In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ:
They [Jesus and the disciples] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. (Mark 9:30-32 ESV)
It's already begun. The movement is now afoot. The plans are being made. The plot has already been hatched.
And Jesus knows it. And Jesus is preparing for it. And Jesus is preparing his disciples for it. And, this morning, Jesus is preparing you and me for it.
The plans are in reaction to the impending battle that will answer once-and-for-all: "Who is the greatest among us? Who's got the real power and authority? Who's got the chutzpah to step up to the plate and deliver? Who's got the passion to win what angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven have been pleading for since Adam and Eve's fall into sin?
When it comes to salvation, there is seemingly little room for the shy and squeamish. From now on, things will move irreversibly toward the great and mighty day of the Lord. "The time has now come." Jesus announces to those he has called to follow him.
Because when it comes to life in this world, God doesn't leave his own children hanging — he doesn't leave us hanging. When it comes to our redemption, our Lord puts it all on the table.
And as we heard last Sunday, the focus of Jesus' ministry now moves from performing signs and miracles as a witness to the crowds to the preparation of Jesus' own for what now lies just around the corner.
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. (Mark 8:31 ESV)
No more obtuse hints, no more innuendo. No more under the table clues and back room whispers. For the disciples, for the tribes of Israel reduced to twelve, it was out in the open now. From the mouth of Jesus himself the disciples now hear plainly what had only been sketched out by the prophets of old: "I am the Christ. And I have been anointed to be the Servant of the Lord of Hosts, sent to secure salvation for you and for the entire world — by suffering, by being rejected, by being killed — and after three days resurrected."
The Twelve had hoped that things would change for the better after Jesus' first prediction of what was in store for him — and for them — in Jerusalem. And with the glimpse of glory granted to Peter and James and John (the representatives of the Twelve who accompanied Jesus up the mount of transfiguration), they quickly forgot the far-from-glorious end Jesus had earlier predicted. With the powerful healing of the boy suffering under an unclean spirit, the disciples tucked away any thought that Jesus would end up in the hands of evil men who would strip him — strip him of his very life.
But now, Jesus had paused from performing signs and miracles in the public square to do an even greater work behind closed doors: to begin the process of readying his true followers for the cosmic firestorm that would ensue with Jesus' betrayal and arrest.
With this morning's Gospel from the 9th chapter of Saint Mark, we see that the wheels are now set in motion. The Jewish religious leaders have been convinced that this whole Jesus of Nazareth movement was not progressing toward their salvation but — if left unchecked — their undoing. Judas has been convinced that the perks he secretly enjoyed as treasurer of the band's coffers were now in real jeopardy if Jesus was preparing to end it all when he arrived in Jerusalem. Judas thought: "How in the world can this self-proclaimed messiah — this glorious son of man — allow himself to be delivered over into the hands of those who would cancel his rise to fame — like some helpless piece of bulk mail?"
I always remember what Judas sang in "Jesus Christ Superstar" as he warned Jesus about the road he was now announcing to the disciples:
Listen Jesus to the warning I give. /
Please remember that I want us to live.
But it's sad to see our chances weakening with ev'ry hour.
All your followers are blind. / Too much heaven on their minds.
It was beautiful, but now it's sour. / Yes, it's all gone sour ... .
Judas' dreams of greatness were drying up, even as the Twelve made their way to the lakeside home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He could see nothing but disaster and a big, fat dead end — not only for Jesus, but especially for himself and his great personal aspirations.
Something had to be done. Plans needed to be made. Alliances needed to be established and nurtured. Someone needed to stand up and take the bull by its horns and stop this mad rush off the cliff. Someone needed to rise to the occasion among Jesus' followers.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34 ESV)
The private whispers of the disciples along the way had proven much more divisive than decisive. They were jostling among themselves for a seat of power and glory and honor at their master's right and left — especially now as it seemed that someone would have to take charge in Jesus' absence.
Who among the Twelve could guarantee they had the right stuff to continue what Jesus had started? Who was the heir apparent? Peter? James and John? Thomas? Andrew? Judas?
Who could make what Jesus had begun into something truly great and glorious and eternal?
Jesus, dear, long-suffering, patient Jesus brought his disciples inside and closed the door and sat down to teach them again something that seemed more and more impossible for their fallen, self-absorbed, "what's in it for me," hearts and minds to grasp. Jesus was about to teach them that "It's not about getting to the top of the ladder before anyone else."
And [Jesus] sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37 ESV)
It should increasingly disturb us that the mission of more and more of the organized Christian church swirls around a deadly obsession to gain the applause of the crowds and make a great name for those individuals who — in the eyes of the world — fought the hardest for heaven and claimed the most real estate for the kingdom of God.
Jesus calls the twelve to repentance and a complete turn-around in their understanding of the securing of salvation when he puts the simple, unquestioning faith of a child before their eyes and says, "This is what the kingdom of God is all about. This is the will of God. This is the mission of his one-and-only Son. To be a servant who's only aspiration is to obey the good and gracious will of him who sent him."
Our secret aspiration was to be thought of well by more and more people. Jesus' secret aspiration? To do the will of his Father in heaven and give his life-blood — even for fame-craving disciples. Our secret wish was to gain the accolades of those around us and have nice things said of us after we were gone. Jesus' secret wish: to do the will of his Father in heaven — to serve his Father's gracious will — even when it meant being the Suffering Servant. Even when it meant receiving the wrath of sinners too busy arguing about who's name would be announced at the next awards show to see their redemption just over the hill.
"What were you discussing along the way?" Jesus asks, as he calls each of us to let go of the desire to make a name for ourselves — that he might place his saving name upon us.
Christ would have nothing to do with the silly and endless debates about who was greatest — who deserved the service and applause of everyone around them. He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom for the many, to put on a waiter's towel and stoop down and wash away our sins with his very life-blood.
When it comes to hitting home runs in the kingdom of salvation, only Christ wears the title of designated hitter. Only he has stepped up to the plate, and forsaking all glory, won for us — and for an entire lawless, self-seeking world — the name gifted to us at the baptismal font: believing, faithful, God-pleasing child of heaven.
Put your faith in Christ and his Word spoken over you at the font, spoken over you through the prophets and apostles, spoken over his table, over bread and wine through which he forgives and strengthens.
It took something truly great to change the disciples' endless debates about who among them was the greatest and most glorious. And it takes something truly miraculous to change our old nature's fascination to look into the mirror and ask, "Who's the fairest one of all?" It takes a plunge into Christ's death and resurrection. It takes a daily drowning of that nature we drag around with us, that a new nature would arise — a Christ-like nature that serves our neighbor, even the neighbor we find it so difficult to care for.
It was the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."
May Christ continue his great and mighty work of drowning our sin, and brining forth a new nature that serves those God places into our lives - for their sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit