Reading Ramblings – November 9, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #19— The One to Come —November 9, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 41; Mark 8:27-35

Context:  As we approach the end of the church year and the end of this walk through the Sunday School stories of the Old Testament, we need to pause and remember that these stories all look forward to one extent or another.  While we affirm their reality in time and space, actual people and events rather than fabricated mythology, they also point beyond themselves in ways that those involved likely never realized.  What they point to is one to come.  One who completes what we cannot.  One who undoes what we have done.  One who restores completely not partially, who rescues permanently not temporarily.   The end of the church year focuses us on this in preparation for the new liturgical year and the season of Advent that points us back in longing for the Messiah’s first coming, and forward in our continued anticipation of his return.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 — We are introduced first to the figure of the Lord’s servant in Isaiah 42.  Unlike the Lord’s servant Israel, this servant will be faithfully obedient to the LORD God.  Yet his circumstances and conditions are hardly fitting for such obedience!  This servant is nothing externally special, nothing beautiful or powerful by the world’s standards.  Yet he accomplishes such unique things through his suffering and sorrow.  He does not suffer without hope or purpose, but with an eye towards a goal—that his suffering will bring us peace,  his wounds will be the source of our healing, that by bearing our iniquity many will be made righteous, and that he will be vindicated from his low estate and consideration in due time.  Small wonder that God’s people could not conceive of a Savior who would act in such unexpected ways. Small wonder that so many people continue to look past him today.

Psalm 41 — St. Mark may well have had this psalm in mind as he crafted the story of the events of Jesus’ passion beginning in chapter 14.  Jesus becomes not just the embodiment of the one with consideration of the poor, but the personification of all such poverty of body, mind, and spirit.  He is the poor man conspired against, betrayed by one of his inner circle (v.9).  But the vindication of the poor, betrayed man bursts forth in vs.10-12.  The one conspired against is the one who turns out to be victorious!  His enemies do not have the last word of triumph—not even Death gets to chuckle with his mouth full.  The poor man—who has regard for the poor of spirit—is upheld, his integrity made known, and the praise and glory given to God the Father.

Mark 8:27-35— From Genesis 3 to the last verses of Malachi, the Old Testament is moving in a uniform direction, towards the triumph of God in the descendant of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).  But what will the nature of this deliverer be?  The Jews of Jesus’ day, including his own disciples, certainly had strong opinions on the matter.  So it is that Peter can in one breath proclaim Jesus to be the promised Messiah, the culmination of God’s people’s hopes throughout the Old Testament, and in the next breath be lecturing Jesus for not understanding this role as he ought to.  We can almost hear Peter taking Jesus aside and gently lecturing him.  The messiah is the victor, not the one who is killed.  The messiah is about glory, not about humiliation.  The messiah is about worldly power and the restoration of the Promised Land, not about burial. 

Jesus responds so vehemently to Peter’s lecture that it catches us by surprise.  Peter is his follower, the one on which He will found his church!  Yet here Jesus makes him synonymous with Satan himself!  What is at issue here?

Peter’s words are a temptation to Jesus, and how strong and real that temptation is evident in the vehemence of Jesus’ response.  Here, in the moment where Jesus plainly speaks to his disciples and reveals his identity and purpose, He is faced with the temptation to abandon God the Father’s plan in favor of an alternative.  We can think back to the second chapter of Mark.  There Jesus is identified by none other than God the Father, receiving the Holy Spirit visibly and tangibly.  What happens next?  He is flung into the desert to face Satan.  And what is Satan’s temptation?  You don’t have to follow God the Father’s plan.  There are other ways to accomplish  the same things.  The very same temptation of Satan that Peter undoubtedly tries to convince Jesus of now in Chapter 8.

This is a true temptation.  It is easy for us to assume that Jesus the Son of God cannot truly be tempted.  We discount his human nature until it is really only a shell, the appearance of a human man with nothing of the internal struggle and angst.  But Jesus makes it clear in this episode with Peter that the temptation is real.  It is truly tempting, and He truly has to struggle to overcome it.

God’s plan of salvation culminates in the eternal Son of God becoming finite and human as Jesus of Nazareth.  It culminates in human and divine submission to the will of God the Father, expressed ultimately in voluntarily suffering rejection and betrayal, arrest, physical and emotional abuse, and finally death and burial.  It is a plan that God the Father has had in motion from the beginning.  It is not God’s Plan B when Adam and Eve eat the fruit.  It has been his plan all along—and the temptation of Jesus to deviate from that plan is chock full of all the poisonous allure of Satan’s original tempting of Adam and Eve in the garden, with potential ramifications every bit as severe if not more so.

All of creation has waited for the moment when the Son of God comes into the creation He was the agent of creation for as God’s Word.  All of creation holds it’s breath to see if He will remain faithful and obedient.

God’s promise to us is firmly anchored in the obedience of Jesus, the Son of God.  His suffering and death and resurrection are firm promises to us that while we may waiver and fail, God does not.  He is resolute in his determination to save us, and his means of doing so remains evident in the empty tomb.  As the people of the Old Testament looked forward to God’s saving action, so we can confidently look forward to our Lord’s return, to the culmination of God’s great plan, and to an eternity of singing his praises in thanksgiving!

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