+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 8:29
Theme: Big Questions
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Do not doubt for a moment that God is honest in His intentions. Do not question for a second that God is transparent in His motives. Do not query for an instant whether God will hold without wavering to the promises He has made. “He remembers His covenant forever, the word He commanded, for a thousand generations.”1 God has no hidden agendas.
His plan is to fully reclaim, restore, and resurrect humans condemned to eternal judgment. You are the object of His agenda. He pursues you with clarity and determination.
Today we’re privy to a conversation that involves a defining moment in the lives of the disciples. Christ poses to them the question of His identity. “Who do people say I am?”
He follows up with parallel questions on the value of temporal and eternal life. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”3 Peter has the right answer to the biggest question but he doesn’t understand the consequences. The suffering of Christ was more than he bargained for. It wasn’t a theoretical question for him either. The path of all of Christ’s followers necessarily mirrors that of the Master. Peter thought he was signing up for crown-wearing instead of cross-bearing. He was looking for a place of glory in Christ’s earthly dominion. Christ was preparing him for the glory of the heavenly kingdom. The crown of life indeed awaited Peter, but it could only be achieved through Jesus’ crown of thorns.
The “big question” regarding Christ’s identity remains perennially relevant. It can be restated (in fact it must) but it cannot be revised. It can be ignored, but only until the judgment at the longest. The answer to the question is of course nothing more, but certainly nothing less, than the confession of truth that defines Christianity. The question first posed privately to the disciples now occupies the public mission of the church. The answer to Christ’s identity is the only answer to the power of sin. It concerns us all. The confession of divine truth is a public matter by definition.
People have always maintained private opinions. They always will. Not every opinion is worth, contesting, challenging, or imposing upon others. We learn to vet them and focus on the most significant matters. It hardly means, however, there is consensus on what these are. Sinful human beings typically downplay the dangers and effects of transgressing God’s will. We often marginalize the risk of affirming falsehood and its associated implications. God’s patience in judging is misread as leniency. His swift chastisement is misinterpreted as callousness. Whether we’re seeking to be excused for our unrighteous actions towards others or praised for our hypocritical piety, we like God to share in our failure by overlooking it or approving it. The call to repentance entails the full range of our indiscretions.
The critical matter at issue in today’s gospel account is the very nature of God’s self-disclosure to us. Merely naming Jesus as the Christ doesn’t embrace what that means. The path of the cross is self-effacing to the core. The crucifixion is the definitive revelation of God’s love to us in Christ. Do you think it was unimportant for the prophets to define exactly who Jesus is when Isaiah wrote of Him 600 years before His birth? “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”4
Do you think it was not important for the apostles to define exactly who Jesus is when they wrote after His death and resurrection, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”5 Do you think it was not important for the church in the early centuries to define exactly who Jesus is when they labored to summarize the Christian faith in the Nicene Creed? “Jesus Christ… God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Our salvation depends upon the fact that Jesus is who He says He is and does what He says He does. The more clearly we understand Him the better off we are and the more effectively we can be His witnesses.
Dear friends, it is not the mission of the church to go out into the world with religious options for consideration. It is not our mission to provide food-for-thought and encourage people to form their own opinions. It is not our charge to present the biblical doctrine as one set of truths among many. Least of all is it helpful to go out with a message marked by uncertainty, confusion and apathy. The world may be full of people that are largely uninformed about the Christian truth, but they are very perceptive and discerning about whether that truth is proclaimed with authority and clarity. It is easy to spot people who do not really believe what they are saying. The Holy Spirit refines our faith for this very reason. We must be purged of the tendency to act contrary to what we believe.
There are many falsehoods, half-truths, and misperceptions we may have to live with in this life. Life is often beset with complexity and confusion. But it is truth that we seek to die in. What matters in the end is not a faith that we can live with but a faith we can die with. When the final breath exhales from our lungs we want to die in the clarity of truth. All ideologies and philosophies that have figured prominently in our lives will be nothing but cherished or bitter memories depending upon our experience. The forgiveness of sins, however, is the passport to the permanency of the unending experience of joy.
Dear friends, God doesn’t have opinions. He does not lie. He speaks to us about things high and holy things, yes; but these things also relate to our daily life in the body of Christ. God speaks in an orderly way. God orders things in a purposeful way. God speaks with specificity but He doesn’t speak privately. He speaks in reference to vocation, and thus He speaks preferentially.
Everyone serves, but in different ways, with different responsibility and different accountability. A student doesn’t have the same accountability as a teacher. An employee doesn’t have the same responsibility as a boss. A carpenter doesn’t have the same accountability as a judge. A waiter doesn’t have the same responsibility as a surgeon. Children are not equipped to make decisions for the family and they are not called to do so. Fathers have different God-given obligations than mothers. Pastors are accountable to God for their flocks in a way that lay people aren’t. All pursue integrity. All consider the well-being of others first. All serve the common good. And as believers we all seek to build up the body of Christ.
Dear friends, in the pursuit of these things in truth, our confession of Christ’s identity is revealed. But our failures do not change the reality of who He is. It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, Christ has not and will not fail you. He has gone through death for you. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. He lives to intercede for you. He offers you pardon in His body and blood. He wipes your slate clean. He puts a value on your soul that is incomparable by any human measure. What can a person give in exchange for their soul?6 That’s a big question. Not anything! Not everything! Christ gave His blood. The greatest was required. The greatest was given. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
13 September, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Psalm 105:8 2 Mark 8:27 3 Mark 8:36
4 Isaiah 53:4-5 5 Hebrews 1:3-4 6 See Mark 9:37