This morning you hear a case of mistaken identity. “Who do people say that I am?” All sorts of answers were floating around. Some were saying Elijah, John the Baptizer, or another prophet. Even those who knew this was Jesus of Nazareth, were not clear about Jesus’ work—His ministry—His identity.
Over a hundred years ago there was a growing number of professors who thought they knew more than the Bible. They felt that the Scriptures contained many fables and myths, and that the story of Jesus had grown to include a lot of fiction. They began what they called a search for the “historical Jesus,” rather than God-in-the-flesh – our Lord Christ. What they did not understand is that this is one and the same. The Man Jesus IS God. He speaks only the truth, and can and does work miracles. He has power over death. Jesus IS the Christ, the Son of the Living God!
Those scholars suffered from a case of mistaken identity. They were not clear about Jesus’ work—His ministry—His identity. Their supposedly superior education had shattered their faith like little children, and destroyed any clue of a proper response to our Lord’s question: “Who do YOU say that I am?”
“Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asks the Twelve. Peter jumps up to be the first student to answer the Teacher’s question. He swiftly and boldly declares: “You are the Christ!”
Now, yes, Peter confesses the right answer. But our Father in the faith, Blessed Martin Luther, would have us ask Peter: What does this mean?
Jesus says what it means – and the apostles don’t want to hear it. Even Simon Peter, who has just given this beautiful and strong confession of faith – the Prince of the Apostles, who has just boldly declared that Jesus is the Christ – does not get what that means. Peter is back in the mixed-up identity that the rabbis had developed for the Christ. Simon Peter thinks that the Christ will burst into Jerusalem and force out the Gentile occupying government and army.
Jesus gives His correction: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Very plainly Jesus tells them that He must suffer for them and for us. That He must die for them and for us. And that He must rise from the dead for them and for us. Who Jesus is, is wrapped up in what He does. Our Savior’s identity is precisely that: He is our Savior – our Redeemer – the Suffering Servant.
Simon Peter jumps to be the first to correct Jesus. He rebuked Jesus! No way, Lord. That will NEVER happen to you. We’ll die before we let them get you!
Then Jesus comments on the identity behind that argument: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
He knows people don’t get it. He knows that without the benefit of hindsight, you and I would be right there, baffled with the Twelve that Jesus says He has to die. We would be right there with Simon Peter, saying: “Lord, You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t know what You are saying! We’ll protect You from anything like that!” And you and I often join Peter in this arrogant sin of thinking that Jesus depends on our protection – that He’s helpless without our defense.
Jesus also knows that this idea does not come from us. It is from the devil himself. “Get behind Me, Satan!” The devil wants us to have a case of mistaken identity. He desperately desires that we think that Jesus’ glory comes from earthly power, and would be nothing if He suffered and died. The old evil foe conspires to persuade you to believe a false identity of who Jesus is, so you would join that foe in hell.
Don’t jump into the devil’s bandwagon! Stop rebuking Jesus! Quit thinking He’d be ruined without your aid! That’s the work of our old, evil foe.
But our Lord Jesus has conquered that foe. By giving Himself to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again, He became our Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Our Savior, Jesus, is the Christ—the Anointed One. Christ was anointed to suffer and die in our place. Christ was anointed to be not only the Great High Priest and King, but also the Sacrifice. Christ was anointed to be the One who did not deserve to die, yet took that punishment so death could be rendered broken and impotent forever. Christ was anointed so that in His death, He would conquer death. And in His resurrection, He would give new life.
So it comes down to this: Jesus’ identity is wrapped up in who He is and what He does. Our loving Lord forgives Peter for his display of ignorance and wicked outburst that defied Jesus’ divine mission. He sends His Holy Spirit to work on Peter’s heart to recognize the purpose and work of Christ. And when all was said and done, Peter gladly received salvation from our Lord Christ, and proclaimed it, preached it, and gave it through the Sacraments for the rest of His earthly life.
We receive that salvation from Jesus too. In His boundless love, Jesus’ identity becomes yours in Holy Baptism.
The story is told of a man who was drafted into the French army under Napoleon. Now there was a perfectly legal practice at that time that one could hire another man to take his place in the army. This man, whose family needed him at home for them to survive, found someone to take his place. During the war, the substitute died.
Because of a clerical error, later the man was drafted again. He politely protested that his time in the army was already served. The case ultimately ended up being heard by Napoleon himself. He declared that due to this acceptable and legal substitute, not only had this man served, but died as a hero to their nation, and should be honored as such.
Jesus has taken your identity on Himself when He was baptized. He has suffered your death, so you do not have to. And because of all this, He gives you His identity. Yes. You have traded identities with Jesus!
As you look forward to the Resurrection in this Lenten season, you are free from death, dear friends in Christ. He has not only served, but died in your place! Now, in Holy Baptism, our Father in heaven looks at you, but He sees His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. That’s no mistaken identity. That’s a gift!