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14th Sunday after Pentecost

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may over flow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Dear friends in Christ, Something’s just not right.  We can feel it sometimes in our lives.  Reminders of it are all around us.  And sometimes it can really get us down, right?  I mean, it’s almost as if it is unfair!  Downright cruel!  Upsetting!  It creates this tension between us and other people.  It’s just not right.  It makes you feel left out or missing something in life.  And maybe after I’ve vented for a while I’ll begin to accept it…but I still don’t like it…I’ll accept my lot and succumb to the greater powers out of my control.  And there are times when I can convince myself to be happy, but deep down that hurt still remains.  I think you know the feeling too.  And its not a constant feeling, but at times it makes you wonder.  Who is blessed?  Consider people you know: so and so is blessed with such wisdom or knowledge or skill, so and so is blessed with such great health or great athletic ability, so and so is blessed financially, so and so is blessed with so many relatives and friends, so and so is so blessed!  It can be easy for us to look around at other people and even compare ourselves with other people and think so many other people are more “blessed” than we are.  God has certainly blessed people differently with things on this earth.  So the question before us today is: Who are people who are truly blessed?  The Lord has an answer.

In our text Jesus has just gone up to the northern parts of Israel, the city of Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  Perhaps the people of this city felt blessed.  Their city was one of the important cities of Roman culture, a capital center of one of the rulers of the area, and the center of worship for a false god Pan.  Perhaps the people felt blessed that they had converted a cave with water flowing from it (and at this time any water source was very important) into a shrine of worship for the god Pan.  Yet those blessings didn’t last.  Today not much of that ancient city is left.  The rulers and the people of that day of course are long dead.  And people have long since abandoned the worship of the god Pan.  It was in this city where Jesus asked His disciples the same question that many people still ask today, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Their answer was a typical response of someone who knew the Old Testament and knew that Jesus was not just some ordinary man.  Their list was certainly impressive: John the Baptist, the great and blessed preacher of repentance and baptizer, Elijah, the great prophet who was blessed by God to do miraculous signs, or even Jeremiah, the prophet who was blessed to proclaim God’s Word even in the face of many hardships and persecutions.  Their list was certainly an impressive one.  But it fell short.  Today that question is very much alive isn’t it?  Who do people say Jesus is today?  For many it’s an impressive list: A great prophet, a great teacher, a great man, a founder of a religion, a good man, a great philosopher, an imaginative ideal, and yet this list too falls far short doesn’t it?

So Jesus asks, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”  Jesus is chiefly concerned about their answer.  They who had been with Him, who had been blessed to see His miracles, who had been blessed to hear Him preach, who had been personally taught by Him.  Who is Jesus?  Peter, the bold spokesman for the 12 disciples, spoke up, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the fulfillment of the Savior promised to Adam and Eve from the very fall into sin, the long promised Savior of the world, the very Savior who fills the crossword puzzle of every Old Testament prophecy, the very Son of God, the one and only true God, the only living God who lives as opposed to every dead and false god and idol, as opposed to every human power and achievement, the one and only living God!  That is who Jesus is!  That is the absolute truth!

And notice Jesus’ reply.  Could anyone ask for more encouraging words than what Jesus replied to Peter?  “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”  Certainly Simon and each one of Jesus’ disciples were blessed.  Why?  This faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world was not something that they discovered through their own thinking or wisdom, it was not based on how they felt or the emotions they had, it was not a decision that they chose, their faith was not based on an achievement of good things that they had done.  This faith in Jesus as shown by the words blurted from Peter’s heart was something worked by God.  It was through the preaching and the words of the God-man, the Word made flesh, Jesus that they were convinced of the truth.  And blessed are you because your faith in Jesus is a gift from God.  And guess what that means!  It means you never have to wonder if your faith is real or genuine- it was worked by God Himself through His Words.  Your faith doesn’t depend on your ability to get it or keep it.  It is God’s blessing through His Word and baptism.  It is God’s gift.

And Jesus’ blessings go further.  “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  He says, “Peter, your name which means stone or little rock, guess what, it is on this rock solid confession, on the rock solid content of this confession- that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God- that is the foundation on which I will build my church.”  It is not on stones cut by human hands or concrete smoothed with tools or wood cut from trees that God builds His Church.  It’s foundation and cornerstone is the Church’s Savior, Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection made the very existence of the Church possible.  And it’s through the tools of God’s Word and the Sacraments that God continues to build His Church.

And Jesus’ blessings go further.  No force of Satan, no human alliance, no false teaching or error, no form of hatred or revenge could ever come near to winning a victory over God’s Church.  God’s promise is that His Church will stand forever.  It will not fail, it will not fall, it will last forever.  Perhaps this church building will be blessed to last for hundreds of years, perhaps not.  But one thing is certain and that’s the fact that God’s Church will always remain.  Why?  Because it’s not based on wood or stone, but its foundation is Jesus Christ, the Savior, and it is built with living stones, believers in Jesus, like you and me, who have been blessed to become stones in God’s Church through God’s Word and Baptism, who are laid on that foundation.

And God has blessed His whole Church, all believers in Him, with the keys of His kingdom.  To forgive the sins of every repentant sinner, to open the doors of heaven to all who realize their inadequacy to ever please God with their own works, but trust in and rely on Jesus who has completed everything for their salvation- to them the doors of heaven are wide open.  But to those who are unconcerned with their sin, who don’t think God is very serious about His ten commandments, who don’t repent and reject Jesus- to them the kingdom of heaven is locked, shut, and closed.  They are outside of God’s Church and outside of the kingdom of heaven.  They are un-forgiven because they refuse the only one who can forgive them, Jesus.  They are locked out in order that they might repent and be welcomed back inside.

And finally Jesus warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.  With all of the misconceptions of that time that the Christ would be an earthly ruler and bring about a great earthly kingdom, Jesus didn’t want His disciples sharing that He was in fact the Christ.  Rather, let Jesus’ words and works be seen and let them convince people of the truth.

What awesome blessings God has given to His Church and further to us who are members of God’s Church.  But it is all too easy for us to forget, isn’t it?  Not only is it easy, but there are so many things in our lives that pull our focus to the temporary.  To distract us.  To make us think that to be really blessed you need power, knowledge, skills, health, good looks, money, etc.  And if we consider those the most important blessings of life we’ll spend all our time striving after those things and we will always come up short.  Why?  Because none of those blessings can fully satisfy, none of those things can take care of our greatest need, none of those can give lasting peace.

So who is blessed?  It’s who our Lord and Savior calls blessed.  Who is that?  It’s you.  It’s you who know and believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God!  It’s to you who whom God has revealed the truth!  It’s you who are part of that Christian Church built by Christ Himself!  It is you who is part of God’s Church which will last forever!  It is to you that God’s kingdom has been opened!  You are part of God’s Church built on Christ its founder and chief cornerstone-that blessing will last forever and no one can take it from you!  So who is blessed?  Are you blessed?  Hear it from your Savior who tells you, “Blessed are you!”  Amen.