Sunday, July 12, 2015

The all-stars of the Christian faith


Eric Kilby 
The All-star Game is fast approaching, and as part of that annual festivity, baseball fans are coming up with their “dream teams.” To have such a “dream team” means to draft a line-up and rotation from all the players who ever played in the majors even if they played at different times. Today we honor two of Christianity’s “all-time greats.” So bear with me as I put together a dream team for us. For the position of Bishop, I would pick Timothy, ordained by the Apostle Paul to shepherd the flock at Ephesus. He belonged to the second generation of Christians. The all-time Elder would be St. John, who endured everything short of martyrdom witnessing to his faith in Jesus. As a Deacon, I would take St. Stephen, first of the martyrs to Jesus’ holy Name. The all-time great Deaconess would be Phoebe who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans, and was commended for her work with the poor in Corinth. As teachers I would like to have Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla, who traveled to many ancient cities to strengthen churches which the Apostles had started. For Apostle there is a tie between the two men we honor today. Neither Peter nor Paul would have asked for any honor. If they were here today they would urge us to give the real honor to Jesus, which is only right. But we can still learn something from these all-time greats.

Our Lord asks the Twelve who He is. There are various answers. Some thought He was John the Baptist, who had been beheaded. They thought he had risen. Some said He was Elijah because of Malachi 4:5. But Jesus had already told them that John the Baptist was that Elijah, and Gabriel had told John’s father that the child would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” In a similar way, Paul found Christians in Corinth who did not agree. Some claimed to follow Paul, others Apollos, others Peter. Whoever said the ancient church was undivided does not know the New Testament. People all over the world believe in Jesus today, but disagree about many important things. The disagreement is so powerful as to make church fellowship impossible. Nor can we achieve genuine unity in this life. But let’s learn from the all-time greats how to react to it.

Peter didn’t let any of the other answers confuse him. He confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. Peter knew the Scriptures. He had been with Jesus long enough to know how the Lord fulfilled the Scriptures. He knew his faith was correct. Paul was not in Corinth when he heard of the divisions, but he wrote a letter to those people setting forth the basic facts – the foolishness of the Gospel, which He knew was the Word of God, and the scandal of the cross. So you and I must not become confused by the divisions among Christian people. Peter and Paul went right to the point. They proclaimed that Jesus is God Incarnate and the only Savior. The devil attacks this, because his kingdom always falls before the kingdom of Christ. Peter and Paul knew that, too. They taught the Gospel in no uncertain terms, even as they had learned it from the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus told Peter, Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but the Father in heaven. Then He went on to say, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The world hated them. The same world that hates us, hated the Apostles. They were just as counter-cultural as we are. In the parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus we heard Jesus speak of a “great gulf” between heaven and hell. That same great gulf exists between the world and the church. Jesus indicated this by giving Peter a new name. His name after the flesh had been Simon bar Jonah. The new name had to do with regeneration. The new temple would be built of living stones, and Peter would be one of them. Paul had originally been named Saul. As Saul he persecuted Christians. But after his baptism, when he had been born again of water and the spirit, he was called Paul. That comes from one of several Latin words for “little.” He thought he was small in the eyes of God, such was his humility. He wrote to the Ephesians that the Apostles are all rocks and stones, the foundation of the Christian faith, and that Jesus Himself is the Cornerstone. Jesus made the church righteous, meaning He made us righteous, by His death and resurrection. His love that forgives our sins, His victory over the world and its prince, His intercession for us at the right hand of the Father make the building firm and unshakeable. That’s good news for us, because we are also living stones in that same temple. When a stone is pried loose, it can be thrown away. When it is cemented into the Foundation, not even hell can remove it. We have not seen Jesus ourselves, but we have the Word of those who did. The Apostles were eye-witnesses of these things, and in the case of Paul, eye-witness to a vision. God dwells within this Zion of the Holy Spirit. We can say with the Psalmist, We will not fear though the earth be removed; though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.

Jesus said one more thing. He told Peter, I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The Lord was talking about the authority to forgive sins in His name. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had forgiven the sins of the paralytic. The Pharisees grumbled about that, but Jesus silenced them by having the man get up and walk. There is no doubt that Jesus had the Keys of the Kingdom, so if He gave them to His church, He has placed His authority in our midst. Jesus said, All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. That also includes the authority not to forgive, for without that the authority to forgive would be empty. It includes the authority to discipline and admonish, as indeed Paul admonished Peter himself in Antioch.  Finally, it includes the authority to teach. The Apostles’ teaching has authority over all other Christian teaching ever since their time. That is how we know we are standing on the foundation of the Apostles. And we have the Rule of Faith, by which we know whether or not we are interpreting the Bible properly. The Church has written down the rule of Faith in the Creeds and Confessions. Through these we know we are connected to the Lord who is the Cornerstone, to Him who won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. He won that for us. He gives us eternal life. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross 

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