Pentecost 17b

Preached: August 30, 2015

Who Is Jesus Christ?
Mark 8:27-35

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus and his cross is Mark 7.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:27-35 NIV84)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Follow me and your life will be good. I have the power to give you health and wealth, happiness and success. Whatever is important and valuable to you, I can get it for you. Just follow me.”

“Follow me and you will face trouble and ridicule. Others will hate you. You will lose what now seems so dear and valuable to you. So follow me.”

One of these is the promise of Jesus; the other, the promise of Satan. And as you listened to the text, which one is which is very clear. Jesus promises his followers the cross. He promises that only those who let go of what is most dear to them, even life itself, will end up saved. He is the Cross-sender.

But this makes sense only if we first see that he is the Cross-bearer.

Who is Jesus Christ? You’ll find many different answers in the world around us. But our answer, the Bible’s answer, is this: He is the Cross-bearer and he is the Cross-sender.

A. He is the Cross-bearer

“Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29 NIV84), Jesus asked the disciples. What a marvelous answer Peter gave: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29 NIV84)! Yes, indeed! This man standing before them, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, born in Bethlehem—this man is truly none other than the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He is the Son of the living God, who came from the Father. He is the anointed King, promised of old. The Father had revealed this to the disciples through the words and works of the Son. He had sent the Holy Spirit to open up their eyes to see and their hearts to believe. Jesus was their long-expected Savior, the Hope of Israel.

Yet Peter did not yet understand that the eternal, almighty Son of God came to be the Cross-bearer. Wouldn’t the Son of God usher in his kingdom with glory, majesty, and splendor? Wouldn’t the leaders of Israel eventually hail him as the Christ and welcome him as king? Oh, it might be a difficult path in getting there. It hadn’t been easy so far. But the glory had to be coming sooner rather than later, right?

But Peter’s thinking was wrapped up in an earthly mindset. His thoughts and attitude were shaped by the things of men, not the things of God. So when Jesus not only talked about suffering but also death, when he talked about rejection by the leaders rather than eventual acceptance, that didn’t make any sense to Peter. He did not see Jesus as the Cross-bearer.

“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says to Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33 NIV84). Do you see how the mindset that thinks that following Jesus brings health and wealth, happiness and success, is not just an alternate opinion. It’s Satan’s lie. Jesus did not mince any words when Peter tried to persuade him away from the cross. “Get behind me, Satan.”

Standing on the other side of Christ’s cross, you, dear Christian, can see more clearly than Peter did. You see why Jesus Christ had to bear the cross. That was the Lord’s saving plan from all eternity. That’s why the Father sent his Son into this world. That’s why the Son became flesh and blood, our Substitute. That’s the only ransom that pays for our sin. That’s the only sacrifice that reconciles us to God. Only Christ’s cross. Only his suffering and death in our place. Only his holy, precious blood shed to redeem sinners. Only Jesus and his cross. He, and he alone, is the Cross-bearer who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus spoke of his death, but he also spoke of his resurrection on the third day. That proves that his cross pays the redemption price in full. That proves that his cross freely reconciles us to God. That proves the Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Cross-bearer who takes away the sin of the world, the Cross-bearer we, sinners, desperately needed. So there is glory, majesty, and splendor in his resurrection, but that glory is hidden from all who cannot see the necessity of Christ’s cross. That glory is rejected by the world, because they reject a cross-bearing Savior.

Dear fellow sinners, do not be ashamed of the foolishness of the cross. How great our sin that cost God’s Son his life! How great Christ’s love that willingly gave himself up for us all! Find your joy and salvation in the cross of Christ. He bore the cross of your sin in your place to take your sins away from you as far as the east is from the west. He is the Cross-bearer.

B. He is the Cross-sender

But Jesus had something more to say to Peter and to you and me. Not only would he bear the cross, but there was a cross for Peter to bear and for you and me and all who follow Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV84). Yes, Jesus is not only the Cross-bearer, but he also the Cross-sender.

And this is where we still struggle, isn’t it, dear Christian friends? We can see why Jesus had to bear the cross, but why do you and me have our own individual crosses to bear as well? Why does he send us our own cross?

First of all, be clear, be very clear on this: Our crosses in no way save us. Only Christ’s cross saves. Only his cross pays for sin. Only his cross reconciles us to God—not our crosses in any way at all. Only Christ’s cross.

Now our crosses follow after Christ’s cross as a necessary consequent. In fact, because Christ’s cross saves us, we truly want take up our cross and follow him. Yes, we want Christ to send us our cross.

Does that cause mix feelings in you? It does in me. There’s a large part of me that shrinks from the thought of carrying a cross, a part of me that wants to lay it down, a part that wants to complain its too heavy, that I can get by fine without it or at least with a lighter one. But that part of me that doesn’t want a cross proves how much I need a cross. For you see, that part of me that doesn’t want to carry a cross really doesn’t want to follow Jesus, no matter how much it might say it does.

You and I, dear Christian, are in constant training as cross-bearers. We are not ready to be cross-free until we’re in heaven. We are not only in training to carry our crosses but to actually cherish the crosses that Jesus sends us, to cherish our crosses as dear gifts given to us by our loving Savior, who bore the cross of sin and death for us.

For you see, our crosses draw us to Jesus and his cross. Our crosses expose how weak and futile our own strength is so that we rely on Jesus and him alone. Our crosses lead us to continually pray, “Lord, have mercy on me. Look on me in my pitiful weakness and rescue me.” Our crosses lead us to remember our Baptism and say to ourselves, “Even though I feel so helpless, I am God’s child, baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He will take care of me.” Our crosses lead to come to the Lord’s table often, for there is no greater way that our Lord communicates his love and forgiveness to us than in the Lord’s Supper, his last will and testament. Our crosses lead us to dig ever deeper into God’s Word, to treasure it in our hearts, to meditate on it, drawing our strength and hope from his promises.

No wonder the Apostle Paul in Romans 5 could say that we rejoice in suffering. Our crosses train us to persevere by relying on the Lord’s promises, tempering us like steal through the fire of adversity. Why wouldn’t we cherish our cross and sing with Martin Luther, “Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife. Let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth” (“Almighty Fortress is Our God”)?

So Jesus words here are not a burdensome order. He isn’t saying, “You better take up your cross or else I’ll have to get stern with you.” Not at all. These words state the fact that those who follow Jesus carry a cross. But much more than only stating that fact. These words invite us and fan that new desire within us to take up our cross. With Jesus words sounding in your ears, say to yourself, “Look at what my Savior has done for me! I certainly don’t want to stray from him. I want to gladly take up my cross since it will keep me close to him. And even if I lose everything because I’m following Jesus, that’s no lose at all. For in Christ and in his cross I have eternal life.” Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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