Sts Peter and Paul 2014

The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul–Apostles
June 29, 2014 A+D
St. Matthew 16:13-19

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

The preeminence of the apostles among the infant Christian Church is recorded throughout the New Testament especially in Ephesians where it is said that the community of “the saints and members of the household of God” is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:19-20) and again in the Book of Revelation describing that the wall of the new Jerusalem has twelve foundations on which are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). These men were eyewitnesses of the life and work of Christ; and our Lord himself sent them as messengers and shepherds to carry this message of salvation to the entire world beginning at Jerusalem. But certainly foremost among the Apostles are Peter and Paul. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter was first among the disciples. And after his conversion on the Damascus road, Paul very clearly is the missionary par excellence of the Christian Church and major author of much of the New Testament.

Although there is no proof that they were martyred on the same day, their deaths under the Roman Emperor Nero around 64 A.D. have been commemorated together on June 29th since the middle of the third century.[1] In their lives they preached and taught salvation in Christ alone. In their deaths they stood by their confession and demonstrated to the Church that no matter what the devil and the world could do to their bodies, Christ was the Lord of life. He alone could give comfort in life and at the hour of death. He is the Christ, the Son of the LIVING God. Because Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead, all lives and deaths in this Christian faith are blessed. It is the good confession of Peter and Paul that we commemorate today.

This confession could not have been revealed by flesh and blood. It has only been revealed by your Heavenly Father through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But in these sinful bones there is another confession that battles with your New Man.

Who do you say that the Son of Man is? What do your daily words, thoughts, and actions reveal about your confession? Do your conversations in your homes, among your friends, and in social media betray another confession different from Peter’s? What about your interest and commitment to the study and hearing of God’s revealed Word? This is where the rubber meets the road. This is the difficulty of Jesus’ question. In the sinful flesh, we are easily led astray into other confessions no matter how unintentional. In fact, apathy and disinterest are two of today’s biggest culprits. Inattention is worse than being attentive to the wrong thing. It is worse to not care rather than care about something else. It is easier to turn a ship that is moving, even it is moving in the wrong direction, than to turn a ship that is standing still or drifting in the current. Now listen to this: A devout, practicing Muslim may faster find the truths of Christianity than a non-practicing, non-thinking, non-worshiping, non-reading, in-name-only Christian. Because, by God’s grace, that practicing Muslim may begin to question his faith and be led to truth in Jesus. The devil has seduced more people in America today through spiritual atrophy than by full-on spiritual attack. If he lulls Christians into spiritual depravity, they will no longer notice or have the weapons to fight a full frontal assault. And don’t think that you are immune to this temptation. The devil makes even the strongest disciples situational Christians. Even Peter, the foremost disciple, goes from the pinnacle of divinely revealed confession to being told he is Satan, just moments later.

Confession of faith matters in this life, Sts. Peter and Paul labored uphill their whole ministry against people who tried to mingle works into salvation. They taught, preached, confessed, argued, debated, and even fought for the truth. Jesus is the Son of the living God and has won forgiveness for all people by faith alone apart from works. Christ’s crucifixion is enough to justify you before God, to restore the once-broken relationship with your heavenly Father. This is the confession of the Christian Church and it is worth studying, discussing, debating, fighting, and even dividing people who confess something contrary. It is not easy. It is not popular. It does not make for comfortable conversations with family and friends. It is, however, of the utmost importance in this life. For without it, there is no confidence in the life to come.

Confession of faith matters at the time of death. The sickness or death of a loved one brings our own mortality close before our eyes. Maybe the only thing that brings it closer is our own serious sickness or deathbed. It is in these times especially that weak confessions are shaken and crushed. A bad confession cannot stand up in the face of death. I think it’s helpful to view our lives as a preparation for death. In the military there is a saying that says, “You don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” If your training has been poor, in the moment of battle, your performance will be poor and lives are on the line. In the Christian Church, we emphasize spiritual training, so that in the moments of difficulty and death, we have a sure foundation, a confession that will sustain us even as our bodies and minds falter. This Christian training strengthens faith.

When Peter was being crucified and Paul was being beheaded in Rome, only Christ, the Son of the living God, could have sustained them. Every Divine Service, every reception of the Lord’s body and blood, every moment of studying the Scriptures, and especially the remembrance of their Baptism trained them for that moment. And by the grace of God, they stood fast.

This is hope for you. You have been baptized. You have been taught the Scriptures; you have every opportunity to study them; you live in a country that allows attendance in the Divine Service as frequent as you wish; you have the opportunity to receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith equally as often. If you haven’t trained as diligently or as often as you should, your Lord still holds out his arms to you. He will not forsake you.

Jesus is the Son of the living God. He sacrificed himself for you and rose again for your salvation. He is the only object big enough for a good confession. He will be with you through the good times in life and in the difficult. That’s what the living God alone can do. May He strengthen you in this faith.

In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.

 

[1] Adolf Adam, The Liturgical Year, p. 236.

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