12th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 16) LSB #’s 906, 645, 587
Text – Matthew 16:18
And I tell you, you are Peter, & on this rock I will build my church, & the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it.
BUILDING ON THE ROCK
A woman took her children to an animal farm in her red Volkswagen bug. She could not find a parking space so she had to put her car in a remote area near a ranger station. When she returned some hours later she found the front end of the car smashed down. Furious, she asked the ranger what had happened.
Apologetically, the ranger assured her the damage would be paid for. The cause of the damage was Millie the elephant, who took children for rides. Years earlier, in a circus act, it had been trained to sit on a red tub. That’s how the front of her red car had been crushed, but since the engine was in the rear of the VW Beetle, it would still run.
The woman took off for home & while trying to pass a line of cars she was stopped by a police officer. She was accused of leaving the scene of an accident in which she was involved. She pleaded that she had not been involved in an accident, so the officer pointed to the crushed front end of her car. “What happened?” he asked. She replied, “An elephant sat on it.”
Reaching into a pocket the officer brought out the breath analyzer. “Lady, would you please breathe into this tube for me?”
Truth matters, but sin has made it difficult for you & me to know what truth is, or what to do with it. For that reason Jesus gives a lesson in the one transcendent truth superseding all other realities. Peter, in characteristic fashion, blurts out the answer:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Then [Jesus] strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.” (Matthew 16:16 & 20 ESV) That last sentence reveals our handicap in all of this. It makes no sense. First, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Then He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” After Peter gives the correct answer, Jesus strictly charges them to tell no one. It’s like He’s trying to hide the truth.
The real problem though, is that Jesus’ disciples don’t yet know what to do with the truth. Since they don’t know how to use it, Jesus tells them, for now, to keep it quiet. As the saying goes, “The truth hurts.” It is good to know the truth, yet each one of us can do a lot of damage with it. Sin has made it very difficult for us to know what to do with the truth.
The reason: sin has made it very difficult for you & me to love anyone but ourselves. The end result is this; much of the time we use the truth in ways that hurt other people. I tell the truth to save me time & trouble. It takes time & effort to be kind & patient & considerate.
In Ephesians 4, St. Paul encourages us to speak the truth in love & he connects that to the process of becoming more like Christ. Just because you’ve gone through confirmation or an adult instruction class does not automatically turn you into a mature child of God. Those classes do not give us superiority over others, & they do not even save us from hell.
Many people recognize that & ask, “Why should I bother spending time in such a class?” People spend time & money at college in the hope of getting a higher paying job. No one is going to pay you more money just because you’ve sat through confirmation class.
It would also save me a lot of time & trouble if I didn’t bother teaching them, but remember what I said above? It takes time & effort to be kind, patient & considerate. Loving only me is often the motive for bailing out on truly loving others. Loving others takes time & it involves heartache & struggle. If I don’t want to teach the class is it because I love only me?
If you don’t want to sit through the class is it because you love only you? And if you only love you, or if I only love me, what kind of foundation are we building our lives upon? We go through confirmation class, or adult instruction class, in order to build our lives upon a much more permanent foundation than love of self. We attend those classes out of love for Christ, & out of trust in Christ, because He died for us while we were still living on a foundation of sand.
To our sinful nature it is certainly a waste of time. Yet, trusting in Christ, our saintly nature knows that it’s not.
It seems like such a simple & trite thing to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Yet, that is the difference between death & life for all of forever & ever. What have you built your life upon? When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He did it so they would begin to consider upon what were they building their lives.
In the context of increasing hostility from the Jewish people & their leaders, Peter utters the climactic confession that brings the 2nd major section of Matthew’s Gospel to a close. The truth about Jesus’ identity is central to the mysteries of the reign of God’s Kingdom – here on earth & forever in heaven. Such knowledge comes only through God’s revelation to us.
Blessed are those to whom the Father grants this. It’s the key which unlocks the door to all the blessings of the reign of heaven. Yet, the culture we live in is increasingly hostile to our confession of Jesus as Savior & Lord. That confession is the rock upon which Christ is building His kingdom, the confession that Jesus is the Christ.
He is Messiah who has come to save us from our sins. Only He can do it, & now that His death & resurrection have been accomplished, He is choosing to spread that life through the Church. Throughout history the Church has appeared to be broken, corrupted, fallible & weak. If you think about it that’s how Jesus Himself appeared on the cross.
If your life appears to be broken, corrupted, fallible & weak, all hope is not lost. To you also Jesus says, “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In other words, the gates of hell cannot keep you there. The Church of Jesus Christ has the power to rescue anyone who believes in the Son of God as Lord & Savior. And where do we get that belief? We get it from the Father in heaven who reveals it. As St. Paul wrote of the church, it is:
“…built on the foundation of the apostles & prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20–21)
Now that Jesus is risen from the dead, we are to tell everyone that He is the Christ. In Him there is life, & abundantly so. That message is the rock upon which Christ is building His church & His kingdom. Amen.
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land; bells still are chiming & calling, calling the young & old to rest, but above all the souls distressed, longing for rest everlasting. Grant, then, O God, Your will be done, that, when the church bells are ringing, many in saving faith may come where Christ His message is bringing: “I know My own; My own know Me. You, not the world, My face shall see. My peace I leave with you. Amen.” LSB 645:1, 5.
11th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 15) LSB #849
Text – Matthew 15:21
Jesus went away from there & withdrew to the district of Tyre & Sidon.
TYRE & SIDON
Those names appear together in Bible verses 16 different times. The only more famous pairing in the Bible is Sodom & Gomorrah appearing together on 22 occasions. While Tyre & Sidon were not obliterated by fire & brimstone, they weren’t far behind in God’s condemnation of their wickedness. The prophet Jeremiah had some intriguing words for the enemies of God:
“So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand & made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it. …all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon… shall drink. Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk & vomit, fall & rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” (25:17, 22, 26-27 ESV)
Tyre & Sidon were clearly not at the top of the list of God’s favorite cities. So when Matthew writes, “Jesus went away from there & withdrew to the district of Tyre & Sidon,” at 1st blush it seems rather strange. It’s like reading the headline, “Jesus Goes To Vegas.” It should make you wonder, “What’s going on?”
Well, Jesus had just finished another nasty confrontation with the Pharisees, where He called them out for being hypocrites. Jesus had wanted for some time to rest, but kept getting interrupted. His goal was thwarted by the people following Him who necessitated the feeding of the 5000. So after this conflict with the Pharisees Jesus sought rest in a different place.
He traveled to a place that had never been under the rule of the kings of Israel. The inhabitants of this region had been gross idolaters, serving especially Baal & Ashtoreth. The infamous queen Jezebel was the daughter of a king from Tyre & Sidon. These people were hated & detested by the Jews, so it was the perfect place for Jesus to find rest from the constant attacks of His Jewish opponents. He should be anonymous there since no one who opposed His ministry would dare to travel to such a pagan & godless land. Jesus should be able to pray to His Father & teach His disciples in peace. The Gospel of Matthew practically shouts from the rooftops:
“And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out & was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David…’” (15:22 ESV) So much for peace & quiet, for rest & relaxation; for a time away from the hustle & bustle of caring for the souls of the sheep. Even here in this pagan land of Tyre & Sidon there is a woman who knows exactly whom Jesus is.
“But [Jesus] did not answer her a word.” (15:23a ESV) You see, she was a Gentile & His earthly ministry was not about them. Yes, He came to save them, but that would play out through His body the Church, after Jesus had ascended to the right hand of God. For now, prior to His crucifixion, He is a Jew, born to a Jewish mother, & He is the Messiah of Israel.
Jesus’ entire life on earth is historical fact & it is grounded in His role as the perfect Son of God that the nation of Israel completely failed to be. His earthly identity is wrapped up in demonstrating to the Jews His role as Messiah. He does that through preaching & performing miracles. For now, the Gentiles simply are not part of the equation. They will be later.
So these are the words of Jesus to this Gentile woman from the region of the pagan cities of Tyre & Sidon: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs.” (15:24 & 26 ESV)
Jesus demonstrated His role as Messiah through preaching & performing miracles. Those blessings were also the means by which He fed the lost sheep of Israel. To understand Him you need to keep in mind that for Jesus, the words He quoted from Deuteronomy are definitive. He countered the temptation of the devil by saying:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of
God.” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) When He says, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs,” He’s not talking about literal bread, or even food, but about the words or blessings which come from the mouth of God. However, using bread as an illustration of Jesus’ ministry works perfectly well.
As this event unfolds, effectively, Jesus is referring to all Gentiles when He says in particular to the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread & throw it to the dogs.” At that moment in time Jesus is calling her a dog. Being Gentiles, you & I are included in that description. Right there & then, His ministry, His miracles & preaching, were not for her.
Later, when Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus is talking about the fact that she is not offended when He calls her a dog. In spite of all evidence to the contrary – Jesus ignores her at 1st, then tells her He’s not on earth to help people like here, & finally calling her a dog – she still continues to have faith that Jesus will be a blessing to her daughter.
This is how Martin Luther described this text from Matthew 15:
“Look how Christ drives her faith deep into her heart that it becomes strong & firm. Is this the gracious & friendly Lord? He is silent as a stone; a severe blow when God shows Himself so serious, angry & distant, concealing His grace & help. We must also learn to cling alone to the Word, although God pretends to be different than what the Word says of Him.”
The Canaanite woman was declared to have great faith because she clung alone to Word of God no matter how Jesus treated her in person. There are times when it takes great humility to be a child of God, & doing so demonstrates great faith. The Bible tells us that God is love, but there are many, many times in our lives when He does not appear that way to us.
At those times, do we still believe in Jesus? Do we still believe that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God? After Jesus ignored her, refused to help her, & finally called her a dog – the Canaanite woman agreed with Jesus that she was a dog, & still believed that Jesus would be a blessing to her daughter: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:27 ESV) We could elaborate on the woman’s thoughts in this way:
“Yes, Lord! You are absolutely right! It would be bad indeed to deny or contradict God’s plan to save His ancient people Israel. You are Israel’s Messiah, & the bread You give belongs to the children. I agree & believe, & I don’t want the children’s bread, because when the children eat, the dogs also get to eat, don’t they? The bread of the Messiah is so abundant & so overflowing that parts of it fall from the table onto the floor. And the crumbs are enough for me & my daughter. We need nothing more than the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”
Along those same lines, here’s another quotation from Martin Luther: “Yes, Lord, it is true, I am a sinner & not worthy of Thy grace, but you have promised forgiveness & didst not come to call the righteous, but, like St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1:15, ‘to save sinners.’ Behold, the Lord must then through His own judgment, have mercy on us.”
The Gospel reading for today is a lot like life. It leaves us with many questions. Why is Jesus silent? What is the disciples’ tone of voice? The emotional state of the woman? Does Jesus intend to insult her? Does she take offense? Lots of questions & no answers. This reading is a lot like life. The text does answer one question. What does great faith believe about Jesus?
It believes that Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so. Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Amen. LSB 849:1.
 Gibbs, J., Matthew 11:2-20:34, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 2010, p. 787.
10th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 14) LSB #’s 502, 722, 820
Text – Matthew 14:30
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, & beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
SEEING THE WIND
How much do you trust Jesus? Would you get out of the boat if Jesus called you? Fear is a part of life & all human beings are confronted by it on many different occasions. From your experiences, what does fear do to you? Does your stomach get queasy? Do your palms get sweaty? Does your heart rate increase?
“But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, & said, ‘It is a ghost!’ & they cried out in fear.” (Matthew 14:26 ESV) These were strong men in the prime of their lives, & they are trembling with fear at the sight of something walking on the sea. To top it off, whatever it was, it was rapidly gaining on them.
Putting ourselves in their shoes, this happens somewhere between 3:00 & 6:00 AM. You can imagine it’s rather dark out there in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. There are no electric lights anywhere & they’ve been rowing against the wind through their entire trip. After an exhausting day & night they probably aren’t feeling overly confident.
They see a thing that even well-seasoned fisherman have never seen before. Something is walking across the water & appears to be coming after them. Once they cry out, “…immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:27 ESV) Would you believe Him? How much do you trust Jesus?
Peter got out of the boat at Jesus’ command, but once he saw took his eyes off of Jesus & saw the wind, Peter’s fear returned. The power & wisdom of His Lord did not change one bit. Jesus had not lost any of His ability to control the sea or to protect Peter. What did change? It was Peter, wasn’t it? His courage melted & his trust in Jesus evaporated. You can guess how that applies to the experiences of our lives. The moment we take our eyes off of Jesus what happens? No matter how often we think of His words, “Do not be afraid,” the instant we take our eyes off Jesus & see the wind our trust in Him fades away.
Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God ruling the world for a few thousand years now. He is still intervening in our lives, even this very moment, through the power of His spoken Word. That almighty Word rescues us from sin & damnation just as surely as it rescued Peter from drowning. You & I have no reason, ever, to be afraid. How much do you trust Jesus?
More & more today, we hear, & even see, the unbelieving world ridicule people who follow Jesus. They tell us we should keep our faith to ourselves, yet Jesus calls us to be the light of the world & not to hide that light under a basket. People who do not follow Jesus tell us we shouldn’t label certain activities as sin, yet Jesus commands us:
“If your brother sins against you, go & tell him his fault, between you & him alone.” There are people today labeling that as hate speech. They want to lock you up in jail if you do what Jesus tells us to, & that can make us afraid. Their hatred for us can cause you or me to take our eyes off Jesus, in the same way the wind caused Peter to take his eyes off Jesus.
What happens when we don’t trust our Lord? We sink, or we get lost, & if that goes on long enough, we can end up losing faith in Jesus altogether. In the case of Peter, once he saw the wind, & fear came roaring back into his heart, what did he do? He turned right back to Jesus & cried out, “Lord, save me.” And what did Jesus do? He saved Peter.
Jesus isn’t here today to reach out & save you with His hand, but His almighty Word is still here. In John 10:27-28 our Savior tells us, “My sheep hear my voice, & I know them, & they follow me. I give them eternal life, & they will never perish, & no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (ESV) In those verses, Jesus is talking about the fact that not even the Devil can steal us away from our heavenly Father. He’s not saying we’ll never get hurt, or that we’ll never face hardship & trial. Jesus is saying that no one can cause us to miss out on heaven. Only we can cause that to happen by stubbornly refusing, till the day we die, to call to Jesus for help.
There certainly will be many times in this world that we take our eyes off Jesus. We are sinners & that’s what sinners do, but since we are forgiven sinners Jesus will always rescue us when we call to Him for help. Our prayer does not need to be any more elaborate or complicated than the one Peter prayed, “Lord, save me.”
That brings us to main point of this entire event when Jesus comes to them in the dark of night by walking on the water. The weakness & failure of the disciples to trust Jesus serves this purpose, it is meant to highlight, in direct contrast, the identity & power of Jesus so that His mercy & desire to save us might be seen more fully.
Peter fails, but he simply prays, “Lord, save me.” “…immediately [Jesus] reached out His hand & took hold of him…” (Matthew 14:31 ESV) Jesus is God. Only The Creator can walk on water. “And when [Jesus & Peter] got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Matthew 14:32 ESV) Jesus has revealed Himself to be Yahweh, Creator of heaven & earth.
The disciples have caught a glimpse of the truth that in this man, the saving power of Yahweh – the God of Israel – is embodied: “Truly you are the Son of God!” said the disciples. Because of the times you fail to trust in Jesus, & the times you are more afraid of human beings than of God, you will find yourself asking, “Will Jesus save me when I call upon Him?”
The narrative that Matthew records in his Gospel answers that question. Jesus is God so He can save us, & He will save us, even if we have only a little faith in Him. The promises He has made to us He will keep, even now in the present time, as this tired old age still fights against the new age of salvation that has dawned. Jesus entered creation in order to set things right. In His 1st advent, His power over creation was cloaked in weakness. He took upon Himself humanity’s sin & the divine curse of death, only in order to burst forth new as the Lord of life, the Lord over death & everything that would destroy us. He is very God of very God, Light of Light, begotten, not made. He is calling each of us out of the boat each new day.
He promises to bless the poor in spirit & to save on the Last Day when He renews the face of the waters & the face of the earth. After the resurrection & the Day of Pentecost His disciples understood it fully & devoted their very lives to His calling. Jesus’ voice is still heard in the Word of God today. It is strong & filled with love: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Because this Jesus died for the express purpose of saving us, all whom He has rescued want to serve Him with the very core of their new being. It is that new being God Himself creates within us when He calls us by name, for we belong to Him.
And when the ‘wind’ of our lives draws our eyes away from Jesus, as we are sinking, by the power of the Holy Spirit we will turn back to Jesus & say: “Lord, save me!” And He will, for even the wind & sea obey Him! Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet