Flesh and Blood Christianity
The phrase flesh and blood does not appear in the NIV translation I just read, but it's in the text. Jesus says that flesh and blood did not reveal to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The NIV translates; "This was not revealed to you by man." That's a problem. While flesh and blood didn't reveal the truth about Jesus to Peter, a Man certainly did. And a Man did more than that
Fallen flesh and blood is useless in spiritual things. The Gospel itself is described by Isaiah as being what man has never seen, heard, or even thought of. God's thoughts are said to be as high above our's as heaven is above earth. Even when we pray asking God for what we consider big, impossible things, even then, God does more than we ask or even think.
On it's own, fallen flesh and blood can't think, see, or reach true spiritual things. I Corinthians 2:14 says that "natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them." Paul preaching to the best of fallen flesh and blood at Athens describes them as groping about for the true God. In Romans 7 Paul says fallen flesh and blood is an out and out enemy of God.
Since the Feeding of the 5000, Matthew has noted how flesh and blood is wrong about spiritual things. The 5000 Jesus fed think He's a Bread King. The apostles think Him a ghost. The church leaders think the traditions of men are more important than the Words of God. The disciples don't see things any clearer. They think Jesus has nothing to give a woman who wasn't a Jew, and when 4,000 more turn up hungry after Jesus has fed 5,000, the disciples still don't see Jesus as the answer. And finally when Jesus warns them about false teaching calling it a leaven, the flesh and blood disciples only think Jesus is warning them about not having enough bread.
Fallen flesh and blood is useless in spiritual things; it can't overcome the devil, the world, or even itself. Perfect flesh and blood was no match for the devil in Eden. See how quickly the devil brings the woman down and the woman the man. No long protracted battle; no strike and counterstrike; no determined holding out by the man or woman. With the woman it took no more than a few words and a little showing of the fruit. With the man, it took even less. Eve gave it to him and he ate it.
Flesh and blood is no match for the devil or the world. While flesh and blood says it knows there's no profit in selling your soul for the entire world, in reality men and women sell their eternal souls everyday for just the teeny, tiniest piece of the world. For a few moments of pleasure in this world, Christians cast their salvation away to sleep with someone other than their spouse. For a few more dollars in this world, people cast aside the riches of God. For the approval of just a small part of the world around them in a moment of time, people deny the Christ that bought them deciding to hide behind the universally accepted term 'god' rather than the name that divides, Jesus.
Fallen flesh and blood is no match for the devil, the world, or itself which is drawing us, leading us, taking us relentlessly to hell. Like Macbeth we have this 'damned spot' that no amount of scrubbing can get out. We try to deal with our flesh and blood by mind over matter, but it asserts that its needs and wants are all that matter. We try to deal with it by discipline and restrictions and laws, but that only works for a time. Then fallen flesh and blood is back telling us the only way we will feel any better is if we give in to our vice, feed our pet sin, give the devil his due.
But being useless in spiritual things is not the worst of it. The worst is that fallen flesh and blood cannot go to heaven. Don't look shocked; that's what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God...the perishable can't inherit the imperishable."
You see what a fine mess we are in? Fallen flesh and blood is useless in spiritual things, yet it desperately needs them. How else will we ever know the true God apart from spiritual things? How else will we ever overcome the devil, the world, and our own flesh without spiritual things? How can we ever go to heaven unless we have the things of the Spirit? Thankfully, though our fallen flesh and blood is useless in regard to spiritual things, there is a flesh and blood Man who is not.
That flesh and blood Man is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. We saw how weak even perfect flesh and blood was over against the devil, and we know how powerless our own fallen flesh and blood is against real sin, real temptation. Yet, God took on our flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was made in every way like we are, yet He was without sin. He suffered every single temptation that you know so well, yet gave in to none. All the commandments which for you only to think of is to despair over Jesus kept perfectly.
Yes, this Jesus had flesh and blood just like John the Baptist, just like Elijah, just like Jeremiah and every other prophet. But the flesh and blood of Jesus was that of God. When you touched the flesh and blood of Jesus you didn't touch the flesh and blood of Someone like God or God like; you touched the flesh and blood of God. So His keeping the commandments wasn't for Himself. What commandments would God need to keep, could God be under? And when Jesus went to the cross to die a horrible, forsaken damned death as sinners like us deserve, He couldn't be dying for His sins. What sins did God have? What sins could God have? So sinner, He was dying for you. He was keeping the laws for you. He was overcoming the devil, the world, and the flesh for you.
This is too much to get your head around. This really is better than any man has every seen, heard, or thought. Jesus descended into the depths of my flesh and blood to raise it all the way to heaven itself. And who gets this holy, unbelievable truth first? Big, impulsive, slow-witted Peter. And no flesh and blood did not reveal this to him, but a Man, Jesus Christ sure did.
Now follow the pronouns carefully. Jesus says "this," Jesus being the divine Christ promised long ago to crush the head of Satan and redeem sinners with His holy, righteous blood, was revealed by the Father. On "this" rock Jesus will build His Church. Not on Peter. It's true Peter means "rock" but it means a detached rock, a rock by itself. How weak the Church would be if it was built on the Peter "petros" who denied the Lord and later in Galatia denied the gospel. No, Jesus says He will build His church on a rock, this word means a mass of stone "petra". Our Lutheran Confessions say the Church of Jesus is built on the ministry of the confession that Jesus is the Christ.
Imagine that; the Church isn't built on the ministry of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or casting out demons. She isn't built on a music ministry, youth ministry, or Stephen ministry. The Church is built on the ministry of the confession that God became Man in the Person of Jesus to redeem flesh and blood for everlasting life. The Church is built every time we confess this truth here. She is built every time you confess it wherever you are.
Though this confession sounds simple and ordinary, even the gates of hell can't prevail against it. The gates of hell can and do prevail against what men build with their ministries, their programs, their ideas, their efforts, but the gates of hell don't prevail against what Christ builds by bringing men and women to confess Him and the salvation that is in His name.
But how can fallen flesh and blood build the holy Church of Christ? How can fallen flesh and blood people get other flesh and blood people into the kingdom of heaven? Heaven is a gated community. Those gates are so strong that even hell can't break them down, so how are we sinners who sometimes make common cause with hell suppose to get in? With keys. A strong gate is a formidable obstacle, unless of course you have keys.
The keys of the kingdom of heaven are nothing less than the power to open heaven to flesh and blood sinners. They do that by forgiving sins in Jesus' name. Sins, not flesh and blood, are what keep us out of heaven. Jesus ascended in His flesh and blood to heaven. Flesh and blood can indeed go to heaven, but first it must be forgiven, reborn, regenerated. So the keys are needed on earth. Wonder of wonders; Jesus gives the keys to heaven to flesh and blood on earth. Here he gives them to Peter; later in Matthew 18 and John 20 He will give them to all the apostles. These in turn go out into all the world confessing that forgiveness is in the God/Man, Christ. From this confession Churches will rise where other men will be entrusted with heaven's keys.
And so the keys to heaven have come down to our time. They are not buried or hidden. They are exercised publicly and often. Flesh and blood pastors baptize people of flesh and blood clothing them with the holy flesh and blood of Jesus. The gates of heaven must open to Jesus, so sinners robed in Christ must be admitted. Flesh and blood pastors loose the sins of flesh and blood sinners. Whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven too; even heaven can't count forgiven sins. Flesh and blood pastors give the Body and Blood of Jesus to flesh and blood sinners. It's one thing to have the Flesh and Blood of Jesus on you in Baptism. It's even more glorious to have the Flesh and Blood of Jesus in you by Holy Communion. His flesh and blood has the power to change your vile, sinful, perishable flesh and blood into flesh and blood like His, pure, holy, and imperishable.
Therefore, while we indeed must despair of what fallen flesh and blood can do, we must not despair, but rather trust in, rely on, rejoice over what the Man Jesus did and does with His Flesh and Blood to our flesh and blood. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIV (20050821); Matthew 16: 13-20