Mark 8:27-38 (ESV)
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"  And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets."  And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."  And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.  And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."  And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
“No Christ No Cross, No Cross No Christ”
Grace to you and peace from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. What is worse to get a ticket for drunk driving or to have your name in the local newspaper so everyone knows what you did? Most do not take very kindly to public exposure. Even if, it is something evidently wrong no one likes to become the news, but would rather talk about it as a critic. Popularity is very important to Americans. As the saying goes, “Image is everything.” Children learn about it when first going to school being put in the public eye of others. Our country watches for it noting how the nations of the world view our actions. Some even go so far as to suffer needless pain or poverty for the sole purpose of showing no need to anyone. Shame is for somebody out there, but it is never for someone like me.
Upon entering the populated and prestigious region of Caesarea Philippi, Peter made quite the confession of Jesus. He did not seem to hesitate when asked the question “Who do you say that I am?” Surely, Peter’s bold response “You are the Christ” stood out in the context of this Romanized territory. The Jews came to imagine the Messiah would restore the glory taken away from the nation of Israel. Peter’s words were true and received praise from Jesus. Still, it was the farthest from the truth for they all had to accept how that would be perfectly revealed by the cross. Peter already knew the detailed aspects of the device used by the Romans for gloriously punishing the wicked, nothing unusual there. Instead, what he heard was embarrassing because it came from his savior and Lord. Peter learned, as do we all, there is no shame bearing with Jesus’ Words for He will not shame us by His cross.
The Words of the Gospel are open enough for any sinner. It is when Jesus “began to teach” that Peter took notice of what He said. Everything else about morality, miracles and the man were useful for living in the world. However, the words “suffer, rejected and killed” stood out in Peter’s ears more than the promise of “rise again.” The text tells us Jesus “said this plainly.” In other words, there was no hidden meaning to decipherer or different way to interpret it. Peter’s only way out was to take matters into his own sinful hands. At that moment, his confession of “You are the Christ” turned upside down to place himself as Lord of his Lord. Jesus had already fought off the devil in the wilderness, but now the evil foe sprung up in the face of a friend He loved. It was for the salvation of Peter and all the others present that the savior said, “Get behind me, Satan!” What was shameful to hear was the redeeming grace Christ needed to say. He would not deny His Words so sinners could deny themselves.
Lent naturally draws people to Jesus’ suffering and death. Being exposed to what physically occurred at the cross is important to understand. However, agreeing with how and why Jesus died as he did is not the same as hearing His Words. The openness of the Gospel personally comes into our life and is what we still experience today. It is the living Christ risen from the dead challenging us by His Word. The shame is not over the crucifixion, even the Devil recognizes that, but it is in what we hear preached and taught concerning the sacrifice of God’s Son. Only the openness of the Gospel exposes the sinners need for this savior. Of course, it means taking the Word for what it says and not trying to pull it aside to do with it as we please. Too long has the voice of Christ been used for acceptance and not simply repentance and faith in Him. The savior will not stand to be anything less then the one who dies for the sins of the World. Hear the words, “Get behind me Satan” personally, for they direct the baptized to deny ourselves. What we think is shameful is actually God’s Way of saving by the promise made in His Son who does not shame us by His cross.
Jesus’ Word cuts into our life. It is a cross individually carried. Peter had to deal with the fact that the Lord He loved was going to lose His life. Oh, he later tried to go back to making things happen differently. Hoping to discover the betrayer at the last supper or cutting off the soldiers’ ear in the garden. Peter’s cross was having nothing to gain or give, but to live without shame in watching the Word do what Jesus said he would do, be the savior. This humiliating Gospel hidden under the cross came for him on Easter morning. It spoke a life in Jesus that would never be lost again. St. Paul describes it well, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.” Carrying Jesus’ Word is shameful to the world, but He leaves no one in shame for His Gospel promises to save even the greatest sinners.
There is a huge distinction between bearing with life and bearing with the Word of life. All suffer in the world from sin, death, and the devil feeling shortchanged of fulfillment or robbed of some kind of glory. This is not the cross Jesus gives, but the self-made desires for this world. Only the Gospel fashions a cross that is fit for saving the sinner because it drives all to repentance and faith in Christ alone. What we gain or give has no value compared to the blessed gift of having Jesus’ Word. He brings shame to the standards of the world, but that is only because He came to save it by His shameful suffering and death. Without the Gospel confronting the life we think we have made. Who will ever know the cross to carry to Jesus and see how He has redeemed us from it by His perfect sacrifice? The Word is hard to carry because it causes our death, but it brings Jesus’ life promising none will be put to shame. He stands up to speak forgiveness for those who have fallen, restores our hope to be in Him and remains to keep His victorious body and blood hidden under the bread and wine of the sacrament. Jesus is unashamed to give what He says to sinners because He has gained it all for us out of love for His cross.
How important is this Word of God to be seriously taken for it calls out our salvation. Luther would never surrender to silence or compromise for the Gospel has no shame in giving the savior. He states,
“After all, the doctrine on account of which such tumults and offenses are being stirred up is not ours; it is Christ’s. We cannot deny the doctrine or forsake its defense. Jesus clearly said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Therefore anyone who wants to proclaim Christ and to confess that He is our righteousness will immediately be forced to hear that he is a ‘pestilent fellow.” (Pulpit Resource Vol. 19 part b 7).
The Gospel certainly felt strange to hear as Peter and the disciples stood in the glory of Caesarea Philippi. The same can be said when Luther faced the glory of the Holy Roman Empire or for us caught in a world that wants to glory in its self-made image trying to hold on to what it has. Christ will never be ashamed of being our savior for His suffering and death was a public spectacle. Yet, we can hide Him and His Word selfishly thinking to have the best of both worlds. This is impossible; Jesus lost His life to the World in order to save it. We died in baptism to live this the Word for Christ lives as the Word that lets no one die in Him. Amen. Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be with your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life eternal, Amen.