Peter's Ministry
The Confession of St. Peter
18 January 2019
Squabbles about the status of St. Peter abound. Was he the first pope or not? Did he have direct successors? Did those successors retain apostolic authority directly from Peter? And on and on. But with all due respect to Peter and those who have made a cottage industry of such squabbles, this discussion is not germane to the practice of our Christian faith. Few of us are likely to meet the pope or receive absolution from him. His status is not significant to the average Christian. The rubber hits the road when we are in need of the certainty of salvation. That is central to our Christian faith and life. How can we know the Word of a gracious God? That is the question.
This is not some theoretical question over which we may squabble without conclusion, as happens in squabbles about papal status. We need to know what our status is before God. This is no simple thing, especially in the dark night of the soul when our sins loom before us with devouring ferocity. We need to have a clear Word from God that puts a full stop to the accusing voice of our sins. Christ our Lord placed the authority of the keys in the hands of our pastors when he tells Peter, "whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19). He gives these things not to Peter, but to the church, which Peter represents in His person.
People think that they have only heard the voice of a man when they have received holy absolution of their sins, but they have heard the Word of God as surely as Christ Himself has spoken and commanded to the church to see to the absolution of her children. She does this on the lips of the properly called ministers of the Word. So we should not doubt but believe firmly that when our pastor speaks to us we are hearing the voice of God, as our catechism teaches. This is not because Peter has said so, but because Christ Himself has commanded it. What needless agony we experience by carrying our own sin when we do not off-load it at the invitation of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How silly of us to bear a crushing load, when our pastor can speak it away in the name of Christ. Peter's ministry is the forgiveness of sins, as Christ has commanded.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"It is not necessary for the ordinary man to dispute much about the power of St. Peter or the pope. What is more important is to know how one should use the power of St. Peter for salvation. It is true that the keys were given to St. Peter; but not to him personally, but rather to the Christian church. They were actually given to me and to you for the comfort of our consciences. St. Peter, or a priest, is a servant of the keys. The church is the woman and bride, whom he should serve with the power of the keys; just as we see in daily use that the sacrament is administered to all who desire it of the priests.
"Now, in order that we may understand how to use the key in a saving manner, I have said above that if one desires to be good and is made receptive to grace through the forgiveness of what we can do by our own ability, then it is important to know whether one has received God's grace or not. For one must know how one stands with God, if the conscience is to be joyful and be able to stand. For when a person doubts this and does not steadfastly believe that he has a gracious God, then he actually does not have a gracious God. As he believes, so he has. Therefore no one can know that he is in grace and that God is gracious toward him except through faith. If he believes it, he is saved. If he does not believe it, he is damned. For this confidence and good conscience is the real, basically good faith, which the grace of God works in us.
"This, you see, is what the keys do for you. This is what the priests were ordained for. When you feel your heart wavering or doubting whether you are in grace in God's eyes, then it is high time that you go to the priest and ask for the absolution of your sin, and thus seek the power and the comfort of the keys. So when the priest makes a judgment and absolves you, that is as much as to say: Your sins have been forgiven; you have a gracious God. This is a comforting statement and it is the Word of God, who has bound himself to loose in heaven the one whom the priest looses (Mt 16:19).
"See to it then, that you never doubt that this is so, and you should rather die many times than doubt the priest's judgment, for it is Christ's and God's judgment."

 Martin Luther, 
Sermon Preached for the Days of St. Peter and St. Paul
Matthew 16:13-19

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Dear Father in heaven, as you revealed to the apostle Saint Peter the blessed truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, strengthen us in that same faith in our Savior that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For students at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne and Concordia Seminary, St Louis, that they might be raised to the status of disciples of Christ by His Word and Spirit
For those who doubt that their pastor has the power to forgive sins in Christ's name, that they would be brought back from unbelief into the comforting knowledge that God has placed such comforting power in the hands of men
For the members of the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, while meeting today, that they would support the mission of the seminary to teach the faithful, reach the lost, and care for all
Art: CARRACI, Lodovico  Penitent Peter (c. 1613)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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