the death of Jesus is life eternal.  As Jesus lives forever, so shall all who live in His death.

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Jesus goes on with a short parable about gaining the whole world, but forfeiting one's life.  And then He makes a marvelous statement.  "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."  That's 'judgment' language, isn't it?  That sounds like a reference to the Last Day.  But what about the phrase, "some standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His glory."  That can't be a reference to the Last Day - the end of time.  It must refer to something close at hand.  And so it does.  This is a reference to Jesus' crucifixion.  There - on the cross - will be seen the glory of the Kingdom of the Son of Man.  How?  Because there death is defeated - swallowed up by Him who is life itself.  There the law is fulfilled by the One who first gave it.  Fulfilled, and set aside - ended - forever.  There Satan's teeth are pulled - his gnashing jaw broken.  There the hellish tyrant is trampled under foot and made impotent.

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And all of this, dear friends, has been done for you.  Jesus needed no saving.  But you did.  Jesus needed no gift of forgiveness.  But you did.  Jesus needed no reinstatement to eternal life.  But you did.  Jesus didn't need the sin of Adam and Eve reversed.  But you did.  And in Jesus it has all been done.  For you.

Amen

+Soli Deo Gloria+





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