The Second Sunday in Lent
March 7-8, 2009
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the most important skills for a pilot in war time is enemy identification. Pilots would spend hours memorizing the shape and appearance of enemy aircraft and ships. My father, as a student during World War II, had to memorize the silhouette books of enemy aircraft, just as part of his civil defense training. Often times, such identification was about remembering little details. An American aircraft might look just like an enemy aircraft, except for the shape of the tail or tip of the wing, or some such thing. What would happen if a pilot couldn’t correctly identify the enemy? He might shoot at the his own aircraft or ships or he might not shoot at the enemy. Both are equally problematic.
Identifying friend and foe are equally important in matters of religion. Many people turned away from Christ. They said He was a devil or possessed of a devil. Many were offended by the fact that He poked fun at the Pharisees. Yet, when Christ confronted the disciples how did they answer? They pointed to those believed that He was indeed from God. Christ pressed them and Peter, answering for the twelve stated that He was the Christ, God’s anointed One. By this Peter was saying that Jesus was the One promised in the Old Testament. But this does not mean that Peter understood the Old Testament. In fact we see this clearly, in the verses that follow. Christ speaks of His suffering. This was already laid out in Isaiah 52-53 where there is a long discourse on the suffering of the Christ. We might recall: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” But Peter, apparently didn’t make the connection. So when Christ speaks of how He will fulfill these words of Isaiah, Peter is offended. And we can safely assume that he was not alone in this. Peter objects to a suffering Christ. Christ tells him: Get behind Me Satan.
Many today have trouble with a suffering Christ. Atheist Richard Dawkins, calls the concept of God the Son being sent by God the Father to die for the sins of the world, divine child abuse. Even many within the Church have trouble with a suffering Christ. Why are there so many preachers of self righteousness? Because if we can earn own way into heaven, we don’t have to talk about a suffering Christ. You see, Christ’s suffering convicts us. If Christ had to suffer, then we must be sinners. The whole movement of popular evangelicalism and contemporary worship is all about not talking about sin, death and a suffering Christ. The Christ that they would make up is on one hand a new Moses, giving a new and greater law, which we must fulfill. On the other, He is spineless mush and doesn’t condemn anyone. The suffering Christ is anathema to them.
But what happens in our Baptism? Precisely what St. Paul says, we are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ. We are united to His suffering. Even though this is plainly taught by St. Paul in Romans 6, most American Christians miss this point and thus also reject it. The whole point of making Baptism about our obedience, as most American Christians do, is to avoid a suffering Jesus.
Why do some Christians object to the Crucifix? We might hear things like Christ is risen, He’s no longer on the cross. But that’s not the real reason. The real reason is that the crucifix confronts us with a suffering Christ, a Christ Who died for us. In this way the crucifix convicts us of our sins. For if we had not sinned, Christ wouldn’t have had to suffer death on the cross.
So how do we know we have the right Christ? We have correctly identified the right Christ, when we are looking upon the One who suffers and dies. It’s that simple. That’s our key to identifying Christ. When people come to you and show a Christ who isn’t first and foremost the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, they are showing you a false Christ. For the true Christ is One who suffers.
Today we have a continuation of the old Jewish heresy. The Jews believed in a messiah who would come and trash their enemies. It’s really the same messianic vision that the Muslim’s have today. But many Christians buy into this as well, with all this talk of Christ establishing a kingdom here on earth and the like. We see this laid out in things like the “Left Behind” books. But then Christ’s death would be a mistake - not the center of all time. Rather, what Scripture tells us is that Christ rules forever already. He has no need of an earthly kingdom. In fact the nations of this earth rise and fall at His speaking. There is no authority upon this earth apart from what Christ gives. Christ gives that authority to men to bless or to punish, as He sees fit in His eternal wisdom. So we might say, why would Christ give authority to Sadam Hussain? Christ often uses evil men to punish evil. Notice in turn how such men are themselves brought down. So if Christ establishes the earthly governments, then He already rules this earth and has no need to come back to rule. Rather, we know from scripture that Christ will return to call this world to it’s end.
When we get to heaven, how will we know Christ? He’ll be the glorious one, right? Well, everyone heaven will shine with glory. No, we will know Christ because He’s one with wounds. And for us who see Christ as the suffering One, those wounds are the most beautiful thing in all of heaven. Because we know that by those wounds, we are healed of sin and death.
It is crucial for us to be able to correctly identify Christ. Many people want a beautiful and glorious Christ. They want a king. They want someone to trash their enemies. Instead we have a Christ who confronts us with our own sins and makes us to look upon ourselves and examine our own hearts. This is the real Christ. The real Christ is about sin. He is about showing us that we need to repent of our sins. He is about suffering as payment for our sins. We see the true Christ in the crucifix. We see the true Christ in His suffering and death. And it is precisely Christ’s suffering and death that become ours in Baptism. So how do we know that we’ve identified the right Christ? By looking to His suffering, by seeing the wounds of Christ. Then you know that you have true Christ, the One truly sent by God the Father.