In today’s Gospel we hear that absolutely vital question, that question that--if you will--determines heaven or hell, that question which is the great divide between religions and peoples, that question which determines what is most important in our lives: But who do you say that I am? That question daily confronts us; and how we answer it determines everything --from the here and now to our eternal destiny.
St. Peter answers for himself, for the twelve and for all Christians down through the ages: You are the Christ. To call Jesus the Christ is to confess Him to be the long awaited Savior; it is to confess Him as the prophet, priest and king that the OT had long been prophesying. St. Peter and all the 12--and all Christians--follow Jesus not because He is some sort of miracle worker or because of “what I can get out of Him'' but because He is the Christ, the Savior God promised in the OT beginning already to Adam and Eve after the first sin. This is faith; this is love!
After this beautiful confession, You are the Christ, what does Jesus start doing? And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Notice: this very One who is the Christ, the Son of the living God must suffer and die and He can because He is also true Man: the Son of Man. Here’s the heart of the Gospel: God became man to pay the price for the sins of man.
But what happens? And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him. Of course Peter loves Jesus and looks out for what he thinks are Jesus’ best interests. This talk of suffering and death does not fit into Peter’s image of Jesus: You are the Christ. Is it any wonder that Jesus had just told the 12 that even though they knew You are the Christ that they shouldn’t tell anyone about Him? --They themselves didn’t fully understand Jesus and His work as the Christ, as the Savior of the world!
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him. Here we see another attempt/ temptation of the devil to try to get Jesus off the path leading to the cross and the salvation of the world. Here the devil used St. Peter and the 12 as his unwitting tools. But what do we see? Jesus sees right through the temptation that appeared under the guise of the well-intentioned disciple. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter and the rest were putting themselves over God and His will and way. They thought they knew best but they were looking at it only humanly--looking at power and honor as good, not realizing God’s way to glory, God’s path to divine goods goes through suffering and the cross. They were doing what we ourselves today still do, dear Christian: judge God and His ways according to our human standards. That’s when we doubt and question God and find Him a stumbling block. We, too, fellow sinner need to hear Jesus’ corrective: For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.
And now we come to the next section of the Gospel and this is the section we will spend a few moments this morning meditating upon as we look at it in light of today’s OT reading: And when [Jesus] had called the people to Him, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Now Jesus begins to look ahead to His Passion/ His suffering and death and He wants to prepare the people, and especially His disciples, for it. Notice how Jesus tenderly invites us--He doesn’t force us-- to follow Him: Whoever desires to come after Me. Jesus’ gracious invitation works faith in us in Him so that we do want to follow Jesus, so that we do want to be His dear Christian. But, we dare never think being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus will be easy. In fact, being a follower of Jesus means that it is not all about me; my life is not about me--the center and focus of our lives as Christians is Jesus; and out of love for Him we are prepared to sacrifice. Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. We sacrifice as we follow Jesus; in love for Him we follow/ imitate Him/ doing His will, striving to do His will and what He does-- even when it is opposite of what we, according to our own sinful/ selfish nature want.
Hear again Jesus’ words Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me and then picture that scene--and it is certainly a horrifying image no first century hearer of Jesus would miss: Jesus carrying His cross to the place of execution followed by all His Christians also carrying their own cross to the place of execution. That’s what our lives as Christians are--following Jesus, yes, to death/ denying ourselves and our sinful ways and desires; but then also following Him into life, because we are united to Jesus by faith and by baptism, which unites us with Him in His resurrection. Another way of saying this is: so with the Master, so also with the servant.
Our text gives us the full picture of what it meant for Jesus when He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed… Jesus knew exactly what was before Him. In fact, our OT text is part of a song spoken by the Son of God Himself recorded by the holy prophet Isaiah from about 800 years before He, the God-Man, came. And what does the Son of God, the pre-incarnate Christ, say? The LOrd God opened My ear, and I Myself was not rebellious. I did not turn back. This is Jesus’ perfect obedience. The ear opened--to listen to and to obey God. And notice: the LOrd God opened My ear. God Himself has equipped His Son for the task of being the Savior of the world. Jesus was prepared for His saving work by knowing the divine will and doing it. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, we can never doubt our salvation. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to His Father’s will, we can build the hope of our salvation on it. Here is Jesus’ sinlessness. Never once did Jesus sin--because why? The LOrd God opened My ear, and I Myself was not rebellious. Jesus kept God's holy Law for us perfectly. That’s why He came; that’s what God prepared Him for! This is vital because without Jesus’ perfect obedience we’d have no hope of heaven. A holy God cannot just wink at or dismiss our sin; His holy Law has to be obeyed--and since we don’t/ can’t, Jesus came to this earth and obeyed God’s holy Law. God’s holy and righteous demands have been kept--by Jesus--for us. Through faith in Jesus His perfect holiness is ours and heaven is opened to us.
What was Jesus’/ the God-man’s attitude all during His earthly ministry? Because He cheerfully and willingly listened to His heavenly Father: I Myself was not rebellious. Even though Jesus was trembling and in agony, even though His soul was sorrowful to death, never was there an impulse in His soul to resist. That’s why He could suffer and endure all He did during His earthly ministry--especially at His Passion. That’s why our salvation is sure: Jesus obeyed. I did not turn back.
So with the Master, so also with the servant. We, too, are called to obedience, to serve the will of the Lord, not our own sinful desires. We too are called to a life of knowing and obeying God’s will. We are called to a life of holiness. God has equipped us; He has given us the Holy Spirit who leads and empowers us into a life of faith and good works. The new self/ the Christian in us wants to do the Lord’s will; but we still have in us our old sinful nature that leads us into sin. We now have the desire to do good but we still have our old sinful nature and so we cannot say: I myself was not rebellious. Only Jesus can say that and He came and did it and said that for us. He was obedient where we are rebellious. He is our salvation because He was obedient; now in love of Him for His obedience we strive in our obedience/ holiness. So with the Master, so also with the servant.
Our text: I submitted My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard. I did not hide My face from disgrace and from spit. Here is Jesus’ divine humility. Jesus, the very God, the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity endured this for us and our salvation. Remember what He said in today’s Gospel: the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed… In His humility Jesus suffered and endured all this for us sinners and our salvation; He came in full knowledge of what would happen, and, in fact, came to this world precisely for that reason. On top of that, Jesus gave His back to be whipped and His face to be disgraced and spit upon; He was in full control of the situation, not some hapless victim. These details of Jesus’ humility show He willingly submitted that perfect obedience for only the One without sin could undergo such shame and suffering without a rebellious spirit--and Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to stop it. But He didn’t. In His humility, He endured the contempt and indignities for us and our salvation.
And here too: So with the Master, so also with the servant. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus, our lives too, will be marked by humility as we, too, endure contempt and indignities for our faith and Savior. This is in sharp contrast to and conflict with our sinful pride. Our pride wants us front and center; it wants all to revolve us; it wants nothing to do with insult and disgrace. But as we follow Christ, that’s what we will have to expect. Christ, His word, His Church are all an affront to the world around us. It hates Christ because it doesn’t think it needs a Savior; it hates His word because even though it promises forgiveness of sin and eternal life, it calls to repentance, it maintains that there are absolute standards of right and wrong; it hates His Church because here is where Christ and His word are proclaimed, offered and believed. Dear Christian, whenever our face is toward the world in witness--it will, like Jesus’, be spit upon and polluted by endless disgraces. Although we sinners won’t do it perfectly, where we stand and live out our faith, our pride is pushed aside and we will humbly endure indignities.
And yet, what does Jesus say in our text? The LOrd God will help Me, so I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have made My face hard like flint. I know I will not be put to shame. In the midst of and even in anticipation of severe sufferings, Jesus was certain of the Father’s help so He would not drown in misery and shame but be victorious. He endured all reproaches with constant patience; He met all mockery with the conquering power of His unflinching will; obedience to the Father’s will is first. Jesus could face all suffering, trial, disgrace with the absolute assurance of God’s help, assurance of victory and vindication. That’s why Jesus talking of His suffering and death could also say: and after three days rise again. That’s His vindication. The one who will acquit Me is near. Who can accuse Me? Let us take our stand. Who can pass judgment on Me? Let him approach Me. Look, the Lord God will help Me. Who then can declare Me guilty? He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
So with the Master, so also with the servant. As we live out our lives as Christians, striving to do the Lord’s will, in humility enduring shame and disgrace because of our confession of Christ, we are also assured of our Lord’s help and our vindication just as we are united to Jesus through baptism and faith in His sufferings, so also are we united with Him in His resurrection vindication. The LOrd God will help Me, so I will not be disgraced. With determination we strive to live out our lives as Christians, daily denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus. It will not be easy but also here: So with the Master, so also with the servant --in obedience, humility and assurance of victory. The Lord God will help me. INJ