18 January 2012

The Confession of St. Peter

The true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is the knowledge of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins. It is the knowledge of His Cross and Resurrection; not only as historical facts, but as the means by which He has accomplished salvation and entered into His Glory as the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.

To confuse Him with John the Baptist is mistaken, yes, but not so far fetched; for it is by John’s Baptism that Jesus is manifested and made known to Israel. Everything flows from and with His Baptism, even unto His death upon the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.

The Father revealed Him to be the Christ and His beloved Son when the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove, and the voice from heaven spoke concerning Him, as He came up out of the waters of His Baptism. All of this belongs to the Jesus who went into the waters on behalf of all the people (including you); who submitted Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; who thereby committed Himself to sacrificial suffering and death as the Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the world.

The Word and promise of the Father at His Baptism is the faith that Jesus confesses with His entire life, and the confidence with which He proceeds to Jerusalem, to the rejection of the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and to His Cross and Passion. He has willingly taken up the Cross in His Baptism, and He carries it faithfully unto His Crucifixion, in the expectation that His Father will raise Him up again. He knows that His suffering and death are neither useless nor unfruitful, because He knows that He is thus given under heaven among men for the salvation of all people. He takes their place under the Cross, under the burden of their sin and death, in order to receive on their behalf the Name that is above every name, and the Spirit of God in His own human flesh, and the very Life of God as true Man. So that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you and all people — all who believe and are baptized in His Name — become partakers of the divine nature.

This is what it means for Him to be the Christ.

As a Christian, a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ, you learn all this, you know all this, and you receive it and share in it, by following after Him, that is, by taking up His Cross and following Him, through death, into life everlasting. That means suffering the rejection and hostility of the world, on account of Christ and His Gospel. And it means bearing the burden of your neighbor’s needs and of your neighbor’s sins, by loving and serving your neighbor, and by forgiving his or her trespasses against you. But it also means the daily dying of your old Adam, and of your own sinful flesh, through contrition and repentance. It means that you are put to death by the Law of God, in order to be raised to new life in Christ by His Gospel, His forgiveness of your sins.

You have been named with His Name, anointed with His Spirit as a Christian, and adopted as a beloved child of His Father, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism. That is where and how you have received His Cross, and it is from your Baptism that you now follow after Him and learn from Him. You confirm and make certain His calling and choosing of you there, by the ongoing catechesis of His Word; that is, by the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.

Apart from that preaching and catechesis, you do not know the Man. You will not confess Him, at least not rightly, but you will deny Him when His Cross looms large and His Passion presses upon you. Apart from His preaching and catechesis, you will fear the wrong things, and desire the wrong things, and be zealous in pursuing your own good intentions, which actually do nothing but pave the road to hell. Your own wisdom and knowledge, without the Word and Spirit of Christ, are a Satanic delusion, which promise you the world at the cost of your soul.

But, now, the Lord Jesus has given His Life, His body and soul, in exchange for the world; that the world might be saved through Him, and have life in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead. Thus has He given Himself for you and for all, and for all of your sins. And by His Cross and Resurrection, He has opened up the gates of Hades, in order to bring you out; He has opened up your grave, in order to raise you up from death; He has opened up heaven to you, in order to bring you into life with Himself, in body and soul. And He has opened up the way of repentance for you through His Gospel of the forgiveness of all your sins.

It is for the sake of that Gospel that He raised up Simon Peter, and restored Simon Peter, not only to discipleship, but to the apostolic ministry. He rebuked Peter and called him to repentance, to be sure; but He did so in love and with mercy, both for Peter and for His whole Church on earth. He rescued Peter, in order to rescue and raise up His people through Peter’s confession of His Name. He poured out His Spirit upon Peter, in order to give him the true knowledge and wisdom, and the true boldness and confidence, not of bravado, but of the Cross and Resurrection.

Thus, by St. Peter’s preaching and catechizing, men and women, boys and girls, were brought to repentance, to faith in the Gospel, and to Christian discipleship. You hear that throughout the first half of the Book of Acts, beginning with the great Day of Pentecost. Let us give thanks for that.

But St. Peter also knew, from his own experience, as also by the Lord’s Word and Spirit, that all of this — repentance, faith, and life in Christ — continues to depend upon the preaching and the ongoing catechesis of Christ Jesus.

Even though you already know the story and the facts, and you have already been established in the Truth (by your Baptism into Christ), the knowledge by which you have life and godliness, and by which grace, mercy and peace are multiplied upon you, is the living and active Word of Christ which is preached to you; which daily calls you and brings you to repentance, and purifies you from sin; which names you with the Name of Jesus, and anoints you with His Spirit, and teaches you to pray, praise and give thanks to your dear God and Father in heaven.

Therefore, in love, and by the grace of God, St. Peter’s preaching and catechesis have been preserved and handed over for the edification of the whole Church: in the Acts of the Apostles, in his two Epistles, and in the Gospel According to St. Mark (written under St. Peter’s apostleship). By these apostolic Scriptures, the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene continues to be given under heaven among men, so that, by His Name, you are raised up from death to stand in the health and strength of faith in the Gospel; and you shall be saved.

Along with St. Peter’s confession, you also have the comforting example of the Lord’s mercy upon him. In grace and peace, the Lord Jesus cared for Simon Peter and made of him a faithful disciple and a great Apostle, so that he was by no means useless or unfruitful. The Lord bore good fruits in him, which still feed the Church to this day, to the ends of the earth, and to the close of the age.

By these good fruits of St. Peter, and by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus in this place, the same Lord also cares for you, and He bears good fruits in you, as well. The preaching of His Cross and Resurrection puts sin to death in you, and brings you to life in Him. As you are preserved in the grace and promises of your Holy Baptism, and as you are given to eat and to drink the holy Body and precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are indeed a partaker of the divine nature. You are set free from the bondage and corruption of your covetous lust and selfish greed, and you are brought from faith to moral excellence, to self-control, to brotherly kindness and love.

These qualities are yours, and they continue to grow and increase, because Christ is yours, who has given Himself for you, and who gives Himself to you by the Gospel. He does not abandon you, nor leave you to your own devices; but as He was crucified for your transgressions, and has been raised for your justification, so does He forgive you, and restore you, and give you His own life.

Though you know your flaws and failings — such as your arrogance and pride on the one hand, and yet also your fear and denials on the other hand — nevertheless, your holiness and righteousness are sure and certain in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. He is with you in peace and love, and He is your courage and strength, your confidence and sufficiency. Even your falling and rising, your daily repentance and His daily forgiveness of all your sins, are a beautiful confession and example of His perfect grace and mercy.

As you are His Christian, you are neither useless nor unfruitful, but even your enemies, as well as your friends, begin to recognize that you are with Jesus — because He is surely with you.

As He is the Chief Cornerstone of His Apostles and Prophets, and of His whole Church in heaven and on earth, so is He the Chief Cornerstone of your life, both body and soul; and so does He glorify His Name in you, both now and forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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