Do You Want to Know a Secret?
"Do You Want to Know a Secret?" is more than a 1963 Beatles' song. It's a question which when asked produces the desire. All someone has to ask is, "Do you want to know a secret?" And you do. Well, we're at the right text.
Do you want to know a secret? The Father in heaven reveals things to men on earth. Not everything we want to know, though, and there's the rub. What we want to know is more important to us than the things revealed by God. Horoscopes, Psychics, Palm Readers, Fortune Tellers, and more are big business because they proport to tell you everything you want to know. How many Greek tragedies turn on someone finding out about the future and trying to avoid it? The key word here is tragedy.' I can't think of one instance in them where someone knew the future and it helped them. God's way is to hide things; man's way is to find them out. Pv. 25:2, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." Is. 45:15, "Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!" Dt. 29:29, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us "
The secret is God has secrets that He doesn't reveal. He doesn't reveal everything we want to know but everything we need to know. The things of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, heaven and hell, salvation and damnation aren't hidden from mankind. The Book of Isaiah speaks of the Messiah being a banner set on a hill (13:2). In the NT Simeon tells Mary that her Child is a sign to spoken against (Lk. 2:34). Jesus says that when He is lifted up on the cross He will draw all men to Himself (Jn. 12:32). Paul says to pagan Roman ruler Festus, without fear of contradiction, that the things about Christ and Him crucified were not done in a corner, i.e. secretly (Ats. 26:26).
All the above weren't secret. What is revealed to Peter is something that only the heavenly Father can reveal. Men can know that a man named Jesus lived and died in Palestine in the 1st century, but only God can reveal who this Man really is and what He came to do. We find both in Peter's short confession: Jesus, born of Mary is the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised Seed, the Son of the living God. Being the promised Christ also reveals what He would do. He would crush the head of the serpent Satan. He was born under the Law to fulfill the law that condemns all sinners. And He was born to bear the guilt of all men becoming cursed of God in their place.
All this the Father reveals on earth. All this the Father wills to be proclaimed to all nations, to every person everywhere, and to this we shrug. "O that. I'd rather know what will happen in my future. How this will turn out. What will happen when to whom." Those are the things the Father has reserved for His secret councils. The things He reveals about your sin and His grace; the Law that condemns you to hell and the Gospel that preaches you into heaven; these are for you. But maybe that doesn't mean that much because you don't know or care much about the gates of hell.
Do you want to know a secret? Hell has gates. The gates of hell is standard trope in horror movies, literature, and geography. Google "Gates of Hell" you'll find places all over the world bearing that name. This is funny. While 42% of those who claim they are Christian don't believe hell exists and while 69% of non-Christians don't, all agree that hell has gates and what they look like. What else explains places all over the world named Gates of Hell? Even those who have never read the Bible, who deny that God reveals things there, share a conception of hell. (www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/belief-in-hell/dont-believe/). And it's foreboding.
So, it's really no secret at all that hell has gates. Everyone knows that. But Jesus reveals that the gates of hell won't overcome His Church. Our Lutheran Confessions cite our text most often to reference the fact that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. In this understanding, Hell's gates are pressed hard against the Church seeking to overthrow her. And this is true. They can't Hell's gates are no match for Water that is lifegiving and rich in God's grace. Hell's gates are not mightier than the Blood of Christ let alone His Body the Church. But I see the figure more the way "Onward Christian Soldiers does." The Church is attacking the Gates of Hell and those gates are not going to hold.
Doesn't a Church on the move fit Jesus' own words about a strong man devil and a stronger Man despoiling him? "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own mansion, his property is safe. But a Stronger Man than he may attack him and defeat him. Then the Stronger Man will take away all the weapons in which the strong man trusted and will divide the loot" (Lk. 11:21-22, GW). The Church through the proclamation of the Gospel and through the Sacraments, wars against the Gates of Hell. Christ is depicted trampling down His enemies in Isaiah 63. We sing of this in an Easter hymn, "Who is This that Comes from Edom?" Compare what we sing to Isaiah 63; it's pretty close. "Who is this that comes from Edom,/ All His raiment stained with blood;/ Why that blood His raiment staining?/ 'Tis the blood of many slain;/ Of His foes there's none remaining,/ None the contest to maintain." Here Jesus is depicted as the hero Bonnie Tyler sang she was holding out for. Here is One straight from the fight. It was a fight for His life and the life of all humanity. He lost His to win ours.
Jesus is the Stronger Man able to storm the Gates of Hell and pry out of hell souls that Satan has enslaved with sins, enmeshed in sinfulness, and entombed in a gloom that knows no brightening. The 1998 movie "What Dreams May Come" is moving as it depicts the husband in heaven risking hell to bring his wife out from there. Jesus didn't risk Hell. He went there on the cross for an eternity of suffering to rescue all humanity. In horror movies, someone being swallowed by hell's gates is prevented from falling all the way in only by an outstretched arm. The arm outstretched to sinners has a hand with a nail hole, and that nail hole proves He has the power, the right, and the will to pull a sinner such as I from the hell that would justly swallow me because of my sins.
Do you want to know a secret? The Father in heaven reveals things on earth. One of those things being that hell has gates and those gates cannot prevail against His Church. Another secret is that heaven has keys. Even in this age of electronic key cards, implanted chips, and eye scanners, everyone knows this figure. Everyone knows what it means to face a locked door with no key. Everyone locked out knows the thing to do is find the person with the keys. Jesus says in Rev. 1:18 that He has the keys of Death and Hell. Here He gives the keys to the kingdom of Heaven to Peter. You can't give what you don't have or have a right to give away. As true God, Jesus has the keys to Death, Hell, and Heaven, but in order to give them to flesh and blood men, He had to win them for them.
In Eden, perfect man and woman knew no death, let alone hell, and heaven was on earth as witnessed by the Lord walking with them in the cool of the evening. But all of that changed fast. Biting the hand that fed them by looking for something more, better, or different than what God revealed, they were cast out of Eden into Death, into hell, with Cherubim guarding the gates of heaven. All that you can achieve on earth, all that you can have on earth, all the health, wealth, power, and prestige, won't matter in the hour of death or even in a time of real trial. Then, Sin, Death, and Devil attack, attack, attack. And what do you have to prevail against them? You have the keys that the Man Jesus won by living a perfect life not only in deed, not only in word, but in thought. The keys that open heaven and lock hell and open hell and lock heaven were won by the God Man going to hell in your place and dying the death all sinners deserve.
Here Jesus says that He will give the keys to Peter, but in Mt. 18:18 He gives them to all the disciples telling them whatever you, plural, "bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." But what about after those disciples are gone? The first thing Jesus did on Easter evening was establish an office on earth to remit and retain sins. The God who knows all things: what's in your future, when death will come, when trial will come, what will happen 10 years from now, 10 days from now, 10 minutes from now, doesn't tell you any of that. Doesn't leave an office on earth to tell you that. Doesn't leave you a means to know that. What He does leave is the revelation that Jesus born of Mary is the Father's Christ who was promised to crush the Devil's head, swallow death, and redeem sinners. What He does leave is a Church on earth, the very Body of Christ, that is stronger than the gates of hell, and has the Means of Washing sinners out of hell by Baptism, the Means of springing them from hell by absolving their sins, and the Means of uniting them to the flesh and blood Jesus so that they go where He goes. As we sing, "ours the cross, the grave, the skies" (TLH 193:5).
Do you want to know a secret? Our text ends with the so-called Messianic Secret. This paraphrase catches the meaning well: "He swore the disciples to secrecy. He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah" (MSG). They were charged with keeping this secret till after Jesus rose from the dead. My point is: It's not a secret anymore. It's not a secret that God came in flesh and blood to rescue you from your gravest fears, grandest sins, and greatest doubts. It's not a secret that He left keys on earth able to reach the gates of hell to lock them and to reach the gates of heaven to unlock them. It's not a secret. Let's not live like it is one. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20200906); Matthew 16:13-20