Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sermon: Confession of St. Peter – 2012

18 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27 – 9:1

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today the Church commemorates not a person, but an event. More accurately, a confession. In fact, even more accurately, the Church commemorates two confessions – both coming from St. Peter the Apostle.

Halfway through the narrative of the life of Jesus as revealed in the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, after preaching and teaching and working countless miracles, Jesus does a kind of spot-check at that point, posing a question to the disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”

The answers are many and varied: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe a prophet of some kind. Jesus then refines the question, narrowing the focus to the confession of the disciples themselves: “But who do you say that I am.”

As is often the case, St. Peter acts as spokesman of the group. He answers forthrightly. Although the text doesn’t explicitly say, it would be well within Peter’s impulsive character to blurt out the answer without much forethought, getting to the punch before anyone else has had a chance to weigh in. He says: “You are the Christ.”

“You are the Christ,” confesses St. Peter, confessing the cosmic reality that Jesus is not some kind of rehashed reincarnation, nor is He merely just one more prophet. No indeed! This is not a reincarnation but the incarnation. The days of the prophets have come to an end. Now is the time for the coming of the One whom the prophets confess. And so Peter confesses – speaking a bold revelation not revealed to Him by flesh and blood: “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, the Promised One, the Redeemer, the Savior, the very fleshly Son of God who is God in the flesh.

Peter has answered well. He has made the good confession. He knows who Jesus is in His heart, and with the overflow from his heart, he speaks this sterling confession with his lips. And Jesus tells Peter and the disciples to keep this confession to themselves for the time being. For the Lord’s time has not yet fully come.

And so the Church commemorates this confession of Peter, this statement of the frank and forthright fisherman that would earn him the nickname “Peter” – that is “The Rock Man.” And Jesus would also promise to Peter that upon this rock – the rock of his confession – the Lord Jesus would build a church out of the living stones of men who confess this same confession. And not even Satan and hell would be able to topple it.

And yet, Peter’s confession doesn’t stop here, dear friends. For Peter is, like us, a sinner: one who is still subject to the delusions and temptations of the devil.

Jesus reveals another truth about Himself: “the Son of Man must suffer” and “be rejected” by the leaders of Israel. He would “be killed. And after three days, rise again.” Jesus has revealed Himself as Savior, as sacrifice, as the Atonement for sin! But Peter, who had just confessed Jesus as the Christ, takes Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus! He scolds Jesus for revealing this to him. For this suffering Jesus is not the Jesus Peter has in mind. For what glory is there in following a suffering Jesus? Don’t we all want a victorious Jesus – which is to say, a Jesus who is victorious in the way we want Him to be? We want a Jesus in our own image, of our own making.

Of course, it is not Peter’s place to rebuke God, but vice versa. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, but now he needs to confess his sin against the Christ. Unlike his earlier confession, this confession is a confession is diabolical. “Get behind me, Satan,” says our Lord. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter’s second confession is not a good confession. He has sided with man over God, sided with Satan over Christ. He has sided with his selfish impulse for glory over Christ’s selfless impulse of the cross and forgiveness. And Jesus calls Peter to repent. Jesus calls Peter to reject the devil along with all the devil’s works and all his ways. Jesus calls Peter to once more confess Jesus as the Christ – not merely as a leader whose coattails can be ridden to glory.

And while the Church doesn’t celebrate Peter’s second confession – Peter’s momentary devilish delusion, neither does the Church cover it up. The evangelists have recorded it, the Church proclaims it, and the Holy Spirit has made it known to us. And thanks be to God! For if Peter – mighty Peter, the holy apostle Peter, the bishop of Rome Peter, the spokesman of the apostles and the member of the Lord’s inner circle Peter is subject to such doubts and bouts of selfishness, what great comfort it is to us, dear friends! And what a blessing it is to be rebuked by Jesus – for when Jesus says: “Get behind me Satan.” He is not insulting us, but rather exorcising the evil right out of us! For He has not come to condemn, but to forgive.

Indeed, that is the whole point of this confession: “You are the Christ.”

And what’s more: “If anyone would come after me,” says our Lord, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And though Peter was humiliated at the time of the Lord’s rebuke, the rebuke truly did cast out Satan and bring healing to St. Peter. For within a few decades, Peter the bishop and preacher was to do just as the Lord bade him to do: he would indeed take up a cross of his own and make the best and holiest confession of all: the confession of Jesus in blood. St. Peter’s greatest confession of all would be his confession of Jesus the crucified One in his own martyrdom, as Peter was himself crucified confessing the crucified Christ.

Dear friends, we may never be called upon to shed blood in confessing Christ. But we do indeed confess that Christ shed blood in order to save us! We may not be crucified for being a Christian, but Christ was crucified in order to make us Christians. And we are called upon to bear the crosses He allows us to carry – especially the joyful burden of confessing Him as God and Lord, as Savior and Redeemer, even as we confess our sins.

For even as Peter had two great confessions, so do we, dear brothers and sisters! We confess the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of the Nicene Creed, the Faith that confesses before Jesus and before the world: “Jesus is the Christ.” And the Church also confesses – along with St. Peter – that “we are poor miserable sinners.” We confess the faith, and we confess our faith. We confess what Jesus has revealed to us, and we confess what we have done to Jesus as well as what He does for us!

Along with Peter, we confess to our Lord Jesus: “You are the Christ.” Along with Peter, we hear the Lord Jesus rebuke the devil: “Get behind me, Satan.” And let the Church never falter in either confession – for without both confessions, we are lost. We confess that we are sinners according to our sinful flesh in need of a Savior, and we confess that Jesus is that very Savior come in the flesh to save us.

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to us either, dear friends! This is St. Peter’s confession. This is the Church’s confession. This is our confession! Now and unto eternity!


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: