Summary: An examination of the words of Jesus and Peter as set forth in the Gospel. A brief explanation of the Office of the Keys and Confession.

August 25, 2002 – Matthew 16:13-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Confirmation is going to be starting in just about a week.

We’re going to have at least four of our young people in the class, three starting their first year and one who will be completing his confirmation classes and being confirmed next Palm Sunday….we hope.

I bring this up because today’s Gospel lesson deals with one of the six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine that are taught in Confirmation class and perhaps, the one that is:

· least understood,

· most hurried through, and

· gets shoved into the background.

This Doctrine is The Office of the Keys and Confession.

Martin Luther didn’t try to hide it in his Small Catechism. It’s right there, right between the two Sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, or the Sacrament of the Altar.

In fact, some theologians would argue that it is the third Sacrament of the Lutheran Church, that of Absolution.

Now why do you think that for most individuals this is the hardest concept to grasp and sometimes the one that they least want to talk about?

It has to do with two things: responsibility and authority.

In today’s society, what two words are more venomous than responsibility and authority?

I could get on a pretty good rant about school and politics and society as a whole and even the church, but what I would end up doing is having half of you agree with my position and half of you disagree.

Ok, one example. Is it good or bad to have a bumper sticker on the back of your car that says: Question Authority?

First question is, whose Authority? Second question is, who’s doing the questioning? And that’s just the beginning of the debate.

So, for now, let’s avoid getting into a squabble about things in our secular world and concentrate on Church responsibility and Church Authority.

Yeah…now there’s a topic that will avoid debates and disagreements.

DO you see how this one Doctrine can set things off? Do you understand why it’s so much easier to just say, “Oh, yeah, and the 5th Chief Doctrine….for test purposes…is The Office of the Keys and Confessions.”

Very seldom do you get the inquisitive mind shooting a hand up and saying, “But tell us more about it.”

But that’s what were going to do this morning. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God we will look at what His Word has to say about responsibility and authority and the Office of the Keys and Confession.

First, let’s set this up by reviewing the contents of our Gospel lesson.

Jesus and his disciples are on a what might be described as a little bit of a holiday.

Israel has been described as the land flowing with milk and honey, right? Well, mostly Israel, especially back in Jesus time, was a land flowing with sand and desert. Except for a few places either along the coastal region or in areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan River, the land of Israel was a barren land.

Where Jesus had led his disciples, however, was to an area known as Caesarea Philippi. This was one of my favorite places in all of Israel. The beauty of the place is unforgettable. There are mountains, trees, bushes, lots of shade. It’s a campers paradise. Small streams that flow from the mountains settle into pools that then cascade into one of the three rivers that are tributaries to the Jordan.

At one spot, the water flows right out of the mountain into the pool.

But beauty wasn’t the only thing that surrounded Jesus and his disciples. This area was also one of the most pagan regions of Israel.

Herod the Great, that’s right, the King of the Jews, had built a temple there to honor Caesar Augustus, who was the self-appointed "living" god of the Romans and the Greek god Pan, the god who was half man and half goat, was worshiped there in the shadow of the mountain near the entrance of a huge cave. Niches were built into the rock to hold icons of Pan’s consort and one of his father.

It was in this setting, as Jesus and his followers perhaps walked along the banks of the river, enjoying the shade and cool of the trees, that Jesus asked a question. “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?”

The answers are interesting aren’t they? Everybody thinks he’s a dead guy come back to life or someone from the past. (John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.) No one wants to admit that he might be someone in and of himself. No…he’s got to be someone else.

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