False Christs and Wrong Answers: A Sermon for the Confession of St. Peter on St. Mark 8:27-35

Confession of St Peter

From the very beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, things hadn’t been going particularly well for our Lord. In chapter 1 He’s tempted by Satan, opposed by demons, and disobeyed by even those He had healed. In chapter 2, the scribes regard Jesus as a blasphemer, and in chapter 3 the Pharisees and Herodians are already plotting how to destroy Him, and—for good measure—accuse Him of being in league with Satan. At the same time, so many people are following Jesus, He couldn’t go anywhere in public (1:45). Needless to say, it hasn’t been an easy road for our Lord, and things will only get worse.

Naturally, when someone makes the sort of claims Jesus does, we want proof. So here in chapter 8, shortly before today’s text, that’s exactly what the Pharisees ask for. “Are you the Christ? Then prove it.” So they demand a sign to test Him (8:11). Of course Jesus could have given them one, or blasted them with a heavenly fireball for their unbelief, but instead He replies, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

From the Pharisees’ perspective, this was all the proof they needed. The real Christ could have easily done something as basic as produce a sign to prove His identity. You would expect a fake, on the other hand, to say exactly the sort of thing Jesus said. Add to that the fact that Jesus was teaching some strange and difficult things, things that were “upsetting the lifelong Lutherans”, so to speak, and “making them leave the church,” (St. John 6:60-69). Nobody signed up for difficult doctrine and a difficult life, so many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him (St. John 6:66).

At this point Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” (St. John 6:67).

Which brings us to today’s text. This is about halfway through St. Mark’s Gospel. Here our Lord pauses and invites His disciples to reflect on everything that has happened to this point, to consider who He is, and whether or not following Him is a good idea after all. If you’re going to walk with someone through the fire, you want to be sure it’s worth it. So is it a good idea to follow Jesus? To slightly rephrase something Jaroslav Pelikan once said, “If Jesus is the Christ, then nothing else matters. And if Jesus is not the Christ, then nothing matters.”

So then, the first thing we need to get straight is the answer to the question, “who is Jesus?” Others thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah, or maybe one of the prophets. But bold Peter, whose confession we remember today, knew better.  “You are the Christ!”

You need to know the right Christ, because there are lots of false Christs out there. Ones who promise to put you in touch with your spiritual self so you can “tap the divine power within.” And then there’s the more practical Jesus, the one who will help you raise your two children (a boy and a girl, of course) with straight A’s and happy smiles, all while helping you make lots of money. And then there’s the open-minded, tolerant Jesus who lets everyone into to heaven as long as you love America and Apple Pie; who feels equally at home in church, synagogue, or mosque; a Jesus who would never dare describe someone’s chosen lifestyle as “sinful.”

The problem with the spiritual, practical, and open minded Christs is that they are no Christ at all. Hell is just as happy with those who believe in a fake Jesus as with those who believe in no Jesus. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). He comes in subtlety, disguised under the appearance of beauty and godliness. People may enjoy dressing up as demons for Halloween, but a demon’s favorite costume is the Jesus disguise.[1]

This is one of the fundamental problems we have with Jesus: that there are fake Christs and wrong answers. By modern cultural standards, Jesus is an intolerant extremist. It’s hard to imagine anything more hateful to say these days than there’s only one way to heaven, or that women can’t be pastors, or to practice Closed Communion. But Jesus is the Christ, so He gets to make the rules.

It’s no wonder our Lord described his generation as an adulterous and sinful one. Times haven’t changed. For a generation that prides itself as being a bastion of tolerance, the one thing our generation absolutely cannot tolerate is the truth. To confess Jesus will undoubtedly create controversy and open yourself up to ridicule, so it’s easier to just remain silent.

Bold Peter once drew His sword to defend Jesus in Gethsemane. But on that very same night he trembled at the voice of a servant girl, denying his Lord while invoking a curse upon himself (St. Matthew 26:70ff.) Granted, this was on the night our Lord was betrayed, and the threat to Peter’s life was a very real one.

Repent, for you too have wavered and rejected Christ—and under less dire circumstances, at that. Some of you have rejected His unpopular doctrines outright, having been swept away by the current of popular opinion. The rest of you have distanced yourself from anything potentially embarrassing in your Lord’s teaching and have remained silent when you ought to have spoken up.

You ought to be willing, as we prayed in the Introit, to “speak of [the Lord’s] testimonies before kings,” bearing in mind how risky this is, that most kings have no love lost for Jesus. The Magi took no small risk when they went and worshipped the young king, an act Herod no doubt would have regarded as treason. Bloodthirsty Herod had executed people for much less (cf. St. Matthew 2:16).

As important as it is to confess Christ and His doctrine purely, not even this is enough. Peter was praised for his good confession, but the next thing out of his lips earned him the harshest rebuke ever spoken by our Lord: “Get behind me, Satan!”

It’s one thing to know that Jesus is the Christ, but it’s entirely another thing to know what being the Christ entails. Peter didn’t want a suffering and dying Christ. He wanted a Christ who was powerful, one who would give him his “best life now.”

This is exactly how Satan tempted our Lord—to take it easy, to avoid suffering and the cross, to make “every day a Friday” for Him. This is the way Satan always works. He tempts you with comfort and pleasure, even with religious-sounding talk. This is why our Lord rebuked Peter so harshly when he insisted that Jesus should not go the way of the cross.

Our Lord’s view of discipleship is not rosy. To follow Jesus is to take up your cross, to die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Like Peter, we’re not so comfortable with suffering and the cross. And quite frankly, we have some sinful habits we’d rather not break. We want to call our own shots, to have a god who will help us when we need it but stays quiet the rest of the time. We certainly don’t want a god who calls us to practice righteousness.

And in this, we’re not so different from Judas. Initially, he was eager to follow Jesus. After all, He is the King of Israel! Jesus was the sort of guy you’d want to be close to, especially for a man of ambition like Judas. But gradually the disappointment set in. Jesus was not at all the sort of King that Judas was hoping for. All of the “important” religious people hated Jesus. John the Forerunner was close to our Lord, but where did that get him? His head ended up, quite literally, on a [silver?] platter. Nor was Jesus ever made king. And to top it all off, when challenged by the Pharisees, Jesus would not answer them. Or was it that He could not answer them?, as Judas almost certainly would have wondered.

We dwell in a land of deep darkness, and sometimes the darkness veils God’s face. There are times when it seems as if God is unwilling, or perhaps unable, to help. For now we see in a mirror dimly. Cross and trial were the pattern for Jesus’ life, and it’s also the pattern for yours.

But it will not be this way forever. When darkness veils His lovely face, what do you do? As the hymn says, rest on His unchanging grace. To those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined (Isaiah 9:2). Though the darkness only became deeper during Holy Week, this darkness was scattered by the rising of the Son.

It wasn’t immediate, but God’s ability and willingness to help was demonstrated beyond all shadow of a doubt on the Third Day when He raised Jesus from the dead. The sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed (Romans 8:18). Make no mistake about it, you will walk through the fire. But there’s nobody better to walk through the flames with than Jesus. His steadfast resolve to free this creation from its misery was on full display on Good Friday, when He suffered and died on the cross for your sin.

Since Jesus has bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, He will testify for you before kings, even before the King of all creation on the Last Day. Water, blood and Spirit cry out, testifying to Jesus’ unfailing love for you. Even His rebuke is a blessing, for when He says, “Get behind me, Satan”, He’s not insulting you, He’s casting the devil right out of you. For He has not come to condemn, but to forgive.[2]

So is following this Christ worth it? In the words of St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (St. John 6:68).

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Mark 8:27—35
The Confession of St. Peter, 2015
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[1] The above two paragraphs have been adapted from Chad L. Bird’s sermon for the ordination of Chadrich A. Dietrich in Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons of Chad L. Bird (102).

[2] For this insight I am indebted to Rev. Larry Beane, which is borrowed from his 2012 sermon for the Confession of St. Peter.

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