+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Matthew 16:15-16
Theme: Jesus The I Am
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God is eternally and inconceivably captivating. But human life is mostly mundane. Those who believe Christianity will be a cure for mundaneness have misplaced hopes. Jesus Himself often seemed pedestrian. In a culture in which the ordinary has little appeal anything appearing regular is a tuff sell. Consider the approach of advertising: Hype is amplified to mania, mania raised to frenzy, frenzy intensified to hysteria, and hysteria is crowned with absolute madness. And all this to promote the watching of a contest in which grown men stampede one another in full physical exertion to control a small oblong object and move it to a specific geographical location! Ticket prices at this year’s Grand Final have been frozen. Maybe the threshold of hype has been reached?
But don’t think for a moment that society’s expectation that we deserve to be spellbound isn’t a contributing factor to the emptying of churches all across the West. People aren’t naturally captivated by the word of God. Yes, a celebrity-status, miracle-cure, emergency-worker, personal-life-coach-type Jesus is appealing to some, but the true nature of things is discovered sooner or later. Freedom from sin’s power is not something the average person is all that excited about.
Into this milieu of searching, satiation, and dis-satisfaction the timeless message of truth dares to assert its relevance. What should we get excited about? What should we fear? And on what basis? Today Jesus Christ poses this question to His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”1
Finally Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”2 In this short exchange we have either the boldest confession of the greatest truth with the most far-reaching consequences ever predicted, or we have foolish hope in a deceptive claim with little influence in the final measure. The identity of Jesus is always pivotal.
The question is no less decisive today. It cannot be answered by consensus, surveys of popular opinion or even estimates of historical probability. Who is this Jesus? The question can be ignored but never completely avoided; forestalled but never escaped; denied but never eliminated. The person of Christ, the Son of the living God, His work, His mission, His rule, are decisive components no matter how we draw up the equation. To face mortality is to face this question. Mercy and justice are reconciled only in the person of Jesus.
As for Peter, so too for us, the answer is beyond us. It is revealed from above. Jesus said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”3 The Bible says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”4 But the work was completed here below. This Jesus was put to death by a Roman instrument of torture under the rule of Pontius Pilate. After three days He was seen alive and interacted with many witnesses. The darkness of the crucifixion gave way to the light of the resurrection and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
So who is this Jesus? He’s not an overlord who dictates your allegiance. He is a servant that suffers your punishment. He doesn’t make commands He fulfills them. He doesn’t organize a program to put you in good stead with the Almighty- a moral regime, a philosophical system, or a mystical routine- He declares the repentant sinner absolved by pure grace. He doesn’t give you negotiating tools to gain access to heaven, He Himself is the portal. The gates are flung wide open. He ties His promise to baptismal water. He feeds you with a little bread and wine invested also with divine power. Outwardly these things appear pretty ordinary yet He promises they are the stimulus of extraordinary transformation.
The apostle says today, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”5 Naivety or arrogance cannot excuse us from imitating the ways of the world. What is the nature of your conformity? Do you find yourself easily slipping into a secular mindset? Have you given yourself over to hedonistic pursuits? Conformity to a secular mindset can also be masked by pious appearances. Is church just a place to ease your conscience when you see God’s accusing finger pointing at you? Do you wish to feel forgiven and yet continue whole-heartedly in your sins? Are you struggling with addiction, greed, anger, or despair? Is there an even deeper darkness that shadows your life; an emptiness of soul? Are you on the precipice of losing hope, peering into the abyss?
No matter your darkness, Christ has been there and His light was not extinguished. The cross frees us from bondage to selfishness and fear. In Christ our few days treading this earth are no longer an end in themselves. But don’t ever promise people Christianity will make their life easier. That is a promise you cannot keep. Carrying convictions you’re asked to make sacrifices for can be a real headache. It’s not the kind of character-building many people are looking for. Seekers who invest in the church as a therapeutic cure-all soon find themselves disaffected. The baptized of Christ are not unaffected observers of religious theatre; they are participants in a tangible, personal, and epic struggle. Sin is not a theatrical tactic for TV drama; it is a real and present power in your life. The Holy Spirit is not theoretical concept found in books or stored in computer hard drives, the Spirit dwells in you.
It’s in the real struggles of life and in our carrying of the burdens of others that the answer to the question of who Jesus is starts to take on meaning. Think of the baby Moses today. Did Moses’ mother ever expect to see her child again? What anguish of soul must have seized her as she left him to the elements against her will! Many infants today- still unborn- are left to the clinical ‘elements’ of medical procedure. They do not fare as well as Moses. Only Christ can rectify such tragedy.
The Scriptures use every circumstance to teach. The basket in which the baby Moses was rescued was an ark, a vessel of salvation. It serves to remind us of God’s deliverance of the human race at the time of Noah and previews our rescue in the saving waters of baptism. The Scripture says, “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”6 The fundamental promise of baptism is the same for infants and adults alike: The grace of Christ secured at the cross cancels the eternal judgment of sin against the individual. In baptism the Holy Spirit is present both to engender faith and to foster that faith which already exists. A renewal of life is also effected. It is a life that for each of us is always a work in progress.
Dear friends, mortals cannot escape monotony. But Christ is immortal. How inadequately do we appreciate that He was a pedestrian among us pedestrians. He did not come to cure our present boredom but to free us from the tyranny of sin, death, and hell. Rest assured that in the resurrection all present questions about the ordinariness of Christian truth will be decisively moot. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Matthew 16:15 2 Matthew 16:16 3 Matthew 16:17
4 1 Corinthians 12:3 5 Romans 12:2 6 1 Peter 3:20-21
7 Psalm 142:2-3 8 John 14:6
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
24 August 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt