September 15 & 16, 2018 – Pentecost 17
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
I once got a phone call from a credit card company: “Did you make a $487.00 purchase at a Walmart located in Phoenix?” I told them that I didn’t. “Oh, then you didn’t make the $639.00 at a different Phoenix Walmart, did you?” Someone had gotten a copy of my credit card or my credit card number and pretended to be me. My identity was stolen. Fortunately for me, it was easy enough to get the credit card company to reverse the charges on my card and close the account. The only real consequence for me was a little more stress. But at other times, identity theft can leave behind huge problems: a ruined sense of security, ruined credit, and ruined lives.
But as we look to our text we are reminded that there are consequences of identity theft that are eternal. The consequences of this identity theft are the difference between heaven and hell. Those aren’t the consequences of having your identity stolen from you. Those are the consequences of having Jesus’ identity stolen from you.
You see, Jesus’ identity has been stolen by Satan. Today he leads many people to think of Jesus as the giver of good gifts, the one who takes away problems, who brings heaven on earth. And Jesus does bring good things in this life. But Satan leads some to believe that’s all he does and nothing more.
But this deceit of Satan is nothing new. It’s not just a modern ploy he uses to draw people away from Jesus while making them think they’re close to him. He’s always confused people so they know Jesus, but don’t really know who he is. He made it so that Jesus was misunderstood by his contemporaries. He made it so that Jesus was misunderstood by his own disciples.
But the truth of who Jesus is—who he really is—is crucial to learn. Our salvation depends on how we answer this one simple question: “Who do you say Jesus is?” So we’d better be sure. As we look at our text we find out the only right answer to that question which protects against this identity theft. Then we will know that Jesus is the Messiah of God. We will know that he is our Savior from sin. And Satan won’t be able to steal Jesus’ true identity from us.
In our text [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” On the surface, they seem to be good answers. They all showed reverence and respect for Jesus. They all showed that Jesus was someone special. They all confessed that Jesus was serving God. But they were all wrong.
And is it any different today? If you were to ask your friends and neighbors that same question Jesus asked, “Who do you think Jesus is?”, what do you think they would say? “Jesus was a great man who showed us all how to love.” “He was the best teacher the world has ever seen.” “He was a great prophet, who taught about the Kingdom of God.” These answers all show reverence and respect for Jesus. They all show that Jesus was someone special. They all confess that Jesus was serving God.
And while there is some truth in all of those statements, they’re all wrong. They’re all dead wrong because those answers are incomplete. Modern atheists and Muslims and religious Jews would all agree that Jesus was a great man, the best teacher, an amazing prophet. But that’s not all Jesus was. You see, Satan doesn’t always use lies to deceive us. He’s sometimes more than happy to tell the truth—well, some of the truth, anyway—to keep souls from the saving truth. He loves to rob people of Jesus’ identity as true God.
And in doing so, he robs people of saving faith. You see if Jesus was just a man, his death was just the tragic end of a noble martyr. But it didn’t accomplish anything for you. No person could pay for your sins, let alone for the sins of the world. If Jesus was just a great teacher, a noble prophet or a loving man, your sins remain with you. You would still be damned.
But Jesus isn’t just a man. You know that he was and is true God, begotten from the Father from eternity. Last week you saw the evidence in the miracles he performed. In Jesus’ day people saw the miracles or heard of them. Everyone should have known who he was. But Satan hid it from them. And without the Holy Spirit it would be hidden from us too. But the Spirit has worked through his Word and through the sacrament of Holy Baptism and has created faith in our hearts, that is trust in who Jesus is: the Christ, the very Son of God.
We know who Jesus is. But still, don’t we sometimes forget? We forget that as true God he is everywhere: in the same room where you’re yelling at the top of your lungs, in the same place where you’re drinking way too much, in the same room where you’re surfing the web for images you ought not see, in the same room where you’re being lazy and serving yourself instead of him. And we forget that as true God, Jesus isn’t just in the room, he’s in your head, knowing your every thought, your lust, your greed, your hatred. And though I’m sure we never mean to do it, too often by our behavior, we deny that Jesus is true God. But he is true God. And that’s a good thing. Because not only does he know your every thought, word, action, and sin, as true God, he was able to do something about it.
But Satan is still at work, robbing people of Jesus’ true identity, so that even those who know that Jesus is true God still get his identity wrong. While they, with Peter, confess him as the Christ, as a true God, like Peter, they have the wrong kind of savior in mind. To have Jesus’ true identity, it’s crucial to know not only who Jesus is, but what he came to do.
When Jesus talked about his mission, Peter rebuked Jesus for being so pessimistic with all this talk of death. But Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” Why? Because Peter only had Jesus’ identity half right. Satan had robbed Peter of Jesus’ true identity. Peter knew that Jesus was the Savior. But a Savior from what? That’s where he was confused. Peter thought of Jesus as a political savior, as an earthly savior. He saw Jesus as the one who would save his people from the Romans, from poverty, from disease, and from death. And he was confident that as true God, Jesus could easily carry it out. But a Savior from sin wasn’t on Peter’s mind.
As we approach another election season political candidates are busy promising to be a savior. “Vote for me!” they cry, “and I will save you from poverty.” “I will save you from pain and death with a better health care system.” “I will fix all the world’s problems.”
Well, unfortunately that’s all that many thought of Jesus too. They thought he was an earthly savior from poverty, pain, or enemy nations, and nothing more. That’s what Peter thought. “Jesus, don’t talk like that! You won’t suffer and die. You’ll do great. People will love you. They’ll follow you. We’ll rock the vote!” He didn’t think he needed a Savior from sin. And many today see Jesus the same way. “Jesus, save us from bad health,” they cry. “We’ll forget about you for most of the time. But whenever we get sick, we’ll pray to you and you will make us well.” “Jesus, save us from poverty. We’ll pretend to worship you on Sundays and put some of our loose change in the offering plate. Then you make our businesses thrive and get me that raise.” “Jesus save us from our enemies. We’ll act as godless as they do, but when they threaten us, we’ll call ourselves a Christian nation and expect you to keep us safe.”
But such thinking is satanic. Sound harsh? It is! But it’s true! If we confess Jesus as true God and Savior, then Satan wants us to think of Jesus as just an earthly savior. But those thoughts are not from God. God’s main thoughts were not to give us all physical peace, health or wealth, but to save us from our sins. And that could only come through the cross. Someone had to pay for our sin. Why? Well, think if it this way. Pretend for a moment that I came over to your house. And while goofing around, I knocked over your brand new 65" TV causing the screen to shatter with zero chance of repair. So what’s the result? Someone suffers loss. Either you make me pay for a replacement—a penalty I would rightly owe—or you would suffer the loss yourself and either replace it with your money or just be out the TV. But either way, someone has to pay.
For our sin, someone had to pay. Either we make payment in hell—a penalty we rightly owe—or God suffers the loss himself. Jesus chose to suffer that loss himself rather than make us pay for forgetting his identity as true God and for forgetting our identity as his children. He paid the price for the times we’ve acted like the world around us. He paid the penalty on the cross by suffering hell to make things right with God.
This is the kind of Savior that he is. Jesus had to “suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law.” He had to be killed. He had to do this to save us from sin. And thoughts of any kind of Savior that’s anything less than this come from Satan alone. But we know better. Through the Holy Spirit, we have in mind the things of God. We know Jesus’ true identity. He is the Christ, the Son of God. And he is the Christ, our Savior from sin.
And we respond accordingly. We don’t expect a perfect, problem-free life. We don’t look for heaven on earth. We don’t even expect that we’ll always have health, wealth, or earthly peace. God never promised us those things. And even if we had them, they’d be short lived anyway, since we’re not here on this earth for very long.
So we keep our focus on eternal matters. Then we’re eager to lose our lives for Jesus. We’re eager to give up our rights, our wealth, our sleep, our health, even our very lives if God allows such persecution to come our way. We’re eager to give up all that we have and are so that we might serve our Savior. For we know his true identity. We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We know that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior from sin. And as we hold on to Jesus’ true identity, we find our true identity too. We are his perfect saints. We are God’s dearly loved children. And just as Jesus is not of this world, neither are we. We’re strangers on our way to our real, heavenly home. In Jesus’ name stay safe from identity theft. Amen.