Mark 8:27-38 (Second Sunday in Lent—Series B)
“The Christ Must Suffer”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 1, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 8:
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?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 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.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 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.”
Peter got it right. He said the right thing. Speaking for the Twelve Apostles, Peter identified Jesus as “The Christ.” But, like the rest of the disciples, Peter had no idea what that really meant. Peter and the apostles didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. They didn’t understand what it meant for them to be disciples, followers, of the Christ. This text begs the question of us: Do we who confess Jesus to be the Christ understand what we are saying with that confession, and do we comprehend what it means for us as disciples to follow the Christ?
The timing of this Gospel reading in the lectionary is perfect for our Confirmation students who are currently learning all they can about the Second Article of the Creed and the doctrine of Jesus Christ. “Jesus” is our Lord’s proper name, which means “Yahweh saves.” “Christ,” however, is not a name, but a title like our “Doctor” or “Reverend” or “President.” “Christ” is the Greek title for the Hebrew “Messiah.” So “Christ” equals “Messiah,” both which mean “the one anointed by God.” This title of “Christ” or “Messiah” implies divine election and appointment to a particular task and a special endowment of power to accomplish that task. In the Old Testament, the royal, priestly, and prophetic offices are associated with an anointing with oil which symbolized consecration to God’s service. It is no coincidence then that Jesus the Christ is the One anointed by God to the three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King!
Peter, in his confession on behalf of the Twelve, thus identifies Jesus as the One anointed by God, the One appointed by God. But what Peter was thinking when he said, “You are the Christ,” was quite different from what Jesus the Son of God had been anointed and appointed by God the Father to accomplish. In the first century A.D., the Messiah, the Christ, was conceived of as God’s instrument in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, a national and political entity much as it existed in the time of King David. The primary task of the Messiah was to destroy God’s enemies from the face of the earth. The Messiah would be a military deliverer who would rid the country of their hated enemy, in this case, the Romans. The Christ would be a mighty-warrior Messiah of David’s genealogy who would lead God’s people forth in a great battle between “the sons of darkness” and “the sons of light.” Religious Zealots were ready at any moment to flock to the Messiah’s flag and fight by His side with the sword.
It was this understanding of the Messiah with which Peter and the other disciples were operating. They were products of their time and culture. It is natural, then, that when Jesus corrects this understanding about what it means for Him to be the Christ, that Peter flips out and rebukes Jesus and scolds the Lord for being the wrong kind of Christ.
Jesus knew the political and cultural baggage that His disciples were carrying regarding the Messiah. Now that they had identified Him as the One anointed by God, Jesus had to correct their understanding. The role of the mighty warrior, gaining His kingdom by bloodshed and war wasn’t His. His kingdom would not come by taking life but by giving life up—His own life into suffering and death. “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.” Jesus’ messiahship would be fulfilled only in terms of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh who would give His life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) This message of a crucified Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1 Cor. 1:23) And Peter reacts. “Jesus, that’s not the kind of Messiah you are supposed to be. What good to us is a Christ who suffers and dies? That’s insane! You’ve got it all wrong!”
No, Peter, you and the Twelve have it all wrong. Being the Christ has nothing to do with politics. Being the Christ has nothing to do with earthly kingdoms. The work of the Suffering Servant-Messiah is to save all people from their sins. Jesus the Christ was elected and appointed by God with a divine commission to seek and to save the lost. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21 ESV) That’s why Jesus told Peter and the Twelve, and us who read this Word of God today, that “it is necessary” for Jesus to suffer, to die, and to rise again on the third day because that is how we are saved from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. There would be no military battle led by a resplendent Messiah-general. There would be no show of divine power. There would be no glory of God displayed in fire and smoke as on Mt. Sinai. That’s not what it means to be the Christ. To be the One anointed by God to this Office of Prophet, Priest, and King means to be the Servant who suffers for the people, on behalf of the people, so that the people might be saved.
Jesus’ obedient suffering and death is the carrying out of His divine commission as the Christ. Jesus would suffer many things, which is, in light of Isaiah 53, the equivalent of saying, “He will bear the sins of many.” Jesus the Christ is Jesus the Suffering One, exactly who Isaiah the Prophet said the Christ would be. “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. . . He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa 52:13-53:11 ESV)
Not only does our Lord announce His suffering and death on account of our sins, He also proclaims His resurrection, as does Isaiah. The death the Christ dies as payment for the sins of the world satisfies the wrath of God, purchases our forgiveness, and guarantees our resurrection from death because the Christ is risen and lives and reigns to all eternity. The sacrifice for sins was complete. Victory for us over sin, death, and the devil was won for us by Christ Jesus on the cross. As proof that all is finished, that salvation, forgiveness, and life everlasting are ours, Jesus rose from the dead. In Holy Baptism, Jesus the Christ unites us with Himself in His death and resurrection. From Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:1-11 ESV)
That’s what it means for us to believe in Jesus and to confess Him to be the Christ. It means that we receive Christ as the Suffering Servant of God who died for our sins on the cross. He shed His blood to purchase our complete forgiveness. He rose again from death so that we might not fear death, but live eternally with Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, in Word and Sacrament, the Christ has given us new life—a life of faith and forgiveness so that we are dead to sin and alive to God in and through the merits and mediation of Jesus the Christ.
But what about the living and the doing of this new life of faith and forgiveness? From God’s Word we know what it means for Jesus to be the Christ—the One anointed by God to suffer, die, and rise again in order to save us from sin and death. But what does it mean for us that Jesus is our Christ? What does it mean to be a follower of Christ by faith? What does it mean to be a Christian?
As in the time of Peter and the Apostles, so there is in our time a popular understanding, a cultural understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I will use as our example this morning an individual who has been termed “the most popular and influential pastor in the United States.” He has had five NY Times bestselling books. He has been featured on TV and radio. I’m speaking about Joel Osteen who has indeed influenced many Americans with his version of Christ and Christianity. Many people are very willing to embrace his “prosperity gospel,” which can be summed up in his own words, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Joel Osteen has also adopted the popular understanding that “God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you’re going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family.” Many people believe that. God has done His part, now it’s all up to me. I have to work at it and God will reward my good behavior. So Joel says again, “I think a big test we all face in life on a regular basis is that discouragement test. Life’s not always fair, but I believe in you keep doing the right thing, God will get you to where you are.”
This popular dribble stands in stark contrast to what Jesus reveals to us in His Word. The Christ has already suffered, died, and risen again to give us treasures far greater than anything in this world. The Christ has purchased and won forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (which you rarely hear from the popular misunderstanding of Jesus.) And what does Jesus tell us today about being His followers, disciples of the One who suffered, was crucified, and was raised? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
What a contrast to fulfilling our destiny and gaining the treasures of the world! The Christian, like the Christ, gets a cross. We suffer the effects of sin in this world in the form of disease and pain, hatred and cruelty. We endure hardship and persecution in various forms because we confess Jesus to be the Christ. But we don’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We don’t work harder to be good or to do what is right as if we can change ourselves or our situation on our own. By faith we come before God empty and broken with our sins and guilt. United with Christ Jesus in His death we die to sin—to greed, to selfishness, to worldly pleasure and gain. United with Christ Jesus in His resurrection, we rise again to a new life of faith and good works empowered by the Holy Spirit. God in Christ has done everything for us so that we have forgiveness, life, and salvation. God has done everything for us in Christ so that through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we can take up our crosses and follow Jesus the Christ with steadfast faith, even unto death.
As Christians, you and I confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Suffering Servant-Messiah, who died to pay for our sins and win our forgiveness. Jesus is the Christ who is risen from the dead, who gives us the forgiveness and life He won for us with His death and resurrection freely, by grace, through the Word and the Sacraments so that we might acknowledge Jesus alone as our Savior. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, we know and understand that as followers of the Christ, we take up our crosses daily. We die to sin and rise to newness of life in faith. And we endure suffering in Christ; we hope in Christ. And this hope doesn’t disappoint us just because we are not wealthy and prosperous and everything is coming up roses. For our hope and treasure is not this world or anything in it. Our hope and treasure is the Christ—Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who suffered many things, died, and rose again that you and I should have forgiveness of sins and life forever, even as we take up the cross and follow Jesus by grace through faith. Amen.