by The Rev. William Weedon
[Acts 4:8-13 / 2 Peter 1:1-15 / Mark 8:27-35]
Poor Peter went from being the star pupil to the class dunce – and all in a matter of minutes. When Jesus asked: “Who do people say that I am?” the disciples gave the usual answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. But then our Lord turned to them, the disciples who had been with Him now for some time. “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter speaks for them all when he answers: “You are the Christ.” Right answer. Totally right answer. And yet. It is one thing to KNOW the right answer and another thing to realize what this answer means.
Jesus begins unpacking it for them: The Son of Man will 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. He put this plainly in front of them. Peter listens with increased anxiety, thinking: “No, that can't be right. He's the Christ, the Messiah.” So he takes our Lord aside and he begins to rebuke him! Peter dares to tell Jesus that Jesus has it all wrong. The Messiah can't be rejected, can't suffer, can't die! He's to have a kingdom and live and reign through endless years bringing joy and peace to all. Not this death and resurrection talk!
Jesus turns and looks at His disciples, these men he loves so much, and it is looking at them that HE rebukes Peter with the harshest words He ever spoke to anyone. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” You can look at the hurt in Peter's crestfallen face. From being the favored student to the class dunce in a matter of minutes. He knew that Jesus was Christ, but he hadn't the foggiest notion of what being the Christ entailed. And so Satan spoke through his lips – for anything that would turn our Lord from the triumph of His cross is Satanic pure and simple.
But it's even bigger than our Lord's cross. He says plainly: “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 for the Gospel's will save it.”
Peter and the others must have looked at Him with perplexity and fear. What did He mean? “Take up a cross.” Was Jesus inviting them to die? Was He calling them to lose their lives? That's not the rosy picture they had of fellowship with this Man who had done such great miracles and whose company was joy itself. What could He mean?
If they didn't understand then, they came to understand. We meet the same Peter again in our first reading. This is the Peter who denied that he knew the Lord Jesus at all, out of fear of suffering and death. Now he stands in the presence of those he had once cowered before, and boldly confesses: “Let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom YOU crucified, but whom God raised from the dead – by Him this man stands before you well.” No fear anymore. He'd seen his Lord suffer, he'd seen his Lord die, and he'd seen his Lord triumphant over death and the grave, alive again and promising him and all believers a share in that life that no death can ever take from them. What's to fear a anymore? He plows on: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” So the cowering Peter, Peter the Dunce, now Peter the Apostle and bold confessor. He now understands what eluded him before – that for Jesus to BE Messiah meant precisely that He would go to the cross, shouldering the sin of the human race, stretching out His holy hands to be nailed to the wood, to spill the blood that would cover the sin of our race, and then to die so that Death might die itself, and to rise again in a body incorruptible as the first-born of many brothers and sisters. His is the Name that saves – for baptized into that name we have the fruits of all His bitter sufferings and death given to us as our very life.
When Peter knew that his own end was fast approaching, the moment when he literally would take up his cross and follow his Lord into death and through death into life, he wrote one more time to his beloved churches. He reminded them that Christ's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. That He has given us precious promises to make us partakers of the divine nature. That He gives us a brand new life characterized by faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That these qualities are to grow in us and keep us from being ineffective or unfruitful in our knowledge of the Lord. That whoever lacks them, lacks them not because he's not trying hard enough, but because he's forgotten the sufferings of Christ have cleansed him from his former sins. That through those qualities growing in us we begin to live already in this life the joy of the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior. Peter knows that we know all this already, but he writes again before he dies to stir us up by way of reminder so that we may be established in the truth that we have in Jesus.
And so from star pupil to class dunce, from fearful denier to bold confessor, from reluctant sufferer to a willingly being crucified for his Lord, Peter shows the transformation which faith in the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings about. When he lay dying, Jaroslav Pelikan, famous scholar and theologian, whispered these words: “If Jesus is risen from the dead, then nothing else matters; if Jesus is not risen, then nothing matters.” Peter would have “Amened” that all the way! But in fact, Christ has risen from the dead, and so THAT is what matters above all.
Today as you come to feast at His Table, the Messiah who travelled the path from suffering to death, from death to the grave, from the grave to the resurrection and from the resurrection to the Ascension, reminds you that you have nothing to fear: His body and blood have taken away your sin and destroyed your death and He gives them into you that you with Peter and all the others might be a partaker of the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world through sinful desire. Kneeling before Him we confess with Peter that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved than the holy name of Jesus, to whom be glory with His unoriginate Father and all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!
Created: January 18th, 2009