Posted on January 20th, 2015
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, today is a glad day: Benjamin Alexander, son of Aaron, today becomes son of God through the waters of rebirth and renewal.
It is also a sad time. [REDACTED] have lost the child they were expecting. I grieve for them. Many of you have borne similar sorrows. The Word of God to our first mother is true: Conception is now filled with sorrow, and bringing forth children filled with pain.
Yet to our first parents God gave a hope: the promise of a Child who would heal these wounds and repair this world’s brokenness. His nativity we celebrated at Christmas, and in today’s Gospel (St. Mark 8:27—9:1) St. Peter confesses that this Jesus is the Christ, the world-rescuer.
But the expectation was that the Christ, the Messiah, this Anointed king in the line of David would subdue the world with force. We understand. We want to back a winner. We want our will to prevail. Politics, home life, church: what isn’t tainted with the will to power?
Many longed for—and still long for—a Messianic figure to bring order and peace to the cosmos as other rulers in this world attempt to do.
Jesus upends their expectations just as He overturned tables in the Temple. When Jesus begins talking suffering, sacrifice, and death not for His enemies but for Himself, Peter’s beautiful confession, “You are the Christ,” turns to confusion.
Peter assumes the role of teacher over Christ. After Peter confesses, “You are the Christ,” Jesus “strictly warned them” to keep it to themselves, knowing how people misunderstood the work of the Messiah. That very same term is used then of Peter, here translated rebuke. Jesus speaks of His death, and “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”
The way of the cross was hidden from Peter, as he goes from confession to confusion. Is it much different for us? For you who became Christians as adults, or who had an experience of a renewal of the faith, you know the initial joy that the Gospel brings. But along with it, there is an expectation of success. Everything will be good now. After all, does not God promise great blessings to His children?
Indeed; but like vegetables to children, blessings can seem repugnant when swallowed. We want what tastes good, but it is our sense of taste that needs to be transformed. Meaning: our affections, our passions, our desires are disordered. This is the awful power of the sinful nature. It is present in us from our beginning, which is why we bring Benjamin to baptism, just as he is taken to the physician before he knows to ask for it. He needs the medicine, he needs the work God promises in baptism. St. Peter, after he was transformed and restored by the power of Jesus’ resurrection, preached at Pentecost that the promise of baptism is for us and for our children. God’s power is not dependent upon our wills; indeed, it is to transform and free our broken wills that He comes to us with His gifts and promises.
But the long journey following baptism is the journey of, to, and with the cross. For fighting against this new birth is the Old Adam who clings to us still, the sinful nature who is mindful not “of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Rising from the waters of baptism, Jesus was immediately tempted, harassed by Satan with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” So it is with you. “Whoever desires to come after Me,” Jesus says, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
What do you most desire? Even the good desires planted in our nature, desires for food, drink, union with the opposite sex, and children – how easily these desires ruin us as we abuse God’s good gifts and measure everything by power and pleasure.
What do you most desire? The path of discipleship is learning to desire nothing but God and His kingdom, and what benefits the neighbor. Outside of this, what will it profit you if you gain the whole world while your soul remains corrupt, filled with bitterness and pride, anger and folly?
Peter’s confession was true, even if he did not yet fully understand it. Jesus is the Christ. He has come to destroy the works of the devil. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus pays those wages in full by His death on the cross. In Him is our faith, our trust.
But note the renewed and restored Peter’s preaching on faith in his letter read this morning. Our goal is to become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” You feel those desires yet in you. They are powerful, and this Christian life is spent fighting them. Faith is the beginning, but love is the end.
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV)
To accomplish this, the Lord sends us times of sadness. They are difficult. But He ends them in His good time, in better ways than we could imagine or devise.
Thus we come to this holy altar for the medicine we need, medicine to give us joy amidst tears, and to check our pride when we prosper in this world. Approaching the altar, we learn from today’s Gospel about the confession of Peter how we should confess: “Dear Lord, I have had in mind the things of men, and not the things of God. I have resented the crosses You send me, and taken credit for Your gifts. I return to You chastened. Your Son is my Christ, my Messiah, my Jesus. I need You more than ever. Abandon me not to my folly, but renew me with the Holy Spirit you poured out this day on little Benjamin. I am Yours; save me.” +INJ+