Text: Matthew 16:13-19
Date: Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles Day + 6/29/14
What a change! What a change for the man named Saul to suddenly, miraculously change from being a leading persecutor of the Church to an apostle and preacher of Jesus and leading evangelist to the Gentiles. We have heard that he had to undergo a certain amount of examination and acceptance by the Church in Jerusalem but finally was accepted.
What a change also for the fisherman named Simon Peter. Known for his many impulsive gaffs and especially his denial of the Lord, once weak suddenly becomes a bold preacher, witness and leader of the apostles.
And what a change to this day! Through the ages certain men have been led to pursue whether or not they were being called into the ministry of the Church, in the holy train of the apostles. In our church, after three years of intense instruction and a year of testing in the field some discover they are not being called by God. The rest all approach the end of their last year at the seminary suddenly saying, protesting to themselves and to God, “No, I’m not really ready, am I?” And suddenly the unthinkable happened. Certified. Called. Graduated. Moved to their first calling congregation. Then the heavy hands of ordination were laid and they were installed in their first charge. Then, as our synodical President’s motto has it, “Let’s go!”
Through the years both pastors and Christian people alike take comfort from the example of the apostles. While both the apostles Peter and Paul have their own individual commemorations (The Confession of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul), today they are remembered together as the apostles to the whole world, to the Jews and the Gentiles. The comfort of their example is simply how they felt themselves to be quite inadequate and unqualified, and even proved it through their many failings and yet how God’s power and grace made them to be among the chief apostles.
It was on this day 35 years ago, a Friday in 1979 that I was ordained into the ministry of The Evangelical Lutheran Church and installed as pastor of Grace English Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois. So now I’ve had 35 years…35 years to change. To answer the seminarians question quite honestly, “No, you’re not really ready yet. Nevertheless, let’s go!” Pastors as well as every Christian must first be a disciple. The word “mathaytais” means “learner.” We must spend our entire lives changing, growing, learning. Now a person is baptized but once. A person is justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ. From the first moment till the last you are baptized, you are justified, you are saved. Yet the life of faith is one of constantly becoming. Becoming what? Becoming holy. The life of sanctification is a struggle, has its ups and downs, its forwards and reverses, is never perfect or complete until that day when sin no longer has its strangle hold on us.
The ministry of the gospel is about the most radical change one can imagine. When God’s love moved Him to act, everything changed. The entire universe changed radically when, to save us, God Himself, the very Son of God took on our human nature, our very human flesh and blood into Himself. Ever since His conception in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary the Creator has become intimately one with His creation. During His earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing Jesus changed the lives of almost everyone He touched and who heard Him. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, cleansing to the leper and even on a few occasions life to the dead!
But beyond physical changes of healing He changed people’s minds, souls and destinies, drawing sinners to Himself with the Word of Life, Freedom and Forgiveness, changing sinners into saints.
Then there were the Twelve. These and all those who have followed in their train to this day have been given the blessed burden of preaching, proclaiming God’s salvation to the world. And what is that proclamation, what is that salvation? It is always and only “Jesus.” Their sermons never start with the word “I.” It is God’s word they proclaim and not their own. It is the eternal answer to the eternal question of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Flesh and blood knows not how to answer but inadequately. “John the Baptist come back from the dead?” “Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets?”
And who do people say Jesus is today? A good man. A great teacher. Even a man from God. Or maybe just a mythological figure of historical imagination. In other words Jesus is nobody. And He is nobody to everyone, nobody until His word is spoken, confronts, challenges, reveals, forgives, comforts and saves. That’s all Paul or Peter had to go on. That’s all any preacher has to share. The Word. This Word. His Word of forgiveness of sins, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It is the Word of release from the grip of sin and death, the Word of liberation from the captivity of Satan and the world, the Word of life.
Yes, what a day, and what a change. Both Paul and Peter go to Rome, the center of the world at the time. Both were imprisoned and persecuted there for a time. Paul, it is thought, went on all the way to Spain! Peter remained in Rome being martyred for the faith there. But it was out of their very enemy’s mouths that the truth and victory was proclaimed in the words, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). Through the book of Acts St. Luke recounts how the Word of the Lord grew, first by addition of believers then quickly by multiplication. Through times of peace the light of the Gospel spread and shined brightly through nation after nation. But even through times of persecution and darkness the light of the gospel kept burning, burning in believing hearts however few. Then there were times of awakening such as through the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and those who came to the American shores to establish more cities on more hills. May God send another awakening today.
And so this Word, this Person, Jesus, has come to you for His death was for you. By holy baptism and again and again in holy absolution the keys of the kingdom release you from the power of sin. Flesh and blood reveals nothing but our heavenly Father reveals the truth and puts that saving confession into your heart, your mind, your mouth, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” So, as apostle Paul said it, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10). In a moment we will confess with our mouths those miraculous, God-given words, “I believe!”
Saints Paul and Peter confessed their faith not only in their day but to the whole world in their inspired preaching and writing. Today I thank God for using even my sin-laden heart and mind and mouth to convey and give that word which saves to so many people over 35 years. Today I thank God for each of you, fellow believers and confessors and, yes, preachers; preachers not of ourselves but of Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves only servants of others for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor 4:5).
By all Your saints in warfare,
For all Your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blest!
For You have won the battle
That they might wear the crown;
And now they shine in glory
Reflected from Your throne. (LSB 517)