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February 25, 2018

From Confession to Confusion

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lent & Holy Week 2018: Return from Exile Category: Biblical Scripture: Mark 8:27–38

The Second Sunday in Lent

February 24-25, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

 “Return from Exile: From Confession to Confusion”

How will we answer that question Jesus asked in today’s Gospel lesson: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Maybe we will say the politically correct thing so as not to offend anyone. Maybe we will mumble some non-committal reply. Maybe we really aren’t sure ourselves. But that is a question each one of us must answer. Though we can certainly help and strengthen one another in our believing, the truth remains that no one can believe for us. How will we answer Jesus’ question? It is Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel lesson that leads us into today’s message. Following the theme of “Return from Exile” in this season of Lent, today’s message is entitled “From Confession to Confusion.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Our Lenten journey today takes us from Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, God’s anointed and chosen One, to confusion as Peter rejects what Jesus says that being the Messiah means. Jesus doesn’t fit the popular expectation of what people had in mind for the Messiah. The expectation was that the Messiah would be a warrior king astride a war horse with a sword in his hand, leading an uprising against foreign invaders, and who would restore the glory days of King David. The Messiah would boot out the hated Romans and establish a political-religious kingdom where God’s chosen people would dwell secure, free from the corrupting influence of unclean Gentiles. That’s what the popular expectation was for the Messiah. Jesus does a complete 180 turn-around on this and tells his disciples that this is not at all what he’s about. Quite the opposite: “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” (Mark 8:31). All of this creates tremendous confusion for the disciples, and certainly for Peter, who often served as spokesman for the twelve. What Jesus said was so radically new, and the disciples so totally unprepared for this, that Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter reprimanded Jesus! Mark doesn’t tell us Peter’s words, but Matthew’s account of this does: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ leads to confusion about what this meant. This confusion is rooted in sin; a twisting and perversion of God’s plan and purpose so that “my will,” and not “Thy will,” be done. When all is said and done, that is at the core of what sin is. It is because of our sin that Jesus came to suffer and die on the cross to pay the price of our rebellion and disobedience. All of this was not merely some accident or misfortune for Jesus, but was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). After rebuking Peter in order to set the record straight, Jesus provides clarification to his disciples about the cost of discipleship. For all those who would follow him, Jesus makes clear what this following will look like: “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? For what can a man give in return for his soul? 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” (Mark 8:34-38). The cost of our salvation was the life of God’s own Son, as we heard in the Epistle lesson today: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). Why would we think that the cost of discipleship would be cheap? Costly grace leads to costly discipleship. This is the cost of discipleship, then and now. Mark’s Gospel was originally written for first-century Gentile Christians living in and around the city of Rome who were themselves undergoing persecution for their faith in Jesus. These words of Jesus would have rung true and clear in the ears of these early believers as they faced arrest, imprisonment, and even death for the sake of the Gospel. They surely took great comfort and encouragement from these words of Jesus, who himself endured suffering and death not for his sake, but for ours, and who now calls us to take up our cross and follow him. The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis in the closing days of World War II, wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ” (The Cost of Discipleship; New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1976; p. 99). This the clarification to our confusion that we must never forget.  

With the death of Billy Graham this past week at age 99, our country has lost a voice for the Gospel of Jesus Christ that transcended boundaries and barriers. Graham stood in a long line of evangelists who focused on the kingdom of God, rather than individual denominations, including the sainted Dr. Walter A. Maier and Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, former Lutheran Hour speakers. Billy Graham was not without his faults, and was, like all of us, a flawed and imperfect human being, but redeemed by the blood of Christ. “A central achievement was his [Billy Graham’s] encouraging evangelical Protestants to regain the social influence they had once wielded, reversing a retreat from public life that had begun when their efforts to challenge evolution theory were defeated in the Scopes trial in 1925. But in his later years, Mr. Graham kept his distance from the evangelical political movement he had helped engender, refusing to endorse candidates and avoiding the volatile issues dear to religious conservatives. ‘If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience on an issue that is not the issue I’m promoting,’ he said in an interview at his home in North Carolina in 2005 while preparing for his last American crusade, in New York City. ‘I’m just promoting the Gospel’” (|9). I believe we would do well to heed Billy Graham’s counsel, especially now in this turbulent and fractured time in which we live, and keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ the main thing. Whatever confusion there may be out there on all the issues of the day, our confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior cannot waiver. It is our blessing today to hear about Lutheran Hour Ministries and the global work they are doing in this very thing.

At the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world, we return from the exile of our sin and death only through confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and what He has done for us. This is our rock and anchor in the midst of life’s storms when we easily become confused and uncertain. May the power of Christ who loves us and laid down his life for us strengthen us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Amen.