Who do you say I am?
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Matthew 16:13-20
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
These words of Simon are such a great confession of faith, used by preachers for generations to highlight the importance of a confessing faith in Jesus, regardless of what “the world” thinks. Jesus here says “people”. Who do people say the Son of man is?
Just as an aside, I think we need to be careful with that as Christians. I really don’t like falling into this trap of seeing ourselves, and the church, against “the world” like everything in here is good and everything out there is evil. Remember, fallen though it may be, it is God’s world: A world that God made and said that it was good, and he is still very much at work in it. That world is exactly where we are called to be at work, not to hate it or fear it. “the World” is made up of people who need Jesus, just like we do. (So if I do that too much in my preaching, remind me of what I just said please) Anyway, digression over.
Back to the good confession made by Simon, so good that it earned him a new name from Jesus, Peter, the rock.
Because of his confession and the words of Jesus afterwards (on this rock I will build my church), the Roman Catholic Church says that it was the man Simon Peter that Jesus was talking about when he said that on this rock he will build his church. Peter was of course to become the Bishop of Rome, so all Bishops of Rome ever after, otherwise known as Popes, were to be the head of the Christian church on earth. This episode in the life of Jesus is their mandate for that belief, a foundational moment for them.
But we Lutherans and many others say that it was not on any one man, but on Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God: that confession, that faith is the rock on which Jesus would build his church: The supernatural revelation given to him, Jesus said, not by “flesh and blood, but by my father in Heaven”.
And through good leadership and bad, great preachers and ordinary ones, splits and unifications, pandemics, World Wars, plagues, earthquakes and climate change, the enlightenment, the rise of science that supposedly would render our need for God obsolete, the church of God stands.
And the church of God goes on, supernatural in power and in endurance, because it certainly would not have been able to survive on the basis of human ability and wisdom alone.
We have a great example of this right here: after all, here is Peter’s grand moment, the top memory in his highlight reel. Here he blurts out the good confession, he gets it right, he is the centre of attention, the top of the class, the teacher’s pet, and in the very next section of this chapter from Matthew he is taking Jesus aside and telling him that he cannot go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and Jesus is rebuking him with the words “Get behind me Satan!”
He had gone from heavenly considerations to earthly considerations so fast.
He had swung from having it so right to having it so wrong so quickly.
Can you see why it is so important that the church is not built, (and it’s future does not depend) on we sinful, fickle human beings?
The church of God survives to this day and still grows around the world not on the strength of human beings, whoever they might be. It is sustained by Jesus Christ, and we believe it to be true that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but it will be because Jesus defends it, not us.
And this is especially important for us to remember in this corona-virus time. The Church may not survive in the form we know it now, but that’s okay. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
One thing that Jesus did NOT say, that is important to remember was that the Lutheran Church will always stand. The Lutheran church as we know it may not survive at all in the future, but if God is working faith in our homes and in our lives and people are still making that good confession that Jesus is the Messiah the son of the living God, that’s okay, especially when you consider that Luther did not even WANT to start a new church.
Jesus never said that the Lutheran church would survive. Or the Lutheran Church of Australia.
Jesus never said that your particular congregation would survive, it may close, everyone else may go elsewhere, or you may be in a place where the church goes completely online and digital, and that’s okay!
After all, the internet does not belong to the devil, it has been a tool for the spread of the gospel more in the last 6 months than ever before. Do you know just how much Christian content, and preaching of the gospel you can find online now? Remember, ours id the God who says in Isaiah 43:19, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
And in Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new”. Jesus Christ and his church are not AGAINST the culture outside of the church, instead he can use and transform culture.
Today’s Gospel lesson is so timely! The letter from the Bishop that Pastors received this week told us that the Queensland Heads of Churches are meeting to work out how to keep going with congregations in the light of funding problems due to Covid-19. Things may have to be different, the way that churches have always worked may have to change, but that is okay! The gates of hell will not prevail against the church!
I think this is such an encouraging reading for us in the light of all the uncertainty and change going on in the world and in the church at the moment!
When everything seems a little “up in the air”, rest in this: It is Jesus’ Church. Your salvation is safe in him, he has gone to prepare a place for you (John 14) and you are “more than conquerors”(Romans 8:37) Nothing can snatch you out of our Father’s hand (John 10:29) When we are long dead and gone and home in that place prepared for us in our father’s house, the church will go on, and the good confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, will still be made on earth as well as in heaven. What that will look like, what form it will take, that is, as the saying goes, above our pay-grade. It is not up to us. Lay that worry down and leave it with God. He has promised, and he who has promised is faithful.
Thanks be to God, that it does not rely on us. Thanks be to God, that it is his church. And it will stand.