March 4, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[Jesus said]: ‘For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’”
Shame at what is said and the person who said it: such feelings arise in the hearts and minds of many. There is the “cringe factor” when hearing people associated with your ideology, organization, political views, or religion make outlandish statements. How many times have you switched the volume down or spun the radio dial when hearing callers’ phone-in on the talk radio stations? Or when a leader makes a gaffe in a speech, have you either mentally or physically shake your head? When something truly offensive is said, even you are quick to disavow any affiliation with the speaker: “How can they say that? They may have the right letters behind their name or the right title on their nametag, but I’m not with them. That isn’t what we in Group X/Party X actually believe or think.”
Shame at what is said and the person who said it: such feelings are shown in the Gospel Reading for this day. But the events in the Gospel Reading did not start with shame. Mark tells us: “And Jesus went on with His disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He 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.’” In this dialogue, there isn’t a hint of shame at all. While the disciples might disagree with what the people were saying about Jesus, the peoples’ thoughts were not out-of-line. They had recognized greatness in Jesus’ words and deeds. Then the question is put to the Twelve: “And He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’” And again, there is no shame at all to be found. There may even be some pride at fully knowing Jesus’ identity and being affiliated with Him.
But then the outlandish comment is dropped from Jesus’ mouth: “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. And He said this plainly.” Jesus tells the Twelve about what He must undergo. He reveals what it essential to His identity as the Christ. Jesus’ words actually reveal how He would accomplish the redemption of the world, including the salvation of the Twelve who sit in front of Him. And yet, it is full of gaffes—or that is what the Twelve think.
You heard how Peter reacted to Jesus’ statements. The “cringe factor” was fully evident: “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” No, no, no. That is Peter’s response to Jesus’ statement about Himself. It is the response of shame at what is said and the Person who said it. The volume dial is turned all the way down. The heads vigorously shake in disagreement. The statements of disavowal are made: “You may think that Jesus, but that is not how the Christ is to be. We in this Messiah Party distance ourselves from any of these statements of suffering, rejection, and death that our Leader has spoken.” But in this case, the problem is not really in what is said, but in those who hear it. What Jesus says cannot be seen as objectionable, if one is to receive the benefit of His actions that He performs as the Christ.
So this shame that Peter shows at Jesus’ words is not left unaddressed. It can’t be. What Jesus says about those ashamed about Him and His words applies to Peter at that moment: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” So Jesus moves to restore Peter, to bring his mind in alignment with the Divine Will: “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.’” A readjustment is going to be made here. A new setting of the mind must take place, and Jesus must be the actor that makes it so for Peter, so that this disciple and others will receive what the Father’s gracious will has established for them.
This readjustment happens as Peter, the Twelve, and the crowd have Jesus’ words spoken to them. He speaks about discipleship, about this enterprise to which He has called them. Jesus explains what it means to be a follower, to be under His authority: “And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples and said to them, ‘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 the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?’” Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow: the instructed acts are shameful to those who want to govern themselves, who want autonomy, who want to set their own direction according to what their own wisdom deems expedient. But that is not how salvation will be given. It is not how one will be a recipient of the benefits that Jesus brings. No, to gain from what Jesus does, you must be a dependent, a servant, a subject, even if the world believes that is not good, right, or salutary.
Your salvation is given when Jesus undergoes what seems to be shameful: suffering, rejection, and death. That is how you have been delivered: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” What Jesus reveals about His fate is the method of your salvation.
But are you ashamed of it? Do you cringe at what Jesus says? There are ample opportunities for that. Think of what Jesus has taught and how it runs against the wisdom of man. Sure, there will be those who find some decent things in Jesus’ teachings. You know, the Sermon on the Mount things: the Golden Rule is pretty good; giving your extra coat to someone who doesn’t have one is acceptable; don’t judge anyone by a standard you don’t want to be judged by would make society better. But then there are the teachings of morality that are a bit strict. And then there are Jesus’ claims of exclusivity: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…. I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” What then? Does the “cringe factor” rise at these statements of Jesus?
Yet, those are only the remarks made about what Jesus teaches. Reflect on how you have thought about His statements about His actions of dying and rising again. You claim that they are what bring salvation. But what comes to mind when you hear comments about Zombie Jesus at Easter time? Or the charges of cosmic child abuse leveled at the crucifixion? Or when the remarks are spoken about trusting something that a bunch of backwards nomads in the Middle East made up? How do you feel about the objections about a god of love that actually visits wrath on people? In what direction are the cringes aimed—at what is said in these remarks or at the Person and words of Jesus?
Remember what Jesus has said: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Has your mind drifted to “the things of man” and set itself on them? If so, then have Jesus speak again to turn you back to “things of God” so that your mind can be set on them. Take the statement that He makes to Peter and apply it to yourselves: “Get behind Me, Satan!” Receive the rebuke that your Lord makes against you. But know that He follows it up with restoration. Jesus’ word of forgiveness follows His admonishment. It was so for Peter and it is so for you.
Through the reception of Jesus’ words and the Holy Spirit’s actions through them, you are brought back to the way of discipleship. They give you the ability to deny yourselves and take up your crosses and follow the way of your Lord. He sets your minds back on the “things of God”. By having that done, you see and know what the world does not recognize in Jesus’ Person and words. It is the gift that He bestows to you: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The hope in the glory of God given to you is what leads you away from shame and to delight in what Jesus has done for you. So you will confess Him as Christ. And you will say that His suffering, rejection, and death have atoned for your sins. And you will be found victorious in His resurrection. Not ashamed, but proud in Jesus and His words, you will be recognized at His people when He comes in the glory of His Father.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.