2nd Sunday in Lent March 4, A+D 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
What Must We Say About Jesus? Mark 8:27-38
In the Name of Jesus.
Speaking of the Name of Jesus, what must we say about this one named Jesus? What are the bare essentials that we must believe and confess about Jesus Christ, in order to be Christians, in order to be believers, saved from our sins, headed to heaven?
I’ve told my Sidewalk Guy story before. In 2000, just after we moved to Fort Wayne and I started Summer Greek at the Seminary, Shelee, the kids and I headed to Sunday service at Peace Lutheran. It was Trinity Sunday, and as we pulled around the building, heading to the parking lot, there was a young man on the sidewalk alongside the church, dressed in loose-fitting, off-white clothing, almost like martial arts clothes, sitting cross legged, yoga style, with both feet up on top of the opposite thigh, hands held upward, almost touching in front of his body, eyes closed, long sandy brown hair falling over his shoulders. “Huh,” I thought, “that’s different.”
We parked, headed into the church, and, whether because growing up my family always sat towards the front at Concordia Forsyth, due to my dad’s poor hearing, or whether because I was a “seminarian” trying to make a good impression, either way we sat fairly far up front, where the empty pews are, on the left side.
As the Warners got themselves organized for the service, Sidewalk Guy entered, padding on bare feet, I think, maybe sandaled, taking a seat in the front row. A man from the other side of the nave took Sidewalk Guy a bulletin and explained to him where to find the service, where to find the hymns, very helpful. And so the service began. As I said, it happened to be Trinity Sunday, and so instead of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, when we finished the readings, the Pastor directed us to the Athanasian Creed, that long, detailed confession of the Trinity, of the three-in-one and one-in-three-ness of God, which starts out: Whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps it whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.
Just as we finished that sentence, Sidewalk Guy ran out of the Nave as if shot from a cannon. Several of us turned, a few started to follow him, but he was quick. Maybe an usher tried to catch him, I don’t know, but the bracing, ‘believe this or perish eternally’ beginning of the Athanasian Creed was apparently too much for Sidewalk Guy. He left and as far as I know, never returned. Which is too bad, because the Athanasian Creed is full of Good News for sinners. Yes, it’s bracing, a bit confrontational, but we need that, for without a repentance generating understanding of our plight, the Good News of Jesus doesn’t do any good for sinners like us.
I felt, and still feel compassion for Sidewalk Guy. Coming from some religion based on self-generated spirituality, a religion where you need to do what it takes to be right with god, or the universe, or mother earth, whatever you call your idol, then stepping into a Christian liturgy where the Athanasian Creed is being confessed, well, the difference couldn’t be much sharper. So I felt bad for him, as he ran out of the church.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t confess the Athanasian Creed, or the Nicene and Apostles’. Nor does this mean we should soften and blur the sharp differences between true Christianity and every other religion in the world. We must continue to speak the truth, in love. We must continue to speak the truth, to love. That is, if we really want to love people, we need to clearly declare the differences, and expose the lies, plainly laying out the difficult truths of Christ, about human sin and what we deserve, about the gory price that Christ had to pay in order to overcome our sin.
All of this we must proclaim, in order to get to the truth of the Resurrection, the life-giving truth of the victory that rises in Christ, after He swallowed up the sins of the whole world in His own death. We can and should go out of our way to try to help people through the shocking transition from works righteous religion to true Christianity, but we are not truly loving anyone if we soften and obscure the truth. Sidewalk Guy needed to hear, and still needs to hear, for we all need to hear, again and again, what the Creeds have to say, what God’s Word has to say, however jarring that may be. No one can be excused. After all, even Peter had to go through the same painful experience.
Just like Sidewalk Guy, it’s easy to sympathize with Peter as he misses the point about what Jesus is really all about. After all, it’s no easy feat for a fallen human being to step back and grasp the whole big picture of God and His salvation. Jesus has a lot of different Names, He does a lot of things, which open up many attractive possibilities to our fallen minds and hearts, possibilities which tempt us to try to have Jesus the way we want Him to be, instead of how He truly is.
For example, Jesus is the Christ. Christ, or Messiah from the Hebrew, means the Anointed One, marked by a ritual pouring as the one to fill a special office, a special calling into a particular service. Aaron was anointed by Moses as the High Priest of Israel. Saul, and after he fell away, David, were both anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the King of Israel. And so also Jesus was anointed by John the Baptist, marked out by God and his prophet as the Christ, the promised Savior spoken of throughout the Old Testament. Peter correctly identifies and confesses that Jesus is the Christ. But then he immediately reveals that he has his own expectations for what being the Christ means. So offended was Peter by Jesus’ prediction of His death that Peter pulls Jesus aside to rebuke Him. “Never Lord, that will not happen. My Christ is a conquering hero, not a crucified criminal.”
Notice Jesus’ gentle and caring correction to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” So much for seeker friendliness. Jesus goes on to explain, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." And that is always the problem: we hear about Jesus, who He is, some of His various titles or names, and we twist them into what we want our god to be, based on our minds, our understanding, our desires. This never goes well.
Again, Jesus is the King. Among the many kings that came from Abraham and Sarah, Jesus is the true and everlasting King, who even promises His followers crowns of their own, a whole nation of Kings.
That sounds good, huh, to be kings, royalty? To be powerful, to wield power, to show people just who’s boss, to get a little for ourselves, finally, after so many bad breaks and unfair turns? Yes, it will be good to be kings. We like this name for Jesus, and especially this promise, that we, along with Jesus, are kings.
Get behind me Satan, says Jesus. We have our own ideas of what kingship means, but for Jesus, being the true and good King is not about wielding power, at least not until He has suffered the power of God’s wrath against sin. Remember the sign Pilate had posted above Jesus on the Cross, written in Latin, Greek and Aramaic, so everyone could read it: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Before He will return to His throne on high, before He will distribute any golden crowns, first the crown of thorns, first the throne of blood-soaked wood.
Again, Jesus is the Son of Man. God has become our brother; He is the perfect Man! So, it is good to be a human being.
And, we like to think, we have such potential, such capacity for beauty and good. Let us celebrate the Son of Man, by celebrating the brotherhood of humanity, the human spirit, the good things that we can do together, if we just give it our best.
Get behind me Satan, says Jesus. Yes, God has become a man. And yes, humanity is greatly valued by God. Far better than any self-esteem we can generate is Christ-esteem, the amazing honoring of humanity by God, revealed in the Word becoming flesh, the Incarnation of the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. In Christ, humanity is truly exalted. But the potential of every human being outside of Christ is revealed in the death of the Son of Man, for He died not for Himself, but in our place. Jesus celebrates humanity by suffering and dying, at the hands of humans. Here is the great work of the human project, the people of God, the children of Abraham, working with Roman pagans to kill God’s Son.
Again, Jesus is the Teacher. And what a wonderful instructor this carpenter from Galilee is, teaching us to love each other and care for the poor, to dig into the deep things of God, and His Creation.
Oh the wonders, we rejoice in ourselves, the wonders of learning, of human intellect, of the sciences and the arts, such unlimited potential. Jesus is the teacher, and we are the good students who go on to greater and higher things, finding communion with God through the use of our reason.
Get behind me Satan, says Jesus. Get behind me, and listen to the actual words that I am teaching. For Jesus speaks plainly enough: The Wisdom of God is the Cross of Christ. The Son of Man came not to be served, (like an earthly king), but to give His life as a ransom for many. The Teacher’s lesson is this: the Christ must suffer many things and be rejected and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Every different Name and facet of Jesus Christ and His Mission are only fully defined and revealed in the Cross and Resurrection. There is no true Christian faith apart from the Cross. This is the one thing that we most especially do not, in our sinfulness, want to confess. We want the Christ who shares only joy with us, the teacher who tells us what we want to hear, the God who became man because mankind is so impressive, the king who allows us to rule over others for our own benefit.
But thanks be to God, Jesus did not come to fulfill our expectations, but rather to fulfill all righteousness, that is, to meet every expectation of God the Father, in our place, and also to suffer all of God’s righteous punishment for human sin, in our place. He is the King who always serves, the Teacher who always proclaims the Cross, the sinless Man who gave His life for sinners. All the glory, all the power, all the joy that we dimly and imperfectly imagine, these all are yours, in Jesus, reigning at His Father’s right hand on high. Your path to that blessed paradise runs through His Cross. Your seat at His table is yours by the gift of forgiveness. Your wisdom and joy are Jesus, who will always confront your sin, sharply, harshly, in order that you know your need, so that you can know His mercy, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.