Worship Helps for Pentecost 14

Title: The Gates of Hades
Instead of a painting, this week I wanted to share with you an image that has stayed in my memory ever since my trip to Israel in 2007. Jesus is still with His disciples in the north of Israel in Canaanite country. This is the exact location where Peter would have made his bold confession about the Christ in the Gospel lesson for this Sunday.

Imagine Jesus standing either on the hill of rock or at its base, pointing at it and saying, “On this rock I will build my church.”

The heathen peoples in that land worshiped all kinds of false gods in this place – but since many of them were goat and sheep herders, they primarily worshiped the god Pan who had a human torso but goat legs. These heathen peoples believed the great chasm in the rock to be the gates to hell. Again, imagine Jesus pointing at it and saying, “And the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Now remember this imagery on Sunday during the sermon on the Gospel lesson.

Worship Theme: The Church will stand forever. Nothing can keep our Redeemer from upholding his promised salvation. Neither false expectations nor the gates of hell, neither an Egyptian army nor a flowing river, not even the great tribulation of the end times will keep our God from preserving his Church.  

Old Testament: Joshua 4:1-9
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." 4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." 8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

1. Why do you think the Lord involved people from each tribe to carry these stones?

2. Why did the Lord want Israel to erect a memorial?

Epistle: Revelation 7:1-8
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. 5 From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, 6 from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, 7 from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

3. What are the first four angels holding back? See Daniel 7:2 for hints on the meaning of the “winds” (verse 1).

4. What is the seal of the living God? (See Ezekiel 9:1-6. Ezekiel saw a vision of God sealing the believers in Jerusalem before God destroyed the city.)

5. Do the 144,000 come from the 12 tribes of Israel?

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

6. Who did people say the Son of Man was? Who do people today say Jesus was?

7. What does it mean when Jesus says to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church”?

8. In verse 19 what particular authority did Jesus grant Peter and all who like Peter confess Jesus to be the Son of God? Explain the nature of this unique authority.

1. Since the deliverance was for all of Israel, all of the tribes of Israel were represented.

2. The Lord did not want the Israelites to forget this miracle. Consider how they had forgotten what Moses did for them at the Red Sea! Even today we can remember this memorial and take to heart all God has done for us. We can remember his power.

Twelve rocks told the story God’s grace and preservation to generations of his people. Through the Word, they still speak to us today. As he once used his might to halt a river in its place to preserve his people, so today God still preserves and protects the new Israel, his Holy Church. Today, rocks still speak. Not stones in a river, but people like Peter, little rocks who proclaim the Rock on which we stand forever.

3. In the Old Testament, winds sometimes symbolized the forces of the earth that God would stir up against his enemies. Here, the four angels are holding back the final destruction of the world. In a more general sense, we might also interpret their work to be holding back anything that might prevent God from marking his people throughout the New Testament period.

4. When something is marked with a seal, ownership is signified. A seal also prevents anyone from tampering with the item that is sealed. In this case, the seal is faith and along with faith God’s Spirit, who preserves God’s elect for eternal life.

God doesn’t just hold back rivers, but he even holds back the winds of destruction until every one of his elect is safely sealed. Ezekiel 9 gives an interesting prophesy of such a seal. The believers are marked with the Hebrew letter Taw. It’s intriguing to think of the image that would have formed in the mind of the people of Israel. The Hebrew script at the time would have marked each forehead with † or + or X. Thus sealed with the seal of the living God, the whole Church is preserved forever (12 x 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 144,000. The number of the Church is 12; the number of completeness is 10; multiplication intensifies the symbolism). The 144,000 represent all believers in the Old Testament multiplied by all the believers of the New Testament multiplied by 10 to the third power, symbolizing their absolutely complete number.

5. The list of the 12 tribes is symbolic, just like the number 144,000. Nowhere else does the Bible list the tribes in this way. Levi is never counted among the tribes, but is here. Joseph is listed, but so is Manasseh, while the more important Ephraim is not. Dan is omitted altogether. Judah is raised to its position of primacy. This is not a listing of the children of Israel, but a picture of the true Israel of God, the Holy Christian Church.

6. Who do people say the Son of Man is? That question is as applicable today as it was in Matthew’s Gospel. The question remains, “Who is Jesus?” As the disciples rattled off the popular misconceptions, one is struck by how illustrious that list actually was. There were no slouches in that group. But they didn’t even begin to compare with the truth. Many people today give similar answers: they call Jesus a teacher, a philosopher, the founder of a religion, an agent of change. Their answers miss the mark as widely as the answers of the people in the Gospel.

7. The “rock” on which Jesus builds his church is the truth that Jesus is true God and true man in one person, our Redeemer. Peter was rocklike in as much as he placed his confidence in Jesus Christ, the foundation of the Christian faith.

Peter and the disciples were correct in confessing, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Before them, in the flesh, stood the Son of the living God whose mission was to restore life to this world of death. This truth is the rock on which the Church stands. Because it stands on the rock and not on the pebbles of men who serve it, the Church will stand forever: its message is changeless; the ramifications of its work are eternal.

8. Jesus gives his church the power to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but to refuse forgiveness to the impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent. This ministry of the keys defines the church’s ministry.

Putting your faith into action

A reading from the Book of Concord for Pentecost 14
Before the Synod of Nicaea, some observed Easter at one time and others observed it at another time.  Neither did this lack of uniformity harm faith.  Afterward, the plan was adopted by which our Passover (Easter) did not fall at the same time as that of the Jewish Passover.  The apostles had commanded the churches to observe the Passover with the brethren who had been converted from Judaism.  Therefore, after the Synod of Nicaea, certain nations held firmly to the custom of observing the Jewish time.  The apostles, by this decree, did not wish to put a demand upon the churches, as the words of the decree testify.  For it asks no one to be troubled, even though his brothers and sisters, in observing Easter, do not change the time correctly.  The words of the decree are found in Epiphanius: Do not calculate, but celebrate it whenever your brethren of the circumcision do; celebrate it at the same time with them, and even though they may have erred, let not this be a care to you.

The apostles wished to free the people from the foolish opinion of a fixed time, to help them from being troubled, if a mistake should be made in setting the date.  Epiphanius interprets it in the sense in which we interpret it, because the apostles thought it unimportant what time the Passover should be observed. – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VII The Church, (paragraphs 42-43)


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