Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told Him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.”
Who do you say Jesus is? That is the question which is answered today as the Church commemorates the Confession of St. Peter. It is not simply a day to remember what one of the apostles said, though that is a worthy act. Rather, all of us who claim the title “Christian,” who say that we adhere to the Christian religion, are given the summary of it by the chief apostle. And the summary of the faith is the proper answer to the question: Who do you say Jesus is?
In the Gospel record, Peter answers the question very simply: “You are the Christ.” But that four word answer is actually quite complex. Peter properly identifies Jesus. Jesus is the Promised One, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about a forthcoming Redeemer. With his answer to Jesus’ question, Peter is making a claim on behalf of all his ancestors who had awaited the arrival of the One promised by the Lord God.
But what does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? What actions accompany that title which Peter says truly identifies who Jesus is? We hear this, not from the mouth of Peter, but from Jesus Himself: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He said this plainly.” This is the “job description” of the Christ. It is not the path to success as is typically measured. It is not what most would think of as the duties of the Christ. Yet this is what Jesus says would happen, what He was sent to accomplish.
And to Peter’s ears, that “job description” did not seem good and right. Sure rejection and death had happened to Elijah. John the Baptizer, and many of the prophets. But Peter did not say that Jesus was Elijah or that Jesus was John or that Jesus was a prophet. Peter said: “You are the Christ.” He identifies Jesus as something much greater than these great men. So when Jesus speaks about rejection and death, we hear what Peter thinks about it: “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.”
But what Jesus says must take place. It is necessary for Him to undergo these things. And to show Peter that it is so, He rebukes him: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Rejection, suffering, death: this is the path that the Lord God has laid out for the Christ. It isn’t an original thought to Jesus, something conjured up on the road to Caesarea Philippi. No, it is what has been foretold. For even the Psalter, written nearly a millennia before Jesus walked the earth, had spoken of this fate: “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Rejection, suffering, death: they are abhorrent to the eyes. That is what Peter’s rebuke of Jesus indicated. But when rejection, suffering, and death are the acts of the Christ, the fulfillment of what had been prophesied, then their nature changes. Seen through the eyes of faith, through the enlightenment that the Holy Spirit brings to the Lord God’s people, rejection, suffering, and death become wonderful things. For when the Christ experiences them, then salvation is at hand. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again,” and because this happens, you are redeemed, you are delivered, you are saved.
This is the great confession of the Christian Church, the confession that Peter makes. Yes, he did not fully comprehend why Jesus spoke of rejection, suffering, and death. As he had his mind set on the things of man, all of this was foolishness. But when Peter had his mind permanently set on the things of God, he treasured these sacrificial acts of Christ.
You were given a depiction of this change that happened in Peter in the First Reading for today. You heard a portion of Peter’s address to the Sanhedrin. What wasn’t included in the portion of Scripture read was that this took place after Peter and John were arrested for healing a man at the
Such a statement is not what one whose mind is set on the things of man would speak. Peter had once dismissed the idea of a rejected, suffering, and dying Christ. But when he is put on trial, Peter doesn’t hide from Jesus and His acts. Rather, he identifies the Crucified and Risen Jesus as the Christ, the One that the Scriptures spoke of. But not only does Peter say that Jesus is the Christ, but that He is the one and only path of salvation. The Crucified and Risen Christ is not to be written off as a failure, but as the ultimate success, treasured as Lord and Redeemer.
That is the confession of Peter, the confession of the Christian Church. And from Peter’s allusion to the Psalm, we see how this is the foundation of our faith: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The foundation of the Church is the rejected, suffering, and dying Jesus, who was raised from the dead by His Father. In Him we have our salvation and on Him our entire lives as disciples are based.
The Church continues to confess what Peter said about Jesus. There is a sharing of the same faith. This is what Peter alludes to in his letter to Christians that was read on this day: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” A faith of equal standing with Peter is what you share as you confess the same thing, when you give the same answer to the question: Who do you say Jesus is? That faith of an equal standing is what you as members of the
So who do you say Jesus is? There really is no better answer than what Peter confessed: “You are the Christ.” And just what does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? It means that He as rejected, suffered, and died for you, so that He may be your Lord. What does it mean for you to confess that Jesus is the Christ? It means that “this Jesus is the stone that was rejected . . . has become [your] the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which [you] must be saved.”
This is what you have learned as the foundation of your faith in the words of the Small Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
May that always be your confession, as you set your mind on things of God, just as Peter had his mind removed from the things of man. For in that true confession about Jesus, he found life everlasting, and so shall you.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.