The Crossroads

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:40 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here in Mark 8 is the crossroads of the entire gospel. Here is the place where two different and distinct roads meet, roads that go in two different directions. How does the one road go? Here it starts with what Jesus asks His disciples: who do people say that I am? People say John the Baptist; other people say Elijah; and others say one of the prophets. People think, people say, people have figured out that this is who Jesus must be. This road goes on through Peter’s rebuke of Jesus. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. Why? Because the road Jesus describes is not the road Peter thought they were on. It’s not the road Peter thinks that Jesus, the Christ, should be walking.

We don’t even think it’s strange when Jesus says that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be rejected, to suffer, to die, to rise from the dead. But we’re on this side of it, the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Peter and the disciples hadn’t seen any of that yet. And, frankly, they could be excused for thinking they were following Jesus on a different kind of road than the one He describes here.

What have they seen so far? They’ve seen Jesus exercise His divine power. They’ve seen Him begin to put an end to the power of sin and death, and to undo the works of the devil. They’ve seen Him heal many people, including Peter’s own mother-in-law. They’ve seen Him cast out numerous demons. They’ve seen Him cleanse lepers. They’ve even seen Him raise the dead. And so they could be forgiven for thinking that they’re just going to continue down that same road, with ever-increasing glory. It would make sense, wouldn’t it, for that road to go on until Jesus establishes His kingdom, probably in Jerusalem, throws out everyone opposed to His kingdom, and reigns from there with power and glory.

But that’s not the road that Jesus is on. He turns and looks at His disciples and rebukes Peter: Get behind Me, satan! You are thinking the things of people, and not the things of God. Jesus tells Peter to get back behind Him, where he’s supposed to be. As of now, Peter is thinking the things of people, of the people who say who He is. He’s trying to get Jesus to walk down a different road than the one He’s on, just as the devil had tempted Him to do in the wilderness.

This is why Jesus has told people and demons to be silent numerous times: because even when they confess that He is the Christ, they have their own ideas about what that means. But other than the Transfiguration, which happens right after this, verse 30 is the last time Jesus tells them to be silent. Now He begins to teach them about the road that He’s walking; He begins to teach them that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes, to die, and to be raised. Here’s what the road looks like for those who follow after Him, as He tells Peter to do: it looks like deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. It looks like losing your life.

The road of the cross is not one that we choose, or pick. Later when Jesus is actually carrying His cross, the soldiers compel Simon of Cyrene literally to carry Jesus’ cross. Simon didn’t choose it, but it is laid on him and given to him. We don’t choose our own crosses. They’re laid on us, given to us, forced on us. And here is the crux of the question, the crossroads: which road? God said through Isaiah, My ways are not your ways, nor are My thoughts your thoughts. And so it is, neither the way nor the thoughts are human inventions. Peter, who confessed that Jesus is the Christ, proves that his thoughts about the Christ are not the thoughts of God about the Christ. What kind of Christ? And when Jesus begins to teach them what kind of Christ, what kind of Messiah, He is, who will be ashamed of Him? Whoever, He says, is ashamed of Me and My words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels.

But this is not a one-strike-and-you’re-out situation. Peter is ashamed here of Jesus and His words. He takes Him aside in order to rebuke Him. And later, Peter is ashamed even to be associated with Jesus, when he denies that he knows Him at all. But Jesus doesn’t get rid of Peter. He doesn’t leave him in the ditch on the side of the road, where he’s fallen. Jesus does there what He does here: He puts Peter back where he belongs, behind Jesus. He forgives and restores Him. He even drags him along. And Peter endures on that road until he reaches his own cross.

Peter is not unique in this. Do we not think the thoughts of people, rather than the thoughts of God? Do we not see Jesus healing people, and wonder why not all people are healed at all times? Do we not see Jesus raise a 12-year-old girl and wonder why death still wins out? We might think that the road we’re on doesn’t look like the road Jesus walked. But the question is still now, as it was then, which road and whose death? Both these roads, the wide and the narrow, the easy and the difficult, lead to death. Whether you have a relatively easy and comfortable life or a relatively difficult and uncomfortable one, doesn’t everyone still die? So then, whose death?

Jesus says that whoever wants to hang on to and keep and preserve his life in this world will end up losing his life. You can’t buy eternal life, and even if you walk the easy, wide road, and get everything you want, you still will forfeit all of it on the day you die. You can’t take it with you. What good will it all do you, then? How will it help or benefit you? This sinful and adulterous generation is passing away, and everything is going with it. Do not go with it! That’s one road that leads to death, and it’s a dead end, literally.

But here’s the cross-road, the crux of the issue: there is a road that leads to death, but it’s Jesus’ death. And in that case, the road leads to death, but doesn’t end with death. Because we know how Jesus’ road goes. It goes to suffering, rejection, and death. But it also goes to resurrection. Dying is inevitable. But if you have already died in baptism, and your body dies, then you are guaranteed resurrection, because you belong to the Lord who has already risen. You know what kind of Christ He is. He tells us plainly and boldly.

So here’s the cross-road. You’re on it already. And Paul describes how it goes: we rejoice even in our sufferings on this road, no matter how dark it gets. Because suffering produces endurance. We endure. We put one foot in front of another. We keep going. And endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope will not make us ashamed. Because the love of God has been poured into us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Here is the love of God in Jesus the Christ, with His Holy Spirit. And He puts us behind Him, to follow Him. Sometimes He drags us along. He forgives and restores. He gives us the food we need to keep us going, His own eternal life food of His body and blood. He is our hope, and our hope will not make us ashamed on the day when we see Him revealed in the glory of God with His holy angels.

We will not be ashamed, because Jesus was not ashamed of us. He was not ashamed to enter this world. He was not ashamed to be clothed in flesh and blood. He was not ashamed to suffer and die. He despised the shame! He was not ashamed to call us to follow Him, nor to have us following Him on the road. He is not ashamed to be associated with the likes of us, to have us for His cross-bearing followers. He will not be ashamed to call us His own dear children. And therefore, you will not be put to shame. Here’s the cross-road, and here is our Lord who not only walked it before us, but who walks with us until the day when we see Him.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/27/21

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