The Confession of St. Peter
Monday of Symposium Week-The Redeemer Conference
January 19, 2015 (observed)
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord asks His disciples who people say that He is. They say He is a prophet of one sort or another. Then He asks who they say He is. Peter, speaking for all of them, says He is the Christ. In Mark’s Gospel, which bears Peter’s fingerprints, the Lord’s only response to this is to tell them not to tell anyone. Peter doesn’t get any praise for his answer. It then jumps immediately to Our Lord’s teaching about His suffering, Peter’s satanic attempt to stop Him, and then Our Lord’s rebuke of Peter. The emphasis is on Peter’s confusion and failure, not on his good confession.
In Matthew’s Gospel, it is more elaborate. First of all, Peter adds “Son of the living God” to Christ, making it a stronger confession. Then Our Lord praises him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Only then are they strictly charged to not tell anyone about Jesus. Then it picks up much as it does in Mark. The Lord begins to tell them about His death. Peter tries to stop Him and is rebuked. By distancing the confession from the error, Matthew softens the blow.
While Peter’s humility may have driven Mark’s account and unflinchingly shown us Peter’s failure, Matthew actually teaches us more about Peter’s office. Flesh and blood did not reveal to him that Jesus is the Christ, but the Father who is in heaven. Peter is blessed because of this confession and this confession is the foundation of the Church. Whereas the people mistook Jesus for merely a prophet or a Rabbi, with the benefit of Divine intervention, Peter recognized and believed that Jesus was the Christ. Therein he was and is blessed.
But believing and understanding are not synonymous. He is more right than the people, Jesus is more than a prophet, He is also the King. That is what the Anointed One, or Christ, means. He is the Anointed of Israel taking up David’s throne. But Peter, while making a good confession, was still confused. He is right that Jesus is King Messiah, but he misses Isaiah’s suffering servant and the scapegoat and the Passover lambs and a whole bunch of Psalms. At the end of David’s life, in the war against the Philistines, David grew weary. He was kept from the battle lest the lamp of Israel be quenched. Peter was thinking along those lines. He thought the death of Jesus would extinguish the lamp rather than light it. He tried to protect Jesus for the good of Israel. After all, David didn’t die for his people, they died for him. He was a king, not a ransom or an atonement. He was shepherd, not a lamb.
But to make Christ King, even if it is King above all kings, is satanic and what was a good confession becomes idolatry of the worst sort unless He is also Priest and Victim. So it is with most heresy. It takes a truth too far and denies another truth. Christ is a Man. Christ is God. Both statements are true, but neither is true to the exclusion of the other. Christ is King, to be sure, but He is also a worm and no man, the innocent son of David born out wedlock who dies because of David’s sin while guilty David is forgiven and lives and even gets to keep Bathsheba. Christ’s death does not extinguish the lamp of Israel. It is the beginning of the Son of David’s reign over even the Gentiles. This is why we must do the hard work of theology and not simply slink into convenient clichés or do our thinking by analogies and metaphors.
There is a connection also between Peter’s confession and Caiaphas’ prophecy. “You know nothing at all,” said Caiaphas to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Caiaphas figured out how to deal with the trouble-maker Jesus based upon his theology. If Jesus wants to set Himself up as the Messiah, let Him be treated as the Messiah, let Him be killed for the people. Caiaphas, speaking according to his office, understood what he said but he did not believe it. Peter, speaking according to his office, not by flesh and blood but by the Father, believed what he said, “Jesus is the Anointed One,” but he did not understand it.
Quite obviously, it is better to believe than to understand, but before understanding it is important to keep your mouth shut. Our pastors and our people need training, catechesis. That is why Jesus strictly charges the disciples to not tell anyone about Him. Peter is on the right track, He recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, he has zeal for the Lord and God-given, God-pleasing faith, but he isn’t ready to teach or even to proselytize and if he does so it will hurt the Church. He must be catechized and what he needs to be catechized in is the theology of the cross. From that time Jesus began to explain to them how it was necessary for Him to die, as Caiaphas would also foretell, for the people. This is the catechesis we also need.
Peter grows in his understanding. In a way he is the unlikely, and yet obvious, spokesman on Pentecost. There, full of the Holy Spirt, seemingly drunk on grace, he confesses: Jesus (was) delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, . . . crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Theology is dangerous. It is possible to be clever but unbelieving like Caiaphas. It is also possible to be sincere and well-meaning, yet confused and thereby to mislead and burden men’s consciences rather than relieve them. Good intentions, a desire to save the lost, and sincerity are not enough. Faith is not enough. To remain silent, however, is not an option for those who have been called to preach, nor for mature laymen with years in the faith, but we must tread lightly, reverently. We are bound to Holy Scripture, repentant and eager for the Spirit’s ongoing guidance, accepting of the Lord’s rebukes along with His praise, and constantly engaged in the catechesis of the cross. At that time, Jesus began to teach them why it was necessary that the Son of Man suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise again. What He began, has not yet ended and never will. This is what the saints and the holy angels are talking about in heaven to this very day and they aren’t getting bored with it.
God works through the offices He has given: high priest, apostle, or minister, even when the men in those offices are evil or confused or incompetent. He accepts Peter’s tears and welcomes him back. Peter, called Satan in Mark 8, six days later is taken the Mount of Transfiguration. There he blows it again and in the same way. He doesn’t want Jesus to suffer. He wants to stay on the mount. But Peter is taken back again, and he is taken to the Garden of Gethsemane. Falling asleep is the lesser crime, violence against the servant of the high priest is satanic. Again, Peter is trying to spare the Lord His necessary self-sacrifice. The denial in the court of Caiaphas is just pitiful. Again, however, he is taken back, but he blows it again sometime after Pentecost, denying the vision he was given for the sake of honor among men. He has to be rebuked by Paul. He needs constant catechesis in the cross. Despite his repeated and public failures, he is the Lord’s apostle and it is not too much to say that he is even the Lord’s chief apostle. The Lord never gives up on him, nor does He stop using him, and he is still a blessing to us to this day.
The Lord is steadfast. He is the Christ. We are not. The burden of our office is on Him as surely as the burden of our sins. He concerns Himself to this very day with what is expedient for us and necessary for Him. Peter’s confession: You are the Christ, our King, the Anointed One of Israel, is the foundation of our Creed and our faith. God be praised for it.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
and Peter’s failure is slightly removed from his confession,
I don’t think Jesus could work for the synod. He probably couldn’t even be a pastor in the synod. He is worse than John the Baptist. First, rather than asking them directly, He asks the disciples, apart from the crowd, what the crowd confesses about Him. Certainly the CTCR and the CCM and Blue Ribbon Task Force #1,342 would have disapproved. They would insist that Jesus hold a face-to-face meeting with everyone in the crowd.
The crowd is wrong and it is pretty obvious that Jesus already knew what they thought of Him. Then He calls the disciples out. Stand and deliver. Give account of your faith. What do you say about Me? Peter’s strategy is wise. Keep it simple. You are the Christ, the Anointed One. It is seems like we are back on track, but then we get this strange bit: Jesus epitimaws them. “strictly charged” is a pretty good translation. I think “sternly orders” might be better. That epi means something and it isn’t exactly nice. He intensely orders them. He is serious about it. He grits His teeth and looks them in the eye and growls: “Do not tell anyone that I am the Christ.”
Even if we could get over His trampling on the sacred processes of our beloved institution, this is a bit hard to swallow if we are going to grow the church! How will we pay for our stuff if we don’t proselytize? How will we build new buildings? How will we publish more books? And besides our stuff, there are their souls to consider.
I think we should suggest that Mark 8: 30 be the theme verse for the next convention: “Jesus strictly charged His disciples to tell no one about Him.”
Why does the Lord forbid them? Because they aren’t ready and neither are the people. They don’t know who He is. Peter has faith. He knows in a sense, but it is a confused and childish faith. He says that Jesus is the Anointed One but when Jesus begins to explain what He has been anointed for, Peter rejects it. False doctrine about the Christ is worse than no doctrine. No missionaries are better corrupt, foolish missionaries who mislead those to whom they are sent.
This is a hard lesson. But it is this, and we ourselves, that make it necessary for the Christ, the Anointed One, to suffer may things, be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the grammarians, and be killed and after three days rise again.
I kind of admire the Jehovah’s Witnesses at this point – because they know we hate them. They know we hate answering the door and finding them there. They expect to be rejected. We don’t. Unlike Jesus, we think we can convince people to follow Him, to keep the law. We rarely admit it to ourselves, but we think we can establish a Christian nation on earth. When we are hated, when they do reject us, mock us, tax us, we take it personally. We are hurt and surprised, like jilted lovers weeping in the garden. But the Kingdom is founded in rejection and violence. The servants are not above their Master.
Then we get Our Lord’s clearest violation of synodical polity. Peter, the good system boy, wed to the institution, takes Jesus aside privately, in a face-to-face meeting, to voice his concerns, and in response, Jesus looks not at Peter but at the other eleven and starts rebuking Peter in public. He also engages in an ad hominem attack. He calls him, “Satan.” He also judges Peter’s motives. He says that he does not have in mind the things of God, but of men.
Some, no doubt, will say that Jesus can judge motives because He has the ability to see into Peter’s heart. But there is no indication here that Jesus is exercising His omnipotence. He seems rather to simply be judging by what Peter has said in response to the Gospel. What comes out of a man’s mouth is what defiles him. Jesus dares to judge Peter’s doctrine. And he doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t try to explain it in the kindest way.
This is not because Jesus doesn’t care about the 8th commandment. He cares about the 8th commandment! He keeps the 8th commandment. If he pretended that Peter’s doctrine was harmless or simply a matter of semantics then He would break the 8th commandment.