Lent 2 – March 12th 2006
“The Things of God”
I. Introduction –
We all have our good days and bad days. Some days everything seems to go right, to fall into place. But some days, we are just not on top of our game. Those are the days you wish you had just stayed in bed. St. Peter too had his ups and downs too, it seems.
Here in Mark 8 Peter had just made his great confession that Jesus was “The Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And as Jesus commends him for his excellent answer, he also explains that this was revealed to him by God in heaven.
But Peter’s bright shining moment doesn’t last. For now when Jesus begins talking about suffering and dying, Peter rebukes him. But Jesus rebukes Peter harshly, “Get behind me Satan!”
What’s going on here? Why is Peter rebuked so harshly, and how can we avoid the same? What does Jesus mean when he speaks of the things of God and the things of men? And what does it all have to do with me? Let’s take a closer look this morning.
II. The Things of Men
What was Peter thinking? He was thinking the things of men.
On the table for discussion was Jesus’ plan for the future, which he now spoke about plainly. No parables or riddles here – “Hey guys, I am going to suffer and die and rise from the dead”. There it is. He lays it out.
But something about this rubbed them the wrong way. Peter, (Mr. initiative), takes it upon himself to talk some sense into Jesus. For surely, suffering and dying don’t make much sense. Let alone this rising from the dead business.
I wonder what he said. Maybe, “Jesus, look, you are scaring people with all this talk. You don’t have to die. We’ll just avoid the authorities. Maybe if you toned down some of the rhetoric a little. Look. You’re of more use to us alive than dead anyway. You have so much to teach us…” And I wonder how long it took for Jesus to turn his back on Peter and answer, “Get behind me Satan! You have in mind the things of men, not the things of God.”
Have you ever tried to talk some sense into God? Have you ever thought that your way was better than God’s? “Look here, Lord. You’re making this too hard on me. If you would just answer my prayer now, then I could trust you even more. Why do I have to suffer this way? Can’t you give me what I want? I don’t deserve this. Look at all that I’ve done for you. Isn’t there another way?”
But Jesus rightly says that such thoughts are of the devil. They are not of God. For Peter tempted Jesus with the same material the Devil used on Jesus in the wilderness. “Take the easy way out Jesus” “Don’t make it too hard on yourself”. “You don’t have to starve – just turn some stones to bread”. “You don’t have to die, just float down from the temple’s peak and they will all believe you.”
And when we have in mind the things of men, we too fall for the same temptation. Looking for, sometimes taking the easy way out. “I know God wants me to tell the truth, but a little lie here would be so expedient.” “Sure we’re supposed to give back from what we have been given – but the more I keep for myself the easier it is to pay the credit card bill.” So many ways to let my way, the easy way, win out over God’s way. Wide is the road that leads to destruction.
There’s a popular commercial on TV these days, which imagines what life would be like with an “Easy Button”. Just press it, and your problems are solved. It appeals to us, doesn’t it? The things of men. Always the easy solution to the problem.
It is this form of sin that Jesus so harshly rebukes. A subtle form, but no less satanic than any other sin. Anything that takes us and our minds from the things of God is of the devil. The temptation to turn to ourselves for answers, instead of looking to Christ. The things of men, instead of the things of God.
III. The Things of God
What then, are the things of God? They are what Jesus was just talking about – the suffering and dying and rising. All that he would endure and accomplish for us. In other words, the Gospel. Christ crucified for sinners. Jesus’ blood shed for you and me. These are the things of God – the things of Jesus. They are the main thing – the only thing.
The things of God, it seems, are always a surprise to us who think the things of men. His wisdom beyond our own. His plan so much better than ours.
The things of God are different than the things of men. For where man would take the easy way, Jesus took the hard way. He did not turn away from suffering, but endured it. He did not shun death, but submitted to it. Even while being crucified, his adversaries mocked him and tempted him to end his suffering, to come down from the cross. To “hit the easy button.” But Jesus does no such thing. Shame and pain, suffering and sorrow, nothing would keep him from accomplishing salvation for us.
This is the Gospel – that Jesus accomplished our salvation not in power, but in weakness. Not in apparent glory, but in shameful suffering. He endures the full measure of God’s wrath and finally, when “it is finished”, commits his spirit to the hands of the Father.
Not even death itself could deter him. For where man cannot save himself from death, Jesus Christ is Lord of life - and death has no power over him – and so he rises from the grave. Always connected to Good Friday is Easter Sunday – always after the suffering and death, there is life. Not only for Jesus, but for us too.
And the things of God – the cross and the empty tomb – are the only antidote to the things of man. For only Jesus – crucified and risen – provides forgiveness for our constant taking of the easy way. Only he frees us from the satanic thoughts and actions and words – and the devil’s claim on us. Jesus does for us what is so difficult- yes even impossible. But “with God, all things are possible”.
IV. The Meaning of Suffering
Whoever thought the Christian life was free of suffering, thought wrong.
Granted, suffering, for the Christian is NOT what saves us. Christ alone, by his suffering and death has done that already. His cross goes first, we take our crosses and follow. Yet a certain amount of suffering seems to come with the territory. That’s what these hard words of Jesus say.
What makes it even harder is that this is the same Jesus who also says, “Take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. So which is it? What does Jesus mean by all this?
In one sense, it is easy. There is no hard work needed on our part. Jesus has done all that. The burden of our sin he bore up the hill to Calvary. And there he made our yoke eternally “easy”.
And yet, the life of a disciple is not a “walk in the park”. It involves suffering. It means “taking up your own cross”. It means “losing your life”. It is not the easy way. But the promise of Jesus is that in him and his gospel, our lives are saved – despite the suffering.
Christ’s suffering saves us from eternal suffering, and gives meaning and purpose to our present sufferings. Paul says “rejoice in… sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”
The cross, shameful suffering that it is, brings hope. It brings hope to all of us who suffer our own crosses. A sure and certain hope that no matter what are sufferings are now, they are temporary. God has better things planned for us, even if we don’t see them in this life.
Martin Luther once said it well…
If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: "O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!Christ doesn’t call us to follow the easy way, he calls us to follow him. And his way is a way of suffering. But it is the only way that leads to the glory of Easter, and life from the dead.
He doesn't promises easy. He does promise life. The things of God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
V. Conclusion Christ speaks plainly about his cross and resurrection, but Peter couldn’t swallow it. May we set our minds on the things of God, and persevere in suffering for the sake of Christ. Amen.