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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:21–28

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 12, Proper 17, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Aug 31, 2014 

There are times when I think about how hard it must be to assign readings for the various days of the church year.  I am very thankful for the admirable job that our church fathers have done in creating a lectionary that fairly represents the teachings of the Bible over the course of three years in the case of the Three Year Lectionary.  At the same time, we should also remember that every reading happens within a context.  There is the context of the rest of the book … the context of the Bible as a whole … and the context of the culture of the author and the original audience of the book.  The Gospel reading that we recently heard has even more to teach us when we consider it as a continuation of the Gospel we heard last week.

Last week, we heard that marvelous confession by Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the God who lives.” You may recall that Jesus praised God the Father for revealing this special confession to Peter.  Then Jesus sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone about this confession.  As we read the rest of the Gospel accounts, we learn that Jesus regularly told people to keep His identity to themselves.  It almost seems as though Jesus did not want people to know that He was the promised Messiah or Christ.  This particular instruction puzzles many people.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want people to know His true identity?  Why did He strongly warn people not to tell others about Him?

Today, we hear the answer to that question.  The disciples got the words right when they confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but they did not know what those words meant.  If you read last week’s Gospel and this week’s Gospel together, you understand that right after Peter made this marvelous confession, 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.  Basically, Jesus had heard this great confession and now He wanted the disciples to understand what it means to be the Christ.  It means suffering, death, and resurrection.  It means taking your sin onto Himself and carrying it to the cross.

Peter very ably demonstrated that the disciples did not get it.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” That word rebuke is just a fancy way of saying that Peter chewed Jesus out.  Think about that for just a minute.  Peter is the one whose mouth confessed that Jesus is the Almighty Son of the God who lives.  Then, just five verses later, that same Peter is chewing out the Almighty Son of the God who lives … the one through whom all things were created.  It becomes very obvious that the title Christ means one thing to Jesus and something entirely different to Peter.

Jesus lost little time in straightening out Peter’s theology.  He turned and said to Peter, “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.” There is a lot going on in this reply.

First of all, Jesus demonstrates zero tolerance for false teaching.  We live in a world that has corrupted tolerance into the encouragement of any and every activity that the sinful mind of man can imagine.  Consenting adults can agree to any activity, and this corrupted form of tolerance requires us to celebrate their activity no matter how stupid or immoral that activity may be.  Jesus is not very politically correct.

Second of all, the reference to Satan is not just a figure of speech.  The devil regularly tempted Jesus throughout His ministry.  The basic premise of those temptations was for Jesus to take a short cut that allowed Him to accomplish His mission while avoiding the cross.  That is what the temptations in the wilderness were all about … when the devil offered to crown Jesus as the king of the entire world if He would simply fall down and worship him.  Peter was actually acting as an agent of Satan by chewing out Jesus for talking about the cross.

There have always been many false teachings in the world and things are no different today.  Most of the false teachings that seem so new today are really ancient heresies that have been remarketed with new names and appearances, but the same old lies.  Most of them are wrong ideas about what it means to be the Christ.  Some teach that Jesus was only a man.  Others teach that Jesus did not become fully human, but only took on the appearance of a man.  Still others teach that Jesus only appeared to die on the cross.  Then there are those who teach that Jesus did not earn our full salvation on the cross.  Instead, His death on the cross gave us the power to save ourselves.  AND there are many, many more.  The point is that Satan and his demons often try to deprive us of our salvation by depriving us of a true understanding of what it means that Jesus is the Christ.

All four Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus often explained what it means to be the Christ … that he regularly spoke of His suffering and death.  Those same Gospel accounts tell us that the disciples were unable to understand this meaning until after the events happened.  It was not until after Jesus rose from the dead that the disciples began to understand the true meaning of what it means to be the Christ.  It was on the day of His resurrection that [Luke 24:45-46] [Jesus] opened [his disciples’] minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” It was when they understood this that Jesus told them, [Acts 1:8] You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It was after they understood that the Christ is about suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins that Jesus sent them as witnesses – that Jesus sent them to tell the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

This is the golden thread that forms the tapestry of God’s Word.  This is the key to the right understanding of Holy Scripture.  The Old Testament points forward to the Christ.  The New Testament tells of the Christ.  The life, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ are what make the Bible a love letter from God that offers forgiveness, life, and salvation to you.

The devil wants to take this love letter away from you.  He continues to work through his agents in order to tempt you to abandon the Christ.  That is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” When Jesus talks about the cross we bear, He is not talking about the type of hardships that sin brings to everyone in this world.  He is not talking about illnesses, family squabbles, economic hardships, injuries and so forth.  He is not even talking about death.  Instead, He is specifically talking about the difficulties that we have simply because we are Christians.

When we think about the cross that Christians carry, we often think about the persecution of the church in this world.  The violence in the Middle East is just one example of the persecution of Christ in the world today.  A quick check with Voice of the Martyrs informs us that Christians die for their faith all around the world.  There are many nations in this world where Christianity carries the death sentence by the law of the land.  There are other countries where Christianity is legal, but law enforcement will look the other way if a crime is committed against a Christian.  We in the west have been fairly blessed to avoid such persecution for now, but at the rate things are going in this nation, our children and grandchildren may be asked to surrender their lives for the sake of the cross.

As bad as all of this is, it is not the most dangerous cross we face.  The most dangerous cross comes from within.  Our own sinful nature works to convince us that the plan of salvation laid out in the Bible just doesn’t make sense.  It insists that God’s plan of salvation should conform to our wants, our desires, our felt needs.  Our sinful nature wants to judge itself according to its own rules and not according to God’s rules.  Instead of relying on God’s promises, our sinful nature wants to judge God.  Does God’s way make me healthy, wealthy, and wise?  Does it make me feel good?  Our sinful nature wants us to forget about what God said and rely on our own feelings instead.  This cross is actually more dangerous than outward persecution.  When we deny the true meaning of what it means to be the Christ, we reject the very forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus earned for us by being true to His mission as the Christ … by suffering and then rising from the dead.

The devil used Peter to tempt Jesus to give up the mission of the Christ.  Jesus resisted the temptation and kept His appointment with the cross.  Jesus’ suffering and death earned the forgiveness of sins for all people.  His resurrection from the dead opened heaven to us all.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He gave Peter and all the disciples a clear understanding of what it means to be the Christ.  On Pentecost, Peter preached the confession that he received from God the Father Almighty.  He understood it so well that he eventually lost his life on earth for that confession.

Peter and his fellow apostles suffered much for this confession and they wrote this confession down so that the church could pass it down through the generations.  Now that confession is ours.  Because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, all of us who trust in Him will receive the eternal gift of heaven from Him.  He will always be with us and we will always be with Him.  Amen

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