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Jesus is not the one we would pick. Jesus is not the guy we would look to win the day. He’s not the one we would rally behind.
If we had to pick someone to get behind and rally around, it would probably be someone who could shout everyone else down. You know, someone who doesn’t let people get away with non-sense but tells the blunt truth and gives them what they deserve. Someone who can shout the loudest and get his way no matter who he’s up against. Someone who isn’t afraid to offend people, show people up, or put people down in order to get his way. Someone who is strong and not weak.
That’s the world we live in right now. As a culture, we’ve lost a shared sense of what’s good and bad, right and wrong. So, there’s no more talking matters through. If someone disagrees with us, we don’t let them get a word in edgewise. Words—civil discourse—don’t help anymore. It’s a battle of all against all, and the one who is the loudest and the most aggressive and most hard-nosed, the one who has the most people rallying behind him is the one who comes out on top. This is the way it works anymore in our government. This is the way it works on Facebook and social media. This is the way it works at our jobs. Shoot, this is the way it goes in our churches. The one who is the loudest and the most aggressive gets the job done and wins the day.
Jesus is not that guy. Peter, in our gospel reading, confessed that Jesus is the Christ. That is, Jesus is the one God sent to rule and reign over all things, the one who will have the last word with everyone and everything. But then Jesus described what kind of Christ he would be: “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
The people who are in charge and who are used to getting their way—the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes—will reject Jesus. They’ll arrest him and put him on trial. They’ll bring false witnesses against him, who will lie about him. And Jesus will say nothing. The Romans will call together a whole battalion of soldiers to mock Jesus. They’ll put a purple robe on him, twist together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they’ll bow down in homage to him, “Hail, king of the Jews.” They’ll beat him on the head with a rod, and they’ll spit on him. Then they’ll hang him on a cross outside of the city between two criminals where they will ridicule him, “Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” And what will Jesus do? He won’t curse them back; he won’t threaten; he won’t return evil for evil. He’ll cry out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” And then he’ll breathe his last.
Jesus is not the guy. In fact, in a world where the winners are the loudest and the most aggressive—the strong, and not the weak—Jesus is embarrassing. Jesus is a loser at this world. Jesus is not the one we would pick.
And he’s not the one Peter would pick either. When Jesus told Peter that he would suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again, Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter, Jesus’ own disciple, actually told Jesus in no uncertain terms that this isn’t the way it’s going to go and that Jesus was just plain wrong. And you can understand why. How could it be that the one to rule and reign over everything would be a loser, who is trampled on by the most aggressive and the loudest? That’s not how you get your way; that’s not how you win at the world; that’s just embarrassing! Jesus turns out to be a loser at this world.
But Jesus didn’t let Peter finish. “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.” Then he called the crowd with his disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, 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, but forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? 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.”
This is Jesus’ way of saying, you’re ashamed of me because of my suffering, rejection, and death. You’re ashamed of me because I’m a loser at this world. Well, this world isn’t all it’s cracked out to be. It’s a sinful and adulterous generation, and it’s all going down. You can win at this world, but what do you gain in the end? Nothing but more sin, more destruction, and more death. This world is a sinking ship.
And my rejection, suffering, and death are the only way out. When I’m treated with contempt, dragged outside of the city walls like a foul and defiled criminal, and hung on a tree to die, you may be embarrassed and ashamed at me. But my rejection, my shame, and my death are the way I will overcome the world! As the scriptures say, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
Jesus’ suffering and death may be embarrassing to this world. But in his suffering and death, Jesus takes on our sin, our evil, and even death itself. There on the cross, the world did all that it could to get its way—the shouts and the insults, the strength and the power, to show up and put down its opposition. But there on the cross, Jesus gave all that he had and all that he was—his mercy, his compassion, his love, his life. In pouring himself out, in losing at the world, Jesus overcomes the world with his forgiveness, his life, his resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ suffering and death are his victory over the world.
Jesus is not the one we would pick. But thank God Jesus is the one!
We can spend our whole lives trying to win at this world and get absolutely nowhere. The problem with trying to be the loudest and the most aggressive—or the strongest, or wisest, or best—is that you’ll never win. You can spend your whole life trying to shout other people down, trying to show other people up, trying to win your way, but you’ll always have someone else trying to do the same to you. And in the end, what do you win? When you return shout for shout, insult for insult, anger for anger, then you only get more shouting, more insults, more anger. When you try to overcome evil with evil, you don’t win. Evil wins! It overcomes you.
There is finally no winning at the world. Winning at the world is like getting the best seat on the Titanic, or sitting first class on a crashing airplane. It all ends in death and destruction. For whoever would save his life will lose it … what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but forfeit his life?
The good news is that we have a Lord who has overcome the world. Not with shouts or threats or insults. But by his patient suffering and death, by his forgiveness and his mercy. And that means we can leave winning behind and get on with things other than not letting people get away with it, always getting the our way and the last word, and winning no matter what the cost. We can take up our cross, die to trying to win at the world, and instead, spend our lives blessing the people that God has put right in front of us: our family, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We don’t have to win, and so we can pour ourselves out caring for the people around us. And if we end up suffering for it? Well, we’re in good company—The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected, and killed—and we know how our suffering will work out in the end—whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Jesus is not the one we would pick. But thank God Jesus is the one—the Christ, who loses his life for you.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 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.”