Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 16A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, August 27, 2017.
Jesus asked the disciples a modern day question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). This is an identity question and today we’re very concerned with identity. Questions about gender identity, about how we self-identify are asked daily. In our world identity is fluid and ever-changing. We decide who we are and we can change our minds whenever we want. But is this how identity works? Not for Jesus. Jesus’ identity isn’t changing. He’s always been and forever will be the Christ, the Son of the living God. And it’s within His identity that we know ours.
People of Jesus’ day were confused about who He was. From Old Testament prophecies, the people expected a notable prophet to return. For example, Moses said in Dt. 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you,…it is to him you shall listen.” The people thought Jesus was an old prophet returned, but which one.
Some, like Herod the tetrarch, who beheaded John the Baptist, heard of the signs Jesus was doing and thought Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead. Others believed Jesus was Elijah, the miracle working prophet who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Still others thought Jesus was Jeremiah or some other prophet back with special words from God. There were many ideas about who Jesus was…and there still is today.
We still have different thoughts, ideas, and opinions about who Jesus is. We think He’s a teacher or a life coach. We say Jesus came to fully teach God’s Law, to tell us what the 10 Commandments really mean. We think of Him as our example to emulate to live the true moral life. Like a coach, we believe He’s here to cheer us on, to motivate us to work hard and get what we want out of life, to achieve our earthly goals. He’s here to encourage us to never give up during the rough parts of life.
Jesus is our teacher, this is true. He does teach the truth of God’s Word. In His Sermon on the Mount, He did explain the full meaning of God’s Law, that it applies not just to our actions and words, but also our thoughts and hearts. Jesus lived the perfect life and we should try to emulate that life. He does motivate us to live the life were called to, showing forth His love. And He does encourage us in the faith during rough spots in life. But Jesus isn’t just a teacher or life coach. He’s so much more.
So, we think of Him as a miracle worker. Like the prophet Elijah who kept the jar of flour full for the Widow of Zarephath and raised her dead son, we want Jesus to do these things, and we know He can. Twice He feed thousands with just a little food. He raised Lazarus from the dead and He healed countless others. These are the miracles we want from Jesus. When our stomachs, homes, and bank accounts are empty, we want Him to fill them with all our wants. When we fall ill, we expect Jesus to heal us...and if He doesn’t, we hate Him. Like a petulant child we become angry and turn from Him.
But Jesus isn’t just a miracle worker. Did He perform miracles? Yes. Did He heal and raise people from the dead? Yes. But Jesus’ miracles themselves aren’t the point. Jesus didn’t become incarnate to wow us with spectacular signs. Jesus’ miracles direct us to who He is, to His true identity.
After the disciples told Jesus who others said He was, Jesus asked them “Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15). With God given faith, Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). This is who Jesus is. This is His true identity.
Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. He’s fully God and fully man; and He’s the Christ, God’s chosen One, the Anointed, the One foretold of in the Old Testament, the promised Savior.
Jesus is the prophet that Moses spoke of. Just as Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus has led you from your slavery to sin. With His death on the cross, Christ freed you, He paid the price for you. He gave up His life for yours. By shedding His holy and innocent blood, He redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil. This is who Jesus is. This is His true identity, an identity we can only confess with God given faith.
After Peter confessed Jesus’ true identity, Christ blessed him and said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17). Peter only confessed who Jesus truly was because the Father revealed this to him. Through the words of the Old Testament prophets and through the teachings and miracles of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the Holy Spirit created faith in Peter, in all the disciples, and in you.
Through the very same Word of God, your Father has given you faith through the work of the Spirit. Hearing the good news of the Christ, He’s shown you who Jesus is: your Savior who forgives you and brings you back into a right relationship with God. And with this faith in Jesus’ true identity, you know who you are: a redeemed baptized child of God.
Your identity comes from Christ your Lord. Baptized into His death and resurrection you don’t conform to this world that says your identity is based on how you feel at that moment. Your identity isn’t based on your old sins. In Jesus, your identity is firm no matter how you feel. In Jesus, through the waters of baptism, your old sinful Adam is drowned. You’re forgiven and a new man is raised to live in Christ’s righteousness. This is who you are. This is your true identity, and in faith, you live according to that identity.
Living in this identity means you love and serve others. When we think about serving others, we think about meeting their needs. When our neighbors are hungry, we feed them. When they need a few bucks to pay the electric bill, we open our wallets. When they need help moving, we load up the trucks. These are most certainly excellent examples of service. But there’s another way we serve...and that’s forgiving one another.
Jesus said to the disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of sins. Christ has given His faithful the responsibility to forgive those who ask us for forgiveness, and as forgiven baptized children of God, this is what we do.
Too often we refuse to forgive others because we want to hold on to some sort of dignity. We want to hold the righteous moral high ground...but this doesn’t fit with our identity. This isn’t who we are. That’s our old sinful Adam, and there’s no place for him in Christ. We serve and love one another in a God pleasing way when we forgive; when we ask for forgiveness when we sin against others. That’s who you are.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He’s the promised Savior who rescues you from sin, death, and the devil with His sacrificial death on the cross. This is Jesus’ identity, and it never changes. And this is where you find your identity. You’re in Him. You’re a baptized, redeemed, and forgiven child of God. This is your identity, and we pray that the Lord enable us to live out this identity confessing Him, loving and serving our neighbor, forgiving one another, just as we’ve been forgiven in Him. In Jesus’ name...Amen.