18 January 2017
Text: Mark 8:27-9:1 (Acts 4:8-13, 2 Pet 1:1-15)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The Roman Catholic Church considers itself the “Petrine” church, that is, the church of St. Peter. This is because St. Peter served as the first bishop of Rome, and this office later became known as the papacy, in which the bishop of Rome has pastoral responsibilities to all under his care, namely Roman Catholic Christians.
We Lutherans consider ourselves a “confessional” church, that is, the church that not only believes and teaches, but also confesses the doctrine of the one true faith. And our confession is laid out in a collection of confessional documents known as the Book of Concord.
And on this day, we celebrate a feast in the church calendar known as the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. And on this day, I suppose it’s fair to say that all Christians who honor this feast are both Petrine and confessional churches.
We remember St. Peter and honor him first as an apostle, as well as the leader of the apostles during and after our Lord’s earthly ministry. St. Peter was the first to confess Jesus as “the Christ.” This bold confession came from St. Peter in response to our Lord’s question: “Who do people say that I am?” And after giving the Lord a few different answers, Jesus puts the question directly to them, His disciples. “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”
St. Matthew’s account of this incident tells us that Jesus acknowledged that Peter’s confession was revealed by God. It was not of his own doing, his own study, his own intelligence, or his own research.
Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ was revealed from above. And it is an act of courage and confession for Peter to repeat it and proclaim it.
The Lord’s question: “Who do you say that I am?” is really the pivotal question of the universe. When Jesus asks the disciples, He is also asking us, his disciples of today. He is asking you: “Who do you say that I am?”
Your answer is your confession. Do you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that is, the promised Messiah? Do you confess that Jesus is the Son of God, both God and Man, the propitiation for the sins of the world? For if you make this confession, if you submit to the one whom you confess, you will not only confess Him as Christ, but as Savior, and you will also confess your sins, and you will confess that He has come to release you from the chains of sin and death, and to free you from bondage to Satan.
This, dear friends, is the Petrine confession that we, the church, celebrate. We confess Christ with St. Peter, for we Christians are both confessional and Petrine.
St. Peter is a beautiful example of the paradoxical life of the Christian. For just a few verses after praising Peter for making the good confession, Jesus scolds him and calls him “Satan.” Even as Peter would preach the Gospel courageously and “with boldness” the “name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” and the “salvation” that is to be found “in no one else,” and even as St. Peter would lay down his own life being crucified for his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, so St. Peter had another side. For when Peter brashly decided to walk on water, he then lost his faith, and began to sink. And when Peter boldly promised that he would die with Jesus, he would soon deny Jesus three times as the rooster crowed when our Lord was headed to the cross.
There is a little bit of St. Peter in all of us, dear friends, we whose words are bold, but whose deeds are weak. At times, we confess Jesus as the Christ, and at other times, we dishonor Jesus as the Christ. There are times when we live the disciplined life of the disciple, but other times when we live only for ourselves and our entertainment. There are times when we confess Jesus at all costs, and there are times when we shirk our confession for the sake of appearances or seeking out the respect of men.
Peter was fickle, and so are we.
And we have something else in common with St. Peter: Jesus really loves us, and He entrusts us with vocations in the kingdom even when we don’t deserve it.
St. Peter denied Jesus three times. And he watched Jesus die on the cross without having the chance to say that he was sorry before he died. Fortunately for us, dear friends, death cannot contain our Lord. When Jesus rose, He told Mary to go find the disciples, mentioning Peter by name. Jesus would appear to the disciples including Peter. And Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for His risen Savior three times.
And three times, Jesus charged St. Peter to feed the sheep, to shepherd the flock, to be a bishop of souls.
Our Lord calls all of us: both preachers and hearers, to be confessional Christians, and in the sense that St. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ – and even denied himself and took up his own cross to follow Him and made his own life a witness to, and confession of, our blessed Lord, Jesus also calls us to be Petrine Christians, following the good example of St. Peter the martyr and confessor of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who urges us to become “partakers of the divine nature” in Jesus Christ, and who confesses rightly that “there will be richly provided to [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Let us live in the confession of St. Peter, which is really the confession of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory forever and ever. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.