IN NOMINE JESU
Confession. This word can mean different things when used in different contexts. The word essentially means "an admission." In a crime drama on television, the criminal will sometimes confess. He admits that he committed the crime and how he did it. In a similar vein, there was a confession this morning—a confession of sin. We confessed our sins to God our Father, admitting to Him our own sinfulness, admitting our need and our desire to be forgiven. In these instances, such confessions do not come forth automatically; there is almost always something or someone that finally brings forth the confession. In the crime genre, the accused is threatened by the police detectives or the district attorney with a lengthy prison term or a death sentence. The threat of death is often enough to force the accused to "fess up," and he often will receive a reduced sentence. Likewise, we are not willing to confess our sins before our God our Father, not until He threatens us with His temporal and eternal punishment. Then we, moved by the Law confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, sinning against God by thought, word, and deed. Our death sentence is commuted. Our sins are forgiven. God has declared us not guilty on account of the blood shed by Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
Our focus today is another context of confession—the confession of faith…more specifically, St. Peter's confession of faith. To confess one's faith is to publicly admit that in which one believes. In spiritual matters, when a person confesses his faith, he admits that he believes in someone or something as the higher good or higher being. In our text for today, the Lord was looking for a confession of faith from His disciples. He begins by asking them who the average man on the street said the Son of Man was. The disciples' answers were as varied as the people they heard: John the Baptizer, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. All right, then, what say you? Jesus asked the Twelve. Who do you say that I am? The Lord did not spend much time with the responses of the people. He wanted His disciples to know exactly who He was because it would be His message that they would later proclaim. It would be His Name that they would bear as His apostles, for they would be sent by Him, in His Name, into the world. "Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (v. 16). Peter recognized who Jesus was, as did the rest of the disciples. They spoke with one voice, through the voice of Peter. A few moments ago we responded to the Word of God and said, "I believe in God the Father Almighty…. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…." We recognize who Jesus is, and we too spoke with one voice, one voice with fellow Christians throughout the world, as we all have made public confession of our faith. Our confession of faith is public, for we have confessed our faith in public, for the entire world to hear, just as Christians everywhere else have through one of the three Creeds of the Church.
Just as Peter and the rest of the disciples confessed their faith, so also we have, with fellow believers the world over, confessed our faith. But neither they nor we have made such a confession of faith on our own. Following Peter's confession, the Lord said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (v. 17). Similarly, flesh and blood has not revealed Jesus' divinity, His Sonship, and His Messiahship to us, but the Holy Spirit has done so. Saint Paul, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit has brought us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The Holy Spirit has presented the Son to us in the Word of God, as you heard it taught to you in your youth and even now as you hear it read and proclaimed in your midst. Through public reading and proclamation of the Word does the Holy Spirit move people to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit moved Peter to make his public confession of the Christ, as the Father had revealed it to him. This same Spirit of God moved Peter to confess his faith before the Sanhedrin. Through Peter's preaching, thousands came to faith in Jesus Christ—3,000 at Pentecost and 5,000 later, just before Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, this same ruling council that handed Jesus over to be crucified. In the verses preceding our First Reading, these two apostles were arrested for preaching the resurrected Christ, with the result that 5,000 men came to faith in Jesus Christ. The Sanhedrin demanded to know in whose name they were healing and preaching. Note what St. Luke says in the First Reading: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers of the people and elders of Israel…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man [who was healed] stands before you whole. … Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'" (Acts 4:8, 10, 12). Peter, under threat of persecution, confessed Jesus Christ, just as he did in our text.
Following Simon's confession of the Christ, the Lord made it known that this disciple would be known by a new name: Peter, which means "rock." It is good to note this as we hear Jesus say to him, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (v. 18). The Greek notes that there were two forms for the word rock that Jesus used, one masculine and one feminine. The masculine Petros Jesus used to rename Simon. The feminine petra is the rock of Peter's confession, not upon Peter himself. The Lord did not found His Church upon the man of Peter but upon the confession of Peter, the reason for our celebration today. But instead of the confession, there are some who have elevated confusion in the Church regarding this apostle.
The Roman church claims its papacy (its succession of popes) goes all the way back to St. Peter, for tradition has stated he was consecrated the first Bishop of Rome. They incorrectly assert that the church was founded on St. Peter himself. They have also stated that there is no salvation to be found outside Rome, not Jesus Christ. According to them, we are going to hell because we do not bow down to the papacy (as opposed to bowing the knee and the Name of Jesus). According to their heresy, we will not be saved. Their teaching not only contradicts the very words of Christ, but also the very words of St. Peter, to whose succession the popes claim. Peter himself knew that he was not to be worshiped, but God alone. When the centurion Cornelius saw Peter coming into his house, "Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up; I myself am also a man'" (Acts 10:25-26). We confess in the Nicene Creed, "I believe one holy Christian and Apostolic Church." More accurately, we believe one holy catholic [small "c"] and apostolic Church. The Church is catholic [small "c"] not because it is Roman [capital "C"] because it is not; it is universal—that is, there are Christians found in all corners of the earth, regardless of denomination affiliation within Christendom. The Church is apostolic not because of the apostles themselves but because of their teaching, which came from the Lord Himself. We believe the teaching the Lord gave His apostles, who in turn, through preaching and writing epistles, handed these teachings over to the Church, who has handed down these teachings from one generation of the faithful to the next, to the present day, to you and to me. The Mother Church will continue to teach her children the one true faith until her Bridegroom, the Lord Himself, returns on the Last Day.
"Through the Church the song goes on," as the Te Deum hymn goes. But are we singing the same song? Are we confessing the same confession as that of St. Peter and the rest of the disciples? Are we truly speaking with one voice, as the disciples did in our text? Are we craving the same Word of God that the Apostles preached so many centuries ago? The fact of the matter is that we are not. We would rather sing another tune, one that makes us "feel" good, rather than one that truly uplifts us and announces what the Lord has done for us. We want to believe what we want to believe, regardless of what Scripture affirms and rejects; we want to pick and choose what we want to believe, those things that make us "feel" good and make us "feel" comfortable. We are more interested in living a purpose-driven life and in wondering who will be left behind on the last day than with the One who gives us our purpose (that is, the creation and strengthening of our faith) through His Word and Sacraments and who will not leave behind any of those on Judgment Day who confess Him as Savior and Lord, nor will those who reject Him be left behind, for they will receive their judgment of eternal condemnation.
We have even conditioned ourselves by hardening our ears and hearts to what is being taught and preached. Our minds are made up, and we do not want to hear what the Lord has to say to us because we might well find out that we have been wrong in our own beliefs and in our attitudes and actions. Some of us may even believe that this public reading and proclamation of the Word and its teaching are a waste of time. A faith that is not fed is a faith that shrivels and dies. And when we are called upon to give an account for the hope that is within us, rather than being bold like Peter, we become petrified as Peter sometimes was. And we can say with all honesty, "I do not know the Man."
Regardless of what we think, say, or do, we cannot prevail against the public confession of the Church, the rock upon which she is based, for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them" (Heb. 13:8-9). False, strange doctrines do not profit us; only the Lord's Means of Grace will profit us—His Word and Sacraments, for these are the means He has chosen to reveal Himself to us and to give to us the forgiveness of sins won for us on the cross by Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. God has given His Son to die for our sins. God has raised Him from the dead, that we would have life with Him into all eternity. God has given us His Holy Spirit, that we would through faith cling to and crave the gifts our Lord won on the cross for us and gives to us through Holy Baptism, Holy Scripture, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion.
Peter preached the resurrection of Christ. Why? The Lord thrice forgave this same disciple who thrice denied Him that Maundy Thursday evening and restored him to his apostleship. Peter was very much a fallible man; yet the Roman church clings to him. But Peter was very much a forgiven man, and the true Church hears his teachings as the Lord had taught him. We are also very much a fallible people, given to daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. But we are also very much a forgiven people, forgiven daily of our sins and surely receive God's grace—His forgiveness. Not only are we forgiven, we are chosen by Him to be His people. Saint Peter writes in his First Epistle: Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame. Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious…. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:4-7a, 9-10).
Fellow priests, may we all by the Holy Spirit boldly and publicly confess the Name of Jesus Christ, as St. Peter did, in our witness to others, that they too would be members of this holy nation, that we would proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of His darkness into His marvelous light, called out of darkness by the light of the Gospel, that we as priests get to go out and witness to others what the Lord has done for us and for all who believe in Him. May we also by this same Spirit of God unite our voices with our brothers and sisters in Christ both here and throughout the world as we make the public confession of Christ our own confession, that we and all of our fellow Christians would be of one heart and voice in our confession. May the Lord now create in us clean hearts and renew a right spirit within us, that we may, as His holy priesthood, offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ as we give back to Him a portion of what He has first given to us in our offerings to Him, and as we pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs. God grant this in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, and for His sake. Amen.
"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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