Here’s this mornings sermon preached in St.Timothy’s chapel of the Lutheran Theological Seminary by Rev Dr. K. Boehmer on Luke 9,18-22: Now it happened that as [Jesus] was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Grace and peace be yours in abundance!
My bank account is with Nedbank. Every time I have a problem with my account, or when I have a question, I call the Nedbank contact center. Every time, we follow the same routine, the same rigmarole. I have to provide my identity number, my name, my account number, and answer some security questions – and then comes the question. They ask it every time. I think it is part of their training. They say: So how can I make things happen for you? How can I make things happen for you – how wonderful it would be if they really meant that. Imagine – just imagine you could tell someone on the telephone with your problems are, your needs, your wants, your desires; all you needed to do was to tell them, and then they would make things happen for you. I can think of many things that I would ask them to make happen for me. Good day, you’re speaking with Nedbank, how can I make things happen for you? – But that’s not really what they want to know, is it. What they really want to know is: What is your problem with your bank account, and how can I help you solve it, because that’s what I get paid to do?
Some people think that’s what prayer is. It is a telephone call to God, if you will, and it follows the same routine. Imagine God sits there and says: So, how can I make things happen for you? If you had that chance, if you could tell God whatever was on your heart or on your mind or weighing you down, and what you wanted done, and he would make it happen – what would it be? Well… there’s this problem with my visa. Could you make that go away? Well… there’s this problem with my money. I don’t have any. Can you help? Well… there’s this problem with my studies. The lecturers give too much homework. Could you help me out?
For some time now, Jesus had been at work among the people of God. A preacher like none before him, a healer with miraculous capabilities, a teacher like no other, he raises the dead, he wows the crowds, he casts out demons, he feeds 5,000 and more in one sitting – who is this man? Well, what’s the vibe, what’s the scoop, who do the people think he is? Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others that he is one of the profits back from the dead. But they’re all wrong. They all pick a supporting actor instead of the lead role, a flunky instead of the star. But then comes Peter’s big moment. “You are… the Christ of God.” At that moment, heaven probably reverberated with the praise and worship of choirs of angels and heavenly beings praising God with delight and wonder and veneration and awe.
Now imagine – just imagine – Jesus responding to Peter and saying: You’re right, I am the Christ, how can I make things happen for you? Imagine Jesus turning to the people of Israel and saying: All right, the secret’s out, I am the Christ, the promised Anointed One, how can I make things happen for you? You could safely bet that people would ask for all kinds of things. Health, wealth, happiness, fame and joy and fortune. National self-determination, military successes, the scrapping of the Pax Romana for the Pax Iudaica, scratch the Roman Empire and make way for the Jewish Empire and the eternal Golden Age. People would want all kinds of things to happen.
The irony is that Jesus says something similar; in effect, he says: You’re right, I am the Christ, and I’ve come to make things happen for you. And here’s what that means: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Instead of taking away their suffering, and their national suffering, the Christ comes to add suffering of his own. Instead of compensating for their rejection by the world, the Christ comes to be rejected himself. Instead of preventing their death, the Christ comes to be killed himself. The coming of Jesus as the Christ is God answer to the world’s problems, to Israel’s problems, to Peter’s problems, and to yours. It is God saying: I see your need, I am moved by it, let me make things happen for you, and here’s how I’m going to do it… And – worst of all – this isn’t optional. It’s not as if they have a choice. They don’t have a say, you don’t have a say. It’s right there in the Greek, that little word, just three letters, δεῖ – the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and killed and raised. This is divine necessity, it is God saying: This must be so, there is no other way. It is as Scripture explains in Acts 4: The rejection and the suffering and the killing and the dying Jesus experienced came about because God’s hand and his plan had predestined it to take place (Acts 4:28). The prophets foretold it, this is how it would be. This is God looking at your life, and mine, and saying: I see your need and here’s how I will meet it.
Jesus challenges Peter’s expectations and he challenges yours and mine as he clarifies what God needs to do to make things happen for you. This is what you need: A messiah who will suffer for you, who will be rejected for you, who will die for you, who will be raised for you. It is painful to admit that this is what we need. A Messiah who will suffer and die for us, to make up for our failures and rebellions. To address our sin of idolatry and insurrection, and to free us from the curse of sin. To provide forgiveness and reconciliation with our Creator. This is how it is: Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). For you to live, Christ must die. To make things happen for you.
That Jesus was willing to do this – this is pure Gospel. That he was willing to be born under the Law, to fulfil all righteousness, and to pay the full price of our redemption on Calvary’s cross – this is pure gift. Just like Peter’s confession was. All gift. And the angels in heaven rejoice and break out in praise to the Almighty whenever sinners receive this gift today, when they make this confession and are saved from their sins.
One thing’s needful; Lord this treasure
Teach me highly to regard;
All else, though it first give pleasure,
Is a yoke that presses hard.
Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving,
No true, lasting happiness ever deriving.
The gain of this one thing all loss can requite
And teach me in all things to find true delight.
Soli Deo Gloria – Pastor Dr. Karl Böhmer