First Sunday in Lent, 2014 Matthew 16: 21-26
They thought they had it made, Jack and Jill, that is. They went up that hill to fetch a pail of water. Through some sort of mishap, maybe a spat and a tussle, Jack fell down and broke his crown. Jill came tumbling after.
Life is like that. Things are going along swimmingly, we couldn’t be happier. Like having a taste of heaven on earth. But a word is misspoken or misunderstood, and ill advised action is taken or the right one neglected. And in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, it all goes downhill. Animosity over events from 35 years ago, are turned into present day weapons of vile and spite. We are left to wonder, “What happened?” We usually think of Jack and Jill as brother and sister, but they could be husband and wife or neighbors, co-workers, members of our congregation.
What happened? We have it in the first lesson. “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate.’… The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”…God said, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That’s what happened; temptation, disobedience and death.
Today we encounter Peter who reached the pinnacle of his time following Jesus. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter stepped up and confessed, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus blessed him and told him that his answer came directly from “my Father who is in heaven.” Wow, to be so in tune with the mind of God that the very words one speaks are those of God. Jesus named him the “Rock.” He was Simon the Stone. The gates of hell will not prevail against a church built on the Rock of such a confession.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples what it meant to be the Messiah. God deemed it absolutely necessary that there be a suffering and death for the suffering and death brought into the world by disobedience. The Messiah, would battle the devil, that old evil foe, who tricked Adam and Eve, that in the manner of Humpty Dumpty they took a great fall and all the kings horses and men could not put Adam and Eve together again. Psalm 49 tells us, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and never can suffice, that he should live forever and never see the pit.” The enmity between Satan the Serpent and Eve’s descendant would result in that offspring bruising the head of the serpent while the Serpent bruised his heel. To accomplish that, Jesus the Messiah would endure many suffering which would deeply bruise him as the “Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all…stricken for the transgression of God’s own straying people.”
Matthew writes that Jesus showed his disciples. It would be revealed over time as they made their way to Jerusalem where he would be condemned to die by the Sanhedrin, the priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and the Scribes. To bring it into our day; the ones administering his execution would be the Supreme Court, the Synod and the Seminary, with the rest of us shouting, “Death, death to this fraud, this so called Christ. Send him to Potosi.”
But Jesus shows that suffering and death would not be the end, “And on the third day be raised.” During Lent the painting of his death hangs on the wall behind the altar. But in the background, against the back wall, is the painting of his resurrection. The illustration of his resurrection will once again take its place before our eyes on Easter.
But Peter didn’t hear anything about Jesus being raised from the dead. The lightning and thunder of Jesus prediction of suffering and death blinded and drowned out the resurrection. He grabs hold of Jesus, takes him aside and prays.”God is merciful to you. That can never happen.” And why not try to save his teacher, his friend, the one who called him to “Follow me”, and the one who changed his life. Wouldn’t you try to save Jesus rather than stand by and let him continue in his delusional suicidal course? Furthermore, Peter had a direct link to the Heavenly Father. He had correctly confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and Jesus had blessed him for it and called him “The Rock.”
To Peter, he Christ didn’t suffer and die. In the fashion of the avenger the Christ carried out God’s vengeance upon Israel’s enemies and those who were unfaithful among his own people. Didn’t John the Baptist say that in the manner of Paul Bunyan his ax was already cutting through the root every tree that was unfruitful. The Christ dealt out sufferings and death, not the other way round. He gave the evildoers their come uppance. Wouldn’t life be easier and more secure if Jesus eliminated the night time shooters, spousal abusers, children molesters, cockeyed congressman and bungling bureaucrats, con men without conscious, cyber bullies and internet bashers? If only the Lord brought us a little glory and success. Look at those churches we pass on the way home with their parking lots filled with cars? To paraphrase Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, if our pews were crowded and collection plate overflowed what could it hurt? After all Lutherans have the best theology of any denomination in the whole world. Help us Lord to get people to believe it and come. I can preach as well to 1,000 people as to 50.
But none of that has anything to do with being Jesus follower. “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 will find it.” Jesus doesn’t call us to covet full parking lots and overflowing treasury, or even to take pride in having the greatest theology in all Christendom. Rather he calls us to practice what we read in the gradual, “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfect of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” We cannot separate the glory of Jesus resurrection from the inglorious suffering and death of Jesus. That is the pattern for being a disciple. Disciples don’t lead Jesus in the way that we think God should go, but follow him in the way that God has chosen.
In Peter’s attempt to save Jesus he had gone from being in tune with God to being Satan’s mouthpiece. From the heights of being told that the gates of hell could not prevail; he fell to assisting the gates of hell. When Peter wanted to save Jesus from taking the hard road but the glory road, he became the Tempter. In Genesis, the Serpent successfully tempted Adam and Eve to not deprive themselves. The fruit looked so delicious and nutritious, why not gratify their desire? In Jesus temptation the devil tempted Jesus to take way, the way of success, fame and fortune. Why deprive yourself Jesus, turn these stones into something from St. Louis Bread Company. Jump off the temple roof, God has promised to take care of you. Think of the fame.
However, Peter who couldn’t have been more right when he confessed Jesus as Christ, couldn’t have been more wrong when he tempted Jesus to abandon God’s compulsion that Christ suffer and die. Jesus suddenly wheels around and says, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block in my way. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Over the door to the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is inscribed, “You are Rock.” Someone has observed it should also be written, “You are Satan.” Sometimes the church and sometimes you and I as members of the church are Rocks in behalf of Christ and sometimes we are stumbling stones in his way. That’s our history. But know that after his rebuke of Peter Jesus didn’t give up on him. A week later he took Peter up the Mt of Transfiguration. Peter’s life continued to go up and down. He contradicted Christ, he failed Christ, and he denied him. Yet Jesus continued to accept him, faltering disciple that he was. He continued to forgive him and love him. He continued to use Peter as a spokesman of his gospel. Will Jesus have any less patience for us? Let us continue to pray as we did earlier, “Guide the people of your church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come.” Let us do so, firmly in line behind Christ.