Blessed Are You (Matthew 16)
- Liturgical Date: Sts. Peter & Paul - June 29, 2014
- Order of Service: Hymn Sing
- Hymns: LSB #611, 864, 740, 570, 645, 953, 744
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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." (Matthew 16:13-19)
"What's in a name?" Juliet, in her famous balcony speech, is troubled by the fact that Romeo's NAME is her enemy. Not him. Changing Romeo's name would not change who he is. He would still be her star-crossed lover and enemy of her family. We identify and distinguish each other by name.
In our text this morning, we are saturated with names. But the greatest name given is Jesus. Simon Peter calls Jesus "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v16). Jesus doesn't praise Peter. He praises God for this answer. Because God had REVEALED this name to Peter. THE name that is itself a blessing.
"Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. 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" (vv17-19).
In these verses, Jesus names Simon Peter. Blessing him for this great revelation. People throughout history have put great emphasis on the word play in Jesus' response. Yes, Peter in Greek means "rock." And Jesus does say, "On this Rock I will build My Church." Quick grammar lesson: Peter is the masculine form of petros while the petra on which Jesus builds the Church is neuter. Peter is not the Rock. His confession is the Rock on which Jesus builds the Church. If Peter were the Rock, the Church would fall.
Jesus is the Rock. "The Son of the living God." The foundation upon which "the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling" (LSB #645.1). "What's in a name?" When the name is Jesus, everything is in the name. He is the Son of Man. He is the Son of the living God. He is the Savior from sin.
Jesus gives this great gift to the Church in the Office of the Keys. The Office that both Sts. Peter and Paul upheld as the most important office in the Church. The Office that brings Christ's blessing to His Church. It's the office of the whole Church. Given by Christ. Delegated to pastors for faithful administration. St. Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30). Exactly what we prayed for before we received Absolution this morning: "O my Savior, help afford by Your Spirit and Your Word! When my wayward heart would stray, keep me in the narrow way; grace in time of need supply while I live and when I die" (LSB #611.5). Through the Office of the Keys, Jesus keeps His flock on His narrow way.
Like Jesus' name, the Office of the Keys is a revelation from God. The Office of the Keys is the ability of the Church to forgive and retain sins. God reveals what is sinful and what is not. Without that knowledge, we would not know God's will. The Keys open and close the gates of Heaven. Only a revelation from God would show us that we can open or close the very gates of Heaven. Not out of malice or conceit. Out of revelation. The revelation of repentance gives the opportunity for the Church to grant forgiveness. The revelation of impenitence gives the opportunity for the Church to refuse forgiveness.
We see this revelation in our Old Testament reading. Jeremiah sarcastically praises Hananiah for his prophecy. Hananiah prophesied that the everything and everyone that had been taken into Babylon would be brought back within two years (Jeremiah 28:3). He caps it off with a "thus saith the Lord." But the Lord didn't thus say. Jeremiah heartily wishes Hananiah's prophecy was true, but it was the sinking sand of wishful thinking and not the solid Rock of God's Word (LSB #575.refrain).
Jeremiah points him to the true prophetic Rock. God sent prophets declaring "war, famine and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms" (Jeremiah 28:8). In Israel, false prophets prophesied peace. Something was wrong with these guys because everyone else prophesied war. But Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day was tired of war. Their ears were itching for news of peace. Hananiah, wanting to be popular, prophesies this return without a Word from the Lord.
Jeremiah calls him to repentance, but he gives time. Jeremiah will give Hananiah's two years. If God does break Nebuchadnezzar's yoke, all praise to God. Hananiah was right. But when God doesn't bring them back, Hananiah will be proven as a false prophet. Hananiah dies within two months of making his prophecy (Jeremiah 28:17). Judah remained under Babylon's oppression for the next seventy-plus years. Jeremiah exercised the Office of the Keys to retain Hananiah's sin. He locked the gates of Heaven so he could not enter. Hananiah never repented.
Jeremiah locked Hananiah out of Heaven because the Office of the Keys is granted God's authority over sin on earth and in Heaven. "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (v19). This does not mean that we as Christians can arbitrarily DECIDE what is and isn't sinful. That comes from God's revelation alone. This authority is not a power trip. It is a blessing.
Blessed are you, Trinity Lutheran Church, that Jesus gave this authority to the Church. Blessed are you that you can believe that you have been forgiven all your sins when the pastor says so. Jesus says, "Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matthew 10:40). God's authority comes with the pastor because He has been sent by your Lord. He has been sent to declare the binding and loosing keys in this congregation. Keys we'd rather not talk about. But they are one of the Chief Articles of the Christian faith. The Keys are an important doctrine to keep before the eyes of our congregation.
Jesus' sword separates the godly from the ungodly (Matthew 10:34). "Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek [God's] statutes" (Psalm 119:155). You seek God's statutes because you have been forgiven. We are not under the Law but under grace (Romans 6:15). "The Law is binding on a person only as long as he lives" (Romans 7:1). "But now we are released from the Law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit" (Romans 7:6). The Spirit's new way is love shown in God's grace. Even in the practice of Church discipline and excommunication.
Excommunication is never the end of the matter. It is always used to bring the unrepentant sinner to repentance. We lock Heaven for awhile so that we may reopen Heaven when repentance is shown. Church discipline shows Jesus as the "Shepherd of Tender Youth" who answers the repentant call (LSB #864.3). The Shepherd must correct the sheep. But that correction is always destined for restoration of sheep and Shepherd. This restoration allows you to rejoice and sing, "I am Jesus' little lamb, EVER glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need and WELL provides me, love me every day the same, even calls me by my name" (LSB #740.1). That gentle guidance brings you to the knowledge that "just as I am, Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come" (LSB #570.5). You believe in forgiveness because it has been revealed and preached to you.
That revelation and preaching of The Office of the Keys comes by God's power. "Only Jesus can impart balm to heal the smitten heart; peace that flows from sin forgiven, joy that lifts the soul to Heaven; faith and hope to walk with God in the way that Enoch trod" (LSB #611.3). Jesus sends His blessed sheep out into the midst of the wolves to offer His healing balm. "Whoever receives you receives Me," Jesus says, "and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matthew 10:40). The proclamation of the Office of the Keys comes with God's power.
God's power to change Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16), into the great Apostle Paul. God gives us our dead souls LIFE according to His steadfast love (Psalm 119:159). God drowns our sinful nature in the waters of Baptism. He saves your soul through the proclamation of the Office of the Keys. You would not seek to live in your Baptism if no one ever preached that it forgave sins. The faithless look at Baptism as just a regular bath that means nothing. We "look at the faithless in disgust, because they do not keep [God's] commandments" (Psalm 119:158). They don't listen to His Word. The Word that changes you with God's power. Changes you from faithless to faithful. From seeking evil to seeking good. From a child of Hell to one who can prevail against the gates of Hell (v18). He changes you by revealing, proclaiming and exercising the Office of the Keys.
God's power in the Keys opens the gates of Heaven for you in Baptism. He keeps it open for you as you continue to live as a Christian. Repenting and seeking forgiveness of your sins and your sinfulness. Blessed are you because He shows you His steadfast love and mercy. Blessed are you who walk in His narrow way. Blessed are you who are covered in His name.
"What's in a name?" In the name of Jesus there is great blessing. In His name, He opens the gates of Heaven so you may enter. He proclaims the forgiveness of your sins through the Office of the Keys. He changes your life to reflect His grace and mercy. Blessed are you, Trinity Lutheran Church, because of Jesus' name. Amen.