Jesus is the Answer
But What is the Question
In seminary we had a running joke that the harder the questions got all we had to do was remember back to our Sunday School days when the answer was always Jesus, granted this didn’t always work with our professors, but we often tried it anyway. I was reminded of the Larry Norman song of the late 60’s entitled Jesus is the Answer. Sometimes the Christian faith seems like a strange episode of Jeopardy where we all know the answer, but are all guessing what the question is. I think this was the problem Peter and Jesus’ disciples faced as well. In today’s gospel we see Peter had the correct answer but never really understood the question. He knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ but failed to acknowledge that he really had no idea what that meant. Jesus turned the disciples’ expectations of their Messiah on their heads, and he continues to do that to this day.
What is the question? Is it anything our heart desires? Can Jesus be all things for all people? I was at a meeting of church leaders when I heard someone say “My Jesus would not say that” in reaction to one of the harder sayings of the New Testament. The problem I have with this is it allows any understanding of Jesus and his gospel to be the right understanding. People pick and choose the Jesus that makes them most comfortable ignoring the aspects of Jesus, his life and ministry, that may make some shiver, that may force transformation. Jesus becomes some politically correct love guru that would be more at home in a self help seminar than a church. The truth is that throughout Mark’s Gospel geography is hugely important. Caesarea Philippi was the urban metropolis, the center of diversity to the Roman world. You could by lunch from a street vendor and then turn around and buy a god from a vendor across the street. There were gods of all kinds to be bought and sold on the streets of Caesarea Philippi, God’s that hung around one’s neck and Gods that you stuck in your back pocket, gods of fertility and storm gods. It is in this type of deity potluck where Jesus the love guru and ambassador of political correctness may have felt home. If that is indeed who Jesus Christ really was.
Brothers and sisters a self help guru would never say something like
Mark 8:34-38 "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Guess what friends, our Jesus said this. The call to pick up your cross and follow isn’t a call to comfort but to discipleship. The call to lose our life isn’t a call to self neglect a call to sacrificial love. Jesus is asking all of us to renounce things in our lives that would keep us from fully embracing the God who has created us, redeemed us at the cross of Christ, and called us in Baptism. For Peter that included a false politicized understanding of what and who the messiah was. For us that may include a overly domesticated and comfortable view of Jesus Christ the self-help guru. But yet for others, it may include an image of Jesus Christ the legalistic moralist who calls not for obedience and faith but perfection. Like the love guru this understanding of Jesus is a distortion of the God-man who took our sins to the cross, bearing our burden so we could bask in his glory.
This is the first of three times in which Jesus predicts his own death in Mark. But he predicts something else as well. Peter was so distraught about the death and suffering that he missed the next part. Peter heard crucifixion and refused to hear resurrection.. Jesus Christ, our savior doesn’t only die for us, he lived and lives again for us as well. It is only in that light that we should hear Jesus’ call to lay down our lives and follow. It’s not only a call to self sacrifice, but a called to be filled with the Holy Spirit and transformed by the Glory of the crucified and resurrected Lord.
Laying down one’s life and carrying one’s cross isn’t just a matter of losing things. But it culminates in a gaining of the life that God wants. When Peter lays down his human understanding of the messiah he doesn’t all of a sudden forget there is a messiah. Instead his understanding of messiah is transformed transforming him in the process.
Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Brothers and sisters the God of Jesus Christ isn’t just another God pedaled by street vendors to be bought and discarded at a whim. The God of Jesus Christ has bought us by his own precious blood and promised to never discard or forsake us, even in death and suffering he carries us through to new life and resurrection. Who do you say that I am? Jesus you are the Son of God, fully God yet fully man, and redeemer of the world. That’s who you are. Let’s pray
Lord God you have told us to lose our lives to save them. Help us see when the things of the world draw attention away from embracing all you command and offer. In Jesus Christ's name we pray.