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Prayers of Supplication:
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The Mission of OAFC is to equip youth and adults to witness more effectively of Jesus Christ through Singing, Bible Studies, Personal Witnesses, Dramas, Puppet Shows, and Neighborhood Canvassing.
[A sermon preached at St. Paul's in Malcolm, NE about OAFC and confessing the faith]
Our lectionary reading from a couple weeks ago read: "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesaria Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that I am?" (Matthew 16). Not much has changed in the past 2,000 years. People are still asking who this Jesus really was. And the world is still giving plenty of answers. But is there a right answer, and who has the right to claim that they know it?
This summer we took a group of our youth together with folks from across the country to the OAFC Summer Training. And there these bold youth went out and asked people a simple question: where do you believe you'll go when you die, and why? And the answers people gave were pretty similar to this questioning of Jesus with his disciples. We talked to people who thought heaven was a place for good people – regardless of what they believed about Jesus. We spoke with those who, like Peter, boldly confessed Jesus as Lord. We talked to people who had no clue about heaven or Jesus or even God and usually it was because they'd ignored Jesus or just didn't care. And we talked with those who thought that it was just none of our business to ask that question – as if faith was something you only did inside your own heart with no public expression at all. All of these people were really answering the question, "Who do you say the Son of Man is?"
And the hard thing for the Church, today, is to be clear that there will be an account to be given before God on the last day for every person's answer to this question; and if your faith answers in any way other than what Jesus says about himself, there are absolute consequences. Jesus says in both Matthew and Luke, "Whoever confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." And that word Confess means "to say the same thing together about something." It doesn't just mean to have a thing that we say about Jesus but it means to have the same thing to say about Jesus that he says of himself. And throughout his ministry Jesus has been saying of himself that he is the one sent by God to redeem the world by dying and rising again to forgive repentant sinners and give us eternal life. And his death and resurrection proved him to be speaking the truth.
That people were saying all these different things about him, other than that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, says that – even though they may have sounded pious and religious in their answers – they were not confessing him, they were not saying the same things about him that he was saying about himself. As then, so now, if we, or anyone else, go to our deathbeds confessing something other than Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ, we will not be welcomed into the Father's arms, but we will be denied by Christ, and so cast into the outer darkness prepared for the devil and all who follow him.
So you can see that this is a pretty big question Jesus is asking the disciples. And then he turns that same question on them: "Who do you say that I am?" So the question comes not only to "those out there" but also to us, his disciples today: Who do you say Jesus is? Do you confess with him the very same things he said of himself from Scripture, or do you confess something else; and so confess someone else?
Too many Christians, even Lutherans, when it comes to talking about God and Jesus, turn in on themselves. It's easy to talk about the God of my feelings and my thoughts; I think God is like this or that because that's what feels right to me. I know God's word says this, but in my situation I think God would make an exception. That's idolatry. When it comes time to answer the question, "Who is Jesus?" if we're searching our own desires, our own feelings, what we end up confessing is a Jesus who looks and sounds an awful lot like me, or like our family traditions, or our wants and likes. And so we make of Jesus an idol fashioned in our image and likeness because when we looked for what to confess about Jesus we looked to ourselves rather than to where God has revealed himself: in his Word. And to put it bluntly, I think that's because it's easier to look at ourselves than to open the Bible.
Yet the true answer to the question, the answer that so many have been blinded to, is that the Son of Man is truly the Son of the Living God: the Christ. The only answer is the confession that acknowledges that the God who created us and who will be the judge of our answer of faith, is the God who became flesh and blood like us in order to be our Savior. That the almighty God was made flesh to redeem all flesh, and that in his death for sin he's put sin to death, and in his resurrection from the grave he's given all who confess him before men the hope of eternal life. This is what Jesus says of himself, and so this is what we must say of him when we all appear for judgment on the Last Day when he returns.
But this confession doesn't come to us by reason, or logic, or by enthusiasm, looking into our hearts; it doesn't come by flesh and blood, but by the revelation of the Father. For so Jesus told Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." That's why we teach that the meaning of the third article of the Apostles' Creed begins with "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him; but he has called me by the Gospel." And for all to whom the Father has revealed this confession, this foundation of faith, and for all who share that confession given them by the Father, there awaits the very blessings of God: eternal life, love, joy, and peace through the cross of his only-begotten Son: Jesus Christ; that you, poor sinner, may look upon and call upon the Creator of the World your true Father, and you his true child.
So it is for all who confess that Jesus is the Son of the Living God: the Christ. Jesus goes on to tell Peter and all the disciples both then and now, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and the rock I will build MY CHURCH, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against THAT." The Father brings us into the Church of his beloved Son, the very body of Christ, into which there is peace and security and the certainty that the very gates of hell will never overcome it. You who've been Baptized into his name and into his blood, you've been given the Holy Spirit – the revealer of the Word of Christ, the creator of faith in Christ, sent forth from the Father – you've been placed inside the walls of a Church, not made with human hands, but the spiritual Church, the body of Christ, over which even the devil and all his horde cannot prevail. Here in the body of Christ, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as its cornerstone, you will be secure, you can be certain, that you are blessed by the Father and will be blessed even into eternity because he has put that confession into your heart which overflows even onto your lips – before not only God, but also men.
And to assure you of that very certainty – that all who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God will be saved in that Church over which the gates of hell cannot prevail – Jesus has given us the keys to his kingdom. He's told us, "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." So that we can know for certain, that where the pastor says, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by his authority I forgive you," that you are forgiven even as surely as if Jesus had come down here and said it himself to your face. That's certainty. That's security and confidence, because Jesus has said it, he's promised it, and he has the power to do it.
That's also why, if you're being held down by the weight of your sin on your conscience, if you're having a hard time confessing the Jesus of the Bible because of something on your heart, you're called to come to me personally; that we may meet privately and privately as the pastor you called to this church, as the pastor God called to be over you for this very reason, I will speak Christ's certain forgiveness to the penitent, confessing Christian. That's also why, to the impenitent, I have been called to bind sins, privately for private matters but even publically for public matters. All so that we all may have the certainty of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that come to all to whom the Father has revealed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; that we may know that heaven always wins, and hell will not prevail over Christ's Church.
May we ever be so bold to confess, in our hearts, but also before the world, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, to the glory of Christ and to our eternal good. In Jesus' name. Amen.