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Things of God, Things of Man

Feb 25, 2018

Passage: Mark 8:31-33

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Lent


Text: “31And 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. 32And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.’”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. By nature, we don’t think like God does, and this – in no small part – on-account of the fact that we are unable to see all that He sees. The prophet Isaiah records the LORD comparing Himself to us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).” Proverbs 14:12 gives further insights about our limitation: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” This puts us at an immediate disadvantage: no matter how hard we try to sort things out, we are confronted by our limitation. The problem includes what we refer to as the noetic affect of sin. Sin messes with our minds and even the most gifted thinkers disciplined in logic can go off course and fail to recognize what is right and what is true.

Coming up to the events recorded in our gospel this morning in Mark, chapter 8, the disciples had a front-row seat in seeing the evidence that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They had witnessed miracle after miracle. They had seen evidence of His glory. They were witnesses to His ability to heal (chapters 2-3), His control over nature (chapter 4), His authority over the demonic (chapter 5), and even as the rest of chapter 5 of Mark indicates: His power over death itself. All of this was so wonderful, so amazing that yes -- the disciples concluded -- He must be the Son of the Living God. Isn’t that the only rational conclusion that one could come to? “Indeed, what other explanation could there be? We must be witnessing God in human flesh!”

Finally! They got it! So, Jesus steps out and for the first time in three times recorded in Scripture, He told the disciples that He was going into Jerusalem to be killed. Again, here in Mark 8 is the first instance, and furthermore our gospel records that Jesus told them plainly (verse 32).

Now, was this a hard thing for them to hear? Certainly, it would have been. The LORD told them that He would be made to suffer (well that would be hard to hear about someone you love); that He would be rejected (again, this would have been painful to become aware of); and finally – in terms of the bad news (from their limited perspective) – He would be killed (verse 31; and indeed, who wanted to hear that?).

But to be fair to the LORD, that’s not all He said. He ALSO told them that after three days, He would rise again (that is, He would live again). And that of course, wasn’t bad news, but extraordinarily good news.

What was Jesus telling them? He was telling them about His saving work; about His death and about His resurrection. He was telling them about His glorious ministry to rescue them – and us – from sin, death, and the power of the evil one. He was letting them in to be the first ones to know about His mission. And it was all good. Yes, there would be the excruciating cross, but more importantly there would be the triumphant and glorious resurrection; the best of the best of what has ever happened and what will ever happen in the history of mankind even as it is the first-fruits of what will happen to you and to me: our own resurrection and vibrant standing before the LORD on that glorious Day that is to come!

And yet what happened is recorded to prove to us and to raise in us the greatest conviction and humiliation: we don’t listen! We don’t get it! And even in knowing WHO Jesus truly is, we still resist Him. What St. Peter did was worse than the subtlety of Satan in the Garden of Eden. There Satan tried to come in from the back door. “Did God really say (Gen 3:1)?” He tried to raise doubt and confusion through His temptation, but St. Peter didn’t beat around the bush. St. Peter rejected the Word of God out of hand.

Jesus told them what was going to happen. God said it! And yet, Peter had the audacity; he had the brazenness not to question the Word, but to flat out reject it. He heard the Word of God from the One who had demonstrated His in-the-flesh divinity – power over disease; power over the demonic; power over nature; power over death – and YET, St. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke the LORD (verse 32)! St. Matthew again gives the fuller version: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you (Matt 16:22).” Again, this was flat out denial. Jesus said this would happen. God spoke! But St. Peter said “no!” This was an assault on the Word of God!

It is hard to think of a greater sin. The Word of God brings salvation to us, but this is what St. Peter was rejecting. He threw it back in Jesus’ face! So, the LORD did not mince words: “Bet behind me, Satan (verse 33)!” Satan means “adversary.” He is an enemy. He fights against us. And in this instance, He was fighting against the LORD. Quite frankly, Satan through St. Peter was trying to stop Jesus from saving us.

We see what the Word records: “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (verse 32).” But what this must have been like was not a display of irreverence; it was not a rebuke in the sense of dishonor or a lack of love. Surely, St. Peter while probably feeling pretty good about His stated faith just a little before the current scene – he was the one who said, “You are the Christ!” – was probably now in all sincerity filled with love for Jesus, that nothing evil would EVER happen to Him. St. Peter may very well have been embracing the LORD, not grabbing the LORD while trying to rough-house the LORD, but it was probably the embrace of a friend trying to keep the other friend from unnecessary danger. It was St. Peter’s way of loving the LORD…so He thought! So, he thought!

But the LORD says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts… and there is a way that seems right to a man, but it leads to death.” St. Peter was sincere, but he was sincerely wrong to have done what he did. But again, it seemed so right. God’s Word is clear, but seriously? When it comes to the things that we just don’t see, or the things that we just don’t agree with, then we want to lovingly take Jesus aside and say, “LORD, I really love you…I really, really do, but this can’t be! I’m sorry dear LORD, but you’re wrong!” And this is my dear Christians, a horrible sin against God.

The LORD says, “forgive your enemy.” We say, “LORD, let me take you over here for a second…I love you, but you don’t understand…I could never forgive what this person did to me.” What are we saying when we say this (even if just in our most personal thoughts?!)? It is like saying that we reject God’s Word. We are saying that we really have a higher authority over the Word of God, namely ourselves, and this is an atrocious and very dangerous thing. It is again, one of the absolute worse sins we could ever commit. And yet this is exactly what we do even while we claim to love the LORD. “LORD, I love you, but just please change Your Word!”

And yet the LORD Jesus -- whose Word is unchanging and eternal -- did not destroy St. Peter (nor the other apostles who were assuredly just as confused as St. Peter was). But the LORD full of compassion and mercy – as always – spoke in such a way as to help and bless His people: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (verse 33).” Yes, this is harsh and hard, but it is spoken to us in the greatest love; to shake us up; and to wake us up! It is intended to convict us of sin, so that we would stop long enough to confess: “LORD, I don’t think like you do! I think like a sinner! And what I think is right is frequently just wrong! Please forgive me!”

The Christian couple got into a terrible argument and said some things that ought not have been said, and you know the saying, “You can’t take it back!” Those things cut deep and created some wounds. They both felt terrible, but they were both mad. They walked away; got away from one another. While they were alone something happened: the husband prayed: “My dear LORD, I over-reacted; I don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. I told her that I was only stating the facts, but that wasn’t it; it was all about me…I was trying to control the situation; I showed no gentleness; no concern for her position. I was just acting in sinful pride. Dear Jesus, I am ashamed of myself. Please forgive my sin and give me the strength to ask for her forgiveness.”

At the exact same time, upstairs in their bedroom, his wife was having a similar moment with the LORD, “Dear Jesus, why did I do that? I challenged him. I tried to make him feel foolish. I refused to respect him, and I goaded him into over-reaction just so that I could say that I was right, and he was wrong. Dear LORD, I was wrong, I sinned. Please forgive me and help me to ask for his forgiveness.

What was funny is that she went to go down-stairs just as he had run upstairs at the same time! The Holy Spirit had been leading both-of-them to get back on track and they practically bumped into each other as they met at the threshold of their bedroom door. They surprised each-other and they started to laugh, and then – awkwardly – they said simultaneously, “I’m sorry.” The husband looked down, he was overwhelmed at how fortunate he was to have a wife that still loved him and who was humble enough to take on the responsibility that was really his. Just then, her voice broke through the silence: “I am sorry for the way I acted. I love you. Please forgive me!” He said, “You have nothing to apologize for. That was and is on me. I too ask for your forgiveness!”

Their admitting or conceding was another way of referring to confession and what confession is, is the Christian’s way of “saying the same thing” as God! Confession can either refer to the confession of sin, or the confession of faith. Confession celebrates the love and mercy of Christ; it rejoices that His blood washes away our rejection of His Word; and it supplies the refreshing, renewed, and “out of the ordinary” forgiveness that is already ours in the Name of Jesus.

When we confess, we make the thoughts of God and the ways of God our thoughts and our ways. Through the Word of Christ that reaches us, we know His thoughts and His ways revealed in Holy Scripture. Let us live in this Word! Let us rejoice that not only have we been freely covered by the blood of the Lamb; not only have we received the saving flood of Holy Baptism; and not only do we receive regularly and frequently the LORD’s Body and Blood so that we may never die, but we also receive His thoughts; we also by the Holy Spirit, come to know His ways. And even as the battle with our sin nature continues, we know – beyond all doubt – that because He gives us His thoughts and His ways, then we shall not be overcome by our sin, but the clearest “things of God” are in Jesus and in Him, none of our sin can tear us away!