St. Matthew 26:30-75
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Boy! Did Peter ever blow it! Denying that he even knew Jesus! Not just once. THREE times! What a coward. And he even had fair warning to try to avoid it! How sad that he denied Jesus in front of others!
We too deny Him. We deny Him when we choose to go other places and be with other people rather than worship. We deny Him when we show up for Vespers or the Divine Service, but let our minds wander, thinking about a game we’d rather be watching, or who’s going to sing the best on American Idol tonight, or concentrate on the new dress, or hair style, or even baby in the next pew. We deny Jesus when we keep quiet about our faith, so that we don’t “offend” anyone or “cause any trouble.”
Then again, not only do we deny Jesus to others, trying to hide our relationship with Him, but perhaps our greater problem is that we also deny that He truly comes among us. We deny that He is more than an historical figure. Old Adam likes the idea of the Ascended Christ stuck up in heaven, not able to interact with us. But my dear friends in Christ, that is not how He works! Jesus comes to us, in His glorified body, and acts and speaks to us!
When we manipulate what God’s Word says, we can deny Jesus in Holy Baptism. Yes! We deny Jesus in Holy Baptism! Every time we think of baptism simply as following a command of Christ, or a washing that represents or signifies our repentance, our believing, our deciding to be Christian, we join the thugs in the Garden slapping Jesus in the face, and Peter hiding in the shadows.
Calling this Gift our action says, “Jesus, I don’t recognize You! I don’t need You here. I’ve got it all under control. We’ll call You when we need You!”
But it is the Holy Spirit at work in that font, stirring the waters of Bethesda to heal us; washing of the mud of blindness in the Sent pool of Siloam; cleansing us from the leprosy of sin in the Jordan. He forgives, rescues, and saves as He delivers our dear Lord Christ through His drenchingly wet Word.
Often we deny the work and authority of Jesus in Holy Absolution. Yes! We deny Jesus in Holy Absolution! That is why so few people avail themselves of this sacrament! We don’t really believe that Jesus is working and speaking through His ministers to hear our confessions and remove those sins forever.
Our Lord and Merciful Judge has authorized His Twelve Apostles, and the generations of pastors that follow them until His glorious return, to hear our confessions, and bestow absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
Dear friends in Christ, this could be the single most ignored doctrine in the 21st century Lutheran Church. Officially we still believe, teach, and confess that the private confession of sins to our pastor is the norm. And yet, a watered-down rite that removes the individual contact and assurance from our Lord, intended to supplement that private confession, has (in practice) become the sad substitute.
The reality is that our general confession as a congregation is NOT what Luther speaks of in the Catechism. It is NOT what Jesus is talking about in John, chapters 20 and 21. It is intended to be a reminder of why it is necessary to make individual confession to our pastor in Christ.
Refusing to do so is denying Christ. Rejecting His Holy Gift of Individual Confession and Holy Absolution is telling Jesus that we don’t really believe that He is hearing our confession and speaking that liberating, joy-filled forgiveness.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He confronts Saint Peter on the beach. Three times He asks Peter if he loves Jesus. There is no mistake here. Jesus asks precisely the number of times that Peter denied Him. But He quickly and firmly gives Peter the command to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep. Peter is absolved, and assured that he is still in Christ’s Church, and part of His plan.
You too, are part of His Church, and part of His plan. Dear friends, do not deny or refuse Jesus the opportunity to forgive and renew you! Do not ignore Him or act ashamed of Him! Return to the Lord. Blessed Martin Luther once said we should value this means of grace so highly that we would walk a hundred miles to confess and receive absolution from a pastor! He also said that the people should be demanding their pastors to hear their confessions.
I don’t see too many shoes that worn tonight. Not many of us have urged and demanded our pastors for this gift. We stand convicted, my friends. We have denied Jesus.
And our fits of unbelief continue. We deny Jesus in the Holy Supper. Modern Lutherans stray from what we have believed, taught, and confessed for nearly 500 years. Jesus says that the bread and wine ARE His Body and Blood. But did He really mean that? Surely, He doesn’t actually mean that they become His flesh and blood! …So says Satan.
Christ our Lord speaks His Word, and the bread and wine as elements of His creation have no choice! They MUST be His Body and Blood! No longer common things, they can never again be mingled and mixed with other wafers of bread, or bottles or decanters of common wine. He never says that these items cease to be His Body and Blood, and so we treat them with the dignity and respect that these items are divine!
When we treat the Blessed Sacrament non-chalantly, or walk about His sanctuary and enter His Holy Place with disrespect or disregard, we are denying Him. When we think that this is some ordinary food and drink, or approach His altar with gum or a mint in our mouth, we are denying that this Holy Food IS GOD!
Historically, Lutherans continued the fast from midnight the night before receiving the Holy Eucharist, that their cleansed and empty stomachs would receive the Lord more properly. Only the children, the elderly, and those with health problems ate breakfast before the Divine Service.
Are you denying Jesus by not fasting? No. Not necessarily. But the thoughts and actions and attitudes with which one approaches the Holy Altar declare volumes about us. And often, those thoughts and actions and attitudes are denying Him.
Tonight we hear even Peter, Prince of the Apostles, first among twelve equals, one of Jesus’ three closest friends, deny that he even knew Jesus! And we realize that daily we sin much and frequently deny our Lord as well.
Yet even as our Savior strolled on the beach with Simon Peter, individually hearing him and speaking to him, and thereby absolving him, so also Jesus speaks to you. He holds no grudge. Christ does not keep you from entering His kingdom due to your denials. He reaches out to you in love, speaking to you through the voice and the forgiving touch of your pastors. He gathers the scattered and joins us in the unity of His Holy Church, cleansed by His blood at Baptism, renewed by His absolving Word, and refreshed by His saving Body and Blood in His Eucharist.
Yes, dear repentant friends in Christ, you may rest assured that our loving Savior has removed your guilt and will never deny you. Tonight, you go down to your houses justified. Amen.