A Christ with a Cross

“Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question Jesus posed to His disciples in Caesarea Philippi, and that’s the question He poses to you here this morning. Who do you say that I am?

The answer to that question reveals what we believe about this Jesus. You can’t be neutral when it comes to Jesus. That’s why His Name creates the fuss that it does. This is no benign, take it or leave it sort of name. You have to come to some kind of answer, one way or another.

People had their opinions about Jesus. Some thought he was John the Baptizer come back to life again. John had been killed, beheaded in Herod’s prison. John cut a pretty impressive figure as a man of God. And so one of the rumors in the streets was that he had come back, that Jesus was John the Baptizer. That, of course, was wrong. Jesus and John were cousins; John was the forerunner, the preparer, whose baptism pointed to Jesus and revealed Him to Israel.

Some said that Jesus was the prophet Elijah. Elijah had disappeared with fiery chariots and horsemen. The prophet Malachi said that Elijah would come before the Lord appears. So maybe Jesus was Elijah. Or another one of the prophets, perhaps. A holy man of God sent to preach God’s Word.

They are all nice and respectful, but they all fall short of the truth. We have the same sort of thing today when people are confronted with the Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am?” The tendency is to try to say something nice. He’s a great teacher, an inspiration, a moral example, a wise philosopher, a miracle worker, a holy man. And again, all fall short of the truth.

Peter, always the first to speak up, speaks the truth. “You are the Christ.” Mark delivers the short version here. When you’ve said, “Christ,” you’ve said it all. “Christ” means anointed one; the Hebrew word is Mashiach, Messiah. Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed One prophesied in the OT and anticipated by the people. Everyone was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah.

Did Peter understand the implications of what he was saying? Apparently not. The average man on the street believed that Messiah would be a kind of military, political, religious figure all wrapped up into one. He would be someone who would restore nation status to Israel, drive out Roman rule, reestablish the throne of King David. He would purify the temple and drive out the foreign occupation and establish the kingdom of God. In many ways and senses, the popular expectation of the Messiah was more or less like a bin-Laden type.

It’s not surprising then, that Peter objects violently when Jesus begins to talk of HIs death and resurrection, that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes – the religious authorities and leaders, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” This was the last thing anyone of Jesus’ day expected of the Messiah, that he be killed and raised to life again. That’s not how it was supposed to work. Respectable Messiahs don’t get themselves crucified.

We’re confronted here with our own expectations. What is it, exactly, that we expect from Jesus? Oh, we’re certainly beyond the messianic expectations of Peter and the others who were waiting for the revolution to begin. Or are we? I’m always sure. Do we expect Jesus to fix everything that’s wrong, whether in the world or in our own personal lives? Do we expect Him to exert power and muscle on our behalf? Do we expect Him to punish the bad guys and reward the good guys and give us key positions in the cabinet?

Perhaps you’ve experience this in same fashion – someone did not live up to your expectations. You finally get to meet that author you admire, or that celebrity or musician or sports figure, and they’re not what you expected them to be. You had a picture in your own mind of what that person was supposed to be like, and when you finally meet them face to face, you’re disappointed. They weren’t what you expected.

We have expectations about God too. We expect Him to be responsive to our needs, to hear our prayers, to act for our blessing. And then God does something or He doesn’t do something, and our expectations are shattered and we’re disappointed. Some give up on God; some just trade Him in for a newer model.

Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Imagine that, the disciple rebuking the Master! I’m sure Peter thought he was doing good, waking Jesus up to smell the messianic coffee. “That’s not how it’s supposed to go, Jesus. I didn’t leave the fishing business for you to get crucified. You’re a winner, Jesus. Don’t talk like a loser. You’re a winner, and we want to be winners with you in your kingdom. So let’s forget about this dying and rising business and get about the business of kingdom building. You’ve got a throne to establish and we’re here to help you. So no more of this grim dying and rising talk – it’s a downer, it’s not inspiring, it’ll freak people out.”

I embellish, but I imagine that’s likely what was going through Peter’s mind. To be the Messiah, the Christ, is to be a winner, God’s chosen, anointed One. There’s no place for crosses and crucifixions in that scheme. But Jesus identifies it as the devil’s scheme, not God’s plan. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

Peter – so bold, so sincere, so wrong. It’s the devil who wants a cross-less Christ, a bloodless, body-less, spiritualized Christ. That’s what the devil wants. A feel good, don’t worry, be happy Christ. An all’s well with the world, smile, God loves you Christ. That’s the devil’s christ. Jesus has to exorcize this notion from Peter, and also from us too. There’s no getting between Jesus and His Good Friday appointment. If you try, as Peter did, you will find yourself on the side of Satan and not of God.

Peter deserved that rebuke, and so does the Church today when it tries to push a bloodless Gospel and calls it “good news.” I was talking with the elders yesterday morning about how all the Lenten hymns tend to be bloody, almost gory, at times. I don’t know why, but I seem hypersensitive to it this year, more than in the past. Perhaps I hear too much of the world’s commentary and criticism of what we as Christians believe. Two familiar examples:

Glory be to Jesus,
Who in bitter pains,
Poured for me the lifeblood,
From His sacred veins.”

Then, for all that wrought my pardon,
For they sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the Garden,
I will thank Thee evermore,
Thank Thee for they groaning, sighing,
For They bleeding and They dying,
For that last triumphant cry,
And shall praise thee, Lord on high.

The world listens on and thinks, “That’s sick, gross, macabre. What kind of religion is this that extols a bloody cross, that worships a guy who was crucified, that sings hymns to His blood? What kind of “spirituality” is that, that makes me feel bad about myself and that glories in the suffering of another? That’s what they’re asking on the streets, you know. And maybe some of you are asking the same thing.

I wonder to myself at times during Lent at preschool chapel. Do we want to teach our kids this stuff? Do we want to expose them to this bloody reality, to this R-rated passion of the Christ? Shouldn’t we shield them from this reality of who Jesus is? Or is it our discomfort coming through? Is this Peter speaking in us? Is this the devil talking? Are we in fact projecting the discomfort of our own rationalisms on our children and hiding from them from the sublime glory of the cross that saves sinners.

Jesus called the crowd in close with His disciples to let them in on the little secret. The cross is theirs too. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it; if you lose it for Jesus’ sake, you save it for eternity. What profit is there if you gain the whole world and forfeit your life? The cross marks the disciple too. If we’re ashamed of Jesus and His cross now in our own sinful and adulterous generation, we will be nothing but an embarrassment to Him on the day of His glory.

The real shame needs to be our sin, what drove Jesus to Calvary to save us. Not the cross of Jesus. That is Jesus’ glory as it appears in this world, and it is the glory of all who are baptized into the death of Jesus. Ashamed of Jesus? No! That’s your Savior. Embarrassed of His cross? No! That’s your salvation.

I’m reminded of a hymn of my childhood by Joseph Grigg:

Jesus, and shall it ever be,

A mortal man, ashamed of Thee?

Ashamed of Thee, whom angels praise,

Whose glories shine through endless days?

Ashamed of Jesus! sooner far

Let evening blush to own a star!

He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.

Ashamed of Jesus? Just as soon

Let midnight be ashamed of noon.

“Tis midnight with my soul till He,

Bright Morning Star, bids darkness flee.

Ashamed of Jesus! that dear Friend

On Whom my hopes of Heav’n depend?

No; when I blush, be this my shame,

That I no more revere His Name.

Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may

When I’ve no guilt to wash away;

No tear to wipe, no good to crave,

No fears to quell, no soul to save.

Till then – nor is my boasting vain!

Till then I boast a Savior slain;

And O may this my glory be,

That Christ is not ashamed of me!

(The Lutheran Hymnal #346)

In the name of Jesus,






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