Second Sunday in Lent (B)
February 28, 2021
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Peter gets so much right, and Peter gets so much wrong. He gets it entirely right when he sticks with what has been revealed to him by the Father. That is, when he sticks with Jesus and with His Word. He gets it entirely wrong when he lapses into his own ideas of what Jesus should say and do, and how Jesus should be the Christ and save Peter and the rest of us.
Jesus asks His disciples what people are saying about Him, who He is, and what He is doing. And everybody has an opinion. Some say John the Baptist. We know Herod was of that opinion. Others say Elijah. God promised, after all, that Elijah would come back before the great and awesome Day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). Others say one of the prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah, or perhaps even that Prophet Moses spoke about, like unto him, to whom we are to listen (Deut. 18:15, 18). And though they misunderstood the concept, it is true that Jesus is that Prophet.
The fact is, though, that all of these opinions are based, not on Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s revealed Word, but on subjective opinion. And there is nothing new under the sun. Who do people say that Jesus is today? In general, they say He is whoever they want Him to be. Never mind what the Scriptures say or what is historically true. “My Jesus would never do…” this or that thing that we don’t want Him to do. “My Jesus would never say…” this or that thing we don’t want Him to say. Instead, “my Jesus” would do and say, think and believe, what I do and say, think and believe. He’d want me to live with my boyfriend or girlfriend outside of marriage, because that is what I want. He is not concerned with my sexual preferences, my gender identity, or the sanctity of marriage and life. He’d want me to cheat on my taxes. He’d endorse my candidate for office. He’d want me to be happy and true to myself, even if my life choices contradict His Word. What is the old Mark Twain quip? “God created man in His own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” Actually, it may have been Jean-Jacques Rousseau who said it, or Voltaire, or George Bernard Shaw, or somebody else enitrely depending on which internet site you believe. But it doesn’t matter, because in our relativistic culture, Mark Twain does or says whatever I want Mark Twain to do or say. And, as Abe Lincoln said, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
People say a lot of things when it comes to who Jesus is. And for the most part, they couldn’t be more wrong. But the more important question is the personal question. Who do you say that I am? And here you are not to look within your own heart or mind to determine who you’d like for Jesus to be. That is not the question He is asking. Peter and the Apostles had been with Jesus for some time now, hearing His teaching, seeing His signs, encountering the objective reality that is Jesus of Nazareth. It is on the basis of that objective reality that they are to answer. So you, here in the holy Church. You have received Jesus’ teaching in the Holy Scriptures. You've heard all His signs in the reading of the Gospel. And you’ve seen it here in the Sacraments, albeit hidden under common elements. And in these words, and in these signs, you’ve encountered the Lord’s saving work. So on the basis of that revelation, and not your own thoughts and feelings about it, who do you say Jesus is? And there can be only one answer. Peter speaks it for us, on the basis of the Man, Jesus, and His Word: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; ESV). You are the One promised by God, anointed by Him with the Holy Spirit, to save us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Another way to say it is, “You are the Savior! You are the Lord!”
But what does that mean? Here Jesus teaches us. It means 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” (v. 31). The word translated here as “must” indicates divine necessity. That is, this is God’s eternal plan for our salvation. How will He save sinners? Through suffering and the cross. There is no other way. Jesus will give Himself over into the hands of His enemies to suffer their cruelty and be murdered by them. And Peter, for one, will have none of it. “Over my dead body! Look, Lord, there is another way. See how popular You are? It is because of the miracles. Free healthcare with a 100% success rate. And the people find Your teaching refreshing. It’s a nice change from the burdensome legalism of the Jewish leadership. And the kicker of it all? Messianic expectations are high, because we’re getting sick and tired of these Romans and their subjugation. Just say the word, and we’ll all follow You into battle, a mighty, God-ordained, revolutionary army.” That is the kind of Christ you get when you follow Peter’s ideas of what Jesus should say and do, and how He should fill the roles of Christ and Savior.
But what you don’t get, in any sense, is the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and hell.
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33). It is a stunning rebuke for the one who had just got it so right in his confession that Jesus is the Christ. In dissuading Jesus from the cross and suffering, Peter had become a little satan, and the mouthpiece of the evil one. Peter had become Jesus’ adversary (“satan,” you’ll recall, means “adversary”). But believe it or not, Jesus says this in love… Love for Peter, and love for the rest of the disciples, who are thinking the same thing as Peter. And in love for you. Because Peter’s idea of the Christ is not the Christ you need, or the Christ who will save you. And our Lord diagnoses the problem. Peter got it right, as long as he stuck with Jesus and His Word. Peter got it wrong when he gave first place in his mind to the things of man, to human reason, to emotion, to fleshly desire, the fallen nature.
And you also have to look at what Peter missed, because we miss this, too, whenever we have in mind the things of man rather than the things of God. Yes, this salvation can only happen through the suffering, rejection, and death of the cross. But after three days… after three days, the Son of Man will rise again. Jesus’ suffering transforms suffering. Jesus’ death transforms death. The suffering and death of Jesus ends in His resurrection from the dead and His glory at the right hand of the Father. And do you see what that means for you? When you suffer and die in Jesus, your suffering and death ends in your own resurrection from the dead, and in glory as you reign with Christ in the eternal presence of the living God. That is the kind of Christ you get when you forsake Peter’s and your own ideas of what Jesus should say and do, and how He should fill the roles of Christ and Savior. You get forgiveness of sins, and eternal salvation from death and hell. Righteousness, the Kingdom, peace, heaven, healing, wholeness, and eternal resurrection life.
But it only comes through the cross and suffering. It comes through Jesus’ cross and suffering for you. And now He bids you, in this life, for a little while, to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. And He tells you what that cross is. It is to live and believe in the revelation of God in Christ the Crucified, and His Gospel, His Word. It is to put to death the things of man so prevalent in your mind, and cling to the things of God, even when they hurt. It is to know and believe that all that Jesus does and speaks is for your good, and in spite of all appearances, He will never give you anything bad for you. It is to suffer all in this faith. And it is to confess Him, and confess His Word, even when that confession offends the world. Even when it offends those you love. Even when it offends you. It is to be unashamed of Christ and His Word, and to take whatever punishment those offended mete out to you, to bear suffering and rejection, and even death… for the sake of Christ who suffered, was rejected, and died for you; and His Word, which is life to you. After all, even if you gained the whole world for the few fleeting days of your earthly life, what would it profit you in the end if you find yourself in hell? But in losing your life for Jesus’ sake, and for the Gospel… maybe even literally, if necessary… you save it. “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (v. 38). But the converse is also true. To quote Jesus from another place, “everyone who acknowledges,” that is, confesses, “me before men, I will also acknowledge,” confess, “before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). And as He says in the Revelation to the Church in Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
We know that despite Peter’s bold assertions of loyalty, he would be swallowed up by the waves of his own cowardly denials. That is where having in mind the things of man gets you. And so you, if you are ashamed of Jesus as He really is, objectively, revealed in His Word, and in the flesh. On your own, you get it so wrong. But by the grace of God in Christ, Peter came around. The Lord caught him, and lifted him out of the abyss, and restored him. The Holy Spirit came upon him, and reminded him of all that Jesus did and taught (John 14:26). And so you, in the preaching of the Word. The Holy Spirit comes to you by the Word, and in the acts of Jesus in Baptism and Supper. There is only one way to put to death in you the things of man, so that you have in mind only the things of God. The Spirit, as He comes to you in the Word. He gives you a new mind, to think the things of God, and to love them, and to love Him. And to suffer… to bear your cross, confessing Him faithfully, whatever the consequences, knowing always where this leads. Resurrection. Life. Because of Jesus and His suffering and cross and resurrection and life. When you stick with Jesus and His Word, you get it all so right. God grant us steadfastness in this faith and confession now and forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.