Second Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 | Romans 5:1-11 | Mark  8:27-38

Text: Mark 8:27-33

During this season of Lent, the faithful follow Jesus year after year to the cross.  It’s a devotional practice which spans centuries and connects us with that great cloud of witnesses who “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

For as often as some of us have “done” Lent, you’d think we’d be experts at it.  But today’s Gospel reading shows us that the journey to the cross was a bumpy one, even for the disciples who followed Jesus face-to-face.  Today, we sometimes live under the assumption that if we just had more information, we would be more convinced and more sure of something.  If we just had more time devoted to God, read, sang, and prayed more, we would automatically better know Jesus. While that’s true in the sense that we ought to make these a priority, the foundation to that is that our maturing in the faith is God’s working in us.

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.

Peter had all the right information, and he even said the right words.  We commemorated his confession of faith with this text a little over a month ago (January 18th), and while what he said was true, that wasn’t the be-all-end all of following Jesus.  Peter, years later, will teach that, throughout one’s life, everyone who follows Jesus must “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Mark’s Gospel especially highlights this by comparing it to the change from blindness to sight.  But it’s as easy as, “I once was blind; but now I see”—and never look back. Today’s reading comes just after the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (vv. 22-26):

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

The Lord heals the man’s eyes, but they aren’t altogether well at first.  Isn’t Jesus Almighty?  Yes, of course. But the lesson in this healing isn’t Jesus’ omnipotence, but rather His bearing with our present lingering blindness and gradually maturing our faith so that we see Him for Who He is, and His cross for what it truly is.  This is the point where our Lord takes us from saying the right words, to truly understanding what those words mean.

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.”

Ignorance of Jesus as the Christ who bears the sins of the world is more than a matter of opinion.  On this hangs whether death for us will bring release from toil and eternal joy, or eternal torment of as enemies of God.  This is the number one thing for every soul to know, but where do you hear about it?  Not in the world.  It isn’t being shared with the same urgency we hear news of earthly things.  The President vowed, “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,”[1] and what he defines as crises are “COVID-19, the economy, racial justice and climate change”[2]  Nowhere in such lists will you hear the crisis of sinners dying apart from the world’s Savior.

This is something which the Holy Spirit must enlighten us to.  Over the past couple years, it’s become an ideal that people become “woke” to the injustice and oppression that is allegedly all around.  This is the enlightenment of the social justice warrior, who seeks to open the eyes of others.

But Jesus deals with a blindness that is literally diabolical.  The words of Jesus make us “woke,” or rather, enlightened to the plan of Satan to keep in the blindness of sin people of all colors, nationalities, and especially those confused about “gender identities.”  In this blindness, he and his demonic host do much more damage than the wild behavior of demoniacs in the Gospels.  He shrouds people in ignorance of God’s Word, which shows us not to be victims of oppression by other men, but under the dominion of Satan and we ourselves to be lost and condemned because of sin.  And only in His Word will we come to believe Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to be the only way to everlasting peace with God.

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 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.”

God has saved us from the blindness and darkness of this present world.  Yet being delivered from sin and from death, we have also been delivered from the futility of the world and our own sinful flesh.  This is the part of following Jesus that’s especially hard, because it means continually being reminded that we are not masters and experts of our own lives.

The image of a Christian who has been liberated by God isn’t one who stands tall, but following  our Lord Himself, bearing the cross.  The world will mock and call you backward, closed-minded, and foolish.  The devil will tempt you by saying your suffering means God has forgotten you.  Your sinful flesh will hate what God says must happen.  “Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” As much as the mockery, beatings, rejection, and drinking the cup of wrath hurt Jesus, it was by these that He has delivered you from the destruction of the world, the devil, and your own sin.  It is the Lord who works in you to will and do what is good [Phil. 2:13], and He helps you to let go of your ways, flee Satan’s ways, and the world’s ways.

When the world passes away, there won’t be anything you can give to save your soul, but what the Lord has already given for you.  And standing in His redemption, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, we will be able to stand tall, not in ourselves, but confidently in our Lord and Savior who has gone before us and prepared the way. Amen.