Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon upon the Confession of St. Peter

Confession of St. Peter, 2015 – Mark 8

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Today we hear the Confession of St. Peter – next week we will hear the Conversion of St. Paul.  So in the next two weeks we will see Christ Jesus interact with possibly the two most important Apostles, especially relating to whom they teach and proclaim Christ Jesus to be.  And today, we heard the famous Gospel lesson – Peter proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and then dropping the ball, and Jesus rebuking him – Get thee behind Me, Satan.  And we hear this in its tersest, briefest form, the Gospel of Mark.  A quick note on that – when Peter is preaching in Rome, Mark is Peter’s assistant, and so basically when Mark records this Gospel, he’s recording things the way that Peter had preached them – and Peter apparently didn’t like to mince words, Peter apparently liked to get to the point.  So then, let us stop mincing words and dive into our Gospel text.

          And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  And on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  So Jesus is wandering around, as is His custom, and wandering between towns, in one of those rare moments where there crowd isn’t crowding in on Him, Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about Him.  Jesus is too busy whenever the crowds are there – He’s healing, He’s preaching.  The disciples, though, would get to drift around, mingle.  So, what’s the word on the street?  What are people picking up?  “And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  And the response is so-so, but not quite hitting the mark.  There is the idea that Jesus is a spiritual Fellow, that He’s wise, that He’s a good teacher – even sent by God and even able to do miracles.  But… that’s as far as it goes.

          That’s as far as it goes.  There are fewer more dangerous and false ways of dealing with, of looking at Christ, than “that’s as far as it goes.”  Very few people, only the rankest and snidest of militant atheists, denigrate Jesus.  People will praise Jesus, they’ll say He was a kind and wise teacher, a mighty fellow – but that’s as far as it goes.  Even Mahatma Ghandi can say that he liked Jesus, thought He was a good teacher, but that’s as far as it goes.  And it keeps Jesus at a distance – He’s just a teacher – and if I’m not in His classroom, oh well.  Or in Jesus’ day, “Sure, He’s a prophet – but if He ain’t in my town – then, someone else can deal with Him.”  There is that grudging, arms length respect that can be paid Jesus – but after the healings, keep Him distant and far and away from me.

          And [Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Alright, disciples, who do you say that I am?  You aren’t at a distance, you are here with Me now, who am I?  Am I merely your teacher, your friend?  That would have been true, but it only would have gone so far.  And then we get the Confession of Peter.  “Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’”  In Matthew and Luke we hear “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.  Oh, it’s a great confession.  Who is this Jesus?  Not just some teacher or prophet, not just our friend, but He is the Christ – and as such He has an impact upon every man, woman, and child on this planet.  You can’t keep Jesus at arm’s length, you can’t ignore Him, you can’t write Him off as a back water prophet – your life will be shaped by Christ Jesus.  This is what Peter is pointing to – You are the most important person ever to walk the face of the earth, Jesus – You are the Christ.

          And then we hear this: And He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.  I always love hearing these times when Jesus tells the disciples not to talk, when He tells people not to yammer about miracles or who He is.  It’s one of those things that seems to throw folks into consternation – why wouldn’t Jesus want people to tell everyone who He is?  Well, the answer is given with what comes next.  “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And He said this plainly.”  They got the right answer – they knew that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Son of God… but they didn’t know what that meant.  And when Jesus tells this to the disciples plainly, Peter is offended.  “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  But turning and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

          Peter didn’t know what being the Christ meant, and when Jesus tells him, Peter doesn’t like it.  You see, Peter figures that the being the Christ ought to mean power and might and earthly blessings, respect from all corners, the defeat and thrashing of your enemies.  It should be a feather in Peter’s cap that he’s buds with the Christ.  And instead you have Jesus talking about… dying.  And not just dying, but dying rejected by every pillar of society.  Dying in disgrace and shame.  And Peter will have none of it, and he rebukes Jesus – think on that – rebukes Jesus.  Peter walks up to Jesus and says, “Alright Jesus, we need to have a little come to Jesus meeting” – and Peter is dead wrong.  Peter is thinking of earthly power and might – not thinking of forgiveness and life and salvation.  He is speaking like Satan, and Jesus calls him on it.  Peter didn’t get what being the Christ means.

          And even today, people still don’t get what that means.  Interestingly enough, Muslims will say that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah – but they deny that died on the Cross – God surely wouldn’t have let that happen to the Messiah, they say. Rather, someone else was killed instead of Jesus while Jesus looked on and laughed.  Or even in the Christian Church – you don’t have to look very hard to find “preachers” who will talk about Jesus being the buddy who will give you all sorts of earthly blessings, all sorts of the “things of man” – but they skip over and ignore His death or resurrection.  But not just them, even us.  How often does it happen that we ourselves see misfortune and think, “Come on, I’ve been a good little Christian, this shouldn’t be happening to me!”  How often are we ourselves tempted with the thoughts that our faith in Christ should mean that we get things better, that we who show up here should have better luck in business, better luck in love and family, than those other folks out here?  Where’s the tangible benefits, Jesus!  And those are the whispers of Satan, those are the attacks of our old sinful flesh against us.

          Jesus did not come to give us all a gold star on our lives because we are just so gosh darn good.  Not the point.  Jesus sees the bigger picture, Jesus keeps His eyes upon the goal.  Jesus sees Satan prowling around, sees your sinful flesh tearing at you and killing you – and so He is determined to go to the Cross, to suffer and die so that your sins would be forgiven.  That is what it means to be the Christ – not that He makes your life now better, but that He wins you eternal and everlasting life. 

          And lest you think I’m selling short the Christian earthly gravy train we are entitled to, Jesus continues.  And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Deny yourself – look at all that you have done, look at all your stuff, look at all your things and say, “it’s worthless, and apart from Christ it’s just going to go to the grave and the junk heap and rot and rust and decay.”  Deny yourself and take up your cross – to be a Christian is to live a life where you suffer.  Crosses aren’t fun.  But we suffer, we suffer and we serve and we fight against sin and we stumble and it hurts… and it does until we die.  That’s the way life is whether or not you follow Christ, but we are honest.  There isn’t going to be a day of our lives where we aren’t struggling, where we aren’t called to serve others (even our enemies), where we aren’t dealing with our own pains and frailty, where we aren’t beating down temptation.  That’s the reality – and a Christian is called to face that reality – and not only that, but to see that it is a bigger challenge than we can endure.  We fight, but it’s not a fight we win.  Not a one of us in this room is going to be sitting around 100 years from now saying, “I can’t believe how wonderful my knees and hips feel”.  Jesus came to deal with sin in a fallen world, and we are stuck smack dab in that fallen world.

          But what we learn from Christ is that we don’t cling to this life now – we are strangers here – we cling instead to Him.  Why?  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”  Do you hear how blunt our Lord is here?  You’re going to lose your life, you’re going to die – that’s a given.  And no matter how you cling to riches or wealth or power – that won’t save you.  But when you lose your life for Christ’s sake, that is when your life and death is shaped and conformed to Christ, when you view who you are through Christ and the Gospel – then you see Your salvation.  And why?  Because He is the Christ, and He has come to earth not to have awesome power and might, but to join you in your death.  To take up your sin and your death upon Himself, to come and say “You are with Me and I am with you.”  You are baptized, you are tied to Christ and Christ to you, and so you will follow Him, even through death, through the cross, unto the resurrection and eternal life.  This is the same thing we confess and receive in the Lord’s Supper – we will die, but as Christ has died, so be it.  This is My Body, given for you – that is, given over to death upon the Cross.  This is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins, spilled upon the Cross.  See, Christ has died for us, and we are forgiven – fantastic, now let us die in peace, according to God’s Word.  Let us take up our cross and serve as long as God would have us serve, let us lose our life for Christ’s sake, tied to Christ, in Christ, with Christ – for in Christ we have forgiveness and life everlasting.

          And so yes, Jesus is the Christ, but it is important that we confess this rightly, not as the world would, not as our flesh would, not as treating Jesus as some guy far away who might just give us awesome stuff now – but as the God who becomes Man to suffer and die with us sinful men so that we would have life in His name, life for His sake.  This is where we are, this is where put our hopes – not upon ourselves, but only upon Christ.  God grant us by the power of His Word and Spirit that this ever more be our confession.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

No comments: