Summary: Jesus rebuked his disciples’ inaccurate expectations of his Messiahship, and warns them (and us) that the spiritual life includes persecution and struggle.
There is a wonderful hymn by Isaac Watts, usually entitled “Alas, and did my savior bleed.” Those of us who were evangelized and nurtured by the Southern Baptists or those similar to them have probably heard is hundreds of times. What is not so well known is that the chorus to that hymn is not original with Watts, but was tacked on at a later time.
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away-
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
That last line often generates comment, and one of the most straightforward ones I’ve ever run across was penned by a Missouri pastor who posted these words to a popular blog for Christian leaders: “I cannot bear to sing the final line- "And now I am happy all the day-" … [That] chorus that was needlessly tacked onto the wonderful Watts hymn, "Alas and did my Savior Bleed?" I don’t know anyone who is happy all the day. We put those kind of people in institutions. [http://www.sharperiron.org/archive/index.php/t-2199.html].
I suspect this pastor’s opinion is pervasive. When I was a ten year old boy in the Vacation Bible School of First Baptist Church of Needles, California in the late 1950s, we sang that song a lot. And, even a ten year old boy knows enough to know that no one is ever happy all the day. Nor, for that matter, is he happy most days. And, yet, this version of Watt’s hymn is still around in many quarters. Why do you think it has survived?
I think one reason may be found in the gospel lesson for today, and that reason is seen in the answers to Jesus question to his disciples: “Who do men say that I am?”
The disciples offered several answers, no doubt gleaned from their contacts with the people who came to hear Jesus teach, or from those whom they met when Jesus sent them out to preach in the towns and villages. One of these ideas about Jesus’ identity was that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. Others thought Jesus was the prophet Elijah. After all, Elijah had not died at all – he was whisked away into heaven on a fiery chariot, and he was widely expected to return to the earth. Others identified Jesus with other Old Testament prophets, no doubt because Jesus’ teaching ministry was so similar to theirs – to rebuke sin and to call for repentance.
And, then, Jesus emphatically and bluntly asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” The question is addressed to the disciples as a group, and it suggests that Jesus views all these other opinions about his identity to be erroneous. Peter gives the answer, as he often does, as their leader, as their spokesman. “You are the Christ.”
Now here is an interesting thing. Mark first tells us that Jesus strictly forbade his disciples to tell anyone else what they had come to understand about him. The disciples are NOT supposed to spread it around that Jesus is the Messiah. Next, Mark tells us that at THIS point that Jesus BEGAN to teach them some things about himself that he had not taught them before.
31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly.
Is this weird, or what? Why does Jesus shut them up, on one hand, and then begin to teach them about his impending suffering, death, and resurrection?
The answer is not difficult to fathom. The people to whom Jesus spoke – including his own disciples – shared an idea that was off the mark. The disciples were expecting – sooner or later – for the religious leadership to wake up, to come to their senses, and to receive their Rabbi as the Messiah as they had come to do. And, after that, Jesus would be elevated to the throne of David and lead the Jews in throwing off the Roman yoke. And, then, all the Jews would be happy all the day.
But, … oooops. What Jesus tells them is quite different. The leaders of the nation will not accept him; instead they will reject him. Jesus won’t ascend to David’s throne; instead he will suffer and be killed and after three days rise again. You might think that last bit would have caught their attention, but clearly it did not.
And, Peter, the chief of the disciples, wasted no time in taking action to repair the damage. Mark tells us that he took Jesus aside. He didn’t ask him a question; he took stronger action than that. It would have been something like grabbing Jesus’ arm and pulling him away from the rest of the disciples, so that Peter could bring Jesus up to speed on how he was alarming and confusing the disciples. And, both Mark and Matthew say that Peter rebuked Jesus.