[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio during both this morning's traditional and contemporary worship celebrations.]
Imagine a scene with me. You're in your doctor's office for a consultation. You’ve had some tests and now you're back to see the doc to learn the results. She enters the office and says, "It’'s serious and the prognosis is not good." Your heart sinks.
Then, she says, "But I have a treatment that's going to make everything OK...I'm going to give you a facelift."
You know that can't be right: When you're up against a major illness, a superficial remedy won't do. In the face of radical maladies, only radical therapies stand a chance.
We human beings are confronted with a major malady.
It's called death and it's the result of sin.
You and I were created in the image of God, the pinnacle of God's creation. But sin has distorted our natures. In fact, one Biblical word for sin is taken from the experience a person has looking at their reflection in a pool of water, then having that reflection distorted when a stone is thrown into the water. The image gets distorted.
Because the human race is the pinnacle of the creation, the Bible says that all creation groans under the weight of our sin, the distortion of God's image in each of us.
The Bible uses the word, sin, in two different ways.
One way the Bible talks about sin is as a condition of our birth, original sin. This is what David is talking about in Psalm 51:5: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." If you had human parents, you were born sinful, too. Sin is a debt we owe to God. You and I are born with a debt so crippling we could never possibly pay it off.
But if that sounds bad, it gets worse. Being born in sin means that we have an inborn inclination to add to our debts by committing sins. This is what the Lutheran confessions call concupiscence. This is the other way the Bible speaks of sin: a particular violation of the will of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments: murder, taking God's Name in vain, failing to help our neighbor in need.
Because of the condition of original sin, our sinfulness is stubbornly evidenced in all our thinking, speaking, and living. Because we are born sinners, we sin naturally.
In Romans 7:15, the apostle Paul writes: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do [obey God’s commands] I do not do, but what I hate I do."
We are born in sin and we find ourselves incapable of refraining from sin.
And the Bible doesn’t soft pedal what that means: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
"Wait," we might say. "I'm not perfect. But I've never committed any of the really big sins. I've never murdered. I've never committed adultery. I've never stolen."
James 2:10 says: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."
So, in sin, we have a major illness and the prognosis is death. Superficial therapies won’t do. That's what Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel lesson.
Turn to Mark 8:27-38 (page 705), please. Near the beginning of a conversation with the disciples, Jesus asks them, "Who do you say I am?” In Mark 8:29, Peter says, "You are the Messiah [or, the Christ]."
The title, Christ (from Christos as it appears in the New Testament, which was written in Greek) or Messiah (from the Hebrew in which the Old Testament was written), means Anointed One. The kings of God's people were always anointed with oil on being enthroned. The Old Testament had repeatedly foretold of an ultimate Messiah who would bring God’s rule to earth.
Through the centuries, certain popular expectations developed about the coming Christ or Messiah. The people of first-century Judea, the place to which Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, came to live, die, and rise, thought that the Messiah would make what would amount to cosmetic changes, the moral equivalent of a facelift as a cure for cancer.
To them, the problems they faced had nothing to do with themselves or their own deficiencies. (This is a common theme in human history. The late Karl Menninger once quoted a folk song that said, "Everything I do that's wrong is someone else's fault.")
Jesus' fellow Judeans wanted a king who would toss the Romans out of their land. They wanted an end to oppressive government regulations. They wanted the rich to pay their fair share in taxes and they wanted to the Romans to ease up on the poor. They wanted a king who would do their bidding. Their idea of what God should do in their lives was very different from what God had in mind.
That's why Peter's declaration of faith in Jesus as the Messiah was dangerous. Jesus had to instruct the disciples on what it means to confess Jesus as the Christ. He didn't want to feed their false expectations. Jesus had come to do more than offer facelifts on dying people!
Look at Mark 8:31: "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again."
The therapy for our sin, Jesus is saying, begins with Him.
He, Who never once sinned, would undergo the death we deserve for our sin so that the debt can be paid for all who repent and believe in Jesus.
But when Peter heard Jesus predict that He would suffer, be rejected, and be killed, he couldn’t take it. It certainly did sound like a very compelling campaign platform!
Look at Mark 8:32: "Peter took him [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him." The word rebuke, epitimao in the Greek in which Mark originally wrote, means to warn, upbraid, condemn, set straight.
Imagine this: Peter has just declared Jesus to be God's Anointed King and now he has the audacity to tell Jesus how to do His job!
Verse 33: "But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’"
When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, you'll remember, he tried to lure Jesus away from suffering, rejection, and the cross. He did so because if Jesus was faithful in taking these agonies onto Himself, He would pay our debt in full and thereby empower all who turn from sin and trust in Him as their God to be raised just as God the Father raised Jesus on the first Easter.
Jesus knew that He needed to fulfill His purpose for coming to earth, whatever pain He caused Himself. He couldn't let Satan stand in His way.
Now Jesus applies the name of Satan to Peter!
Peter may have thought that He was doing a nice thing, like the church member who says, "Pastor, I know that the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to eternity with God, but you make people feel uncomfortable when you tell the truth like that."
"Niceness" of the kind Peter exhibits here leads people away from God.
"Niceness" like this suits Satan's purposes just fine. Jesus, in essence, is telling Peter,
In fact one of the great afflictions of the Christian churches in North America and Europe today is that too often, we've become the Church of Nice rather than the Church of Christ.
Jesus was telling Peter, in essence: "I am the great Physician and My suffering, rejection by others, and death on a cross are the first part of the cure. So, Peter, get out of My way!"
Then, Jesus gives the second part of His radical therapy for our sin and death.
Look at verses 34 and 35: "...he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
Here we see that to believe that Jesus is the Christ--the King, the Lord of all--is more than just saying the right words on Sunday mornings.
To believe that Jesus is the Messiah is, first of all, to surrender ourselves, even to the point of discomfort and death, to God's only aim for our lives, our sole aim in life.
God's sole aim for our lives is articulated in 2 Corinthians 3:18, which says: "But we all [all of us who trust in Christ as God and Savior], with uncovered face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
If sin has distorted the image of God within us, it's God's aim to infuse us with the image of God the Son so that we can begin to experience human life as God intended for it to be lived.
God aims to make us over into the very image of Jesus!
As we trust in Jesus each day, the Holy Spirit works a miracle: We who have been distorted by sin are made over in the image of Christ!
It doesn't happen fully within our time on this earth.
And on the way to our resurrection from the dead, we won't avoid suffering, rejection, or death any more than Jesus did.
But we will become more and more like Jesus.
1 John 3:2 says, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
So, to believe in Jesus means, first of all, to surrender to Him even to the point of discomfort and death.
To believe that Jesus is the Messiah is, secondly, to embrace the life style of Jesus.
When, through Jesus' death and resurrection, you understand that you are number one in God's eyes, you’re freed from “looking out for number one."
Philippians 2:3-4 says: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
John Stott tells the story of a college classroom in India. The professor, a Hindu, realized that one of his students was a Christian. "If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ," the professor told the student, "India would be at your feet tomorrow." That professor could as easily say that to any Christian in this country: "If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, America would be at your feet."
No Christian wants to have others at their feet, of course. Like our Lord, we come to serve, not to be served.
But our joy as Christians is only made complete when we share Christ with others and they too, come to believe in Jesus as the Christ.
Sin and death threaten to separate us from God for eternity. God's cure is radical, but sure. It begins with the Christ, God the Son, suffering, dying, and rising for us. And it's fulfilled when, after confessing Jesus with our lips, we confess Him with our lives, taking up our crosses and following Him: submitting ourselves to the death of our old sinful selves, committing ourselves to letting God make us over in the image of Jesus Himself, and embracing the very life of self-sacrifice and unstinting love that Jesus lived.
May God give us the power to have a faith that's more than words, a faith that shows in our whole lives.
May we submit to the radical cure that gives us life with God forever!