February 25, 2024

“The Person and Work of Christ” – 2nd Sunday in Lent

Passage: Mark 8:27-38 “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.”

I. The Person and Work of Jesus Christ
The Gospel of Mark is sort of written as a mystery: not a who-dun-it mystery, but a who-is-He mystery? Who is this Jesus who is baptized by John in the Jordan, who teaches and works miracles, who dies on a cross, rises again and ascends into heaven? It’s not a mystery to you: the first verse of the Gospel tells you who He is: it says, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God .” You know from the very start who He is: then, as you read through the Gospel, you watch for who people think He is, say He is. You watch for who gets it right and who gets it wrong.


After the first verse, do you know how many times Jesus is called the Son of God in Mark? Three times. Only three times. Twice, it’s demons who get His identity right as they screech things like, “I know who you are—the holy Son of God!” This teaches you an important lesson: it’s possible to know who Jesus is and still be lost.


The third time is the key to the Gospel: it’s a Roman Centurion who says, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” He says it as he stands at the foot of the cross. He says it while he looks at the powerless, lifeless body of Christ hanging crucified. That’s an extraordinary confession of faith, to look at the corpse of Jesus and say, “I believe that that’s the Son of God.”


Throughout the Gospel, people are getting Jesus wrong. Often, they get His person—who He is— wrong: in our Gospel lesson, we hear that many think He’s John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other prophets. Almost always, they get His work—what He does—wrong. They see the miracles He performs, and they think, “This Jesus has come to work wonders and make our lives on earth better than they were before.” That’s why Jesus keeps working miracles and keeps telling the people to be quiet about it. The more the news of the miracles spreads, the more people get the wrong idea of who He and what He’s come to do. It’s not His fault: Jesus is faithfully doing what the Old Testament said He would do: He’s preaching the gracious kingdom of God, He’s working miracles, and He’s making His way to the cross to suffer for the sins of the world. But sinners always have skewed vision, and so they keep getting Jesus wrong and expecting Him to be who they want Him to be, not who He is.


Halfway through this “who-is-He” Gospel, we get to our text for today, a milestone in this mystery. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am,” and the disciples give Him the range of answers. Then He asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.”


Finally! The right answer! Peter’s got the person of Jesus right—He is the Christ, the Messiah whom God has anointed to save. He tells the disciples to tell no one, because they’ll still get the wrong idea about what He’s come to do. But for the disciples, it’s time for Him to fill them in; so He tells them plainly that the Christ has come to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. This might make perfect sense to you and me looking back, but it’s a terrible shock to the disciples—so much so that Peter pulls Him aside and rebukes Him. Dying on a cross is just not the sort of thing that the Son of God does. Crucifixion is torment and death, and the Christ is all about miracles and power…right?


The shock continues: when Peter tries to talk Jesus out of this silly plan, Jesus rebukes him and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” That’s quite the slap across the face, but consider: at this point, Peter shares the same confession of faith as the demons: they know who Jesus is, but they don’t want Jesus to go to the cross. Peter’s rebuke is really no different than the devil’s temptations for those forty days in the wilderness: both Peter and Satan encourage Jesus to be Christ without doing the suffering. Now, I’ve little doubt that Peter’s motives are better than those of the devil, but both he and Satan are trying to prevent Jesus from dying for the sins of the world.


But that is why Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He didn’t have to become flesh to give us His Word—He’d been doing that through the prophets throughout the ages. He didn’t have to become flesh to work wonders, either. He became flesh so that His flesh could be nailed to the cross, so that His blood could be shed, so that He could be the substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world. He became man to take man’s place and be condemned for man’s sin. His “defeat” on the cross is anything but: it’s how He undoes sin, death and devil. It’s how He frees you from sin and death and devil so that you might have life in Him forever.


That is why it is vital to believe and confess both the person and work of Jesus, to believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God made man who died on the cross for our sins. It is not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus.” Many who believe in Jesus get His person or His work wrong. You can find forces in the world today that want to redefine the person of Jesus into one god among many, one son of God among many, a life-force, a nice mere human who was mistakenly crucified, a life-coach or even the daughter of God. You can find many who want to redefine the work of Jesus so that He’s all about social justice, environmental justice, communism, feminism, feeling good or advocating immorality.


This is really no different than all the peoples’ wrong ideas in Mark: it’s to say, “we acknowledge Jesus to be powerful, but we don’t want Him to be who He is and do what He does: we want Him to meet our desires and expectations and agendas.” But if you get the person or the work of Jesus wrong, then you don’t have faith in the Son of God who died for your sins. He’s not a piece of clay to be molded to your liking: He’s the Son of God to whom all will bow the knee. But many consider Jesus to be a mere “construct,” to be remodeled as sinful man desires. In this, the devil delights.


That is why the creeds we confess are anything but old, dusty and irrelevant. In a world that wants to redefine the person and work of Jesus away from salvation, it is never more important than now to keep saying what the Church has always said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,” etc. Each time we confess these creeds, we declare that Jesus remains the Christ, the Son of the living God, who died and rose again so that we might be forgiven. Each time we confess these creeds, we declare the Gospel. We evangelize.


We give great thanks that, in a world that so dearly wants to distort Jesus, He preserves His Word so that we might know who He is and what He does for us and for our salvation. We give thanks for preaching “Christ and Him crucified.” And we thankfully join the centurion at the end of the Gospel of Mark. We keep pointing to the dead One on the middle cross and saying, “That’s my Savior. I trust in Him alone to save me.”


2. The Person and Work of You
The person and work of Jesus Christ determines the person and work of you.Who are you and what do you do? You are a person created with certain gifts, skills, health,weaknesses and limitations. You have certain callings, expectations, good habits, bad habits, dreams and intentions. With who you are, you do certain things. These things identify you. As the philosopher said, it’s not [just] who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. (Okay, it was Batman who said that. But it’s still a great line.)


A life well-lived is about taking who you are and making the best of it, minimizing the bad, avoiding the pitfalls, picking yourself back up, doing the best with what you’ve got and pressing forward.


Many don’t live life well: it’s tempting to live a life resenting who you are, coveting who others are, getting bogged down by failure and using your gifts for selfishness and vice rather than satisfying service to others. But if you want to find contentment, you’ll find that content people are happy with who they are and what they do—they like their person and work.


Whether you are content or extremely dissatisfied this morning, always keep the lesson of Ash Wednesday in mind: all that you are, and all that you do, is turning to dust. The biggest monuments and achievements eventually crumble and are forgotten. Those with the best self-image possible are still on the clock. The curse of sin remains, and the wages of sin is still death. The clock is on, and every setback, sin and problem robs you a little bit of who you could be and what you could do. That is how the things of man work.


That’s why you give thanks that your person and work isn’t determined solely by how you were created . When you find yourself thinking and acting as if your worth comes from who you are and what you do, you repent and you ask for forgiveness. Who you are and what you do isn’t just determined by how you were created, but that you have been redeemed. Jesus speaks of this in our Gospel lesson and says: If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.


Who are you? First of all, you are one redeemed by Christ. What do you do? Foremost, you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. In other words, you confess your sinfulness which leads to death and you agree with God that you are in need of the forgiveness that Jesus has won for you by His death on the cross. You take up your cross and follow Him, living the life as a penitent Christian who looks to Christ for forgiveness and deliverance. Where you would otherwise be scrambling to save and preserve your own life for as long as possible before death strikes, you repent of your selfish self- preservation and entrust your life into the hands of Jesus. Your desire to follow Christ may prevent you from gaining the whole world, but you have eternal life because Christ has life for your soul.


This ripples throughout your person and work. Where you are strong, you give thanks to God who gives strength; and where you are weak, you still have cause for joy because His strength is made perfect in weakness. Where you succeed, you give thanks to God for such blessings; and where you fail, you boast all the more in Christ because He uses all things for your good. Where you are healthy, you give thanks and make use of that health in service to God and others; and where you are sick, you know that your Savior is the One who heals. Where you live, you live to God; when you die, you die with the glad confidence that you are His, and that He will use that death to raise you up to life everlasting. These are the things of God.


See, if your person and work are defined solely by who you are and what you do, then your time is limited and your soul is forfeited. But you are first and foremost defined by who Christ is and what He has done for you. Because He has saved you, you live as one redeemed, confident that He works all things for your good and gives you life and salvation. You live like the centurion in Mark 16, pointing to Christ and Him crucified and saying, “He is still my Savior, and I will trust in Him.”


Many will not. They will prefer to define their lives and life’s work apart from Christ. As they want nothing to do with Him, Jesus will oblige on the Last Day. As He concludes our Gospel lesson, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of Him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”


That is not for you. You know that Jesus—the Christ, the Son of God—went to the cross and died so that you might live. Even now, He keeps you in the grace first given you in your baptism as He feeds you with His Word and Supper. You know that your person and your work are sanctified in Him, cleansed by His blood. And you know that He declares, “I am not ashamed of you, because I forgive you all of your sins.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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