Lent 2 – St. Mark 8:27-38
To some, Jesus question to the disciples would seem to be narcissistic. After all, who goes around asking what others think of Him?
But putting that aside for a moment, the answers that the disciples give are rather revealing.
John the Baptist. Elijah. A prophet.
Do not misunderstand, these answers are very complimentary. Elijah was the greatest prophet in the history of Israel. John the Baptist was no slouch either, inspiring the hopes and dreams of the people about a coming Messiah. And a prophet? Well that is not just any prophet; people are not comparing Jesus to Joel or Malachi or Jonah. A prophet is in reference to the one who Moses spoke of coming after him all the way back in Deuteronomy.
Are they the answers people would give today? Are they the answers you would give to the question of who do people say that Jesus is?
You would probably give answers that are more modern, more in line with our terminology today. Perhaps, you would describe Jesus as Martin Luther, someone who seemingly had all the answers to all the church problems of the day. Or maybe you would describe Him as a speaker on The Lutheran Hour; someone who speaks so well and so gracefully about the Lord, that you could listen to him for hours. Or perhaps you would describe Him as a healer, but not just any healer, but the healer who takes away all of your aches and pains.
Again do not misunderstand, these modern day answers are very complimentary. Luther was a great reformer of the Church; there are many speakers on The Lutheran Hour who deliver the Gospel in its full sweetness; there are many who offer healing to those in need.
But there is something missing, both in the answers that the disciples give and in our own modern answers.
They are good answers; but they are lacking answers. They hint at who Jesus is, but they do not fully answer the question of who Jesus is.
Jesus is a great proclaimer of the Word, but He does more than just speak the Word of the Lord. Jesus is the great physician; but He did not just come to open hospitals. Jesus does have the answers to all the world’s problems; but Jesus did not just come to solve disputes over territorial boundaries and bring an end to wars.
When you ask yourself, or others, who Jesus is, you get an answer that is good, but does not reveal the whole truth of who Jesus is; rather it ends up being the truth of who you want Jesus to be.
You want Jesus to solve your problems; to cause that obnoxious neighbor to move away; to send favorable weather on the crops; to stabilize prices so everyone can be happy. If Jesus could just do that, than you will figure out how to bring about your own salvation.
Or perhaps you want Jesus to cause all of your aches and your pains to stop. If the medicine would just work this time; if surgery really was the ultimate answer; if therapy would take away the soreness. If Jesus could just do that, than you will figure out how to obtain the forgiveness of sins on your own.
But maybe it is entertainment that you seek. If Jesus could just fill an hour or so on the calendar each and every week, give you a motivational pep-talk for the week ahead; assure you that what you are doing is right, and everyone else is doing wrong. If Jesus could just do that, than you will leave Him alone for the rest of the week, with the understanding that you will not bother Him, and He will not bother you.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
The reality is that you can only imagine Jesus so far; our minds fail to grasp a Jesus that does more than one thing. Either Jesus heals or He speaks well. Either Jesus forgives sins, or He offers a guide for daily life. Either Jesus solves problems, or He gives gifts to those who obey His Word.
Who do people say that Jesus is? They say He is the best they can imagine, but they dare not ask that He be anything more than the answer to what ails them most.
The final answer given by Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, is of course the correct answer. Christ is the answer that fills all of the categories: Jesus is the one who comes and heals you and who helps you with your problems. Jesus is the one who comes and gives you every good gift, and He is the one who guides you along the paths of this world. He is the one who offers to you words of wisdom, and He is the one who forgives your sins.
Ah, but there is the conundrum: the forgiving of sins.
In order to do this, Jesus must go to the cross and suffer and die.
Peter does not like this idea, and safe to say neither do the rest of the disciples. And if you were to be honest about it, neither do you.
For that is the true motivation of your desire to regulate who Jesus is and what He does. You are trying to protect Him. If Jesus goes to the cross and suffers and dies as He says, than who will you go to for those words of wisdom? Who will be the healer? Who will offer hope and promises of what is to come?
Peter, the disciples, you, look at Jesus as the Golden Goose; He is better than anything you have ever seen before, and can ever hope to see again. And yet, like those who came before and those who will come after, all died, and were never seen again. Such is your fear with Jesus. If Jesus dies, than it is back to the bad old days, and nothing is different.
Who do you say that Jesus is? He is a better version of what came before; but He is just like those who came before: mortal, limited, gifted by God, but not God.
And just as you do not want to ask Jesus to do more than one thing for you; you certainly do not want to ask Jesus to die for your sins. After all, they are your sins. You are the one who is guilty of committing them in thought, word and deed. You are the one who stands guilty before your Father in heaven. You are the one who should bear the suffering and the cross.
If Jesus could just solve those other issues for you, than you will figure out what to do about those sins that you carry with you.
And yet, it is in His suffering that you see the Father’s great love for you.
You are content to get another Elijah; another John the Baptist; another Martin Luther. You are content for these things for you do not know how to ask for other than what you need right now.
And yet your Father knows what you need. Your Father in heaven knows that you do not just need another healer, or preacher, or reformer, or leader. You need a Savior. You need someone who will come and preach sweet Gospel in your ears. You need someone who will come and feed you the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. You need someone who will give you His Word as a guide for daily living. You need someone who will go to the cross and pay the full price for your redemption by shedding His holy and precious blood.
What does God say that you need? God says you need a Savior; one who can conquer sin, death and hell for you. You need a Savior that you are not worthy to ask for, that you do not even know how to ask for. You need a Savior who will far exceed any of your hopes or imaginations. You need what you never even knew that you needed.
And He is here before you: today in bread and wine, in the water, and in the Word; soon He will appear before you face to face. He is here, and He is for you. Not because you are worthy and not because you asked God to do so; but because God out of His great love for you, knew what you needed, and sent Him into the world for your sake.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
He is the Christ: your Redeemer and Savior, who has purchased and won you back from sin, death and the power of the devil. He is the one you could never ask for on your own; but He is the one that your Father in heaven knew that you needed.