+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 16:18
Theme: Built On The Rock
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In the gospel reading today Peter makes his famous confession of Christ recognizing Him as the living God. More important though is Jesus’ response. “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”1 The confession of Christ is the rock upon which the church is built. This is true not just in a token way. To the extent that people try to build the church on other foundations, other ideals, other proposals- even though intending to prosper the church’s well-being- it will become weak and collapse. The Bible says, “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”2
The imagery of God and rock or stone is important throughout Scripture. The Israelites drank water from a rock in the desert wilderness. About this Paul says, “Our forefathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”3That rock was Christ. What a remarkable statement. Fifteen centuries before the Child was born in Bethlehem He was gathering His people through ‘sacramental’ means and leading them through the wilderness. Baptized and fed they were being formed into His people.
God tested the Israelites by having them wander in the Sinai desert for 40 years. Here the descendants of Abraham were sifted, gleaned and refined, as it were by fire. There- as He prepared them to enter the promised land of Cana- He formed them into the body of believers. With them we participate in the continuity of the Christian Church throughout the ages. Like us they were saved by trusting in God’s promises. Remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man was concerned about his brothers also ending up in hell. He was told they should listen to Moses and the prophets, that is, to listen to the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament. Jesus said, “These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.”4
Of course many of those same Israelites still fell away from God in the desert. But what has changed? The human heart is exceedingly depraved. The riots in England are now being carefully assessed. Regarding the nature of the rebellion one commentator gave this very discerning analysis, “One thing is certain: this wasn’t about poverty, not in the material sense. If there’s poverty, it’s spiritual poverty, moral poverty and poverty of ambition.”5 How does the church address such moral and spiritual poverty?
Only faith understands that the grace of Christ is not an abstraction. Is there any concept more vacuous than the idea of the love of God disconnected from any concrete reality? Will the self-absorbed and intellectually conceited world be moved by the constantly repeated mantra “Love of God, love of God”- especially when this just equals tolerance? Can rapprochement with non-Christian or quasi Christian groups be accomplished in this way? If it can, is it an honest expression of biblical truth? You see, only the goodness and power of God can be discerned from the blessings we share with all humanity. “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteousness and the unrighteous.”6 This is no insignificant thing in itself. But it doesn’t have eternal significance. Yes, God is often kind even to the most unrighteous and hardened unbelievers, but only for a time. To the unrepentant God is inevitably a wrathful judge. God is patient. But He will not fail to execute judgment on His enemies.
The last thing Christianity should want to do is give the false impression God is not serious about sinfulness. Such a message falsely pacifies the conscience. It creates no hunger for the gospel. And this cannot be rectified by preaching obedience. Only Christ, sacrificed, buried, and risen reconciles, forgives, and frees. Grace does have very concrete form. Jesus was born into human flesh, suffered and died so that our flesh may be redeemed. To the extent that Christianity portrays itself more or less as a religious group that affirms God is good to those who first obey Him it robs its followers of the very comfort of salvation. Plus it takes away the only sure defense we have against Satan. Does he not smile broadly when he sees believers trying to justify themselves before God and men. That foundation soon crumbles away.
Christ is the rock upon which we stand. Who dares to stand against the powers of hell? Who would risk provoking Satan’s fury? We find refuge in the shadow of the cross. “‘Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace.’ This is so firm and sure that it can prevail against all the gates of hell.” 7 To proclaim, teach, and live this is the entire mission of the church.
God entrusts the church with the unique and unparalleled authority of retaining or forgiving sins. Is there a greater privilege? A more humbling power? This is the crux of the pastor’s vocation. What are all worldly powers, political, institutional, financial, academic, social, and all the other powers there are, in comparison with this power to declare the very gate of heaven open or closed! This alone is the power to bear someone through the darkness and mortality of this decaying existence. To grant forgiveness is to grant life. And only Christ can do it. All other attempts are deceptions and imitations. God grant that the Holy Spirit would burn this truth into our hearts.
Not far from New York City there is a cemetery where there is a grave which has inscribed upon its headstone just one word—"Forgiven." There is no name, no date of birth or death. The stone is unembellished by the sculptor's art. There is no epitaph, no pithy eulogy—just that one word, "Forgiven." But that is the greatest thing that can be said of any human, or written upon their grave, "Forgiven." This truth, the truth of Christ for us, Christ on our behalf, Christ with us- this is the rock upon which we stand. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
21 August, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 16:18
2 1 Corinthians 3:11
3 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
4 John 5:39
5 London Daily Mail
6 Matthew 5:45
7Tappert, AP XXIV 251