Text: Matthew 10:32-33
Date: Pentecost III (Proper 7a) + 6/25/17 + Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Today we have the delightful happenstance that the commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 today is the perfect illustration of the conclusion of our Lord’s Missionary Discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, namely, that we are to confess Jesus boldly. “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32). That’s what the Augsburg Confession is all about, it’s aim, “one simple truth and Christian concord, that for the future one pure and true religion may be embraced and maintained by us, that as we all are under one Christ and do battle under Him, so we may be able also to live in unity and concord in the one Christian Church” (AC Preface 4). It is fundamental to our Biblical confession of Christ before the world of eternal truths, deeply anchored in the Word of God, enunciated in a simple, extremely deep and eminently practical way.
In Matthew chapter ten Jesus is sending out the twelve Apostles as missionaries commanded to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. While this entire chapter has to do with the unique ministry of the Apostles, it is especially the second half of this chapter that applies also to today’s pastors, teachers and laity as each of us is called to confess Jesus before the world according to our various vocations. After His initial instructions, our Lord immediately warned about the persecution they will face as their testimony will involve them in the spiritual warfare with sin, Satan and death just as the Lord Himself endured as He was rejected and murdered on the cross of Calvary for the sin of the world. But even as He won the ultimate victory by His resurrection from the dead, so He instructs us to always keep our ultimate deliverance and salvation in mind even in the face of and against the most fearsome or threatening opposition of the world.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:10). Confession, that is, speaking the truth of faith, is the evidence of what is in the heart. First, then, is the concern for your own salvation by faith. Second is the confession of that salvation for the sake of others. And what is it that we are first to believe for ourselves and then to speak or witness to others? Jesus says, “Everyone who confesses me before men.” To confess Jesus is to tell how He is the Son of God, the long promised and awaited Messiah for Israel and the Light for the Gentiles also, that is, the Ransom and salvation for all the world’s sinners. It is the message summarized in the three ecumenical creeds. Jesus promises that on the Last Day, those who have faithfully made confession of Him here He also will confess to his Father. That is, Christ will confess the person who faithfully confessed Him before others, saying, “This one is mine.”
Of course, says Jesus, the opposite is also true. To deny Jesus before the world either shows a complete lack of faith or a fear of men that weakens or denies faith. This is guarded against by a life of continued repentance and faith.
So how’s your confession? Is it bold? Or are you afraid? In order for you to confess Jesus truly you must, above all, make His Word your home. Earlier in this chapter Jesus made an amazing promise especially when you are under persecution. He said, “When [your persecutors] deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Mt 10:19). To be given what you are to say is the Holy Spirit bringing to your memory the words of scripture. But you can only remember those words if you first have studied them, read, marked, learned and inwardly digested them. Such is the goal or purpose of continued Bible study and the hearing of the Word proclaimed in the Divine Service; hearing in readings, sermon, liturgy and song. The goal is confession, that is “to say the same thing” concerning Jesus and God’s Law and Gospel.
There is a terrible opposite to confession of the faith and that is the denial of Jesus, of the truth of who He is. This reveals as we said either a complete lack of faith or a fear of men. The word for “deny” here occurs elsewhere only in Peter’s denial of Jesus on that night ushered in by the betrayal of Judas. It must have been because of fear that the otherwise fiery, over confident first of the apostles became as silent as an unbeliever. A servant girl looked closely at Peter in the night time courtyard of the high priest’s house and said, “This man also was with [Jesus].” Peter denied it. “I do not know him.” Later someone else said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not,” Peter objected. Still another said, “Certainly this man also was with Jesus, for he too is a Galilean.” “Man,” Peter protested, “I do not know what you are talking about” (Mt 22).
Have you ever been in a situation when you thought you should have spoken up but did not? Just listen to what kind of things are going on these days. For the past 30 years we are told the St. Louis Cardinals schedule a “Christian Day” wherein a famous athlete or other public figure confesses publicly their faith in Jesus Christ. This year, however, a small group identifying themselves with the so-called LBGTQ confession demanded that Major League Baseball cancel the special day. Amazingly, to their credit, the Cardinals organization refused to cancel, though they also gave in to a certain extent saying, “We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our first Pride Night later this season.” That sounds like a mixed confession/denial. There are countless other examples of people confessing their faith and being persecuted for it. For instance bakers, florists, photographers and even pizza shops.
Many point to the risen Lord’s three-fold question of Peter at the end of John’s Gospel to be a related absolution for his earlier three-fold denial. So when you have let the fear of men silence your confession we must also remember the words of Psalm 130, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps 130:4). In that fear and faith we encourage one another this day in the words of our hymn, “Sound the trumpet! Tell the message: Christ, the Savior king, is come!” (LSB 511).