Pentecost 11A—August 24, 2014
“Who’s the real Jesus?”
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN.
Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, and here He was coming off the tails of such great miracles. He had fed 5,000 men—besides woman and children. He’d walked on the water, calmed a storm. He graciously cast out a demon from the Canaanite woman’s daughter. He had fed 4,000 more men—besides women and children. He healed “the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others.” This Jesus guy had fed thousands upon thousands, performed miracles, preached His Word and taught it “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
So, what are we to think about this Jesus? What are we to make of Him? Well, the Pharisees and Sadducees had their own ideas. They wanted a sign. That’s what we learn from earlier in Matthew 16: “They asked Him to shown them a sign from heaven.” They were tempting the Lord when they wanted that sign from heaven.
Jesus had been preaching, teaching, and just being Jesus. The Pharisees and Sadducees had their way of looking at Jesus, and, right before our text today, Jesus had just warned His disciples: “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” that is, “beware of their teaching,” their doctrine. You see, Jesus does this because there’s two ways of understanding Him, two ways of looking at Him, two ways to speak about Him, two ways of thinking about Him. One will get you to the life-giving, hell-defeating, death-defying, sin-forgiving Jesus, and the other, well…, won’t.
(3. There are all sorts of false ideas about Jesus.)
The first way, the not so good one, is the way of reason. As Jesus puts it, this is way of “flesh and blood.” This is the way of natural man, the one not enlightened by faith. Reason hangs only onto His outer appearance and the kind of life that Christ led. Where there is only flesh and reason, people can grasp nothing more of Christ than that He is only a holy man, a good man, who gives us a fine example which we should follow. Where just plain reason appraises Christ He will only be regarded as a teacher and a good man.
This certainly gives us and gets us to the wrong Jesus, but this is how it goes. It’s this way today. Even Richard Dawkins, the world-renowned atheist and author of The God Delusion, can say, “Jesus was a great moral teacher.” Thinking of Jesus as a moral and even highly intelligent man, Dawkins also said, “Somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.” It’s just how it goes, and this reminds of a conversation I had with a lady at Starbucks, oh, a few weeks ago. She stopped me, “You a catholic priest?” “No,” I said, and I explained that I was Lutheran. Well, she was upset about an article she read in the paper that was written by Billy Graham. I found out, through our conversation, that she was ultimately upset because Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus wasn’t judgmental of other people, He didn’t judge, He just loved people and wanted us to do the same, and so her reason couldn’t handle that Jesus. I clearly confessed, in not so few words, but I’m just summarizing here, “Jesus died and rose for sinners, and that’s the Jesus who said that He’s the only Way. Those who will be saved are saved in Him, by faith in Him alone.” “I just can’t believe that. I can’t accept that,” she said.
Now this way of reason isn’t just a modern one. It’s how it was even in Jesus’ day. “Who do men say that I am,” Jesus asks. Even when Christ was walking and talking on the earth, reason couldn’t grasp Him in any other way than to say, “He was a good man, a holy man, a wise teacher.” The Apostles answered, “Some say John the Baptizer, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets.” Heaven is still closed to whoever takes Him as a good man, as an example to be followed for a good life. Whoever thinks this has not rightly grasped or confessed Christ. He thinks that He’s a good man, or maybe Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, another prophet. For if Christ is only thought of as a good and honest man or teacher, then reason’s in the drivers seat and is tossing you to and fro, from one to another, from Elijah to Jeremiah to whatever.
Flesh and blood, reason can’t even get you close to the right Jesus because as Jesus said, “flesh and blood did not reveal this.” It’s not just that flesh and blood didn’t reveal this, but it can’t reveal this! That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” King David says, “There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside.” There’s a veil over our reason. Left to ourselves we’re left on the reason way. The way that gives into all sorts of false ideas about Jesus: the nice guy, the political activist, the moral teacher, the social activist, a mere prophet amongst many, one way amidst many. That’s all just “flesh and blood” talking. These are the false sorts of Jesuses that our reason, our “flesh and blood” get us to.
(2. There is only one right Jesus.)
That’s the bad way that gets you a bad Jesus, but there is a good way that gives you the life-giving, hell-defeating, death-defying, sin-forgiving Jesus. It’s the way of faith. That’s the second one because as Paul says, “The veil is removed in Christ.” This faith way is the Father’s Way. That’s what Jesus says to Peter, “Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Flesh and blood can’t get you to the right way. Faith comes to us all as it did to Peter. Listen again as I fill out Jesus’ sentence: “Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven has revealed it to you.” Faith comes by way of revelation. It only comes when it’s revealed.
So what has the Father revealed to Peter, revealed through His Word to us all? That there’s only one right Jesus. That’s the one Peter speaks of, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus isn’t just some Elijah or Jeremiah. He’s the Christ, the Messiah. He’s the Son of the living God. He’s true God Himself, one with the Father. He’s the Savior of the world, the one who comes to bear our sins and be our savior. He’s the one who defeats the devil, conquers death, and pays for sin. He’s the one who suffers and dies on the cross and rises again on the third day. By doing all this He leaves all other false Jesuses in the dust. His blood covers even the sin of making Jesus out to be something other than what He is.
This Jesus, the real Jesus is received from His teaching or doctrine. Jesus’ miracles are always accompanied by a Word, a teaching, and faith is created by this Word, as Paul says, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” This faith, then, in turn receives this Jesus who is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is how it was for Peter and the other Apostles. They had seen and heard Jesus, and faith was kindled, stoked, and set afire by the Word which they had heard and the things which accompanied that Word.
We’re just like them. We hear and see, through the pages of Scripture, what Jesus has done and said, and faith is given us there for us to receive the Jesus who is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We’ve been splashed with His Water at the font which gives faith and, then, in turn that faith receives there the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit. We hear and believe what His Word says to us in His Supper, that we receive His body and blood. He’s giving it there to and for us to eat and drink for our forgiveness, and this strengthens our faith.
Faith confesses this Jesus, the Jesus who died and rose for us, who baptizes us, who forgives us, who feeds us with His body and blood. “Simon Peter answered,” and we answer too, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We do this whenever we have the opportunity. The command for silence—“he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ”—was only for before His death, resurrection, and ascension. Now we tell and confess Christ Jesus, Son-of-the-living-God Jesus, Savior-of-the-world Jesus.
(1. This Jesus defeats the devil’s kingdom.)
The real Jesus truly is the Rock of faith, the foundation, the cornerstone, the bedrock. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” What other foundation is there, or one that we could want? Christ is our cornerstone, our foundation, our rock. So is His Word because He is only made known in His Word. Faith in Him only comes by His Word. Like I said before when I quoted Paul in Romans 10: “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” So Christ Himself says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Christ’s Word creates and prompts faith, “Jesus asked, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”
But Christ’s Word is another sort of Word. It certainly is a Word that creates faith, but it’s also a binding and loosing Word. Jesus says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But what Jesus says to Peter He says to all His Apostles and Pastors, “If y’all forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if y’all retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is the Word of the Church, the Word that speaks, “What Jesus did on the cross is yours. When He said, ‘It is finished,’ that’s also for you too.” This is really nothing other than what Pastors say when they say, “I forgive you all your sins.”
This Word which comes from Jesus shall remain, it shall endure. That’s what we just sung in the sermon hymn, “The Word they still shall let remain.” This is because, as Jesus says in Matthew 24, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall never pass away.” This binding and loosing Word is a rock and fortress, and it’s a Word that also defeats the devil’s kingdom. Certainly the devil’s “judged the deed is done.” Christ died and is now risen, but the conquering Lord, the Christ, the Son of the living God continues defeating the devil through the Church by His rocky, forgiveness Word spoken there. Hell can’t conquer it, but—more than that—hell can’t even withstand it. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Lord launches His forgiving Word as a catapult launches a boulder, and hell’s gates are, once again, overcome.
Now we see who the right Jesus is.
THE RIGHT JESUS IS THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD WHO BURSTS HELL’S GATES WITH HIS ROCKY, FORGIVENESS WORD.
Peter wouldn’t stand to have Jesus remain an Elijah or Jeremiah. We won’t let Him remain a nice guy, a good teacher, or whatever else. He’s the Christ, the Son of the living God. He’s the one whose forgiveness Word endures forever, whose Word doesn’t just obliterate the gates of hell but opens the gates of heaven. Such understanding doesn’t come from flesh and blood. So thanks be to our Father in heaven who’s revealed this life-giving, hell-defeating, death-defying, sin-forgiving Jesus to us.
INI + AMEN.