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"Our Contradictions and God's Grace"

Mark 8:27-38

Rev. Alan Taylor

Lent 2, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

"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."

Of all the disciples Peter is the impetuous one.  Consequently, he often comes across as terribly inconsistent, a bit of an anomaly, if you will.  On the one hand, even though all the other disciples would eventually abandon Jesus, he confesses that he would never do such a thing.  "Even if I must die with you (he said), I will never deny you." On the other hand, when given an opportunity to make good on his promise, he cowers and denies that he is one of Jesus' disciples, or, that he even knew Him, for that matter.  Even though Peter had so boldly confessed his faith in the Christ it didn't come as any surprise to Jesus that he would later deny Him. 

Here, in the portion of Mark's gospel before us this morning, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the word Christ being the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Word Messiah.  In other words, in identifying Jesus as the Christ, Peter confesses that He is the fulfillment of everything God promised His people in the Old Testament.  But a short time later, even within the same context of Peter's bold confession, he tries to prevent Jesus from carrying out His Messianic role.

Jesus often admonished Peter for his actions not being in line with his confession of faith.  When Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the High-Priest, that admonition came by way of a rooster crowing.  The sound was one that Peter had heard many times before.  This time, however, the rooster crowed with an accusing tone.  What Jesus had earlier said of Peter came to pass.  When push came to shove, when Peter was threatened, when his life was on the line, he denied his allegiance to Jesus. 

Finally, here, in the context of Peter trying to prevent Jesus from being arrested and crucified, Jesus admonishes His disciple again, this time in the most piercing manner.  "Get behind Me, Satan!  For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men!"

Peter, of course, isn't the only character in the Scriptures who demonstrates such a troublesome inconsistency between his confession and his actions.  After-all, it was the Apostle Paul who lamented the very same inconsistency in his own life.  "The good that I would do (he said) I don't do, but, the very evil that I hate, this is what I do."  Because his actions didn't match his faith, Paul could only conclude that he was a "wretched man," and that someone other than himself would have to set him free from "his body of death." 

As you well know, Biblical characters aren't the only ones who demonstrate inconsistency in living what they believe and confess concerning Jesus.  Some, looking in from the outside, accuse all of us Christians of being hypocritical.  Many of them use it as a feeble excuse to stay away from church on Sunday morning.  Still, their assessment isn't all together wrong.  After-all, you and I, just like Peter and Paul and all of the other characters in the Bible, often do things that don't really agree with our confession.  Whether it's our words, or our actions, or our thoughts, or our lack of good intent, we often do not live as we believe! 

James, the apostle who became very prominent in the earliest days of the church in Jerusalem, who had already seen such inconsistency in the lives of the saints, identified the tongue, one of the smallest parts of our bodies to be a chief offender.  "Every kind of beast and bird (he says), of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so."

It was, of course, with his tongue that Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ of God, and then, with the same tongue he denied even knowing Him.  Translating Peter's failure into our own situations, I suspect that these are the kind of sins that often keep us worried about our faith and the way in which our faith is manifested in our lives.  Consequently, in many ways, we actually concur with those who look at the church from the outside.  When compared to our confession of faith, our actions are often hypocritical.  It seems that we should be able to live what we believe more fully, that we should be able, by God's grace, to live a more Godly, a more holy life and to leave more of our old nature behind us.  In fact, we find it downright frustrating to be less than what we want to be, or, more to the point, to be less than what calls us to be. 

Even as Jesus admonished Peter, so He admonishes us this morning.  Beware of putting the ways of men before the ways of God!  It is the classic battle, isn't it!?  God gives us His word, His promises, even His Son, and we are inclined to believe that we should have a better word, a better promise, perhaps even a better sacrifice. 

Thankfully, we are also encouraged this morning by Peter's story.  God is able to take all of the inconsistencies between what we believe and how we live and drown them in the water of our baptisms.  In doing so, He forgives us when we expect only condemnation and wrath.  He even restores us and sets us up in His kingdom as priests and kings, indeed, as heirs of the incredible blessings that only He can give us. 

God will save us from ourselves as we struggle to put our lives into conformity with our faith.  Though it won't fully happen, this side of heaven, His grace and forgiveness will give us the faith to believe that we won't be driven away from Him by the weakness of our flesh.  In fact, in a mysterious sort of way, it is our sins and the daily reminder of those sins that keep us coming back, time and again, to our Lord, to His Word and His Supper that we might know the consolation of His forgiveness and grace.  This body and this blood have been "given and shed for you."  Yes, God gave His Son "for you!"

Years ago Martin Luther had a good friend who was dying.  Luther had been called to his bedside but he was unable to comply with the request.  His friend, George Spalatin, a Friar of the Augustinian order, was suffering terrible pangs of conscience.  He wondered, in death, whether or not God would smile upon him. 

Luther sat down and wrote a letter to his friend, encouraging him to look only to God's grace in the crisis of conscience that he was experiencing.  He wrote,

"Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ.  For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God, which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ.

Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin.  You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours.  You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not."

Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one, for Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners...Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works.  Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours."  So it was for Peter and Paul and for George Spalatin.  So it is for you!  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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