Wrong Questions Never Lead to Right Answers
Jesus was asked, "Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life," and He replied, "Why do you call Me good?" The crowd asked, "How did you get across the lake?" And Jesus answered, "You seek Me because you got your bellies full." A man asked, "Are only a few people going to be saved?" And Jesus responded, "You strive to enter through the narrow door." Jesus answered the questions people should ask rather than the ones they did because wrong questions never lead to right answers.
Up till now in Matthew, Jesus' enemies have been asking wrong questions. They've been asking why Jesus' practice didn't match their interpretation of the Bible and their expectations. Haven't we been asking wrong questions of late? I sure have. I went over them last Sunday. All my why questions: Why doesn't the Lord send rain? Why doesn't He heal? Why doesn't He help? Why doesn't He punish? These are wrong questions, and as such, they won't lead to right answers.
The right question is the one Jesus asks in the text. Who is Jesus? The modern answer is He is a man, probably even a great man or at least a great teacher. Since the existence of Jesus of Nazareth can be established by sources other than the Bible, most thinking men are going to admit that Jesus lived. They'll probably even rank Him right up there with Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and Moses.
The right question is who is Jesus? The 1st century Jews answered the question wavering between prophets who did no miracles, John the Baptist and Jeremiah, and prophets who did lots of them like Elijah. What's interesting to note is that all their answers involved a resurrection of the dead. All their answers regarded Jesus as not unique but a repeat of the past.
The right question can be posed to men, but the answer is not reachable by flesh and blood. We see this by the answers men gave in the 1st century and give in the 21st century. Jesus is a good man, even a great man, but after all He's just a man. Jesus can be a prophet, a miracle working prophet even, but He's still no more than a man.
If we're going to answer rightly who Jesus is we can't consult flesh and blood not ours or anybody else's. Jesus plainly says that only the heavenly Father can rightly answer who Jesus is. He says that He reveals it. Reveals is apokalypto (a-po-ka-lu'p-to). You hear the word apocalypse in there and you might realize that the last book in the Bible is not only called Revelation but the Apocalypse because the Greek word apokalypto is in the first verse.
Unfortunately the word apocalypse has come to mean either the complete final destruction of the world; or an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale. But that's not what the Greek word means. It means to uncover, lay open what has been previously veiled or covered up. It means to unveil what is right before you. This is what the heavenly Father does for Peter and the other disciples. He uncovers who the Jesus standing before them is.
Did you see how Jesus changed the question? He starts with, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Once they've answered that, Jesus asks, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" That's precisely the question everyone must answer, everyone will answer, and how they answer it will determine whether they spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Your whole family, your whole town, the entire world could answer, "Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God," and that wouldn't count for you. What counts is who do you say Jesus is?
What has the heavenly Father revealed to you about Jesus? Better yet where does He reveal it? He doesn't reveal it in your opinions or that of others. He doesn't reveal it in history books or on the history channel. The heavenly Father unveils who Jesus is in the Bible. The Bible reveals Jesus to be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and given in the New. The Bible shows Jesus to be the perfect Servant predicted by Isaiah. The One who never failed to do a right thing or ever did a wrong thing. The Father reveals in Old and New Testaments that Jesus is His beloved Son, perfect Servant, and the suffering Servant who gives His life as a ransom, who sheds His blood to pay for and cover up the sins of the world.
Jesus' innocent life and guilty death before God are revealed by the Father to be the healing and life of the world. The question is: is this who you say Jesus is? If this is who you say Jesus is, if the Father has brought you to this point of confession, you're standing on a confession of faith upon which Jesus builds a Church that not even the gates of hell itself are able to overcome.
The Church is not built on the confession that God is love or the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Church is not built on works of mercy, getting along with others, or on stewardship or witnessing. Jesus says He builds His church on the rock of confession that His Father must reveal: He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And we confess this saving, comforting truth in the face of drought, sickness, fire, grief, anxiety, and sadness. Indeed we confess that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God before the very gates of hell, and they tremble when we do.
But there's more to this text than the right question and answer of who Jesus is. There's the question of what are the keys? It's a big deal when you've just gotten your driver's license and your dad tosses you the keys for the first time. Here Jesus tosses not the keys of an automobile but the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 18 Jesus will toss them to the rest of the disciples, and in John 20, after Easter, Jesus will establish an office on earth to use the keys.
What is strange and wonderful in this text is that after proclaiming that flesh and blood can never arrive at the saving confession of faith, Jesus tosses the keys of heaven to flesh and blood! That's strange. Wouldn't it have been better to entrust the keys of heaven to holy angels? But isn't it wonderful too? Jesus tossed them to flesh and blood because flesh and blood men are the ones who need those keys.
Maybe you don't think so. That's because you don't know what those keys do. Let's start by what they don't do. The keys of the kingdom aren't given to flesh and blood men so they might be wealthy, healthy, successful or even peaceful. Make sure you hear that. Just because you don't have much, are ill, downtrodden, or agitated doesn't mean the keys of heaven are absent from your life. In fact, Jesus says elsewhere that if you do have the Christ, the Son of the living God in your life, you will have the world's hatred, the devil's affliction, and bodily suffering. St. Peter even says not to count it strange when you do have these troubles.
The keys of heaven are not the keys to anything flesh and blood on its own counts precious, but they are keys to all that Christ won for flesh and blood. What did Jesus come into your flesh and blood to get for you? Forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not a long earthly life here but an everlasting life there; not a clean health chart but a clean conscience; not a full bank account but full forgiveness. The keys are the authority to apply the forgiveness Jesus won to sinners or to withhold that forgiveness. The keys are the authority to send death away or bind death to a person. They keys open salvation and lock damnation or lock salvation and open damnation.
Does it bother you that Jesus has entrusted such eternal, spiritual power to flesh and blood men, particularly sinful men the likes of Peter? It will unless you see that the only way that flesh and blood gets forgiveness, life, and salvation is for Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God to give them to flesh and blood. The holy flesh and blood of Jesus must come in contact with our unholy flesh and blood. Jesus makes this happen through the Office of the Keys where a flesh and blood man baptizes our flesh and blood, absolves our flesh and blood, and puts Jesus' flesh and blood into our flesh and blood.
But still can't flesh and blood men make mistakes binding where they ought to loose and loosing where they ought to bind? Sure they can, have, and do, but there is a comfort in this text that the English translations never convey. In fact, the comfort is in all three places where Jesus bestows the keys of heaven. The comfort is this. The binding and loosing are not simple future passives. It doesn't say whatever you bind and loose on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. No in all three texts they are perfect passives. What is bound and loosed on earth will have already been bound or loosed in heaven. The action of binding or loosing here brings to earth the reality that has already happened there in heaven.
Does that mean the absolution doesn't really send sins away? No, the binding or loosing actually happens on earth. The Office of the Keys is a conduit through which the realities of God's truth and grace in Jesus flow from God's presence where they are already true and powerful to sinners on earth. This means two things: the pastor can't force the hand of God. He can't bind what God has loosed and He can't loose what God has bound. Second, God can and does extend His eternally powerful hand through the temporal hands of flesh and blood men in the Office of the Keys.
May the Lord lead us to ask right questions. Why questions of God aren't right ones. God almighty is not required to explain anything to us and we wouldn't understand if He did. Who Jesus is and what He gives are right questions to ask. Why questions are fitting to ask yourself. Why don't you use the keys more often? Why aren't you comforted, strengthened and preserved by them? Why do you look for Jesus to deal with you, teach you, help you apart from the keys He left on earth for you? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20110918); Matthew 16: 13-20