In any religious life one has to make some type of decision if it is primarily a private thing or a public thing. In fact I’d go so far as to say the world wants to force you to choose. In the Pagan world all religion was public. You could believe anything you wanted, so long as you did the correct public rites. Today, the state would grant you freedom of worship, by which they mean you can do anything you want privately, but it better not affect your public life which must be lived as if you were an atheist. This sermon ponders that split through the how Mark depicts the ministry of Jesus leading up to an emphatic statement as to why Jesus has come out. We are obviously not Jesus, but this still has meaning as we sort our own religious lives out in private and in public.
The Symbol to the left is one that you used to find in both Roman Catholic and what were called the Magisterial Protestant churches, which is everybody but the Baptists. But depending upon your Pastor, you might not have been taught this in catechism. It is the symbol of the office of the keys. It is the fifth part of the Small Catechism. Sometimes called confession. And the one most often skipped. Why skipped? It makes an audacious claim. It claims that ministers can forgive sins. But probably even more scandalous is the claim that the office has the authority to withhold forgiveness. Hence the two crossed keys. One of them to loose and one of them to bind.
How are sins forgiven? Why do we believe any of them are? The first biblical story to deal with such forgiveness is the crippled man lowered through the roof by his friends to Jesus (Matthew 9:1ff/Mark 2:1ff). When Jesus first sees the man, he tells him “your sins are forgiven.” Nice, but probably something of a letdown from expectation of the miracle worker. But Jesus has his point. He strikes up the question with the Pharisees watching who were saying he was blaspheming. “Only God can forgive sins.” He tells the man to pick up his mat and walk as proof that the Son of Man also has authority to forgive sins. And this is roughly where the Baptists like to stop the story. Forgiveness is between me and my personal Jesus. And they are not completely wrong. Jesus sinners doth receive. There is nothing that you can’t take to Jesus. But the story doesn’t stop there.
In three places (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18: 18 and John 20:22) Jesus gives this authority to different groups. If you are Roman Catholic you love our Gospel text for today, the first one, because in that passage the words are said to Peter. Ta-da, the first pope is the owner of the keys. Hence the papal seal to the right. If you are most flavors of protestant you love the Matthew 18 version a couple chapters later in which the same words are given in general to “brothers and sisters”. The Eastern Orthodox and our Catechism like the John passage because the recipients of the saying appear to be the apostles as a group. The interpretive leap in each is the preferred sources of forgiving sins: The pope and those in communion, members of the church, and those called and ordained.
I can’t remember if I’ve referenced it before but this is where I love Luther in a largely forgotten part of the confessions, the Smalcald Articles Part 3, article 4 on The Gospel. “God is superabundant in his grace: first , through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world…second through Baptism. Third through the Sacrament of the Altar. Forth through the power of the keys. Also through the mutual consolation of the brethren.” Luther’s answer is “Why not all?”
But that doesn’t address why these keys have a tendency to disappear. Which goes back to the catechism questions. What is confession? Confession has two parts, first that we confess our sins and second that we receive absolution. It is never the use of the loosing key that causes trouble. I’ve never run across a Christian who complains about forgiving a repentant sinner. Yes, I know the parable of the prodigal and the older brother. Yes, I do recognize that people can have trouble with forgiveness. But at least in my experience that eventually thaws. What all kinds of people do have problems with is the necessity of confession for absolution. The binding key is not really a power of the office but a duty – to call sinners to repentance. And sinners who don’t think they have can often respond, “just who do you think you are?”
It is much easier to say your sins are forgiven. But if you are only using one key, you might be like the prophets declaring “peace, peace.” We will see if what they say happens. But the called office has both keys for reason. So that we might be confident in the grace of God through all of his means of grace.
The primary text is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus. It takes place right after his baptism and continues the theme of Israel reduced to one. When Israel fails in the wilderness, Christ succeeds. But, this sermon is about something I think is an important distinction that often gets lost in the modern church. It was important to me to figure out because Luther makes a statement in the Small Catechism that always seemed to fly in the face of reality to me, at least reality if you take the scriptures and the universal experience of the faith as witnesses. And you wish to take ordination vows seriously. Luther says “God tempts no one.” And that honestly felt like this polyanna-ish statement completely foreign to the great man who was always “calling a thing what it is.” So, this sermon attempts to talk about the difference between temptation and testing. And how we can affirm that God tempts no one, even if the answer to that 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t always positive in the short term. But the will of God is not for this moment alone, but to give you the eternal victory in Christ.
The Reign of God or the Kingdom is the overriding theme of the gospel and we’ve been thinking out way through it this summer. It starts out being proclaimed. (“Repent! The Reign of God is near!”) Then it is taught. (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”.) Then it is exhibited or demonstrated as Jesus interacts with the crowds, the disciples and the Pharisees and Sadducees. All of which leads up to the final. “Do you understand? Who do you say I am?”
That is a question that we all must answer when the Reign draws near. And there are a variety of answers, but only one correct one. “You are the Christ.” And that correct answer – that confession does a couple of things. It binds us to Christ in the church. And it frees us from our sin. The Keys of the Kingdom, the reality of the Reign. If you confess Christ, you can only truly do so within his body. And within that body, Satan cannot touch the pardon of God.
That – our proper response to the Reign – is what this sermon encourages.
This text in my reading is really about one thing, Jesus’ definition of the office of Christ and its work. To understand Christ and his work requires for things.
1) Christ works in and through His church
2) That Church will not fail
3) It will not fail because to it has been given the key of heaven, the forgiveness of sins
4) That forgiveness was won on the cross
This sermon is an exploration of those points and how those point all rest on the rock of confessing Christ and the cross.
Worship Note: We lost a memory card, so this is a recording after the fact. Which means we lost the great music we had in church today. Great Day: LSB 609, 949, 645, 575. Moral? Come to church!
The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.
The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.
Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.
Jesus’ predictions of His passion each elicit responses by the disciples. Those response are often quite telling. They highlight some false idea which the disciples are clinging to. But there is something else that swirls around the first two – Jesus offering what the church calls the Keys. What you bind is bound and what you loose is loosed. The first offer of the Keys leads to the passion prediction which Peter responds roughly “not going to happen”. In this second passion prediction Peter doesn’t directly confront Jesus, but in this sermon’s conceit starts succession planning. The sermon of Jesus that follows talks about what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like which is nothing to start succession planning over. Instead of leading with the offer, Jesus ends with the offer of the Keys. His followers will be humble or childlike or little enough to not demand the law or their due with each other. The church instead is based on confession and absolution. The church is based on offering and receiving grace.
The text is part of what is called the missionary discourse. Jesus is sending the twelve out to proclaim the kingdom. As part of that sending are some stern warning about persecution. Right next to those stern warnings are some of the most treasured expressions of believers about the love of God. What this sermon attempts to do is demonstrate how this functions as the gut-check of discipleship. Luther explains the first commandment as “we should fear, love and trust God above all things.” The gospel is proclaimed as what the disciple is encouraged and expected to believe about Jesus: about the place of a healthy fear of God, but the primacy of trusting God and his demonstrated love for us in Jesus.
The recording begins with one of my favorite hymns in Lutheran Service Book (LSB #933 – My Soul Rejoices). It is a versification of The Magnificat or song of Mary. We used this as our Hymn of Praise this morning.
The office of the Keys is all about who has the authority, responsibility and accountability to forgive and bind sins. The good news in Lutheran doctrine is that Christ himself rules the kingdom of the gospel. If sins are forgiven here, they have already been forgiven in heaven. Heaven acts first. And heaven acts through the means of grace – baptism, Lord’s supper, confession/absolution, preaching. In those methods the grace of God through Jesus Christ is proclaimed; it is announced. The words have power and are received simply by faith.
That faith is given or revealed by the Father (in the son and through the work of the Spirit to complete the Trinitarian formula). We are not left without proof. Faith itself is a proof. The work of Jesus is the greatest revelation. But faith is a revelation. Peter did not confess Christ by flesh and blood but by the revelation of the Father. Same with us. Hard teaching or pure comfort. Either God is still at work on an hourly basis and involved personally with you, or faith is something you can’t accept.