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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/13/2015

Was Jesus kind of testing the waters, trying to evaluate where things stood as he asked, “Who do people say that I am?” then “Who do you say that I am?” He’d been out there for awhile, he had done some impressive things and displayed wisdom beyond what people would have expected. He was attracting mostly enthusiastic crowds with just a few naysayers mixed in. So as he posed these questions, was he trying to get a read on how people were perceiving him? Was he wondering if they really understood?

That’s one possibility. He got a variety of responses; some said John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets and finally Peter’s response, “You are the Messiah.” Note that in Mark’s telling of this, Jesus doesn’t comment on any of the responses other than to say don’t tell anyone about me so if he was testing the waters, we don’t really know if he heard what he wanted to hear or not. We don’t know if he thought, “They’re getting there; they kind of understand; now they’re ready for some serious stuff,” or if it was more like, “They just don’t get it; it’s time to give them something that will shake them up a little bit so they do get it.”

Either way, Jesus then gave them some serious stuff; he laid it out there for them, talking about suffering, rejection and death. It’s safe to say that for all who heard him, whatever their perception of him was, they didn’t see that coming; it did shake them up. Peter then just became the spokesman for all of them as he rebuked Jesus for saying such awful things and he took the hit for all of them and all of us being the recipient of “Get behind me Satan.”

Another possibility with this text is that it represents Jesus’ greatest temptation. There are always questions about what did Jesus know and when did he know it concerning his identity and his mission. We can’t know the answer to that for sure of course, but I believe that we’re dealing with the humanity of Jesus at this point, dealing with an identity that was still evolving. In his humanity, he didn’t know everything, but at some level he must have known that he wasn’t supposed to just be riding a glory train, yet that’s pretty much what he’d been doing for awhile; lots of success, lots of applause with only a couple of bumps along the way.

Did Jesus sense though, that he was at some kind of a crossroads here, pardon the pun, where he could continue to ride the glory train, or he could get off and take the way of the cross? When he asked, “Who do people say that I am, who do you say that I am?” was he hesitating a little bit, considering his options, one of which was to be who everyone wanted him to be, the other to be who God wanted him to be?

In his humanity, the temptation to stay on a path to glory had to be there and that could be the source of his sharp rebuke of Peter. Jesus had to dig deep to find the strength to say no and to resist the temptation that was set before him. Peter took the hit of that rebuke, and I’m sure it was hard for him not to take it personally, but this was more about Jesus than it was about him.

There are different ways you can read this text, different questions you can ask of it, but however you read it, it really comes back to the questions Jesus asks: Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? How you answer does make a difference, and the answer probably changes throughout your life, but is there a right answer?

The church with its creeds and doctrines has provided good answers like what we say every week in the creed, but even then, while we all say the same words, probably no two of us would agree on exactly what the words mean. The creed is really an answer to “Who do people say that I am?” but Jesus could still come back at each of us and say, “That’s good; you learned the catechism, I’m impressed, but who do you say that I am?” From there I’m hoping that there is more than one right answer because I know we don’t all see Jesus the same way, but clearly there are also wrong, get behind me Satan answers.

One obvious get behind me Satan answer these days is to say to Jesus, “You’re a curse word, an expletive,” but sadly, for many that is the answer. Of more concern to us though, are the ways we get it wrong even when we get it right. Remember, Peter had what he and we thought was the right answer, “You are the Messiah;” but he wasn’t ready for the way Jesus began to unpack what that meant.

For Jesus, getting it wrong had to do with a cross-less version of who he was, it had to do with what we might call cross-less Christianity. It’s out there, despite Jesus’ rebuke of Peter; it’s out there and always has been, versions of Christianity where if you just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior your troubles will disappear and blessings will come your way. With that, Jesus becomes more like a good luck charm or a security blanket or a superhero ready to jump in and fix everything except sometimes your luck runs out, you find out you’re not as secure as you thought and everything doesn’t get fixed. Then what?

As Jesus posed his “Who do you say that I am” questions, whether he was testing the waters or resisting temptation, whatever the motivation, he knew it was time to accept the destiny laid out for him and to reveal to his followers that he wasn’t on a glory train. He introduced the way of the cross for himself and for those who followed him: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

Luther unpacked all this in what is called the theology of the cross. It is and always has been a difficult theology because in many ways it runs counter to the ways we like to think about God. Part of the prevailing wisdom had always been when things are going good that’s a sign of God’s blessing, if things aren’t going good that’s a sign of God’s displeasure, even abandonment. In going to the cross though, Jesus entered the darkest parts of life and by doing so he revealed a God who doesn’t abandon us at those moments, but one who walks with us, a God who walks with us into the valley of the shadow of death as the 23rd Psalm puts it.

What that describes is a God of this world, a world that can get pretty messy and broken, a world where bad things can and do happen, where luck runs out and security is threatened. It describes a God who doesn’t necessarily jump in and fix everything at that point, but one who enters into the world’s brokenness and is always working to transform it, working to bring about new life even out of the most broken of situations and it does happen.

For us then, taking up our cross doesn’t mean seeking out hardship but accepting that it is part of life but with that, trusting that it doesn’t represent God’s abandonment, but that the God of the cross is there, the God revealed in Jesus enters into our suffering and reveals his love in ways that might surprise us. The call to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow also means not being afraid to walk with others in their suffering, putting their needs ahead of our own. We don’t have to be martyrs, but we are called to model the compassion of Jesus. It brings us to face the same crossroad question Jesus faced, the question of whether or not we will be the person God’s wants us to be.

It’s a question we have to face and answer pretty much every day as we are faced with many temptations to be something else, tempted by our own “Get behind me Satan” answers to “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter was right; Jesus is the Messiah but he’s an unexpected Messiah who shows us the way of the cross and invites us to follow. It’s not what we expected any more than it’s what Peter expected, so each day we stand at the crossroads. Which way shall we go?

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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