130623 Luke 9:18-24

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 June 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 9:18-24
Theme: Peter's Confession Is Good For Our Souls

Even if you don't consider yourself to be an expert on 17th century Scottish proverbs, there is a good chance that you are familiar with at least one. I wasn't able to identify who said it first, but at some point you may have quoted it yourself: Confession is good for the soul.

Think of a time when you did something you knew was wrong. Maybe you got away with it. Maybe no one else knew about it. But you knew what you did, and your conscience wouldn't let you forget. You couldn't eat. You couldn't sleep. No matter what you tried, you couldn't get rid of the guilt. And so you decided to come clean.

When you confessed your sin, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from your shoulders. You felt much better. Your outlook on life became much rosier. You could eat again. You could sleep again. You could smile again.

Normally when we talk about confession being good for our souls we are talking about admitting our sin, acknowledging that we have done something wrong and rejoicing when that wrong is forgiven. There is, however, another meaning for confession, and that second meaning is at the center of our sermon text for today.

With a couple of pointed questions, Jesus invited his disciples to declare (or confess) what they believed about him. Peter answered on behalf of the group, and his response was good. Not just in the sense that it was a correct answer, but because of the spiritual implications that answer has for every disciple of Jesus. As we take a closer look at this exchange between the Lord and his disciples, the Holy Spirit will open our hearts to see that...

PETER'S CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR OUR SOULS

Jesus' travels had taken him to the region of Caesarea Philippi. Think of this area as something like the boundary waters of Israel. Way up north there were less people and less distractions, and Jesus took advantage of this time away from the crowds to teach his disciples.

The day's lesson began with a question: "Who do the crowds say I am" (18)? Jesus was conducting an informal poll. He had been with his disciples for a couple years. They heard what he had been saying. They had heard what other people were saying about him. And they were quick to respond: "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life" (19).

For the most part, the returns were favorable. John the Baptist was highly regarded by the people, even though he had been executed. In fact, it was the man who killed John (Herod Antipas) who suggested that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead (Matthew 14:2).

Elijah was one of Israel's greatest prophets. He was remembered for his miracles, as was Jesus, and so perhaps some people made a connection there. Or maybe they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy that Elijah would return (4:5).

Jeremiah faced strong opposition throughout his ministry. Jesus was beginning to face opposition to his ministry. Apparently some people were convinced that this similarity was more than a coincidence (see Matthew 16:14). And because Jesus spoke with authority like the prophets of old, it was only natural for people to associate him with one of them.

Now Jesus had an idea of what people were saying about him. Actually, he knew the answer to his question before he asked it, but that question still served an important purpose. It gave the disciples a frame of reference when Jesus asked them a second question: "But what about you? Who do you say I am" (20)?

This time Jesus wasn't asking for general information. He was looking for his disciples to express with their lips what they believed in their hearts. Simon Peter, speaking for all of the disciples, declared (and this is from Matthew's account): "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16).

Let's analyze Peter's response. First, he called Jesus "the Christ." The Hebrew equivalent of that Greek word is "Messiah" (the NIV 2011 actually translates it "Messiah"), and both words mean "the anointed one." In the Old Testament special people were set aside to perform sacred tasks by anointing with oil. Prophets and priests and kings were anointed to serve God and God's people.

Jesus was also set apart by God to perform a special service for God, but he wasn't anointed to be a prophet or a priest or a king. Jesus was anointed to be all three! As a prophet he proclaimed God's Word, and in the Bible he continues to speak to us today.

As a priest Jesus offered a sacrifice for the sins of the people, but what made Jesus' priesthood different, what makes him our Great High Priest, is that he didn't offer sacrifices day after day. Jesus was the once-for-all sacrifice, who sacrificed himself for the sins of the world.

Jesus' purple robe and crown of thorns didn't make him a king. Jesus ran the other way when people tried to make him a king. And yet that is what he is. He is the Ruler of heaven and earth, and he rules in our hearts.

Peter's confession was short and sweet, and he could have stopped right there. That one word title, "Christ," is pregnant with theological meaning, but in Jesus' day it was also widely misunderstood. There were others who hailed him as the promised Messiah, but they didn't mean what Peter meant. They weren't looking for a Savior to rescue people from their sins. They were hoping that Jesus was going to be the one who would liberate the Jewish people from their Roman oppressors.

That might explain why Peter added a second part to his confession. He said to Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus hadn't come to lead a rebellion against the Roman Empire. His mission was much greater than that. Jesus wasn't Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist come back from the dead. As great as those men were, he was much greater than them. Peter confessed that the man who stood before him was no ordinary man. He was the Son of God, the one true God, the living God.

Here we get to see Peter at his absolute best. His words were clear. His confession was bold. The needle on his faith meter was almost buried it was so high. But if you know anything about Peter, you know that his life was filled with peaks and valleys. And perhaps the deepest valley came a year or so later. Peter was in Jerusalem, in the high priest's courtyard, and he confessed again. He confessed that he hadn't been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He confessed that he wasn't one of Jesus' disciples. He swore an oath that he didn't even know who Jesus was.

What accounts for such a drastic change? First, we need to remember that Peter was a human being just like you and me. When he confessed his faith do you remember where he was? He was with Jesus. He was surrounded by the other disciples. There was no one else around, no detractors, no doubters. In a sense, this setting made confessing his faith easy.

The courtyard of Caiaphas was a different story. Jesus had been arrested. The other disciples had scattered (only John was anywhere to be seen). Some of the people in the courtyard had been in the Garden. Some of them had seen Peter draw his sword in the Garden. And when they started to question Peter, he didn't feel so bold anymore. He was alone. He was afraid, and the needle on his faith meter was getting dangerously close to empty.

We are a long ways from Caesarea Philippi, but the scene here today looks very much the same. We are in God's house. We are flanked by Jesus' disciples. I don't know about you, but I didn't have any trouble confessing my faith this morning.

We confessed what we believe about Jesus in the Apostles' Creed. The wording was a little different in the Gloria in Excelsis, but our confession was the same: "O Lord God, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sin of the world." In the opening words of the hymn we just sang we confessed: "Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's head, You are her one foundation" (CW 536).

Through the power of God's Word and sacrament, and with the encouragement of fellow Christians, we would have to work pretty hard NOT to have our faith strengthened here. But what will happen when you leave the security of this place? What will happen to your confession when the questions start coming and the arrows start flying and you look around and realize that you are the only Christian in the room?

Sometimes being a disciple of Jesus can be very lonely. And sometimes that loneliness leads Christians to say and do things that don't give glory to God. Peter denied Jesus because he was afraid. Has that ever happened to you? Have you been intimidated by a hostile environment? Can you think of times when you were afraid to confess your faith, afraid of rejection, afraid of saying the wrong thing, so afraid that you said nothing?

There are plenty of places in the gospels where Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid, but at least one of those times that wasn't meant to be a comforting thought. In Matthew 10 Jesus told the Twelve: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (28). Jesus said: "If you are going to be afraid of anyone, be afraid of me. Be afraid of me because I hold your eternal destiny in my hands. Fear me because I have the power to save you or condemn you."

We don't have any answers for that. We can't stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God because we can't live up to God's perfect standard. We can only confess our sinfulness (that's confession in the other sense of the word). All we can do is get down on our knees and beg for God's mercy.

And every time we do, every time we confess our sins (like we did today) we get to hear those words again (and this time they are meant to be comforting): "Don't be afraid. I forgive your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You don't have to be afraid of me because I gave my holy, precious blood for you, to redeem you, to restore you, to empower you to confess your faith without fear."

What does that kind of confession sound like? What does it look like? How can we confess our faith with boldness and confidence? Like Joseph in today's First Lesson, we confess our faith every time we say "No" to Satan's temptations. Like Moses in the Second Lesson, we confess our faith when we forego sinful pleasures and earthly treasures and instead keep our eyes focused on our eternal reward. Like Peter in today's Gospel Lesson we confess our faith whenever we give the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus.

When Jesus heard Peter's confession do you know how he responded? He didn't praise Peter. He didn't thank Peter for his kind words. He called Peter "blessed." Again from Matthew: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (16:17).

Peter was blessed because God the Father had revealed to him the true identity of his Son. Peter was blessed because the Lord had given him the faith to confess his faith. We are blessed too. We are blessed for the same reasons. By God's grace Peter's confession is not just good for our souls. His faith is our faith. His confession is our confession. With Peter we believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Savior. Amen.

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