Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who Does Jesus Say that He Is?

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Matthew 16:13-20

Almost everybody loves the Olympics. It's thrilling to see the very best athletes compete against one another. The challenge, the drama, the drive, draw us in. But there's also something else that draws us to the Olympics. It's the rules. Everybody comes into the Olympic Games knowing the rules and everyone expects them to compete according of the rules. When there's talk of unfair advantage, of some athletes not abiding by the rules, it casts a cloud on the competition. We may not like every single rule as it stands but we like the fact that the rules apply to everyone because then there is fairness to the competition.

This is the way we want life to be also. We want it to be fair. We want everyone to have to play by the same rules we have to. Everyone gravitates toward this way of thinking and acting. We naturally assume it's the way life should be. The Bible tells us what this stems from: the Law.

In contrast to this is something else the Bible tells us about—it is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? It is what Jesus has done. It is who Jesus is. It is salvation for the world. It is pure grace, no strings attached, unconditional.

What is it about this that we don't understand? What is it about the Gospel that we just can't take as it is? There's got to be something more. There's got to be something about it that's not so, well, simple. Easy. You know, we don't want people to take the Gospel for granted. We don't want them thinking they're saved by not doing anything. We want Christians to be excited about salvation. We want them to have a hunger and desire to spread the Word of God and the Gospel. We want them to jump at the chance to tell people about Jesus. We don't want people just resting on the laurels of Jesus saving them solely by His work and not by anything they have done.

When we get to heaven we are going to have a clear understanding of what it means to be saved by Christ alone. In this life our understanding of it is warped. It's not just off a little bit. Or even a lot. It's seriously out of control. Find me the most ardent advocate of salvation by grace and I will show you someone who does not really understand what it means to be saved by grace and not by anything that he does.

That is because there's still something within him that believes that it can't be that easy. Yes, we're saved by grace, but aren't I a pretty good person? Yes, we're saved by what Christ has done, but isn't it wonderful how much better of a Christian I have become? I believe with all my heart that I am saved by what Jesus has done for me, and I'm sure He's glad I'm not nearly as bad as those people who are descipable human beings with the brutal way they treat others.

We don't really believe we're saved by grace. Well, yes we do. But deep down in our hearts, we tell ourselves that we're glad of ourselves. Our heart, mind, strength, and soul are not fixed on Jesus. They are fixed on ourselves. Doesn't this happen to us a lot? We're thinking things are going really well in our spiritual walk. We're calm and patient and loving in disciplining our children. We take the time to explain that what they did was wrong, and why it was wrong, and what they need to do to make amends, and ask God to help them to do better. The next thing we know our children do something that strikes a chord in us and we lose it. We grab them forcefully and speak, or yell, even more forcefully, and strike terror into their hearts.

This is an example of how we live by the Law. This may sound as if it's just the sinful flesh acting out. And it is that. But it is that very thing that is us living by the Law. Everything we do is against God. You may think that's not true or ask how it can be. We see that this is the case by the different responses Jesus got to His question about who people say that He is. "John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet." So many people did not believe who He really is, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. That's because they live by the Law. There's gotta be salvation in something more or other than just Him. They all gave nice answers. Even good answers. Religious answers. But they weren't the right answers. Because they were answers that said this is the kind of Jesus we want, not the kind that He is.

And then there's Peter's response. The right answer, of course. A great response—it couldn't have been better. So what's the problem? Well, there's no problem, of course, with his answer. The deal is that it wasn't his answer. Jesus says to him, "flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." So Peter got the right answer, and that's great, but it wasn't because he was. It was because God the Father revealed it to him. Peter, of his own, is not drawn to Jesus but to himself. But because the Father reveals Jesus to him as the Christ, Peter is blessed.

That's why Jesus says to him, "Blessed are you." God loves to bless us. But He doesn't do so because we get the right answer or do what He commands us to do. He does it because of who He is. In other words, "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter is blessed because of who Jesus is, not because there's anything special within Peter. Peter is blessed because of what Christ has done, not because of anything special that Peter would do.

We are drawn to the Law, not the Gospel. There's a reason someone came up with the saying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Someone might in fact give you lunch. But the reason the saying came about and resonates with us is because deep down inside we all believe that there has to be a catch. There's something that we gotta do. Or want to do. Or will be expected of us. Deep down we look to ourselves to earn what we get. What did Jesus say to the sheep when He welcomed them into the Kingdom? "For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me." Their response was, "What are you talking about? When did we do those things for You?" When we get to the gate of heaven there will be no list Jesus will go through—Did you do this, this, this? We won't say, "Hey Jesus, let me into heaven because I did this and this and this." He'll say, "Welcome into heaven" and we'll say, "What? You're letting us into heaven? Why? Oh yeah, because you died for us!"

What is the picture of Jesus in the Book of Revelation, the picture of the glory of heaven? It is of the Lamb Who Was Slain. Not the glorious powerful Jesus-the Lamb who was slain. If we want power and glory and emotion then we're not looking to Jesus. There's a reason He saved us in the way He did. Not in glory, not in power. In weakness. God became a man. Jesus suffered and died. We must look to Christ and Him crucified. Nothing else. Anything else is of the Law. Anything else is us looking within ourselves for salvation.

Jesus asks the disciples who people say He is. He then asks them who they say He is. But what Jesus is really getting at is who He says that He is. Because this is of the Gospel. It is the Gospel. He is the Gospel. How do we find God? Is it through the Law? No, it is through the Gospel. It is His grace, His unconditional giving of forgiveness and His eternal love. In His Holy Supper He gives of Himself freely. It is all gift. There are no expectations He places upon us, there is simply the invitation to receive Him in the fullness of His grace and mercy. This is why He Baptized you and why He will welcome you into heaven. It is why you have life and may rejoice. Amen.


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