Posted on Sun, Aug 24, 2014
August 24, 2014
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16:13-20 – “Confirmed, NOT Conformed”
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Let me guess, as I was reading the Gospel, the only part that you really noticed and began wondering was about all that “loosing” and “binding.” … Does this mean that if Peter, one of the disciples, or even one of us, doesn’t forgive someone, they are condemned to hell because they will forever be bound to that sin and therefore they will never be welcomed into heaven???
Of all the texts I have taught over the years, this is the one, along with the text about the “unforgiveable sin” that people are troubled, confused and even afraid of…
What this human reaction tells me is that even though we live in a very secular and technologically driven world, deep down people are very concerned and aware of the trappings of sin, doubt, fear, feeling alone or cast away from community or even the presence of God. We are actually very troubled by the baggage of sin or doubt we have and the consequences thereof. We are physical and social beings, but we are also spiritual beings, and this is what this text is about.
First, we need to understand the context and purpose of the text. We are in Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke there is a basic pattern to the travels of Jesus. After he is baptized Jesus heads north around Galilee mostly to Jewish areas for his ‘public ministry’ teaching, healing, feeding, and proclaiming the Good News of God’s presence and the need to return to their God (Repentance). However he does encounter non-Jews and even though He is first called to minister to the Jewish community, he still ministers to Gentiles along the way. Recall last Sunday when He entered into modern day south Lebanon when he went up to Tyre and Sidon and even though Jesus referred to the Canaanite as woman as a “dog”… it was through her demonstration of humility and faith, the love and mercy of God in Jesus, fell on the woman and her daughter was healed. (I think Jesus would have healed the daughter anyway, but a opportune “teaching moment” seemed to come out of nowhere with that Canaanite woman coming to Jesus…)
But at this stage in the book of Matthew, Jesus has completed most of his public healing, feeding and teaching ministry and he has begun to “put his face towards Jerusalem” in order to complete his ministry by giving his life on the cross and rising again AS HE PROMISED. From now on, he will focus on helping his disciples to make sense out of what they have witnessed through Jesus public teaching, healing and such. He needs them to understand with their heads, who this Jesus, who has called them to follow, truly is as their Messiah, and the one they will be proclaiming to the world after Jesus has ascended into heaven. So, in the next chapter, you will see Jesus sitting in a tighter circle asking the disciples questions like today, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Matthew writes that their answer is, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” This is an interesting list of names to choose for the early church and even us today when we wonder who this Jesus may be. Why John the Baptist? What has recently happened in their lives and is the main reason Jesus sent his disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a boat rather than walking on a public road? Recently, kind Herod has murdered John the Baptist, and after hearing about all the miracles Jesus is doing in Galilee, Herod is genuinely afraid that Jesus is the ghost of John the Baptist and may come after Herod… Why Elijah? Elijah was the great prophet who proclaimed God’s presence, and also did not die a natural death… he was picked up by a flaming chariot… not even National Geographic or NOVA’s archeologists will find Elijah’s bones… neither will they find Jesus’ bones. Then we have Jeremiah, what was his main message to an affluent Israel in his day? Repent! Turn back to the law of God, because the Babylonians are coming! Did the people listen? Nope! And what happened? Just as Jeremiah said, the Babylonians came and took them back into slavery… What was Jesus main message for people? It was repent and turn back to your God… because you are looking at God right in the face in the person of Jesus.
Then, Matthew writes Jesus critical question for His disciples and for us, those who are walking in the discipline of Jesus, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter’s proclamation comes purely from putting two and two together in what he has seen and heard from Jesus and the words of the prophets in scripture. It is head knowledge. Not even Peter will realize the power of his faith statement until after he has betrayed Jesus, doubted Jesus, yet was forgiven by Jesus through Jesus’ obedience to the promise of giving his life for the “unforgiveable.”
So Jesus makes the big announcement, He is going to build his church on the rock hard experience Peter will someday have. The main responsibility of the Church is to preach Christ crucified and risen again, FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS! It is through forgiveness, mercy and grace that we are freed from all doubt, fear, guilt and all those things that we even ‘bind to ourselves!’ The only way to be ‘loosed’ of all the junk that keeps us from being the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church of Christ, in a very lost, suffering and dark world, is through the freeing and reconciling words of forgiveness, mercy and love given to us through the grace of God witnessed through the death and resurrection of Christ.
And the really good news about Jesus’ promise is what Paul proclaims: (Romans 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore, those words of forgiveness proclaimed at worship after we have confessed our sins… not even the fear of hell can take the TRUTH of those good words away. The words of forgiveness and healing you can share with a friend? They can heal a sin-sick soul, a broken heart, or even a troubled mind. Through the mercy, grace and love you share with a friend or person in need can become the presence of God for that person.
And regarding that concept of “binding,” do you think Peter would be interested in binding the sins of any person after the forgiveness and mercy had had received through the Cross of Christ and the receiving of the Holy Spirit? Peter, and the Church, the Body of Christ is about proclaiming freedom from all the junk that leads away from the joy of walking in the Light of Christ.
And if you ever meet someone, especially some ignorant pastor that decides he or she wants to “bind your sins” to you or anyone else… Remember, Jesus is the one with Authority, and the Cross of Jesus has already confirmed that you are forgiven and are a Child of God now and forever.
Anyone foolish enough to think they can “bind sins” to anyone, will have some serious explaining to do with this same Peter at those pearly gates. I can just hear Peter saying, “Don’t you remember that parable about the manager who was forgiven of his great debt, and then he didn't have the courage to forgive his neighbors who only owed him a pittance? … explain yourself…”
Put the text in the here, now and present; through the gift of forgiveness you can truly give people hope and freedom right now. Through the gift of forgiveness you can claim freedom for yourself RIGHT NOW. Through the Cross of Christ, we are loosed from all the chains that bind us to any doubt, fear, or burden that draws us away from Christ. If you are ‘bound’ to anything, as Children of God, the Body of Christ, the Church, you are bound to the promise of forgiveness, the responsibility to have mercy and do justice, you are bound to walk in the discipline of Jesus bringing the light of God’s truth and grace to a hurting world.
Don’t be conformed to the fears of today, but allow your heart to confirm the Truth, that you are free to live in faith, hope, love and joy. Amen!
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