Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 12, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some thought Jesus was John the Baptist, others thought he was Elijah, others thought he was one of the prophets.
If Jesus were to ask us here today, “Who do people say that I am?” we could offer him a wide variety of answers. Many today see Jesus as a moral example, as a moral guide, like Jiminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder. Some see Jesus as one religious figure among several options that people can pick and choose. The historical Jesus movement sees him as a first century peasant who ran afoul of the Roman Empire and was executed and then had a bunch of lies and exaggerations made up about him by his followers. New agers see Jesus as an archetype of the divine spark inside all of us. Muslims see him as a respected, but human, prophet. Mormons see him as a son of God, not the Son of God.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked.
When I lived in southwest Washington I used to drive into Portland once in awhile to visit a bookstore there that I love. I remember driving through downtown Portland once and seeing a car which was just about covered in bumper stickers supporting all kinds of far left-wing causes. There were all kinds of radical slogans and symbols of progressive politics on this car. And nestled amongst all those bumper stickers was one that said, “Jesus was a liberal.”
“Who do people say that I am?”
This past January as people rioted at the capitol building in Washington DC, we saw Christian symbols intermingled wiht far-right wing slogans. There were flags with crosses on them being waved right next to the gallows that were set up, supposedly to hang the Vice President of the United States. There were signs being held up with the same colors and fonts as the campaign materials of the previous president, only they read: “Jesus 2020.”
“Who do people say that I am?”
After asking his disciples what other people were saying about him, Jesus then turned the question on them. “But who do you say that I am? And Peter responded with the correct answer. Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” Technically Peter was correct, but he didn’t yet understand what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t understand what kind of Messiah he would be. He didn’t understand what Jesus had come to do.
And so Jesus told him. “The Son of must undergo great suffering,” Jesus said, “and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Jesus gave Peter the gospel in a nutshell. He revealed himself as the one who would die for our sins and be raised for our salvation. He revealed that he had come to be their crucified and risen Lord.
Peter didn’t like what he was hearing. It’s understandable, I suppose. He didn’t want his beloved Lord to go through all of that messy cross business. Peter went so far as to take Jesus aside and rebuke him! Can you imagine? Well, Jesus rebuked him back even harder, saying, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”
The problem – for Peter and often for us – is that we try to answer the question of who Jesus is with our minds set on human things rather than divine things. We try to answer it based on reason rather than revelation. We try to answer it based on who we think he should be. It has often been remarked that if Jesus lines up with everything you believe already, you’ve probably got the wrong guy. Jesus is lots of things, of course. He is our friend and our brother. He is our teacher and guide. He is our example, to the extent that we can imitate him. He is all of those things and more. But any answer that fails to identify him first and foremost as our crucified and risen Lord is a satanic lie. That’s not homiletical hyperbole – that’s exactly what Jesus says!
Who do you say that he is? Knowing the correct answer is so important! But let me be clear: It is not important because it is some kind of final Jeopardy question, where you better get it right or you’re done. It is not important because correct doctrine is what saves us. It is important because Jesus Christ wants you to know what he has done for you! It is important because Jesus wants you to know the depths of his great love for you. It is important because Jesus wants you to know that he has come to do so much more than be a mascot for your politics or provide policy suggestions or to sit on your shoulder and whisper personal advice in your ear. He came to suffer and be rejected and killed, and then raised again on the third day. He came to conquer sin and death. He came to be your crucified and risen Lord.
Why is this not the Messiah we want? Why do our human minds want to make Jesus into something else all the time? Maybe, like Peter, we just don’t like the idea of Jesus suffering for us. Maybe we don’t like thinking about how our sin made that necessary. Maybe we can’t stand the idea of being a burden or being dependent or someone else.
Some of you have heard me talk before about my friend who has been battling cancer for many years now. Some time ago he posted on Facebook that he was starting an experimental treatment where he needed to get a weekly shot for several weeks in a row. Each individual shot, he told us, cost $8,000. I think he was mostly marveling at the absurd cost of this life-saving treatment, but I think some of us friends of his also worried that he might be thinking of himself as a burden with that enormous expense. And so something beautiful happened on social media, if you can believe it! One after another of his friends started making comments like: “Money well spent,” and “It’s a bargain if it means keeping you with us,” and, “You are worth it.”
Who is Jesus? The gospel truth is so much better than the incorrect or the half-true answers our human minds come up with. Jesus is the Messiah who came to save us from our sin and bring us to abundant and eternal life. It cost him dearly to do so, to be sure. It was a cost he paid not with silver or gold, but with his own precious body and blood. He did this out of his great love for us. It was a price he was willing to pay in order to keep you with him, today and forever. He did it because, whether you realize it or not, you are worth it. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church