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Summary: A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Series B

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2nd Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2009 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, as we move through this season of Lent, inspire us through the power of your Holy Spirit, to embrace anew your love for us, as revealed in the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Give us the faith we need to be your disciples. Enable us to discern your Word, that it might transform us to embrace your will for our lives, and live in witness to your saving grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

I believe that in order to truly understand the context and dynamic of our Gospel lesson for this morning, it is important to include the three verses that immediately precede our text. Here Mark tells us, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ [Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.” And [Jesus] sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

This brings us to a rather strange question. If I might paraphrase Daniel Schowalter’s commentary on this prelude to our Gospel lesson, [New Proclamation, Fortress Press, 2005] Why all this secrecy about the identity of Jesus. Rather than encouraging this realization that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus ‘sternly’ orders his disciples not to tell anyone… If great numbers of people came to believe that Jesus was God’s Anointed One, and began to repent and follow him, how could that be a bad thing?

However, as Schowalter goes on to point out, although Peter has been persuaded from Jesus’ teachings and miracles that Jesus is from God, Peter fails to comprehend that Jesus ministry represents a different kind of Messiah than expected by the majority of Jews at that time.

For centuries, the Jews had prayed that God would raise up for them a new anointed one, a new king like David, who would lead the people, defeat the oppressors, and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Although the enemies changed from Assyrians, to Babylonians, to Persians, to Macedonieans, to Hasmoneans, to Romans, their remained hope that God would provide Israel with a new king like David.

This becomes evident when we move into our lesson for this morning. As soon as Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus pleads with his disciples not to tell anyone his true identity, Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that he must suffer and die. And Mark tells us that he said this quite openly, as a matter of fact. Jesus says that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected by all of the religious leaders of Israel, be killed, and after three days, rise again.

And what is the first thing that Peter does, the one who had just identified Jesus to be the Messiah, God’s Anointed. Peter takes Jesus aside from the others and begins to rebuke Jesus. In other words, Peter begins to tell Jesus that he has got to be wrong. This business about suffering and rejection and dying is not the way that the Messiah is to conduct his ministry. You are going to become Israel’s new king, defeat the Romans, and establish peace. Listen to me, Jesus! You’re wrong.

This story just goes to show how deeply ingrained in the very being of the people of Israel, was their expectation of the Messiah being a new earthly king who would preserve them as a people and a nation. And so Jesus turned toward his other disciples, who were stunned, not only at what Peter had just said, but also bewildered by what Jesus had predicted, which led Jesus to rebuke Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Anointed One! But he perceived his ministry and mission to proclaim the redeeming grace of God in a way that was far different than the expectations of the people. Jesus came to understand the role of God’s Messiah in terms of Isaiah’s prophecies of the “Suffering Servant,” who gave his life for others. This is what defined Jesus ministry, rather than the hope of reigning over a political or earthly kingdom.

If I might return to Dr. Schowalter’s commentary, he states, and I quote, “There is no more difficult passage in all of Scripture for modern believers to understand in the context of the first-century churches than this one. We are so used to the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, that Christ [the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah] has become [his] last name rather than a title. But in the earliest years following the death of Jesus, nothing is so certain… Would [the people of that day] adhere to the understanding of the Messiah that had sustained their ancestors for over a millennium, or would they accept this new vision of the Messiah, present by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel?” End quote.

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