Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 16, 2018)

o wn is the Greek for, "He who is."
o xristos is the Greek for "The Christ."
MARK 8:27-35


In the name + of Jesus.

     It has become quite popular among Christians in America to say that one church is the same as the next, which is to say that one confession is as good as another.  Now, this sounds open-minded and big-hearted, but it is based on a lie.  The lie is that confessions don't matter, or that doctrine doesn't matter. 
     If you ask people what they believe, you may get confessions such as, “I believe the Bible.”  It sounds right.  After all, the Bible is the word of God and the source of our faith and teaching.  Nevertheless, Christians do not all agree on what the Bible teaches.  That Christians can be so conflicted in doctrine gets quite confusing and frustrating for many people.  Rather than devote yourself to doing the work of studying the Bible and seeking what is truth and what distorts truth, it is easier just to brush it all off and say, “Eh, they're all the same.”  Which is to say, doctrine does not matter.
     Briefly consider this.  We Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that “baptism works the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” (Luther's Small Catechism.  Holy Baptism, Part 2)  Most Protestant churches teach that baptism only symbolizes these things, but does not actually give them.  Can you really say that this is all the same?  The difference is being confident that you have God's promise of salvation given to you in baptism versus having to look somewhere else to find God's salvation applied to you.  If forgiveness of sins, the resurrection, and confidence of salvation matter to you, then this doctrine matters.  The only good confession speaks the things of God.
     Even a confession which sounds true may miss the mark.  Case in point: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)  The confession of the people was complimentary; but it was not close enough.  It was wrong.  Then Jesus directed his question to his disciples.  He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  Peter's answer was correct.  He had rightly identified and confessed that Jesus is the Lord's anointed.
     Once the disciples had made this confession, Jesus began to teach them what that meant.  Too many people expected that the Christ would be a king who would restore power, prominence, and prosperity to the nation of Israel.  If the people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they may well have started up a revolution against the Romans, expecting that Jesus would lead the charge and win the victory.  Even the disciples were influenced by this belief.  Therefore, Jesus had to teach them what it really meant that he is the Christ.  So, 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.  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.” (Mark 8:31-33)
     In one breath, Peter made a good confession: “You are the Christ.”  In the next breath, Peter showed that his confession was horribly wrong.  Peter rebuked Jesus because Jesus' teaching did not match Peter's expectations.  Peter's ideas of who the Christ is and what he does were a far cry from what God had said in his word.  If Jesus were to be rejected, suffer, and be killed, what would his kingdom be?  And if they did this to Jesus, his disciples would be next, wouldn't they?  Peter saw no glory to be gained and no benefit to be had in Jesus' suffering and death.  Even though Peter had used the right words, “You are the Christ,” his confession was wrong.  Peter sought the things of men—worldly popularity and glory.  The only good confession, however, speaks the things of God.
     Jesus, of course, had his mind firmly set on the things of God.  That meant he would suffer and die.  Jesus did not present the cross as optional.  He stated plainly, “It is necessary (Greek: dei) that the Son of Man endure these things.”  If Jesus wanted to win the approval of mankind and establish earthly glory, he could have done it.  He was already being praised for miraculous healing.  But the things of men are temporary at best.  Worldly glory and popularity do not last.  It has to be earned constantly.  If Jesus had in mind the things of men, we would not have a Savior and would die in our sins.    The things of God, however, bring eternal blessing.
     Therefore, Jesus demonstrated God's faithful love by redeeming sinners.  To bestow on you God's mercy, Jesus did not hide his face from disgrace and spitting.  To win you God's blessing, Jesus set his face like flint to go to the cross to bear your curse.  To give you deliverance from death, Jesus went to his grave.  To open heaven to you, Jesus rose from the dead.  He lives to tell you that your sins are forgiven.  Your eternal benefits come from Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection.  Jesus was anointed for this very purpose.  This is what it means that he is the Christ.  This alone is what takes away sins, delivers from death, and opens heaven to you.  Salvation comes only through the cross.  Life comes only through the blood of Christ.  These are the things of God, and the only good confession speaks the things of God. 
     Jesus not only had to teach the disciples what it means that he is the Christ, he also teaches what it means that we belong to Christ.  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.” (Mark 8:34)  Peter had visions of glory for himself going through his head.  Jesus told him that he needed to deny himself what seemed to him to be so good.  It is the same for us.
     We are always convinced that we know what is best for us.  But our desires are always influenced by our sinful nature.  Peter's idea of what the Christ would be was the popular opinion, but it was wrong.  Peter sought worldly popularity and glory.  It seemed so obvious to him that these are good things.  It seems that way to us, too.  How do you know it is best for you?  Simple, because you like it.  That same kind of thinking leads us to sin.  Why do people get intoxicated?  Why do people gossip about others?  Because we like it.  We actually believe it is good to do these things because we believe we benefit from doing them.  And why do people twist God's word so that the world finds it more agreeable, more satisfying, and more open-minded?  Because we want the world to like us.  We change our confession to accommodate the world.  But when we change our confession, we speak with the devil's accent.  The Lord does not ask us to negotiate with the world; he calls us to confess his word and to deny our lust for worldly popularity and acceptance.
     The only good confession speaks the things of God.  To do this, we must deny ourselves.  We do not get to choose what we think is right.  We do not get to suggest that every confession is close enough or sweep them away by saying, “It's all the same thing.”  And we have no permission to dabble in sinful practices.  We are to deny ourselves these things because we know that they invoke God's wrath and bring deadly consequences. 
     We don't like to do these things because it is hard.  It is hard to deny our desires and our pleasures.  It is hard not to give our sinful flesh what it wants, because it makes us feel happy—at least for the moment.  This is the cross we have to bear—that we put our sinful desires to death, that we subject our will to God's will, and that we do the hard work of learning from the Scriptures what God says so that we will not be deceived by what sounds close enough or what sounds good to us.  For not every confession is the same, and only one confession leads to heaven—and that is through the cross.
     By keeping his mind focused on the things of God, Jesus has gained glory for you.  We confess these things to be true not because we want them to be, but because God has declared them to be so.  The only good confession speaks the things of God.  Therefore, we follow Jesus and commit all things to him.  It is his word that guides us in godly living.  It is his word that drives away doubts.  It is his word which is true.  And it is his word which guarantees that our sins are pardoned and Paradise is secure.  These are the things of God.  By faith in Jesus, they are now also yours.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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