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Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles and Martyrs (2018)

“Confessing Christ”

St. Matthew 16.13-20

29 June 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor   

+ In the Name of Jesus +

The Gospels prove their own trustworthiness in that Peter and Paul are not at all depicted as totally perfect human beings. They certainly are sinners. If the New Testament had been made up to simply start another man-made religion, as many skeptics claim, Peter and Paul, the pillars of the founding of Christianity, would certainly only be shown in glowing terms, with only profound things to say, and many miraculous and righteous deeds done by them portrayed.

The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life, and the agony of the Lord in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus’ death. His name is first on every list of apostles.

But Peter does not always acquit himself in glory. He gave up all things, vocation, family, etc., to follow Jesus, yet he will ask in childish self-regard, “What are we going to get for all this?” (Matthew 19:27) Just a minute after his great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God…” Peter objects to the idea of a suffering Christ, who must be crucified and rise again for the sins of the world. So Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as man does.” (Matthew 16:23b)

Peter walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a lowly servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus’ ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and Peter goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Paul had been the most pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. But after his conversion on the road to Damascus, and Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, receiving from Jesus directly the revelation of the Gospel, he suddenly appears to other Jews as one who welcomes Gentiles, a preacher of Jesus as the Son of the Living God, a traitor and apostate. Paul documents all he went through – lashings, beatings, hunger, cold, homelessness, a stoning, shipwrecks – for preaching Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Paul preached something the world hates to hear, and something he once hated to hear, something that the sinful flesh we all have hates to hear. No human effort of ours – not even the most scrupulous observance of law – can be brought to God as reparation for sin and worthy of gaining eternal life. To be saved from sin, death, and the power of the devil, we must put our faith in Christ alone, the Son of the Living God, the one crucified to pay for our sins and resurrected for our justification. This faith is accounted by God to the believer as righteousness, not by works, lest any man should boast, save the Lord Jesus.

This faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is to take to heart the saving death of Christ for you, and to reject all idols, including your own reason and all you hold dear, and everything this world offers. When Peter and Paul learned of Christ’s suffering for their sins, and of His glorious resurrection to new life for them and every believer, then it was time to confess out loud and take up the cross and follow Jesus, and to live merely as pilgrims in this world, ones who do not belong here, who have a better home ahead.

Rightly confessing Christ no matter what is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of apostles and theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience. It is taught through tribulation, sorrow, cross bearing, hurt feelings, persecution and rejection by the world, where our faith learns well what it cost our Lord to earn our salvation, and how very precious His Gospel is.

Although there is no proof that they were martyred on the same day, their deaths under the Roman Emperor Nero around 64 A.D. have been commemorated together on June 29th since the middle of the third century. In their lives they preached and taught salvation in Christ alone. In their deaths they stood by their confession and demonstrated to the Church that no matter what the devil and the world could do to their bodies, Christ was the Lord of life. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He alone could give comfort in life and at the hour of death.

So, when Peter was being crucified and Paul was being beheaded in Rome, only Christ, the Son of the living God, sustained them. Every Divine Service, every reception of the Lord’s body and blood, every moment of studying the Scriptures, and especially the remembrance of their Baptism trained them for that moment. And by the grace of God, they stood fast.

So, when the moment of your death comes, will you make this good confession of Christ? With Peter and Paul, by God’s grace, you will. For you are also in that same school of experience, and you have the same teacher, the Holy Spirit, who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you in the true faith, makes you holy, and keeps you in that true faith. He does so in this one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, founded by our Lord Jesus on the confession that He is the Christ, the Savior of us all, and He promises He will lead us through this valley of the shadow of death, to the eternal home He has prepared for us all, nothing ever separating us from His love, not life, not death, not anything in all creation.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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