13th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 16 – A)
Matthew 16:13-20
August 27, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from Saint Matthew.

English speaking Christians use the word Church in four ways.  It can refer to worship: “I’m going to church in the morning.”  It can indicate a building: “I’m going to the church.”  It can identify a congregation: “I’m a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church.”  The final definition, used by Jesus in the Gospel, denotes the universal Church.  This Church is comprised of all Christians of all times and all places, and it will never be shaken.  Jesus promises, And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  We can’t see the universal church because we don’t know the hearts of those who bear the name Christian.  However, we do learn from Jesus how His Church on earth, the local church, is to be built, and first and foremost, the Church is built on Him, because without Him, there is no Church.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that when Jesus says, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church He’s announcing that Peter is the rock.  The Church would be built on Peter and all the leaders – the popes – who would follow him.  This is far from the case.  First of all, we can look at the language.  Peter is Petros in Greek, a masculine noun.  Rock is petra, a feminine noun.  They have the same root, but they’re different words.  If Jesus meant Pete, He could’ve said, “On you Peter I will build my Church.”  From another perspective, how can the Church be built on a man?  What person can withstand Hell’s gates on their own?  No one!  Instead, the Church is built on the truth of what Peter confesses: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  This is how you identify a true Church – are they confessing Jesus properly?

The days of Peter and the disciples vary little from today.  People in Jesus’ day thought He was a magician, maniac, or a resurrected prophet.  Today Jesus is thought to be a nice guy, an historical figure, unimportant, and long dead.  Into this confused thinking the Church confesses the truth that Jesus is the Savior, the living Son of God, sent to redeem this world from Sin and Death.

This confession cannot waver, it cannot be changed to meet the expectations, whims, and desires of this world.  We can’t change His message to make it more appealing.  In the book of Galatians Saint Paul says, There are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).  To change the Gospel is to kill the Church on Earth because the Church is built on the truth of Jesus, not a partial truth or a lie.  Do people get offended when Christians say Jesus is the only way to Heaven?  Some do.  And how do we respond?  So what!  It’s the truth.  The Church can’t shrink from speaking the truth just because some don’t like it.

Jesus says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He also says, The truth will set you free.”  The Church confesses the truth of Jesus.  We boldly confess that He’s the Son of God, sent to die so that we are forgiven and will never die.  This is for all people!  The Church is made up of people of every race, language, custom because no one is excluded.  You are a member of Emmanuel, or maybe you’re just a guest, but if you’re here, you’re part of the visible church.  More importantly, you’re part of the Universal Church by virtue of your faith and the forgiveness of your sins.

For a guy who frequently gets things wrong, including next week, Peter makes a great confession: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He finally, in part, understands, and it’s not just Peter.  When Jesus asks, Who do you say I am, He’s asking all twelve disciples, and when Peter answers, he’s answering for all twelve.  But how did the disciples gain this knowledge and faith.  Did they just wake up one day believing Jesus was the Savior?  Jesus says, this isn’t the case: Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  Or as Saint Paul says, No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).  The Holy Spirit worked through the words of Jesus to bring the men and women to faith in Him.  We can’t make ourselves believe or make a decision for Christ.

We’re granted faith by the Holy Spirit!  He’s the one who empowers us to make the great confession that Jesus is Lord and Savior. He’s the one who turns us from words of sin to words of praise.  It’s by God’s gift of the Holy Spirit that we’re turned from our love of Sin to our love of Christ.  This is incredible!  It’s a miracle that we’re made part of God’s glorious Church, which we’ll see one day in all its magnificent glory.

It’s not a miracle that happens because the Holy Spirit snaps His holy fingers and suddenly you believe.  Like the disciples, you’re brought to faith through the revelation from God.  Peter heard the word of Jesus and was brought to faith by those words.  It’s the same for you.  Think back a little way, why do you believe?  Did you just wake up one day believing?  No.  When you were baptized, you received the Holy Spirit and faith.  That faith was nourished when Your parents, grandparents, or whoever, took you to church and Sunday school.  You heard Bible stories at home and later read them for yourself.  Or maybe one day you heard the Bible in a different way and the Spirit revealed that Jesus was your source of hope and forgiveness.  Maybe someone shared the Gospel with you, told you about the God who loves you and saves you.  No matter how you came to faith, it was given to you by God Himself.

The Church is comprised of different races, personalities, languages, ages, and both biological genders.  But what do all members of the Church have in common?  We’re sinners!  The disciples confessed that Jesus is God, and then ran away when their confession was challenged.  Our confessions are challenged by greed or unbelievers, apathy, or what have you.  We don’t know each other’s sins, but we know our sins, and when we can’t escape them, it’s in the words of Jesus that we’re offered forgiveness.

The forgiveness of sins isn’t explicitly mentioned in Peter’s confession, but it’s there.  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised holy one sent to save us from our sins.  He’s also the Son of the Living God because He can’t do anything He does if He’s not God.  The Church is built on the truth that Jesus is the living Savior, one whose death has saved us completely from our sins.

Jesus says to the disciples: 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.”  The greatest gift Jesus gave was Himself, and He continues to give us Himself in the absolution.  Whether you confess with others on Sunday mornings or pour your heart out to me privately, Jesus has given the Church His great power and authority to forgive all your sins, but not forgive those who are unrepentant unbelievers.  We call this power the Office of the Keys because God has given the Church the authority to lock Heaven’s gates against those who aren’t sorry for their sins and those who refuse to believe.   But for you who believe, for those of you who confess your sins, the gates of Heaven are flung wide open to you!

You are part of that glorious Church built on Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  That Church will never fall, it can’t.  Yes, churches do close, this happens far more often than we would like.  Churches face devastating attacks from those who hate them.  Churches are burned to the ground or confiscated by corrupt officials.  Congregations are decimated by apathy or demographics until they finally disappear.  But where churches may be rocked by turbulence, the Church of Christ, that eternal Church never will.  On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Christ wasn’t destroyed by Sin, Death, Hell, or Satan, so how can the Church built on Him be destroyed?  How can you, who reside in that Church, be conquered by Hell?  You can’t!  The Church has crashed the gates of Hell and brought people to life and salvation.  Not actual hell, because once a person is there, they’re lost.  But spiritually, Jesus goes into Satan’s domain, and brings His people into the Church of eternal glory.  Nothing will shake the Church, for it is built on Christ who is stronger than solid ground.

In 1536, Martin Luther wrote, “Thank God, today a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”  What a great truth for all people to know and believe!  You have been brought to faith, absolved of your sins, and ushered into God’s Church.  God in His infinite and inscrutable ways has given you Himself and His Church.  May God preserve all faithful churches as they share the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.


Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen