“ 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.”
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus asks His disciples 2 different questions. The first is about what people claim about who Jesus is. So He asks Peter: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They answer him that according to Herod and others they think he is John the Baptist back from the dead, some believe he is Elijah returned, and others say he is Jeremiah or one of the prophets. This isn’t much different from what many have said both throughout history as well as what many say or speculate about even today.
To be sure, people today have opinions on just about everything. There’s never a shortage of opinions, theories and thoughts about anything on religion in general, but specifically there are lots of things people say about who Jesus is.
Some say Jesus was a good moral teacher, someone who gave some good ideas or rules about living, like loving your neighbor and the like. Some say Jesus was a prophet we should listen to but just like the other great teachers and prophets in the world. Some would answer that we all like to picture Jesus in our own way, in other words we want to make Jesus what we want Him to be. Others deny Him and His existence outright despite the overwhelming evidence we have on his historicity beyond anyone else who has ever been born.
This is the danger of sin, the danger of running things, even good things, in the way of the Law when they aren’t given that way for us, so we turn to speculation, theory and ideas rather than revelation. So Jesus then asks Peter another question, that is much more pointed and personal.
Peter, Who do YOU say that I am?
Now He gets down to heart of the matter, and what’s most important for both His disciples and for us.
Knowing that people have no shortage of ideas about God or about who Jesus is, He asks about what they confesses about Jesus?
We can hear lots of things about Jesus, about the Gospel but just hear them generally. We can study or hear the Bible or the Gospel, and learn what is said about who Jesus claimed to be and what is claimed by those witnesses of His life and ministry, but eventually things must go from general to specific. From what is said to by others and what they believe to what you say and believe. Jesus goes from all people and what they believe to YOU specifically. This is where Jesus takes the disciples and Peter, and Peter gets the confession spot on. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus is the Christ, or the Messiah promised from the Old Testament. This is the One promised to defeat sin, death and the devil in Genesis 3 and then the Promise given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel and all of the world. He is the Son of the living God. Peter gets this confession right, and now notice Jesus’ response.
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Anytime we hear Jesus say blessed, we should think salvation, saved, the forgiveness of sins, a sinner pronounced clean by God Himself. This is what Jesus first tells Peter after his confession.
Notice however, that Jesus doesn’t then praise Peter for his intellect, or his ability to understand deep things, since Peter was a fisherman, not a schooled theologian, but he got it right about Jesus. How and why did he get this confession right when others said things that were wrong? Was Peter just smarter or better than those others?
Jesus says, it’s because of a gift, the Father gave it to him, he revealed it. He showed Peter who Jesus was. This wasn’t something good inside of Peter or his own religious piety. We have lots of Peters failures and sin actually recorded in the Scriptures, when he got mad and fought with the other disciples about being the greatest, when he begged to walk on water like Jesus, but then began to sink, but most glaringly when he denies Jesus 3 times and even curses this one whom he is now confessing as the Messiah, Son of the Living God.
So, for both Peter and for you, faith and confession of Jesus as the Christ or Anointed and Promised Messiah is a gift. It’s not something you can just muster up. It’s not something you earn or can accomplish. It’s not something you do, but it’s rather SOMEONE you are given. The Name of this Jesus who the Christ or Messiah, Son of the living God is given to you in His Word of Gospel, in Baptism, it is proclaimed to you in the absolution of all of your sins.
It is not just some mantra, like false religion teaches, but you are given the One who truly and actually died and rose in your place for your sins, Jesus, the Christ, Son of the Living God. And because of His death for your sin, your sin is actually removed, they aren’t yours, He’s taken it from you. It’s as far away from you as the East is from the West. You’re a sinner now clean by His gift to you.
Jesus then goes on telling Peter after his confession:
“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.”
The word, translated as Hell here in English, actually refers to Hades, Sheol or the place of death. Since Jesus is the Risen Lord, and will overcome death, which he predicts in the text just following our Gospel reading, there is no power or place for you there, for you belong to life, not death. You belong to the to the Living God.– He has defeated death, your final enemy and final consequence of Original Sin through His resurrection. You have nothing to fear in death because Jesus is risen indeed. So fear not!
Finally we hear from Jesus where He will be giving these gifts of salvation, victory over sin death and the devil. It will be through the gifts given through the church. NO matter the apparent outlook, doom and gloom in the world, the church is the place where the gifts of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are given. The keys, or the absolution, the means of delivery of Jesus’ victory belongs to the church, since the church is Christ’s own. His own body. It is the place where He gathers you to Name by which all is forgiven, all is made right and you belong to this Lord who loves you and will always give you that which He has won for you. It is the place where He has called a preacher to proclaim this good news to YOU, where all that is His victory over sin, death and the devil is given to you.
WE His people look to His promise in His Word and Sacrament, His supper, where He is truly present to deliver, feed and sustains you in this life of faith through His body, given into death for your sins and His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all sins.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.