Sermon 8/31/2008

September 2, 2008 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

We were heading to Little League in the car last Sunday afternoon,

when Michael asked the question,

“Why did Jesus want the disciples not to tell anyone who he was?”

I told him with a smile on my face

that he’d need to wait until this week’s sermon to get the answer.

No doubt he’s been on pins and needles all week waiting.

 

Maybe you had the same thought last week as you sat down last week

after the Gospel reading.

What’s the big secret?

Jesus, after all, has pushed the disciples to answer the question –

asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

Clearly, he hopes that Peter will give the answer that he does give –

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

And Jesus calls Peter “blessed” for his answer

because only God his Father could have given Peter the faith to answer in this way,

and Jesus gives him great promises,

that the church will be built upon the rock of his confession,

and that he himself will be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven,

which explains why in all those jokes about arriving at the Pearly Gates

it’s St. Peter who is standing there when you arrive.

 

But then Jesus does something very strange.

He sternly warns the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah.

It must have seemed just as strange to the disciples as it does to us.

It’s so strange that a little more than a hundred years ago,

a gentleman named Wilhelm Wrede asked the same question

as my nine-year-old son,

“Why didn’t Jesus want the disciples to tell anyone about who he was?

And to answer the question,

he wrote a whole book about it

called The Messianic Secret, which became very famous. 

According to Wrede, Jesus didn’t think he was the Messiah during his life,

he never mentioned it.

It was only after his resurrection that the church began to believe he was the Messiah.

But this posed a problem –

when the Church wrote the Gospels, the stories of the Messiah’s life,

how were they to explain away this embarrassing little fact

that Jesus never talked about being the Messiah or the Son of God?

Well, Wrede says that they put lines like this in

to explain why Jesus never called himself the Messiah during his life.

“Don’t tell anyone.  It’s a secret.” 

For Wrede,

this little line is a clue that the Church after Jesus thought something more of Jesus

than Jesus thought of himself –

and many today still follow his example.

 

Nonsense, sniffed other biblical scholars.

Jesus sure did know he was the Messiah during his life,

and he wanted the disciples to know too.

Fact is, he wanted everyone to know.

Everyone except those nasty old Romans.

Because the Romans, you see, didn’t take kindly to people proclaiming themselves king.

They had a way to deal with those people.

And so, in order for Jesus to be able to move about freely

and continue his ministry of teaching and healing,

he had to keep any rumors that he was Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel,

to be just that, rumors.

If his disciples had run around declaring “Jesus is Messiah!”

it would have been the end of everything.

So he had to keep them in line.

He had to keep his identity secret until the last possible moment.

 

This explanation at least has the merit of taking the words Jesus speaks in the Gospel

as Jesus’ own words

and not as later projections onto Jesus by the church.

It also has historical accuracy,

as the Romans certainly did take threats to their power quite seriously.

But even if Jesus did want to keep his identity secret from the Romans

for the time being,

he would have eventually had to make a public announcement

to get the people to rally behind him

and prepare for revolt and war against the Roman occupiers.

Because that is what a Messiah was supposed to do.

When Peter makes his confession, “You are the Messiah,”

he is preparing himself to be Jesus’ lieutenant –

his right-hand soldier,

fighting and killing in a holy war against God’s enemies

and either dying heroically or emerging victorious.

And Jesus says, “Not so fast.”

Not because he isn’t the Messiah – he is.

Not because he doesn’t want people to know – he does.

But because he is not the kind of Messiah we are expecting,

and so now that he’s got us to this point, that he is the Messiah,

he’s got to teach us about what kind of Messiah he is.

 

“From that time on,

Jesus began to show his disciples

that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering

at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes,

and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Peter’s little brain cannot comprehend it.

He’s got himself all torqued up to fight and kill and win

and Jesus talks about losing everything – about suffering and dying.

The one who has called Jesus Messiah begins to lecture Jesus

about what a Messiah is supposed to do and be

and Jesus calls him on it.

You don’t get it, Jesus says,

you are thinking like a sinful human being

and not like a child of God.

You don’t understand who I am and who you are to be yet.

You will understand later,

when I’ve gone to the cross and have been raised from the dead,

what kind of Son of God I am and what kind of Father I have.

Then you’ll start telling people that I am the Messiah.

Until then, Peter, just keep listening.

 

Why the Messianic secret?

Why does Jesus refuse to declare himself,

and tells everyone to keep their silence about him –

demons who come shrieking out of the afflicted,

he tells them, “Be silent about what you know.”

afflicted ones whom he heals,

he tells them, “Keep it secret, keep it safe.”

Disciples who discern his true identity,

he warns them, “Tell no one about this.  It’s between us.”

Because only by living his whole life and dying his death on the cross

can Jesus reveal to us his Father’s whole secret –

not just who Messiah is, but what Messiah is.

Messiah is the anointed king who kneels before his friends and washes their feet.

Messiah is the one who submits to the jeers of the crowd, the scourging of the soldiers,

and prays for God’s forgiveness upon those who extinguish his life.

Messiah is the one who wins his battle against sin

by refusing to sin against those who trespass against him.

And so it’s not the proper time for Peter to proclaim him as Messiah –

until he can see for himself just the kind of Messiah God wants him to proclaim

and what kind of man God wants him to be.

 

Because it’s only if we know and follow this Messiah down the way of self-denial

to the cross

are we going to become the kind of human he is and we can be –

blessing enemies,

leaving vengeance to God,

giving to those who cannot give back,

loving those who are unlovable,

overcoming evil with good.

This is the way of the Messiah, the king who is a lowly servant,

the God who stooped to become human

so that we humans might become children of God.

Follow him upon this way

so that you may proclaim him with your life

and enjoy his humble Lordship forever.

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Sermon 7/20: On Waiting Sermon Holy Cross Day

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