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Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Note: I am greatly indebted to Professor Jeffrey Gibbs’ commentary in the Concordia Commentary series Matthew 11:-20:34, as well as the recent summer course I attended taught by him.  All of the major ideas in this sermon I first came to understand through his teaching and even some of the language for this sermon was taken directly out of his commentary.  As always, I say all this to give proper credit where credit is due.

Also, the written sermon for this Sunday is much more along the lines of an earlier draft when compared to what was actually preached.  Looking back on the written page while posting this, the Gospel is far more clearly articulated in what was preached.  Other duties prevent me from going back and transcribing the audio of the sermon back onto the page.  The audio sermon is the better sermon.


Matthew 16:21-28

Augustana, 2011

Click here for mp3 audio  50 Sermon for Pent 11.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon is based on the Gospel reading we just heard read.

The interaction that we hear this morning between Jesus and Peter follows immediately after the tremendous confession we heard from Peter last Sunday.  I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit through his servant Matthew intended us to see not only these events but to see the powerful contrast between Peter’s confession from last week and Peter’s denial of Jesus this week.  In between those two things though is something of utmost importance, Jesus first prediction of his suffering and death, what we often refer to as Jesus’s passion.  Peter confesses Jesus to be God’s Christ, the Messiah of God sent to restore the rule of God on earth, Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”  “Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”  Our reading today picks up immediately after last week’s ended, “From that time Jesus 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 on the third day be raised.”  Jesus was trying to explain to them what he had often alluded to before.  Back in chapter 9, the Pharisees had asked Jesus about his disciples not fasting, “And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (9:15)  And twice Jesus had told the Pharisees that no sign would be given to them except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  (12:39-40; cf. 16:1-4)  But since Peter had just revealed to all the disciples that Jesus is God’s Christ, what Jesus had been speaking about only figuratively, he was now openly teaching to them.  It is as if he said, “I am God’s Christ.  It is the plan of God who sent me to go Jerusalem, to suffer and to die but on the third day be raised.”  Jesus is very clearly predicting his death in Jerusalem at the hands of the religious leaders there and he is very clearly indicating that this is God’s plan that he suffer and die, that the sin of powerful men and their rebellion against God’s Christ have its way even as he fulfills every aspect of God’s plan.  Later Jesus explains that he is giving his life as a ransom payment for many (20:28) but here it is still very clear that he is heading to the cross in Jerusalem.

And Peter’s response is the absolute mirror opposite of what it’s supposed to be in both meaning and intent.  Peter takes Jesus aside and starts rebuking Jesus and even proposing an alternate plan to the divine plan.  Not you Lord.  God forbid it!  It is as if he said, “Uh, Lord, don’t you know anything about the job description of Messiahs?  They don’t suffer and die in Jerusalem, they become king in Jerusalem.”  Peter rebuked Jesus.   By the way, I know in the past I’ve heard folks try to downplay this interaction between Peter and Jesus.  Peter didn’t really rebuke Jesus.  Jesus didn’t really call Peter the devil.  That’s wrong.  This is confrontation.  This is conflict and it’s so highly charged because Peter couldn’t be more wrong.  We get it wrong if we don’t see the intensity of this conflict because Peter is so very wrong about the mission of the Living God’s Christ.  Yes, Peter still believes that Jesus is God’s anointed One, the man who is uniquely God’s Son.  And if God’s Son, God’s own Christ is to go to Jerusalem, then he will go up in triumph and be received as God’s own Messiah.  God will not let his Christ suffer at the hands of the wicked rulers in Jerusalem.  “Far be it, Lord!”  In short, what Peter does is confess that Jesus is God’s Messiah and then speaks in a way that implies he knows more of God’s will than the Messiah himself.  We can’t really blame Peter from our perspective.  God’s plan doesn’t make any sense to us.  It’s shocking.  On the face of it, it’s truly absurd.  God sent his own Son on order to be rejected by the leaders of his chosen nation, Israel and with the intention that his own Son would suffer total defeat in the most shameful death imaginable, the cross of execution.  Not to be sure the cross is not mentioned here but it’s easy to see that for Peter, the two ideas of God’s Christ and Suffering Servant (Isa 53) simply don’t go together.  Peter is horrified that God would choose to work this way in the world.  If Jesus is God’s Christ, there is no suffering, there is victory in Jerusalem.  God’s way in the world should look like success not failure!

Are we not like Peter more often than not?  Is this not what we say even now as a hurricane bears down on people in New York City?  Is this not what we say when earthquakes ravaged Haiti?  Is this not what we say when a tsunami after Christmas Day a few years back washed away in one moment more people than all the US troops who died in the entire Vietnam War.  If we were running the show, it wouldn’t look like this.  No, if we had our say, God would reign in glory!  God would reign now in victory!  God would reign and there would be no hunger in Somalia for even the stones would turn to bread!  God would reign and there would be no illness or injury in world for his angels would tend to our every need lest our feet dash against a stone.  In fact, God would rule all the kingdoms of the world and none of God’s people would ever be oppressed by wicked and corrupt governments.  God would reign right now in victory and Jesus would not suffer and not die.  And Jesus says to Peter and to us, “you do not have in mind the things of God but the ways of men.”   Get behind me, Satan.  Just as Jesus had rejected a different plan offered him by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus rejects Peter’s and our alternate plan.  Jesus rejects the plan of Satan and follows God’s plan.

This tells us all we need to know about the nature of the world in which we live and the plan of God in Christ to reclaim the world and reign in it and over it in grace.  To be sure, the world is filled with violent men.  All, by nature, are violent and would seek to steal and destroy the rule of God.  Truly, God is King, and in Jesus his rule has been restored in the creation.  The mighty deeds and the authoritative, forgiving word of Jesus have demonstrated that full well.  In the unexpected ways of God, however, this same Jesus must yield to those who oppose him and suffer the unjust fate of vicarious suffering and death.  Only by doing so, according to God’s own plan, can God’s people, all people, and all creation be saved from sin and its henchman, death.  After dying, the Christ will be raised to eternal life, and this entire sequence can neither be changed nor interrupted.

These are the deep truths of God.  He does not work as we would have him work.  His ways are not our ways.  And so Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is in some ways a rebuke to us all who would have God work in the way we deem necessary.  Peter needs to learn what to means for him to follow after this Christ, not the one he had dreamed up, not the one he wanted.  To follow after this Christ, is to follow him to Jerusalem and into suffering and death but also resurrection.  This is the way of discipleship in the way of God’s Christ.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Just as Jesus had very clearly taught that his mission was to go to the cross in Jerusalem, he very clearly taught that the mission for his disciples was to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow after him.  Again, this is not the way we would have it but it is the way given to us by the Lord’s Christ.  We have not in mind the things of God but the things of men.  Living inside of each of us is the dark conviction that lies in the phrase, “Put me in charge and I’ll make it right.”  That attitude has the potential to do untold damage to the cause and name of Christ.  It takes the form of ambition, something that we usually consider a good thing even in the church.  And it sprouts forth as criticism, competition, and one-upmanship.  Even quiet, prideful comparison with others that doesn’t do anything demeans a brother or sister.  Ambition, comparison, measurement and criticism are all the ways of men and not ways of denying oneself.

The way of Jesus, though, is humble obedience and total submission to the will of the Father.  The way of discipleship after Jesus is confessing the darkness within, the desire for power over others and to deny that power whenever it shows itself.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this passage.  I promise you that I’m not in love with the sound of my own voice but that there really is enough to explore here and a great deal we did not even get to.  But this is enough for today.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Lord Jesus we confess that you are the Christ of God and we thank You for being willing to suffer and die that we might be forgiven.  Blessed Savior, give us the will and strength to deny ourselves, take up the cross you and follow You to life eternal.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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