Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16: 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[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] 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[d] in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This summer, we have fixed our eyes for four weeks on Jesus the Missionary, for three weeks on Jesus the Story Teller, and now for four weeks on Jesus the Miracle Worker. Three weeks ago, we heard the miracle of feeding thousands of people with just a little bit of food, two weeks ago we heard the miracle of Jesus walking on water, and last week, we heard the miracle of Jesus driving out a demon just by the power of his word. This morning our focus is on the miracle of the forgiveness of sins, and how Jesus would be building His kingdom on that very miracle.
You may remember the story where friends of a paralyzed man went to great effort to get that man into the presence of Jesus so that He could heal his paralyzed body. Jesus did tell the man to get up and walk, but not before he told the man to take heart, his sins were forgiven. When criticized for claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus asked, which is easier to say, to say your sins are forgiven or to say, “rise and walk”. The point Jesus was making, “That you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
This morning, we find Jesus handing over that authority on earth to work this same miracle of forgiveness. We find him handing over the keys of the kingdom to all who would confess with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The context of this promise to hand over the keys was that Jesus seems to have taken His disciples to a retreat location in order to prep them for what was coming next. What was coming next was an intense time of ministry in Jerusalem followed by Jesus suffering, dying, and rising again on the third day. In today’s sermon, part one is to think about how Jesus builds his church, part two is to think about what it means to possess the keys of the kingdom, and part three is a true story that illustrates the miracle of forgiveness.
Part one is to think about how Jesus builds his church. 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[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it.
Four truths Jesus makes in his response to Peter’s confession of faith.
- The truth that Peter just expressed wasn’t something he figured out with his own human reasoning, it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. No one can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit.
- Pastors and people don’t build the church, churches don’t build themselves, Jesus builds His Church.
- Jesus would be using Peter in the building of this church. Jesus would be the cornerstone, the witness of the apostles and prophets would be the foundation, and believers in all generations would be living stones in this Church.
- This movement Jesus calls His church would be unstoppable; not even the gates of hades, not the death of Jesus, nor the martyrdom of His disciples would take the wind out of the sails of this ship, this church we refer to in our baptismal liturgy as the holy ark of the Christian Church.
Part two is to think about what it means to possess the keys of the kingdom. 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[d] in heaven.”
Three truths we learn again about what it means to possess a key. First, keys means that you have rights to a house, either because you built the house and earned the rights to it or because the owner decided to trust you with his house and gave you the rights to it. Second, keys mean that you live in the house, you can let yourself in with the keys and lock the door behind you. Third, keys mean that you control who comes in and out of the house. You let in your friends and guests, you keep the robbers out, that’s what it means to have the authority of a house key.
Now we apply these three principles of house keys to possessing the keys of the kingdom. First, we have all the rights and privileges of being in the family of God. What a privilege it is to wake up in the morning, to make the sign of the cross, to remember that the soiled records of yesterday are washed clean, and set out one more time to try and get life right. What a privilege to look ourselves in the mirror night after night with clean consciences. Our consciences are clean not because we have lived such dandy and decent lives, but because the miracle of forgiveness has swept our souls clean one more time.
Secondly, possessing the keys of the kingdom means that Christ and His Spirit have taken up residence inside of us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us. Paul declares that by faith we have access to this grace in which we now stand. As often as we cry out for mercy, that often the whole company of heaven rejoices. As often as we admit that we have messed up and offended our God, that often what Christ earned at the cross is delivered into our inner beings. As often as we go looking for our God, we find that He has been looking for us all the time!
Third, possessing the keys of the kingdom means that we have the authority to forgive the sins of those who are repenting and to not forgive those who are not repenting. One key unlocks and the other locks the very gates of heaven. One key is comes with great privilege and the other with serious responsibility. We use the Gospel key when we assure fellow sinners again and again that God loves them, their sins have been paid for, the promises of their God are certain. We use the tough love key when we speak hard truths to friends and family caught up in sinful habits that are threatening to shipwreck their faith. We use the Gospel key as often as we forgive as we have been forgiven. We use the tough love key when we deal with each other according to their outward actions – realizing that only God can see into their hearts. We use the Gospel key best when we see ourselves as beggars telling other beggars where to find some bread. We use the tough love key best when we make sure we have gotten the logs out of our own eyes before we go looking for specks in our brother’s eyes. Both keys serve the mission of God, which is for sinners near and far to receive the forgiveness of sins into their souls and then to give it away as fast as they can, as best they can, as completely as they can.
Part three is a true story that illustrates the miracle of forgiveness. Outreach Magazine tells of Linda who has lived with a nightmare for over 30 years now. Back in 1986,her daughter Cathy, was a twenty six year old mother pregnant with her second child. Cathy stopped to offer help to two fifteen year old boys whose car had quit on them. The boys accepted her offer of a ride. They raped her, shot her dead, and left in in a field near a dirt road.
It took a long time for Linda to even think about forgiving her daughter’s murderers. She joined victim support groups, but found little comfort there. Everyone there seemed to be stuck in their bitterness. She finally asked for and received permission to meet with one of her daughter’s murderers named Gary Brown. In their meeting, Linda learned that Gary had been abused and neglected early in life. He expressed total remorse, he offered no excuses. He was released from prison after serving 23 years of a fifty four year sentence and is trying to make atonement by living a better life.
Linda has become an advocate of what is called restorative justice, which helps victims to find peace and gives offenders a chance to try to make things right. The outward appearance is that the miracle of forgiveness is changing the hearts of both perpetrator and victim.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are possessing the keys of the kingdom these days. On the one hand, they spend their days doing privately what their pastors do publicly, they turn the Gospel key they have been given, they assure fellow travelers their sins are forgiven, their debts have been cancelled, in the courtroom of their God, the verdict is not guilty. On the other hand, they wonder what they can do and what they could possibly say to so many folks in their lives who are going their own ways, doing their own things, creating their own messes in life. This very day, they take a few deep breaths, they pray like they haven’t prayed in a long time, and they set out to turn the tough love key, they set out to speak truth in love, they think about what it means to be stewards of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. In Jesus’ Name.