Rogate Sunday| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 17, 2009| St. Matthew 10:32-33
“Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
We don’t believe what we choose to believe. We believe what Jesus teaches us. Jesus is our teacher. We are his disciples. We receive the teaching that Jesus teaches us. We receive it by believing it.
God is the only one who can see this faith. Only God can know it is there. After all, God is the one who created it. He created it through his holy word. He created it through the same word that he joins to Holy Baptism. This is how we can be confident that baptism is a means by which we are brought to faith and kept in the faith. Baptism is God’s holy word bound to water by God’s own command. Confirmation is not divinely instituted. The teaching of the word of God is. It is joined to Holy Baptism. The two cannot be separated. In the case of adults or older children, we teach them before they are baptized. In the case of little children and infants, we teach them after they are baptized. There is no difference between the baptism of a baby and the baptism of an adult. In either case the one who is baptized believes in Jesus. Jesus teaches the one who is baptized. And the one who is baptized is called on by Jesus to confess him.
We cannot see anyone’s faith, whether he is an adult or a little child. We can know if someone has been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. We can know if he has been taught the true Christian faith and confesses to believe it. These are outward things that we can see. Only God can see our faith. The whole world can know what we claim to believe. Faith alone makes us Christians but confession is what marks us as Christians. God sees what makes us Christians: our faith. The world sees what marks us as Christians: our confession of the faith.
God alone sees our faith. And it is precious in his sight. All that God makes is good. God looked at the world that he made and he saw that it was good. It was very good. He is a good God who makes only good things. Nothing he makes is as good or as precious as the faith that he alone can see. It is pure. It is simple. It is born in weakness. It is born in need. It is receiving Jesus. It isn’t doing. It isn’t even talking. It isn’t praying. Faith is none of these things. Faith doesn’t do. Faith is done to. Faith receives Jesus by trusting in him.
Faith doesn’t try to earn God’s love. Faith knows that Jesus has given and revealed God’s love. Faith doesn’t try to earn God’s favor. Faith knows that Jesus has earned God’s favor for us. Faith doesn’t work to get a reward. Faith trusts in the work that Jesus did.
Jesus earns for us God’s favor. His love does. His love suffers. He does by loving perfectly. He suffers by choosing to bear the full and final judgment of almighty God against all sinners. He suffers by becoming sin for us, though he himself knew no sin. He chose to embrace every bit of our sin, and by taking it upon himself he set his love against our hatred, his purity against our lust, and his humble obedience against our proud and vain contempt for God. He set good up against evil and by bearing all of the evil he utterly destroyed it in his own body by overwhelming it with his good.
This is what Jesus has done, and this is what our faith receives, and rejoices in, and this is why our faith is so very precious to God. It receives the Priceless Treasure who is Jesus Christ himself. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” God said. And so he loves the faith that we have, not only because it is his own perfect creation, but because it receives Jesus Christ whom God the Father loves and has loved from eternity.
No human being can see such a faith. So we cannot actually show it. Not as it really is. But we surely can confess it. That is what we must do. It is what Christians do. They confess. They say what they believe about God. It is as natural to a Christian as breathing.
We confess our personal faith, for faith is very personal. It is interesting that in the Small Catechism that sums up the faith the Lutheran Confirmand confesses, five of the six chief parts are written in the first person plural. After all, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Keys, and the Lord’s Supper are all given to the whole church. We say we. But in the Creed we say I. “I believe that God has made me … I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord … I believe that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…” The faith that we confess is always personal. I cannot believe for you. You cannot believe for me.
Confessing the faith is not just going through the motions. It is the most solemn duty you will ever face in your life. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Go along to get along and worry later about what you said.” He says “whoever confesses me I will confess” and “whoever denies me I will deny.” Since it is our personal faith that receives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the gospel; since it is through the personal faith of the individual Christian that he is a part of the One, Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church; our confession of the faith must also be personal.
But just as each of us must confess the Christian faith as an individual, we are never alone. So our confession of the faith is always corporate. We confess what the body of Christ also confesses. We don’t each have our own unique brand of Christianity. We all together receive in faith the same word of God, the same promises of God, the same gracious gifts from God. We all together confess the same Christian faith.
Nobody can look into another’s heart and mind to know for sure what he personally believes. But we can surely know what another person claims to believe. Peter/Henry, from this day forward the whole world can know how to identify you – how to label you. You are saying today that you will gladly wear that label all your life. You are a Lutheran. You together with every other member of this congregation confess that the teaching of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which you have learned from Luther’s Small Catechism, is in agreement with the Bible, and it is a faithful and true confession of the Christian faith. That little Catechism is what identifies your Christian confession to the whole world.
While our confession of the Christian faith is personal, it must always also be corporate unless we wish to start our own religion and go off to be by ourselves. But that is a denial of our baptism. We were baptized into Christ’s body, his Church. We confess the true faith that his Church confesses. We Lutherans don’t claim that the little Catechism is our unique confession of the Christian faith. We claim that the teaching of the little Catechism is the confession of the entire Christian Church. It is the Christian confession. As you promise faithfulness to the teaching of the little Catechism today, you promise to be faithful to Christ’s Church. You tell the Church that you won’t go it alone because you can’t. This is your home. This is where God’s saving truth is faithfully preached, taught, and confessed.
You are confessing the truth today. We live in a time of doctrinal apathy. People don’t care about the truth. They may gladly talk about Jesus and about their personal relationship with Jesus but they know little and care even less about who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what Jesus says. When you ask such Christians where they stand on matters of Christian doctrine, they look at you in wonder, for they cannot imagine what Christian doctrine has to do with being a Christian. To them Jesus is a warm fuzzy. He’s a religious security blanket who makes them feel good all over. The truth of God’s law and the truth of God’s gospel escape them. They don’t know how to discern the difference between right and wrong and they sincerely don’t understand what difference it makes what we believe so long as we believe in Jesus (whatever that means). They think that confessing the faith is mouthing pious-sounding words of love for Jesus while at the same time dismissing as unimportant the true teaching of and about Jesus. They despise the truth while claiming loyalty to the One who called himself the Truth. They talk about Jesus, but won’t submit in faith to what Jesus himself teaches them.
Listen. When you confess your faith in Jesus, you confess that everything he teaches you is so, it is true, and nothing he teaches is negotiable. To despise the pure doctrine is to despise your teacher and your teacher is Jesus. He will not tolerate that so-called confession that says the truth doesn’t matter. The faithful confession of Jesus is not talking about how much we love him, but about how much he loves us, and that, brothers and sisters, is talking doctrine. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the two natures in Christ; the doctrine of redemption, justification, the means of grace, baptism, the keys, and the Lord’s Supper; the doctrine of how the Holy Spirit works, and why we need him, all this doctrine you have learned and confessed, this doctrine is the teaching of Jesus.
You must be willing to pay a price to confess the true faith. If you hold to the faithful Christian confession and refuse to compromise it for anyone or any reason and insist on confessing the truth, regardless of what popular opinion might be, you will be obligated to pay a price. People will consider you to be closed-minded, arrogant, dim-witted, out of touch, unloving, and judgmental. If you confess the truth about Jesus and continue steadfast in that confession, you will most certainly pay a price for it.
But the price doesn’t matter because Jesus confesses those who confess him. And he does a far better job of it. We confess him feebly, imperfectly, sporadically. We must, with Peter and the other apostles, admit our failure to confess him purely and truly. He never fails to confess those who trust in him before his Father in heaven.
What does Jesus confess before his Father in heaven? He says, “Here are the children you have given me.” He says, “Here are those for whose sins I suffered, whose guilt I bore. Here are those who belong to me, and I acknowledge them. They bear the name of God. They are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Their names are written in the book of life.”
When Jesus confesses you as his own, he pleads for you. You need his prayer because you will fail in your confession of the faith. You will forget who you are. You’ll fall on your face when it comes to doing what you promised. You’ll pass by the opportunity to confess Christ and his truth. Indeed, you’ll deny him by your silence and by your sin. And then you will remember Jesus’ warning, “But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” And then what will you do?
You will come here to where Jesus comes to you. You will pour out your heart to him as you confess your sins. He won’t turn away from you. He will receive you. He will absolve you. He will wash you in the waters of your baptism. He will give you to eat of his body and his blood. He will give you his Holy Spirit. He will restore you again.
And he will plead for you before the throne of grace. He will confess you before his Father in heaven. Then he will send you out to confess him before men. And that you will do, returning to Jesus whenever you fail. That is the life to which God called you when he baptized you. This is the only life worth living. Amen.