“Passion Prediction, Passion Production” (Mark 8:27-38; Romans 5:1-11)
Most of you probably remember a movie a few years back called “The Passion of the Christ.” It was about Jesus’ suffering and death. That’s what the word “Passion’ means in that sense, the things that were done to Jesus, his being betrayed, arrested, beaten, crucified, and killed. Well, our Gospel reading today is about the Passion of the Christ, his suffering. To be more precise, it is a prediction of it–the first prediction of his Passion that Jesus makes. In the gospel narrative, the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee leads up to the point of Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ.” Then, right after that, Jesus tells the disciples what his being the Christ will entail, that he, the Christ, must suffer and die. Our Gospel today records it as follows: “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.”
This kind of a passage, where Jesus speaks ahead of time of his suffering and death–and he does this three times in the gospels–this is referred to as a “Passion Prediction.” And this is the first one. In this “Passion Prediction,” Jesus tells us what will happen to him–suffering, rejection, being killed. That’s the “what.” But we also want to know the so what.” So what difference does this make in our lives? What is the result, the outcome, of his suffering? What good will it produce? And so our theme for today: “Passion Prediction, Passion Production.”
First, the Passion Prediction: “The Son of Man must suffer many things,” Jesus says. This term, “the Son of Man,” is the title that Jesus uses the most often for himself. It goes back to the Book of Daniel, where there is a vision of “one like a son of man” who comes with the clouds of heaven. To him is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
Now, to be sure, this vision is fulfilled by Jesus Christ. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and he will come again with glory, on the clouds of heaven, at the Last Day. But how he gets there–that is what is so puzzling. This “Son of Man,” the Messiah, the Christ, comes to his glory through suffering. That’s what’s so odd about how Jesus talks about himself as the Son of Man. The suffering part. The rejection part. And so it throws Peter off, that’s for sure. He doesn’t want to hear about a suffering Christ. He just wants the glory model, no suffering required. But Jesus tells him, “You’re not thinking the things of God but the things of man.”
The things of God mean that the Christ must suffer many things. He will be rejected by the very religious leaders who ought to be hailing him–the elders, chief priests, and scribes. But instead of hailing him, they will be hauling him–hauling him before the Roman governor and demanding that this man be crucified. And that is what will happen. The Passion of the Christ.
So Jesus here predicts his Passion. That’s the “what.” But now, what about the “so what”? You see, this is more than just some tragedy about an innocent man suffering unjustly. There is a purpose and a goal to all of this. God is doing something by Christ’s suffering, accomplishing something that affects every one of us in the greatest way.
And here we turn to today’s Epistle, from Romans. We’ve heard the “what.” This will tell us the “so what.” Here St. Paul tells us the outcome, the result, of Christ’s Passion, what it produces for us and in us. Now we move from “Passion Prediction” to “Passion Production.”
Paul really piles up the terms for what Jesus’ suffering and death produce for us. He uses rich, gospel-filled words, words like “justified,” “saved,” “reconciled.” Beautiful, wonderful words of life! Let’s look briefly at each of these three terms: “justified,” “saved,” and “reconciled.”
We’ll start with “justified.” Paul writes: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and later, “we have now been justified by his blood.” To be “justified” means to be put right with God, to be declared righteous in God’s court of justice. Think of a courtroom, and you are the one on trial. God’s Law is brought out to charge you with your offenses: Have you kept these commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself? The evidence from your life is brought forward: Many acts of selfishness, of blowing off God, of failure to help and love to all the people you meet. Impure thoughts, hateful words, dishonest deeds. “But, but, your honor, I’ve done some good stuff, too!” Sorry, no plea-bargaining. The verdict is in: Guilty as charged. The judgment, the punishment decreed in God’s law book: Death. Death and damnation eternally.
But now your Advocate comes forward. He is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He has kept all the laws in the book, perfectly, the only man who ever has. And he offers to take your place. He suffers the penalty for all your sins. He sheds his holy blood–the blood of God’s only Son. Jesus has done this for you on the cross. Therefore God’s justice is satisfied. The penalty, the death penalty, has been paid in full. Now God can be a just judge, a righteous judge, even when he declares you, a sinner, “Not guilty!” That is what it means to be justified. And that is what Christ’s Passion has produced for you!
The next term, “saved.” This is another word Paul uses to describe what Christ’s Passion has produced for you. Think of a situation of great danger. Your boat has sunk in the middle of the ocean. You are drifting along, clinging to some debris that separates you from drowning. You’re helpless against the sharks. You have no food or water; you’re exposed to the elements. You can’t last much longer. Who will rescue you from your desperate situation? Now, all of a sudden, here comes the Coast Guard! They pull you out of the water. They give you food and drink and warm dry clothing. They take you to safety. This is a picture of what it means to be “saved.” It is the rescue and the resulting state of safety.
Paul says that you and I have been saved, saved by Christ from God’s wrath. God’s wrath is his hot anger against sinners. But Christ took that wrath, that hot anger, on himself, on the cross. By Christ’s death and by his rising to life again, we have been saved. So this is the rescue. Now we are saved, now we are safe. Being saved, then, is another way to talk about what Christ’s Passion has produced for us.
Now one more term, “reconciled.” “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” Paul says, “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Here, think of two parties who are “on the outs.” In fact, one is the avowed enemy of the other. But somehow, these two parties are brought back together. Peace is made, reconciliation is achieved. That is what it means to be reconciled.
This too is a picture of what Christ’s Passion has done for us. It has reconciled us to God, brought us back into a state of peace with God. We were God’s enemies, estranged from him, rebels, on the outs, however you want to put it. But now, through Christ’s peace-making death on the cross, we have been brought back to God. The hostilities are ended. Peace is established. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Friends, you have been justified, saved, and reconciled. These are all ways to describe the glorious work that God has done for you in Christ. The “what” of Christ’s suffering has produced a great big “so what” in your life and for eternal life. Christ’s Passion Prediction has led to a most wonderful Passion Production: justification, salvation, and reconciliation. All these “big words” stand for “big realities” that are yours in Christ.
But now there’s one more “passion prediction” in our readings today. I don’t know if you noticed it. It is a prediction of your own passion, your own suffering. Things will happen to you. Yes, you will suffer in this life. Indeed, you will suffer precisely because you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus predicts it. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Now to take up your cross means that you must be prepared to suffer–and die. Following Jesus, being his disciple, means that you will suffer in this life. The world will be against you. You will be persecuted. The devil will attack you, trying to destroy your faith. Your own sinful flesh will mislead you. You need to put that Old Adam to death. Dying daily to sin, dying to self, is part of taking up your cross.
Your own suffering, your own passion, is predicted. But this too will produce good things. No, not your justification or salvation or reconciliation with God. Only Christ’s Passion can produce those divine gifts. But now that you have these great gifts, now you can endure the sufferings that happen in your life. And even those sufferings can produce good results.
Paul puts it like this: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” You see, because of the peace we have with God, now we are able to rejoice even in the midst of sufferings. We know there is something more, much more, than the afflictions we suffer in this world and in this short life. Our joy is greater than our afflictions! And so suffering will produce endurance, perseverance–the ability to bear up over the long haul, under the suffering. This is not something we can muster up on our own, just by being stoic and keeping a stiff upper lip. This is not mere human endurance. It is a bearing-up borne of the gospel, worked by the Spirit.
“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” Character means a tested quality. It is the quality of a metal that has been tried under fire and found to be genuine. Being put through the fire–many times, over many years–will actually purify and strengthen your faith, burning away the dross. That is the character of a well-tested faith. But that only comes through enduring affliction. The fire is not pleasant at the time. But God is doing something through it. He is working in you, to give you a strong and tested Christian character.
“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” This is what you have, then: hope. It is the hope of the glory to come. When all other supports give way, when there is nothing left in this life to lift your spirits, when it looks like your world is falling apart, you still have this hope to hold on to. Hope is knowing what is in store for you because of Christ. You can’t see it yet, but you know that it’s coming.
And when the sufferings of this life finally do come to an end, this hope will not disappoint you. What you have been hoping for, for all these years–this hope will not put you to shame. Because the outcome, the final result, will be just as God has said it would be: everlasting life with Christ and all of his saints, in glory, in a restored creation, better than ever, forever.
What a hope we have! And it all comes back to the Passion of the Christ, which he himself predicted, which he himself endured for your sake. And this Passion of his has produced such marvelous results: By Christ’s death and resurrection, you are justified, saved, and reconciled. What’s more, God is producing endurance, character, and hope in you, even in the midst of suffering. Dear friends, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And so we “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”