Matthew 16:13-20 – Built on the Rock

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Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 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. 19 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.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

In the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Amen.

In Matthew 15:11, 17-18 Jesus says, “It is not what goes into a mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”

What you say reveals who you are and what is in your heart. The hatred and anger toward God and others that is in your heart comes out of your mouth. So when you cannot tell the truth about simple things, when you exaggerate the facts to make yourself look better, when you act like one person but are really another, you feel guilt. Your heart is black with sin and your mouth shows it. Repent.

Repent and hear what Jesus asks the disciples from our text, “Who do y’all say that I am?” Jesus doesn’t ask them if they were nice people or if they were making the world a better place with their good works. Jesus asks the one question that matters, “Who is Jesus?”

Peter answers for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Peter confesses, he says the same thing as God says. That’s what confession means. And Peter makes a right confession. A good confession. A Bible-based confession. And Jesus praises him for it, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Peter’s confession was not his own. Flesh and blood did not reveal it to him. God did. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

God had changed and cleansed Peter’s heart so that what came out of Peter’s mouth revealed a heart that had been forgiven and justified by God. As Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

So, what Peter could not say on his own, God said for him and through him. God had purified Peter. God opened Peter’s lips that he might declare God’s praise (Ps. 51:15). Even though Peter was a deeply flawed and sinful man – a braggart and a denier – God still used him. God opened Peter’s lips for a right, true confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

Peter confessed the first apostles’ creed because it was a confession of faith from the mouth of an actual apostle.

From Peter’s mouth came the very Word of God. Upon this rock – upon the Word of God, spoken on the lips of men – Christ builds His church. Jesus is the architect, the builder, and He even provides the material. This is the way God builds. God does what Peter could not do for himself and what you cannot do for yourself.

God still does this. God still builds His church on the right confession of who Jesus is. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses. Jesus is the Redeemer, the good Shepherd, the King of kings. Jesus is the great high priest who intercedes for you before God the Father.

Upon the confession of Peter, the apostles, and all true believers, Jesus says upon this rock He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.

Remember the Sunday school song? The wise man built his house upon the rock… The foolish man built his house upon the sand…

Jesus is no fool. He will not build His church upon anything but a sure, strong foundation. God does not build His church on what we do or even what we believe. That’s sand.

God builds His church upon the fact and confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Believer, God has given you the same confession as He gave to Peter, to the faithful believers of the Old Testament, and to all believers of all time.

This God-given confession of yours rises up from your heart which has been purified by grace and is uttered by lips cleansed in Baptism and Holy Communion. You too are Petros, a rock of Jesus Christ, and the gates of hell will not overcome you. Amen.[1]

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Portions of this sermon were adapted from a sermon by Pr. David Petersen.


Matthew 15:21-28 – Stress Test

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Matthew 15:21-28

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Imagine you regularly find yourself tired and worn out. You decide it is worth getting checked out, and you schedule an appointment with the doctor. At the appointment, you tell the doctor, “I can’t enjoy the things I used to. When I go for a walk, I start sweating and can’t catch my breath. When I take out the garbage, my heart starts pounding. Can you help me?”

And imagine that your doctor doesn’t say anything. He just hooks you up to a bunch of wires and puts you on a treadmill. As you walk, you get short of breath, but the doctor turns up the speed. Your heart is pounding. Your lungs are burning, and he raises the incline. You had gone to him for healing, and all he is doing is making you miserable.

But in reality, your doctor is giving you a stress test. He is putting you through all of that so he can figure out why your heart is not working properly so he can heal you. But if you don’t know that your doctor was giving you a stress test, you would think that your doctor is some sadistic mix of two parts lunatic and one part jerk (or vice versa) and torturing you.

If we understand today’s text in any way other than a type of spiritual stress test, we will fall into all sorts of errors. This text is teaching us to trust, to believe, that God’s promises are for us even when all things appear to contradict that fact.

This Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for mercy. She wants Jesus to help her daughter who was severely oppressed by a demon. She is going to the right place – to Jesus. 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Just like Peter sinking in the water last week, Jesus is this woman’s only hope.

Notice her faith, she addresses Jesus as the “Son of David,” and that is a loaded term. In 2 Samuel 7, God had promised David that He would raise up a son of David’s who would sit on his throne forever, and there are many other places in the Old Testament (Is. 9:6; 16:5; 22:22; 55:3; Jer. 23:5; Ezk. 34:23; 37:24; Amos 9:11; Zech. 12:10; Ps. 89:4–5, 50; 132:10–11, 17) where the Scriptures talk about the reign of this Son of David and what God would do through Him.

So, we know that Jesus came to do exactly what this woman wants and that her prayer is pleasing to Jesus. But what does Jesus do? “He did not answer her a word.” Similar to a doctor not telling you about the stress test, Jesus throws her on the treadmill.

Because we know the end of the story, we know that Jesus’ silence is not a refusal to give her the mercy she is begging for, but in that moment, she doesn’t. All she knows is two things: first, her experience – that Jesus is ignoring her; and second, the words and promises of God. Rather than trusting her experience, which must have felt like indifference from the Son of David, she trusts the words and promises of God. She keeps crying out.

She cries out so much that the disciples become embarrassed and tell Jesus to send her away. And notice that still Jesus doesn’t address her. He answers the disciples. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus cranks up the speed of the treadmill.

Now, this woman is not only fighting against her experience, she is also fighting against reason. When Jesus speaks these words, it is reasonable to think that Jesus is saying that He was not sent for her. But she fights against what reason would say and tenaciously clings to the promises of God’s Word. This woman is a fulfillment of Old Testament lesson (Is. 56:6-8) that foreigners would join themselves to Yahweh and love His name and be His servants.

There is no denying that Jesus is putting her through difficulties. But Jesus knows what is good for her. His intent was not that she would give up. Instead, He is exercising her faith and making it even stronger, and her faith in God’s promises persists.

Jesus and the Syrophoenician WomanShe kneels before Jesus saying, “Lord, help me.” Finally, Jesus gives her attention and answers, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And that is as insulting as it sounds. Jesus maxes the incline of the treadmill.

In this text, Jesus starts with silence, then dismissiveness, and finally insult. Imagine you are this woman. At what point do you give up? Do you stop asking for mercy when Jesus doesn’t answer? When Jesus says He isn’t there for you, do you go home? When Jesus calls you a dog, are you looking for another Messiah?

And yet, in her humility and trust, this woman accepts the insult. She doesn’t argue with Jesus. She simply reminds Jesus of God’s promise, “Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Luther says that she hears Jesus’ ‘yes’ behind the ‘no’ and that the woman traps Jesus in His word.

In other words, the woman is saying, “Ok, Jesus. If you call me a dog, I’ll be a dog. Just let me have what the dogs get. I’ll take the crumbs that fall while the children eat.” And if you come to our house after a meal and enter our carpeted dining room, you’ll know there are plenty of crumbs.

This text teaches us about prayer. Prayer consists of two things: first, our need, and second, the promises of God. And the main thing to remember in prayer is the second – the promises of God. In prayer, we grab hold to the promises of God and insist that He keep those promises.

In prayers of confession, we say, “Ok, God. You’ve said that You are the Savior. Save me. Deliver me from my sin.” When we pray for health, when we pray for God to provide for our needs, when we pray for God’s protection and healing, when we ask for stuff, we pray, “Ok, God. You call Yourself my Father. Be my Father. Provide all good things for me, Your child.”

Often in prayer, God puts us through a spiritual stress test to weed out anything false that we would put our trust in so that our trust would be only in God and the promises of His Word.

Jesus answers her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. And this is one of only two times in all the Gospels that Jesus praises someone for their faith (the other is also a Gentile centurion in Mt. 8:5-10).

You see prayer and faith go together. Prayer is the first flower that blooms on the plant of faith.

Be like this woman. Trust God to be good to you. Believe that God will keep His promise to deliver you from whatever evil you face. Do not be discouraged no matter how things appear. Don’t trust your reason and don’t trust your experiences. Trust the promises God has given you in His Word. Cling to them. You can even demand that God keep those promises.

You cannot overcome evil and demons on your own. That is why Jesus came. He came to defeat sin, death, and the devil for you. By His death and resurrection, He has reconciled you to God and made you His child. God is now your Father, and there is no good thing He will ever withhold from you (Ro. 8:32).

May Jesus, the Son of David, give us all the faith that tenaciously clings to the promises He gives us in His Word. Amen.[1]

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am thankful to Pr. Hans Fiene for the idea of a stress test as an analogy for this sermon.

Matthew 14:22-33 – Yahweh on the Water

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Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This text comes right on the heels of Jesus feeding of the 5,000. The crowds have been healed and fed. The disciples each have their basket of leftovers. And Jesus gets His time alone to pray. Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat. The wind picks up. The waves get higher. The way Matthew writes, there is are hints that the storm is demonic in nature. The boat is being beaten (lit. tortured, tormented). Tough as this night at sea is, it is not the wind, not the waves, not the storm that frightens the disciples. It’s Jesus. The disciples are afraid when Jesus shows up.

Jesus’ walking over the sea is filled with a meaning that we miss if we don’t understand the mindset of the people of Jesus’ day. In their minds, the sea is the manifestation of death. The sea is what swallows you whole and doesn’t spit you out again (Ps. 107:23-32). That is why in Revelation, when John sees the new creation, there is no more sea (Rev. 21:1). The sea is also the home of the dreadful sea creature, Leviathan (Job 41:ff).

So, when Jesus walks on the water, He isn’t only showing His power over creation; He is showing His power also over death. Jesus is treading under His foot the ancient serpent (Gen. 3:15). But the disciples don’t know that it is Jesus.

So, put yourself in their shoes (or in their boat). You have left Jesus up on the mountain and have been struggling to row the boat across the sea for hours. You are tired, wet, and frustrated. Now, around 3 AM, this figure comes strolling towards you over the sea, death, and the dreadful serpent.

They cry out in fear figuring Jesus was a ghost, a phantasm, maybe even the lord of death himself. But Jesus calls them out of fear and preaches Gospel to them, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

In English, we unfortunately lose the most important thing Jesus says here. Jesus isn’t just saying, “It’s Me.” He is saying, “I am.” Remember when Moses asked for God’s name (Ex. 3:14-15), God responded, “I am who I am.” God gives Himself the name Yahweh. Later, God will define what Yahweh means, “A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Jesus is taking the divine name, Yahweh, and applying it to Himself.

Peter pipes up, and we have to dispel a common notion about Peter in this text. Peter walking on the water is not an act of faith. Peter’s request to walk out to Jesus comes from Peter doubting Jesus’ words. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

It is absurd that Peter makes this demand. Here is Peter doubting Yahweh in the flesh. Doubting the Creator of heaven and earth. Doubting the God who answered Job in our Old Testament Lesson (Job 38:4-18) saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world? Do you keep the sun rising and setting? Did you tell the waters, ‘You can come this far’? Have you been to the source of the sea? Have you walked in the recesses of the deep?”

But does Jesus scold Peter for his doubt? No. Jesus graciously tells Peter, “Come.”

Peter gets out of the boat, and he too treads on the sea, death, and the great serpent. Peter isn’t able to walk on the sea because of his faith. Peter walks on the waters because of the word of Jesus, “Come.” That one word carries Peter from the boat, across the water, toward Yahweh in the flesh.

Peter Sinking in the Water Jesus SavesPeter strides well – for a bit. But then, he sinks. Notice what causes Peter to sink. More doubt. He becomes fearful. Peter doesn’t fear the storm, the waves, or his distance from the boat. He fears what is least threatening to him – the wind.

The same happens to you and me when we lose our focus on Jesus, the Word of Yahweh. If you focus on the things in this world good or bad, when we focus on ourselves and our circumstances, when we start to focus on anything that isn’t Jesus, we fall and sink like a stone.

That is why we need to be here week after week to hear God’s word and receive His grace and mercy. Don’t look to yourself. Don’t look in your heart because your heart will deceive you. Look to Jesus in His Word, in His Sacraments, in the gathering of two or three in His name because Jesus has promised to be there.

If Jesus can make Peter walk on water with the little word, “Come,” imagine what Jesus will do when He returns and says to you, “Rise.” You will.

As Peter sees he is sinking, he no longer doubts Jesus. Notice, he doesn’t cry out, “Lord, if it is You, save me.” Instead, he cries, “Lord, save me!” In that moment, Jesus is all that Peter has. And immediately, Jesus reaches out His hand and pulls Peter from the sea – from the jaws of death – and saves him. Whose grip matters at that moment? Only Jesus’.

Jesus asks Peter, “O you little faith, why did you doubt?” That is still a question for us today. Why do we doubt? We doubt because we don’t trust Jesus’ word. Satan’s question to Eve, “Did God really say?” still echoes in our ears.

But listen to what Jesus says to you in His Word, “Because of My death and My resurrection, you are forgiven. Justified. Made right with God.”

Don’t look to yourself. Don’t look at the storms, the wind, the waves, the depths of the sea. Don’t look at how you are doing at any given moment. Look to Jesus.

Truly, He is the Son of God. He is Yahweh who walks on the water, who treads down death, who crushes the serpent’s head. Whatever trouble, trial, or temptation you are facing, all you have in that moment of sinking is Jesus. Cry out to Him, “Lord, save me.” And He does.

Because that is what Jesus’ name means – Yahweh saves. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Inadequate, Enough, Excess

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Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus comes to that desolate place to withdraw. He had just received word that John the Baptizer had been beheaded. He wanted some time away to rest, but the crowd didn’t let this happen. Jesus had healed every cripple, cleansed every leper, and raised every corpse He met, so it was inevitable that people would constantly flock to Him.

Tired as He is, Jesus doesn’t ignore them. He doesn’t tell them to go away. He doesn’t complain or feel sorry for Himself. Jesus has compassion on them and heals them.

Now, we don’t know exactly what the disciples were doing as Jesus healed the masses. Were they sitting and watching? Were they directing traffic, making sure no one cut in line? Were they preaching? Whatever it was, the disciples seem to have some level of “compassion fatigue.”

The disciples know the crowd needs to eat. They don’t want to deal with it, so they make a logical suggestion, “Jesus, send them away so they can feed themselves.”

Jesus has a different idea, “Naw, you give them something to eat.” And the disciples balk at the suggestion. How can they feed the people? All they can see is their limitations and inadequacies. As proof that they can’t do anything, they say to Jesus, “We only have five loaves and two fish.”

Do you notice what they leave out? Sure, they have only five loaves and two fish, but they also have Jesus.

We fall into the same trap. The devil is always trying to trick us into thinking we have less than we actually possess. We look at the things we have – our bank and retirement balances, our house, and car. Then, we look at the things we don’t have. And the devil is pleased when our eyes and thoughts dart between the two. Because when we focus on what we have and what we don’t have, we overlook the needy around us and forget the God who can do more than we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

The devil is pleased to keep us focused on these things because then we always insist that we are poor. We figure, “I have to provide for myself and my family.” We worry about what we might not have in the future. So, the food pantry, pregnancy center, and homeless shelter have to get along without our donation, and the church has to get along without our tithe. Repent.

Repent and see again this text. As familiar as it is, maybe you are bored with it. Imagine this scene playing out, and keep your mind’s eye on the disciples’ hands.

Five-thousand men plus women and children – a sea of people, Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” Twelve disciples equals twenty-four hands, but when you look in their hands, only one or maybe two hands hold a bit of a morsel. The rest of their hands are empty. What the disciples have is inadequate.

Jesus takes the little snack and says a blessing. Now, watch. Jesus puts the loaves and fish back into the disciples’ hands. And the disciples just keep doling it out to the crowds. Their hands deliver again and again and again as the throng eats and is satisfied. Every last one of them, even the gluttons, eats their fill. What goes through the disciples’ hands is enough.

But keep watching. The disciples meander through the crowd and gather the leftovers. They return to Jesus, and now there are no empty hands. All twelve of the disciples use both hands to carry a basket overflowing with leftovers – each basket containing more than they had to start with. What the disciples have now is an excess.

Inadequate, enough, excess – all in the span of a few verses. Jesus meets needs that are out of proportion to the resources available.

When the disciples said, “We have only five loaves and two fish,” they figured it was proof that they couldn’t do anything to meet the need. But Jesus says, “Bring what you have to Me.”

Jesus still says that today. When you look at the needs of your neighbor and see a lack in your finances, time, resources, and talents, Jesus says, “Bring what you have to Me.” And watch as Jesus multiplies what you have to serve those around you.

And when you see your sins, your failures, your hatred, your lust, and your coveting, Jesus says, “Bring what you have to Me.” And watch as Jesus covers them all in His blood.

Jesus doesn’t just meet your needs. He over-supplies, but not so that there is a waste. He fills your cup with His blessings so that it runs over, and the blessings spill out to your neighbor.

And your Savior, is here to pour more into your cup now. Jesus still feeds His people in the wilderness. He is here now to feed you with His Body and give you to drink of His Blood. He calls you to come to Him. “Come, everyone who thirsts. Come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Delight yourselves in My rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa 55:1-5). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.