Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 14 - Matthew 16:13-20

14th Sunday after Pentecost Sunday

August 21st, 2005

Matthew 16:13-20

“Secret Identity”

I. Introduction –

Dear Pastor Richter, Christian friends of St. John’s. Thank you for the privilege and honor of letting me share the word with you today. Of course, for our family it’s a special occasion that brings me to town, as my brother Zach and wife Nicole mark the baptism of their little one, Peyton, and her formal entrance into the kingdom of God.

And though it is Peyton’s baptism that brings me here today, today I also want to share words of encouragement in the faith with all of you a message that is not just about our family, but a message for all of us in the family of Jesus Christ.

I read a familiar passage from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16:

In our reading here, Jesus asks the question, “Who do men say that I am?” And the disciples give all the popular answers. But only Peter gave the right one. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter knew the secret, the identity of this Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus of Nazareth: Secret Identity: The Christ, Son of the Living God.

When Zach and I were younger, we had secret identities. It must have been a long boring summer, when we decided one day to make up super-heroes for ourselves. Zach’s pretend super-hero was some lightning-powered, electricity shooting guy. A pretty cool power. But since I was the older brother, and in charge of the game after all, my super-hero was, basically all-powerful. I could do anything I wanted. You see, being the oldest brother has its perks.

But today I want you to know that we Christians all have a secret identity in Christ. By her baptism today, Peyton joins us who belong to the family of God, the people of Christ, and have a nature that is hidden in him. But our secret identity begins with Jesus’ secret identity…

II. Jesus’ Secret Identity

And it was a secret… at least, at first. You’ve read those passages where Jesus heals someone and they come to believe in him – and then he does something strange. He tells them – NOT TO TELL anyone. What’s that about? Or when the disciples see Jesus get all bright and shiny on the top of the transfiguration mountain. Then he tells them not to speak of it, at least for now. We Christians sometimes assume that Jesus always wanted everyone to know everything – but if you read the Gospels, this motif we call the “messianic secret” can be seen. Why is it that Jesus spoke in sometimes obscure parables, told people to keep secrets and not to make known what was clearly great, good news?

In his time. Jesus had a plan, you see. He knew what he had come to accomplish, and how he wanted it done. He didn’t want people getting the wrong idea at the wrong time. You see, if Jesus simply went around blurting out, “I’m the messiah”, well, any number of things could have happened. Either his time of public ministry could have been prematurely ended by the authorities, or worse yet, people would get the idea he had come as a military deliverer from the Romans. Neither of which was Jesus’ plan. He wasn’t that kind of Messiah.

The secret is: he came to die. To suffer, to die, and to rise again on the third day.

So he taught the few, quietly, until it was the right time to reveal his true nature and purpose.

Here in Matthew 16, the disciples are let in on the secret. Peter is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he makes the good confession, “You are the Christ”. There’s a point here for us too. Just as Peter didn’t come to this on his own, nor do we come to faith in Christ by ourselves. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel. He washes us in the waters of baptism. And he lets us in on the secret, that which we couldn’t have otherwise know. Jesus is not only THE savior, he is OUR savior.

When the time is right, and according to HIS plan, Jesus is made known. After his death and resurrection are accomplished, after he ascended into heaven, the disciples are filled with the Spirit and with Power, and boy, do they make him known. The book of Acts tells the story of Jesus being made known – of the secret let out of the bag – even to the ends of the earth.

So much for Jesus’ secret identity. But what about us? Remember I said we Christians have a secret identity, a nature that is hidden in him? Here we would talk about baptism…

III. The Christian’s Secret Identity

You look at Peyton – and though she has just been baptized, she doesn’t look any different, does she? A little more damp, perhaps, but I bet she’s even dried off by now. And yet, by God’s grace a fundamental difference, a great change has taken place. As those waters powered by God’s word and promise, have washed away her sins and sealed her for eternity as a child of God. She now has a secret identity.

Scripture speaks of these realities, what happens when we are baptized. But in many ways, what happens is unseen, kind of a secret.

For instance, in baptism we are crucified and buried with Christ, and what comes out of the water is a new creation. We don’t see this secret reality happen, but we believe it by faith. In baptism, we receive a new nature, we call it the “New Adam”, but too often that’s hard to see as we struggle with the “Old Adam”.

Likewise, in baptism we are declared righteous and holy. We don’t always see it, in fact, you really don’t see it much at all. But God does. Zach and Nicole, when you see a cranky, crabby, selfish, disobedient, rebellious, defiant, mean and angry little girl – give it a few months – God sees a righteous and holy saint, a child of his promise.

So too for all of us, when we look in the mirror and we see selfish, vain, dishonest, lustful, arrogant, petty, thoughtless, and insincere people – we certainly don’t see much good in ourselves if we are honest – but God sees in us the holiness of Jesus Christ. In a way, Jesus himself is our secret identity. By baptism, through faith, Christ lives in us.

But is this secret meant to be forever? NO!

In one sense, we are to be all about making the secret known. As Christians our life of witness stands to clue others in to the secret we have come to know. We would love to let others in on it. That’s the great commission, that by teaching and by baptizing, the secret is spread, and others, like Peyton, are brought in.

Then of course, there is that final unveiling. When on the last day, we will all be seen in our true colors. The sheep separated from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. As Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Then our secret identity will be made crystal clear, so that we too can see who we truly are, and will be forever.

For Peyton today, and for you and me whenever our baptism was, a great thing has taken place. God has given us a secret identity. An identity that we are called to reveal as we have opportunity – giving answer for the hope that is within us. An identity that God will reveal fully on the last day, when we stand before his throne. An identity that is always found in Christ, that doesn’t depend on us, but on who HE is, and what he has done.

For a time, Jesus identity was a secret. But in time, it all became clear. In our baptism we receive a secret identity in Christ. But it’s a secret that must not be kept. It’s one to be believed, and the be cherished, and to be shared. The secret’s out, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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