Sunday, August 27th, 2023

Who is Jesus?


Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives. In Jesus name, Amen. One of the great moments in movies or TV shows, or books or plays is that moment that we might call the epiphany moment.  That moment when the character finally realizes something they’ve been searching for all along. I think for example, of the usual suspects, if you’ve seen that movie a couple of years old now, but I’ve seen at the end when the detective finally puts all the pieces together, or maybe like The Sixth Sense, when the audience finally realizes what the little boy knew all along. Epiphany moments are powerful moments, and while Matthew, I don’t think intends the identity of Jesus as Christ to come as a surprise to you, he does actually dedicate an entire section of his gospel, six full chapters, to forcing his readers, us, to forcing us to struggle with the question, “Who is Jesus?” It started way back in Matthew Chapter 11. The first several chapters of Matthew introduced Jesus as a great teacher, like the sermon on the mount, one who does miraculous signs and healings. Sort of lays the groundwork, and then Matthew records messengers from John the Baptist coming to Jesus and asking him “Are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another?” It’s another way of the messengers asking Jesus “Are you the Christ or should we wait for another?” and Jesus’s response is telling. He says go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor have good news preached to them. Here’s the key phrase and “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Blessed is the one that Jesus says to John’s messengers blessed is the one who is not offended that I am in fact the Christ, the chosen one sent by God. Fast forward six chapters to today’s reading and Jesus asks his disciples, “ Who do people say that I am?” and they give their litany of answers that you just heard, and then he asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter speaking on behalf of the whole group says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” and Jesus’s response, true to John, true to his response, the disciples of John, he looks at Peter and he says “Blessed are you Simon. Blessed are you for confessing that I am the Christ.” The climactic moment of the entire middle section of Matthew’s gospel, something Matthew’s been building towards for six chapters, the point towards which he’s been driving. So everything that we’ve heard this entire summer has been building towards this moment. Jesus is the Christ. What have we seen along the way? Well we learned, that Jesus was a God, of compassion that God is compassionate to you, that Jesus is the Savior who invites you to come and learn from him, that he has true rest, that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, that he is the great healer who has compassion on the crowds that are brought to him over and over again, healing their sick, casting out their demons, bringing sight to the blind, that he is the almighty who has compassion on his disciples by walking out to them in the midst of the storm to rescue them, He is the great new provider who has compassion on the multitudes by feeding them, and miraculously a couple of times first of five small loaves of bread and two small fish with 12 baskets leftover, and then with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish with seven baskets leftover. Matthew presents Jesus as a compassionate God and that’s exactly who Jesus is. He is your compassionate God. He has rest for you. Rest for your soul and the forgiveness of your sins, and the new life that is yours through the waters of baptism. He has freed you from the burden of trying to save yourself. He has freed you from the burden of trying to be good enough to rid yourself, or to rid your life of shame. Jesus gives you rest and he provides for your needs of body and soul, feeding you each day with your daily bread, providing his means of grace for the nourishment of your soul, in abundance, yes, Jesus is the compassionate God who has compassion on you. But Matthew also showed us that there would always be those who would oppose Jesus. The Pharisees attack Jesus for plucking grain heads on the Sabbath, or for not making his disciples wash their hands the right way before meals. The people of his hometown accused him of being a lunatic. King Herod beheads John the Baptist and sets his sight now on silencing Jesus. not all received Jesus’s message with open arms, and so also today, not all will confess him as Lord, but as Jesus taught in his parables, he tolerates the presence of the weeds out of compassion for the wheat. And then, not all seed sown will produce fruit, but He sows anyway. We sow anyway, leaving growth in the hands of God. Which transitions smoothly into the next thing that Matthew would have us remember about Jesus from these chapters, that Jesus rules his Kingdom in unexpected ways. Yet however unexpected, it is, He’s ruling it for you. Like yeast hidden in dough, so also the work of God is hidden from our sight, like a mustard seed that grows into an unexpectedly large tree, so also the work of God produces results that we never saw coming, like the Savior provides for the bodies and souls of the crowds, so also he provides for our needs of body and soul through unimpressive things like simple spoken words, splash of water, or a meal of basic bread and wine. Matthew spends 6 chapters weaving all of these truths together building up to today’s climactic exchange. The final and the ultimate point Matthew wants us to see about Jesus is this: Jesus is the Christ, the promised one sent by God, chosen by him, anointed by him. That’s what the word Christ means. This whole section begins with the chapter, this whole section begins with the question, “Are you the coming one, Jesus. Are you the Christ?” and for over 5 chapters Matthew has been asking us to wrestle with the identity of Jesus and here it concludes with Peter’s dramatic confession, speaking not only for himself, but speaking as a mouthpiece of the group, answering the question. Is Jesus the Christ Peter says “Yes you are the Christ, the son of the living God, the chosen one of Israel.” This is actually the first time in Matthew’s gospel that anyone calls Jesus the Christ. Matthew himself as the writer, as the narrator has done it multiple times and multiple times the disciples have confessed Jesus to be things like the son of David, or the son of God. But this is the first time someone explicitly calls Jesus the Christ and that language is important here because Christ means Jesus was sent to do something. Christ means the chosen one. He was chosen for something, chosen to do something. He is the chosen prophet, the great prophet sent by God to deliver his ultimate message of truth, the message that confuses the scribes and the Pharisees, because it turns their expectations upside down, it challenges their conception of what God should do, who God should be, and how God should act. That doesn’t make it any less true. So also for us. His message still confuses and offends both our sinful flesh and our self-righteous nature. It offends our sinful flesh by knocking down every attempt at self justification, by exposing sin for what it is. By calling us to repentance. He offends our self righteousness by taking away all of our crutches, by undercutting our pride. Just as he challenged and destroyed all the systems and the traditions of the Pharisees, so also he takes away every crutch that we would lean on, that we would try to prop ourselves up against before him, until we are left lying on the ground next to the Canaanite woman, begging for His mercy. And that’s when he rejoices. To show us how merciful He truly is, just as He was merciful to her. Jesus is the Christ, the great priest, offering His sacrifice in the heavenly places, interceding for us as Israel’s priest stood before God on behalf of the people for generations, proclaiming the good news of reconciliation to us as the priests of Israel announced God’s blessing and favor over the people for generations. Jesus is the Christ, the great prophet, the great priest, the great king of all creation, ascended to sit at the right hand of His Father, seated on the throne of the universe, governing and guiding all things for the sake of His gospel, for the preservation of his church. That’s what Jesus says. Jesus is the Christ and the gates of hell will not overcome his church. Jesus is acknowledging before the disciples and before us that life, this side of heaven, is spiritual warfare. In fact Matthew’s gospel is about to make a significant turn, which will start next week, a significant shift into highlighting the events that are going to directly lead to Jesus being executed and crucified for all to see. If the disciples thought they had faced opposition to this point, Jesus is basically telling them, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Prepare yourself to see the Son of Man arrested by the leaders of God’s own people. Prepare to see the son of God falsely accused and falsely convicted. Prepare to see God’s chosen one, God’s Christ tortured, humiliated, mocked, ridiculed, stripped naked, killed for all to see. Prepare to see what it feels like to believe that all hope has been lost, and in that moment, remember the gates of hell will not win in the end. Death is just a doorway to resurrection life. Satan may think that he wins. Satan may parade around as if he’s won, but in the end, the victory was always in God’s hands. The gates of hell will not prevail because Jesus is the Christ. So also our lives 2000 years later, our lives as the children of God today, are still spiritual warfare. Our continued return to pet sins threatens to fill us with an overwhelming dread and shame, as if Jesus couldn’t possibly save someone like me, but the kingdom of hell doesn’t win. In the end, our fear, our sadness, our panic at the state of the world around us tempts us to believe that Satan and his demon army are winning, that they’re winning the day in politics, or in culture, or in entertainment, but Jesus is the Christ. The kingdom of Satan does not win in the end, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, the people of God will walk free in the Kingdom of God, in the life to come. This fills us with confidence. This fills us with hope, for Jesus is the Christ, and he has given to his church the keys to heaven itself. What are those keys? Everything that Jesus has been doing and teaching, everything Matthew has been emphasizing over the last six chapters, its the reality that Jesus is the Christ, sent by God, sent to bring about the forgiveness of sins, and to give the proclamation of that forgiveness to the mouth of his church. Sent to raise us to new life in him, sent to comfort us with the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail, sent to comfort us with the promise that he will continue to always provide for all our needs of body and soul, sent to comfort us with the promise that he gives us a Sabbath rest, like it was meant to be enjoyed, not simply avoiding work, but the peace and the fullness that comes from resting safely in the arms of the God who loves us, the God who has provided us with everything that we need. When we stand next to Peter and the other disciples confessing, not from our own flesh, but from the father who is in heaven that Jesus is in fact the Christ, the gates of heaven are wide open to us, too. We experience a small taste of heaven on earth right now, as we live in the freedom of the gospel, knowing that we are right with God because of Jesus, regardless of whether my day was marked by success or failure, knowing that death will not get the last word, that death will not destroy us. We are already living the eternal life, today, by being united to the eternal body and blood of Jesus himself in the sacrament of this altar, knowing that whatever bodily or spiritual ailments might plague us day-to-day, they will all be set right by Jesus in the new creation, just as He healed so many when he walked among them in this creation, in the flesh. The Kingdom of heaven is not just a future reality waiting for you one day. There’s a glimmer of it that already marks your life, right here and right now, because Jesus is the Christ, and he has opened the gates of heaven to you, so rejoice, relax, find your confidence in the truth of Peter’s confession. Yes. “Jesus is the Christ.” The gates of hell will not overcome Him or His people, including you. Jesus is the Son of the living God. Jesus is the compassionate one. The Christ who provides for all your needs of body and soul, the one who gives you rest, the one who has opened the gates of heaven to you and you belong to him. Find comfort in that, find your peace in that, stand on the rock of Jesus. May God grant it in Jesus name Amen.