The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (NASB)
Immanuel isn’t alone in gearing up for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. The prices of old Luther movies and documentaries have sky rocketed in the last couple of months. Luther and reformation novelties are being created and some are selling like hot cakes. There is no shortage of webpages about Luther and the Reformation. Church going Protestants are starting to take notice and that is a good thing.
This presents the faithful few who actually understand what God restored to the church through Luther an opportunity to communicate the Gospel, to instruct people in how the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins is delivered to the people, what it means to worship in spirit and truth, vocatio, the office of ministry, and the all the rest.
One of those great misunderstanding, often repeated by Lutheran and non-Lutheran alike and is often found in some of those documentaries is the belief that Luther made the priestly office, church services, and the means of grace unnecessary because it is said “there is only one mediator between God and men, namely Jesus Christ and a Christian doesn’t need getting in the way of a ‘direct’ connection between God and the sinner.”
This statement not only misunderstands Luther and Christian doctrine, it also is a misunderstanding and misapplication of 1 Timothy 2:4-6 [God] “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”
Luther himself taught that this passage means that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. It is not found in any other religion. It is not found in one’s own good works or intentions. Here is what Luther actually said regarding this passage. “Therefore, let no man think to draw near to God or obtain grace of Him without this mediator, high priest, and advocate. It follows that we cannot through our own works or honesty of life, virtues, deserts, sanctity, or through works of the law, appease God or obtain forgiveness.”
1 Timothy 2:4-6 teaches us what Jesus Christ did for us and for our salvation. The Gospel lesson this morning is about how what Christ did gets delivered to you. This misuse of 1 Timothy 2 cannot stand when it is set along the side of the words of Jesus here in the Gospel lesson for this morning Matthew 16:16-21 and in John 20:22-23. Said to Peter. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
A woman called in to a Christian radio talk program to talk to “Bible answer man.” She said she had been troubles by a sin she had committed for a very long time. She said that it was a strange feeling because she knew she was a Christian and knows that God forgives her. She said, “Somehow though I just can’t seem to get past the guilt and the condemnation I feel.” She said, “I’ve been thinking about going to my pastor about the issue.” At that point the “Bible answer man” said, “Oh, no. You don’t need to go to your pastor to confess your sins. Just pray about it, he said, and know that God forgives you.”
A very many Christians, some who call themselves Lutherans miss the point of the woman’s plight and of the Scripture’s teaching. What that woman was looking for, what she needed was what we call “the office of the keys.” She needed the gift of confession and absolution.
Remember your Small Catechism. “Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.” Obviously the Bible answer man was expressing an anti-Catholic viewpoint regarding the confession of sins.
People hold all sorts of strange views on what the Church’s place is, or, should be. For many people to the Church, along with its biblically based life of worship has outlived its usefulness. You’ll find such people professing to believe in Jesus, but rarely dawning the doors of a church. People who spent their entire lives, 60, 70, 80+ years, in the faithful congregations, church simply stop going to church. They think that God is supposed to meet them where they are, rather than them meeting Him where He has promised to be found.
In the appointed Gospel reading this morning Jesus asks His disciples. “‘Who do you say that I am? . . . 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ . . . 18 ‘And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’”
What Jesus just said and promised here is truly stunning. He just promised Peter and the church the “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Peter just confessed that Jesus is Son of the Living God, that is the promised Messiah in Whom and He alone forgiveness, life, and salvation is found (remember Luther’s explanation of that Timothy passage). Without that doctrine and belief, there is no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, no salvation, and no church.
But here, having heard Peter’s confession faith, which was offered on behalf of all the disciples, Jesus promised that as pastors in His New Testament Church, they will have the authority and ability to bind and to set free.
In regard to those live in their sin and refuse to acknowledge sin as sin, pastors are to speak the law and the judgment of God by refusing them those words, “your sins are forgiven.” In regard to those who confess their sin, the pastor has the authority, ability, and command to loose, to let go, to remove one’s sins from the sight from God’s sight by sayijg “your sins are forgiven.”
That’s what Jesus means here in Matthew 16. He repeats it in Matthew 18, “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus said it again and gave that authority to forgive and retain sins to His soon to be pastors after His resurrection. (John 20:22-23) “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’”
Once Peter made his great confession of faith, Jesus teeaches the disciple five theological truths.
- Peter came to understand who Jesus is only because God the Father revealed the Son of God to Peter. The Small Catechism. “I cannot by my own strength or reason believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him.”
- That the church is built upon the truth of Jesus Christ and of what He came and did.
- The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church. As bad as things seem, the Church shall prevail.
- The church through the pastoral office has the God given authority to forgive and retain sins in Christ’s stead, in His name, and by His command.
- All this true because the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ will suffer, be crucified for our sins, and will rise on the third day.
The Bible’s teaching is clear regarding the mission of the church. The unique and primary mission of the church is the forgiving or retaining of sin based on the Word of God. Private specific confessions of particular sins and general and public confessions of sins before a pastor, priest, father, minister, etc. is fundamental to mission of the church.
It is what Christ gave her to do. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
What a wonderful world it would be if human beings were able to forgive and forget. Think of all the troubles in this world, in your own household, that would be solved if only we forgave one another as God the Father forgives us in Jesus Christ.
There is a big difference between a pastor who wants to turn you into better a better Christian by virtue of the Law and a pastor who understands the Gospel is truly different from the Law. One leads to either self-righteousness or despair. The Gospel imparts forgiveness of sins and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is eternal life.
Christ gave us something better and more sure than just a feeling or a theoretical or abstract knowledge of forgives. He has given us forgiveness in the flesh. First, He earned forgiveness in the flesh of His crucifixion and resurrection. Second, He gives us that forgiveness through the bread/body and wine/blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Third He dispenses His forgiveness through the flesh of a called and ordained man in confession and absolution.
Here in this Gospel text, Jesus teaches what it is that I as pastor am suppose to do for you and how you as confessor ought to receive the words I speak. When you confess, I speak for God and I wipe away the stain. Psalm 103. 11 “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.