sermon

Whose Side Are We On?

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

March 4, 2018

Text: Mark 8:33, O.T.: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, N.T.: Mark 8:31-38

            Jesus said, “Whoever is not for me is against me.” His claim is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. (Matt. 12:30; Lk. 11:23) For Jesus there is no middle ground. There’s no shade of grey.

There are many who doubt Jesus is God’s Son. They believe they have good reason for doubting. Other people are outright antagonists. They publicly oppose Jesus’ divinity and aren’t concerned about the consequences of their opposition.

Christianity isn’t naïve about the existence of opposition. Christians ought to expect it. It’s clear in the Scriptures that Jesus’ purpose encourages opposition. However, the subtly of opposition isn’t always recognized by well-meaning believers.

Being born into Christianity isn’t a guarantee of belief in Jesus Christ any more than being born into Judaism meant biblical era Jews recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Sitting at the Master’s feet as one of Jesus’ chosen twelve didn’t guarantee they accepted Jesus as God’s Son. Being in Jesus’ presence, hearing Jesus’ teaching, watching His miracles, understanding His wisdom, seeing His remarkable insight and foresight didn’t mean they agreed with how Jesus’ mission would be accomplished.

Peter is anointed by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel as the “rock” on which Jesus’ church will be built. He’s the first disciple to declare Jesus is the Messiah. In Matthew, Jesus acknowledges Peter’s confession by bestowing on Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever Peter loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. Whatever Peter bound on earth will be bound in heaven.

Peter is like a lot of Christians who identify Jesus as the Messiah – the Savior – the Son of God. They say the right things about Jesus.

Peter was impressed by Jesus’s teachings, His miracles, His wisdom, His insight and foresight. Jesus showed leadership skills that were remarkable. He thought quickly on His feet. He was strong in His oratory yet compassionate in private. He looked upon everyone as important and demonstrated His love for the people. He was powerful in His convictions and focused upon His mission.

Jesus was the perfect candidate for political office. Peter was sure that Jesus possessed the gifts that were needed to turn the country around – to get Judah on its feet. Jesus wasn’t afraid of the incumbents in government office. He wasn’t intimidated by religious leaders’ skepticism of His vision. He was the man to lead Judah back to God.

Jesus had debated His contemporaries in all sorts of situations and won every contest. Yet His love for the people was what shone brightest. He wasn’t an elitist, despite His wisdom. He wasn’t aloof, despite His authority.

His power lay in the balance between faith, hope, and love which few leaders possess. Jesus had it all.

Today, we see followers of candidates running for political office and elected officials who are already there. We can see the idol worship demanded of followers in modern political campaigns.

So we can imagine what Peter felt, Jesus’ enthusiastic follower, when Peter gushed, “You’re the Christ!” The Messiah! The leader God sent to save us!

How disappointed would any of today’s elected officials’ staff be, if their official – on whatever side of any public debate would suddenly at the peak of their popularity, with the opinion polls climbing, said to them, “I must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the leaders of our own party, the religious leaders of our nation, the judges of our nation’s courts, and then be put to death.”

Jesus’ head of staff for the Apostles – Peter – was shocked – dismayed.

What Jesus predicted threatened Peter’s dream – a Judah restored to its national glory. God’s people were meant to be restored to their proper place – free from their enslavement to Rome – free to be the people God’s chosen people were meant to be. Jesus was the man anointed by God to accomplish the dream. He and He alone fit the role of Messiah.

Jesus’ prediction was terrible! It was a catastrophe! There was no way the outcome Jesus foresaw would free the nation of God’s people from its woes.

Peter argued with Jesus about His disappointing prediction. Jesus’ was rejecting everything that Jesus and Peter were working towards. Or at least, what Peter thought they had been working towards.

When you think about it, for all of Peter’s familiarity with Jesus as a follower, Peter’s dream for the future wasn’t any different than that of the crowd that gathered before Pontius Pilate when Pilate gave them a choice. Pilate offered to free Jesus from crucifixion, or free Barabbas. The crowd wanted Barabbas freed. Why? Barabbas fit the mold for their national dream.

Barabbas was in prison for being part of the Jewish revolt against Rome. His freedom was necessary to accomplish the goal of national change. Jesus’ vision for His mission wasn’t theirs. They had come to the conclusion that His vision for changing the world wasn’t as effective as Barabbas’ vision.

 

 

Peter didn’t get it about Jesus. For as much as He knew about Jesus, sitting at His feet, listening to His teaching, following Jesus’ instructions, Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ leadership. Jesus wasn’t campaigning for political office. The restoration of Judah wouldn’t be by men’s efforts to change the government.

Jesus had a greater vision, a vision beyond the limits of what political leaders can do. Jesus was aiming at restoring the world. It could only be done by the effort of God’s grace and mercy.

Servant leadership, genuine servant leadership, God’s leadership in Jesus Christ offers hope through grace and mercy. Its object is to restore the human heart to God. No government can accomplish through law, worldly power, or educational policy what Jesus Christ can do by changing hearts.

Jesus’ death was necessary to reach the human heart. The mercy Jesus offered in the midst of His dying powerfully changes the human heart. God offered hope for the heart in Jesus’ rising. God alone overcomes the limits of political office.

Jesus knew the hopelessness in placing our dreams in mortals’ hands. He knew the secret about human nature. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The power from which Jesus drew His leadership came from God’s love in servant hood. He was sent by the Father to give hope were none can be ultimately found. His hands are the hands that reach our hearts.

Christians must be careful where we put our hope for the future. Any improvement in human kind won’t come from idol worship from personality cults. It will come from the inner transformation of human hearts.

Too many church members put too much emphasis on personality cults. They expect their spiritual leaders to be charismatic, attracting flocks to Jesus.

What really attracts people to Jesus is a transformed heart. The charism of a transformed heart is humble and not self-righteous. The charism of a transformed heart serves others, it doesn’t expect others to serve him or her.

A transformed heart listens carefully and loves unconditionally without judgment. This is the leadership of Jesus – the spiritual attractiveness of Jesus.

When a congregation focuses upon spiritual renewal of the heart, it begins to offer what political officials can’t offer. They offer compassion without expecting some kind of political favor in return. They give without expected to be acknowledged for their giving.

They aren’t looking for credit. They’re praying for salvation.

They aren’t seeking self-advancement. They’re offering the advancement of others.

When church members are on Jesus’ side, they are singularly focused on changing people’s hearts. This was Jesus’ gift. This is the gift we are to give through our ministry in Bellevue.

All around us is a community of people with hearts yearning for transformation. They are seeking assurance that their lives matter. They are hoping for an improvement to the world in which they live. They are pleading for families that are stable, and children who will have a blessed future.

When we know what Jesus Christ does, when His teachings radiate from within our hearts, when our personal relationship with Him has inspired us to offer transformation through Him, we are on His side.

Enthusiasm for the future ought to avoid Peter’s mistake. We’re not relying on a political candidate to save us. We relying on being like Jesus.

Amen.

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