Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saints Peter and Paul @ St. Paul Lutheran Hamel, Illinois

"Let No One Boast In Men" I Corinthians 3:21 St. Peter and St. Paul

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
"Let no one boast in men." So the Epistle says. But that's exactly what was happening at the congregation in Corinth. They were dividing themselves up into spiritual factions. Some identified themselves with Paul, others with a preacher named Apollos, still others with Cephas, which was another name for the apostle Peter. The people were aligning themselves with one or the other of these particular men, not simply as their spiritual leader in a positive way, but in a "My guy's better than your guy" sort of way. This was causing division and strife in the congregation. You might compare it today to a larger congregation with more than one pastor where the people align themselves with one of the ministers based simply on personality or the personal relationship they have with him and speak ill of the other. Or you might compare the Corinthian situation to those who speak so highly and glowingly of a particular pastor or preacher in their life that it seems their faith is put more in the man himself than in God and His Word. "Let no one boast in men."

Earlier in this Epistle, Paul asks the people, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" In fact the apostle actually says he's glad he wasn't the one who baptized most of the people in the Corinthian church, lest they think that their baptism was somehow more special because it was done by him–sort of like those who insist on having their relative who's a pastor do a baptism so that it will be so much more special. Paul says here, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." You are to see beyond the man to the Lord who alone is the reason why you are rescued from sin, death, and the devil, and who alone is the One who keeps you in the saving faith through His preaching and supper. So it is that Jeremiah exhorts us, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." He is your life and your glory.

So then, on this day commemorating St. Peter and St. Paul, we are not going to boast about them or glorify them but rather give thanks to God for His grace shown through them. For the fact of the matter is, their own lives show the danger of putting your trust in human beings. Remember how Peter wavered back and forth in the Gospel. On the one hand he confessed the truth of Jesus, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." But then almost immediately, Peter tries to divert Jesus from His mission of suffering and dying for the sins of the world, saying, "This shall not happen to You, Lord!" When Peter was thinking according to his own sinful nature, he was in league with the devil, wanting a worldly Messiah with a worldly kingdom of glory. But when Peter answered according to what had been revealed to Him from above, he was called blessed by Jesus. Just like you and me who believe and are baptized, Peter was both saint and sinner.

Jesus gives Simon the name "Peter" then, which means "rock," not because the church is built on his person as if he were the first pope. Rather the church is built on the confession of faith which he made, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." The church is built only on the rock of Christ, as it written, "No other foundation can anyone lay than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ." Peter was the rock as he held to Him who is the true Rock of our salvation.

There were times even after Pentecost that Peter wavered a bit. In Galatians 2 it is recorded how Peter, who used to eat with Gentiles in the freedom of the Gospel, changed his practice when some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came to town who thought that wasn't right. These Judaizers taught that some of the old ceremonial laws still were still in force, which would include not eating with those uncircumcised or eating "unclean" foods. Peter didn't want to fall into their disfavor. He still wanted to be a part of the Jerusalem "club," the heavy hitters. And so he played the hypocrite and only ate with Jews for a time. He brought division between Jew and Gentile again.

And so Paul confronted Peter before them all. He wasn't intimidated by them because of who they were. He says in Galatians, "Whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man." Paul rebuked Peter, both out of faithfulness to God, and also out of love for Peter and the Gentiles, that they might remain in the truth of God's grace to all nations and ethnicities.
Of course, Paul didn't have a perfect resume either, did he. Earlier in life he was so zealous for the self-righteous Jewish traditions that he actively persecuted the Christians who preached the right-eousness of Christ. Paul was present when a Christian deacon named Stephen was stoned to death for his faith, and he approved of it. Paul, then known as Saul, even traveled large distances to imprison those who followed Jesus as the Way. It was on a trip to Damascus, Syria that the Lord dramatically intervened in Paul's life and graciously converted him from his own self-reliance to faith in Christ, whom he once persecuted. Only because of God's mercy and goodness do we now know Paul as the great apostle and preacher of the Gospel that he was.

And even then Paul was not perfect. He struggled with various physical ailments. And he struggled with his own sin. Paul spoke of the fallen condition that still hung with him when he said, "For the good that I want to do, that I do not do; but the evil I do not want to do, that I practice. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!" We learn from Paul that Jesus alone rescues us from our sin and death and raises our bodies to life everlasting.
So rather than boasting in men today, glorifying Peter and Paul, instead we glorify God for using even men such as these to proclaim His Gospel for the salvation of many. Even down to this day God works through the life and the writings of Peter and Paul, doesn't He. There are two epistles of Peter and thirteen epistles of Paul in the New Testament. In them God still teaches us to despair of our own works and our own righteousness and instead to cling to the works and righteousness of Christ who has done it all to save us. And we are called to lead lives befitting that Gospel and to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

We should take comfort in how our Lord dealt with men like Peter and Paul. If Peter, who denied Christ, and Paul, who persecuted Christ's church, could be saved and forgiven and restored, then how much more can you be saved and forgiven despite yourself! We learn from Peter and Paul that salvation depends not on us but on Christ, and therefore we are given to rely entirely on Him. And if Peter and Paul could be instruments of the Gospel, then certainly you also can be instruments of the Lord to confess His name and speak of His saving works wherever in life He has placed you.

When it comes right down to it, what really counts is how you answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?" Some say Jesus was a great prophet–indeed, even Muslims say that. Others say that Jesus was a great moral teacher and one who worked for social justice. Still others say that He was an enlightened guru leading people to see new age principles. But only the answer that Peter gives gets to the heart and the truth of the matter. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus is the Savior foretold in the Old Testament. He is God the Son in human flesh and blood, come down to earth that He might die in the flesh and shed His blood as the necessary sacrifice to earn forgiveness for our sins. He is truly the living God, who was raised bodily from the dead to give us victory over the grave and who now reigns bodily at the right hand of the Father to work all things together for the eternal good of His people.

Who do you say Jesus is? Here's where knowing your catechism by heart comes in handy. There we confess, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all 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."

Finally, it must be said that confessing that faith comes with a price in this world. Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Our Lord gives you to bear His cross. For He put the sign of the cross on you in your baptism, identifying you as His own beloved children. You bear the mark of the cross on your forehead and on your heart to show you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified. And so you are given to share in the sufferings of Christ in this life–be they physical sufferings, or the troubles that come from being faithful to the Lord in your daily callings, or the mistreatment you receive because of the faith you confess–in order that you may also share in His glory in the life to come. He allows the cross to come to you that your sinful flesh may be put to death and that you may raised forever to new life with Him. As He said, "Whoever loses His life for My sake will find it."

Peter and Paul lost their lives for Christ's sake. Paul suffered beatings and stoning and imprisonment because of his tireless and relentless preaching of Christ. After his several missionary journeys through which God worked to spread the truth of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, tradition holds that Paul was finally beheaded for the faith at the hands of the Roman government. And Peter also left the confines of Israel to proclaim the Gospel as well. According to tradition, Peter ended up in Rome where he also was martyred for the faith. He was crucified, but insisted on being crucified upside down, for he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same fashion his Lord did. This was in fulfillment of words which Jesus Himself spoke at the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus said to Peter, "‘When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.' This He spoke, signifying by what death (Peter) would glorify God." God was indeed glorified in Peter and Paul. They lost their lives for Christ and now have found true life in Him.

God grant that you may continue with them in the same confession of faith, saying of Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," and finally share with them in the fullness of life that Jesus is and that Jesus gives.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.