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Pentecost 14 2023 Proper 17
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 3, 2023
Jeremiah 15:15-21, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28


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Have you ever have one of those days when it seems like everything is going your way? Peter is having one of those days in our Gospel reading last week, Matthew 16:13–18 (ESV)  13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” 

             “Blessed are you!!”  Peter must be bursting with joy and pride and high fiving the other disciples or whatever is their equivalent celebration.  Peter’s declaration answers an important question, “Who is Jesus?”  Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

            In the midst of Peter’s joy at His confession of Jesus being the Christ, Jesus then starts to explain what it means to be the Christ.  This is a new and just as vital a question.  What does it mean to be the Christ?

            Matthew 16:21 (ESV) 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 

            Peter’s joy turns to bewilderment.  What is Jesus talking about?  Suffering?  Death? No, no, no, no, no.  Peter loves Jesus.  Jesus is the Christ.  Peter is Jesus’ unofficial right hand man.  Peter is not going to let anyone hurt Jesus.  He knows that Jesus is wrong about this and rebukes Him. 

            But Peter is the one who is wrong.  Peter has the wrong answer to the question, “What does it mean to be the Christ.”  Out of love and good intentions Peter wants to decide for Jesus what it means.  Peter wants to keep Jesus away from the cross and he is not alone.  Others want Jesus to skip the cross.  At Jesus’ temptation, Satan tries to redefine what it means to be Christ…if you are the Son of God…command these stones to be bread…if you are the Son of God…throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple to see if God will save you…and then the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and says, all this I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.  The devil gives Jesus a shortcut to glory bypassing all the messiness of the cross. 

When Jesus is on the cross we can hear the devil’s words echoed by those passing by, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  The devil wants to redefine what it means to be the Christ and Peter is momentarily allied with the devil and Jesus lets him know.  Matthew 16:23 (ESV) 23 [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

            Out of love, Peter redefines what it means to be the Christ.  Peter wants to protect Jesus from suffering and death and he is rebuked for it.  Now, trying to keep Jesus from the cross is not much of a temptation for us who are living 2,000 years after Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead, and yet there is still a great temptation to redefine what it means to be the Christ.  It seems that we desperately want a Christ that we can define; a Christ who conforms to the world. 

            In the western world there has been a tremendous shift from people thinking about what is good for society as a whole to a focus on what is good for me.  More and more it seems that people are focused on themselves and not on what is good for others.  One indication of this is that more and more young people are choosing not to have children because having children and raising children is difficult and consumes a great deal of time and money.  Children complicate life, but without children society cannot survive. 

Many people and churches today try to redefine what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.  They often are doing it out of love and good intentions.  They want a Jesus that does not call out sin and make people feel bad.  They want a Jesus in their own image.  They want a generic Christ who is an energy of sorts that they can plug into once in a while for a boost.  They want a Christ who does what they want Him to do when they want Him to do it. People want a glorious Christ who helps them be successful; a Christ to make them healthy, wealthy and wise.  Folks want a Christ who is around to help, support, comfort, protect.  But that is not who the Christ is. 

Progressive denominations and seminaries are moving beyond gay rights and into a queer theology claiming that “Christian theology is a fundamentally queer enterprise.”  And they claim that traditional Christianity has been corrupted into systemic defamation of sensual self-indulgence.[1]  They want to redefine Christ so He celebrates their perversion of God’s gift of marriage and sexuality.  So many desperately want a gnostic Jesus who does not care what you do with your body as long as you have the right knowledge about God. 

There are a number of people who, over the years, have left the fellowship of this congregation because they were looking for a different Christ; a Christ more compatible with the world. It is uncomfortable to be at odds with the world so folks want a Jesus of the world, but St. Paul warns about this in last week’s epistle reading.  Romans 12:2 (ESV) 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

 We want a Christ that is all about me, me, me and the Christ says, “Deny yourself.”  Tell yourself “no.”  Do not indulge your sinful desires.  Reject self-indulgence.  Deny yourself. 

            Jesus is the Christ.  To be Christ means to suffer, die and rise from the dead.  Then the question is, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” 

John the Baptist found this out the hard way.  John is imprisoned for calling out the king’s adultery and Jesus leaves John in prison and John is executed.  Jesus did not do what John wanted.  Why didn’t Jesus help John?  Jesus is often a hidden Christ.  The true Christ is a Christ who often hides His greatness, glory, majesty and power.  He is a Christ that allows you to suffer and die. His promises remain and you will be raised from the dead and have eternal life, but the suffering here is real. To answer the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?”  The true Christ says, Matthew 16:24 (ESV) 24 … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

            We want a Christ that is all about me, me, me and the Christ says, “Deny yourself.”  Tell yourself “no.”  Do not indulge your sinful desires.  Reject self-indulgence.  Deny yourself. 

The world tells you to indulge yourself, be your true you, go all in on your desires and adopt them as your identity.  Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” 

Jesus teaches you to live out your identity as a baptized child of God.  Because you belong to Jesus.  God’s name and identity have been put onto you.  You are a follower of Jesus.  Live out who you are in Christ.  Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Be transformed by your identity in Christ and fight the powerful desire to conform to the world.  As a follower of Jesus you expect suffering and death knowing you will be raised from the dead.  As a follower of Jesus you are on your knees confessing your sins and receiving the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  As a follower of Jesus you gather to hear the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done. 

            In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus three times tells His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem and will suffer and be killed and then rise again.  Many people refer to these as passion predictions and that seems to be how Peter also heard it.  Jesus will suffer and die.  But not just suffer.  Not just die.  Jesus will also be raised up.  These are not just passion predictions but also resurrection predictions.  They are predictions of victory over sin, death and the grave.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

            Who is Jesus?  Jesus is the Christ.

            What does it mean to be the Christ?  It means to suffer and die and be raised from the dead.

            What does it mean to follow the Christ?  It means to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus through the difficulties of life, through suffering and death, all the way to eternal life with the Lord in the Heavenly City. 

Follow Jesus.  Amen. 


[1] https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2023/06/13/queering_jesus_how_its_going_mainstream_at_progressive_churches_and_top_divinity_schools_903535.html?mc_cid=11f1150411