Suffering – Rejection – Victory

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Lent II – 4 March 2012

Genesis 17:1-7, Psalm 22:23-31, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

From the Book of Genesis:
God spoke to Abram and said, I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. And Behold, my covenant is with you…

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
Speaking of Abraham’s righteousness as reckoned to him by faith, the apostle wrote, It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

And From the Gospel according to St. Mark:
And Jesus 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…

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. †

When Jesus taught His disciples about what had to happen for the sake of mankind’s salvation – that the Son of man must suffer, be rejected by not only the power brokers of His time but also many whom He would have considered close friends, as well as the countless people whom He had healed and then be killed by the same, the disciples did not understand.

Their lack of understanding wasn’t because they were not very bright as some contemporary pseudo scholars postulate. Those in the now fading Jesus Seminar designate Jesus and His disciples as simple country folk – ignorant and of, at best, average intelligence – pleasant peasants as they call them. Not so. Not true.

Neither was their lack of understanding because they were not well educated. If you look at each disciple and what Scripture tells us about him, we find men who could both read and write – something that the majority of people could not do. They knew their scriptures, and although none of them could be called a Bible scholar, all of them knew the basics of their religion. Regarding their level of education, they were, probably, a cut above the average man.

Furthermore, some were most certainly, successful businessmen. Peter had his own fishing business, as did the brothers, James and John. They owned their own boats, lived in their own houses, and employed others to work for them. Regular, hard working men – smart for sure and better educated than most of their generation; and for Peter, James and John, more successful than the vast majority of people of their time. Although one could hardly call them rich men when compared with other more prestigious people, they were nonetheless better off than the most.

I maintain that the disciples did not get the full impact of Jesus’ teaching about suffering and rejection because they did not want to believe that their Lord and master, who had become their friend, would have to suffer and die. They admired and respected Him – they loved Him as the wisest, most insightful teacher, an amazing healer and miracle worker – a holy man for sure. And being a holy man, well that would mean good things, a dedicated but happy life – a life of health, relative wealth and much happiness.

As I just said, the disciples knew their scriptures. We can safely assume that they knew about Isaiah’s writings in which he prophesied, by virtue of divine revelation, that the Messiah would be despised and rejected by men, would suffer at the hands of sinners even though He had committed no offence, and be killed. But knowing the scriptures and applying them to oneself or to one’s most admired friends – well the application does not necessarily follow from the knowing.

Despite the prophetic proclamations, most people then – as now – believed that holiness brought blessings, the aforementioned health, wealth and happiness as well as the respect and admiration of men.

They wanted a victorious leader who would make their lives -and the lives of everyone else as well – better, richer, freer and generally happier. They wanted salvation in the here and now. Furthermore, if their leader would be rejected, suffer and die, what about them? Would they be rejected? Would they have to suffer? Would they have to die as well?

Perhaps another reason why the disciples just didn’t get it – at least at first – was the possibility that they, like most people today, were preoccupied with the problems of family and friends, of politics and business, illness and health, loves and hatreds. Thinking about the eternal dimensions of holiness did not command their attention as much as the demands of the present moment.

And surely, at that time in Jewish history the issues of the unjust Roman authority that oppressed the Hebrew people – well, that was always on their minds as well. We can identify with these hard working fishermen who had profitable businesses only to have the government come and take too much of the profits. Infuriating then as it is now. And common to almost every nation in almost every generation.

When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God, He spoke of another realm of being as well as of the world of the here and now. It’s not one or the other – an either / or it’s a both and. His first concern in this life and in the life yet to come was holiness generally spoken of as righteousness. Although the eternal kingdom took priority, the temporal kingdom was also important.

The Kingdom of God as the eternal Kingdom of Heaven and as the kingdom of perfection in this world when the Messiah comes to reign as King of Kings – in both cases, holiness or righteousness – blamelessness -functioned as a requirement. The Kingdom, in both dimensions, was open only to the righteous. Anyone or anything unholy could neither inherit it nor get into it.

Blamelessness was the central aspect of the covenant that God established with the Father of the Nations, Abraham. Two thousand years before their time – and four thousand years before ours, God established a covenant with Abraham that as he walked with the Almighty God in blamelessness, the Lord would bless him with descendents as numerous as the stars – with good health, long life, and prosperity.

Yet two thousand years after God established this covenant – after God had kept His promise of countless descendents, with so many opportunities for health wealth and happiness, the people failed to keep their part of the bargain. When everything went well, the people forgot all about God, became self-centered and self-indulgent and shall we say, fat, lazy and happy.

When everything went wrong, they protested, What did we do to deserve this? Where’s our God? Why has He let this happen to us? Leaders would arise, call for repentance and direct the people back to God. The people would repent, everything began to get better and when it did get better, the people would once again turn away and, to quote Isaiah, go astray.

Righteousness or blamelessness, under the Covenant established with Abraham, involved keeping the law best summarized in the Ten Commandments. The first one, to love and honor God and exclusively worship Him – well they rarely kept that one for very long. They like the other gods and goddesses of the ancient world better. The other gods and goddesses allowed for licentiousness and self – indulgence. True then as it is now. Regarding the currently popular new paganism is not new at all – it’s as old as time.

And keeping the law regarding treating each other with respect, compassion and brotherly love well, they failed there as well. The truth became evident that only God Himself could save the people – His chosen people – and all the people of the whole world from themselves. God had to become man, teach them the Truth, demonstrate holiness and make the necessary sacrifice to deliver the people from their oppression – from their personal as well as from their political oppression.

It could not come by virtue of teaching. (Education, in and of itself, may have very little effect on blindly held faith – especially if that faith is self-serving.) It could not be accomplished through a twelve-step, self-help program (however effective such programs might be in other circumstances.)

Neither could their redemption come as a result of a revolution to defeat Rome. Pagan Rome would most certainly fall – but not through that kind of a revolution.

Only God Himself could make His people righteous. Only God Himself could cleanse mankind from sin. Only God himself could save in every dimension of salvation. And to do so, He had to come, manifest Himself, perform the miracles and call the world to devotion to God. And he people, being who they were, would despise Him for His goodness. They would reject Him, inflict upon Him brutal suffering and kill Him. They blame would fall upon them. Righteousness played no role. They would commit the ultimate sin.

But God would nonetheless save the people. He would die both because of their sins and for the sins. His death would prove God’s perfect love. And simply by virtue of sincerely believing in Him and what He had accomplished on the cross – through His rejection, suffering and death, the victory of eternal life would be won. To quote St. Paul, the Lord was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The only blameless one – the only righteous one would take the blame onto Himself and set the sinners free from condemnation. Because of His sacrifice, sinners would be reckoned as righteous even though they remained sinners. The kingdom of heaven would open to all who would simply believe. And the promise of the perfection of this world through eventual re-creation would become real.

Faith is the key. Believe and be saved. Disbelieve and be lost. But know this – Those who believe in this fallen world may very well have to suffer rejection. Over the centuries, many – indeed thousands – have suffered and died for the cause. But the blessing of eternal life can be received in no other way and from no other savior.

So we come to the Lord’s table – to the alter of His sacrifice to take Him into yourself that He may dwell in you and you in Him – until He comes again to establish the perfect kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Remember, it’s not one or the other -it’s both / and.

Alive in us and we alive in Him, we live forever in the perfection of righteousness, reckoned to us because the Son was rejected, suffered and died – and rose again – for us.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant to us the courage necessary to serve you in these troubled times. Bless us with the power of our faith to carry us through and inspire others to follow. Help, save, guide, guard and defend us by your grace, and bring us at last unto everlasting life,
in and through your Son, Jesus Christ,
the only Savior of all mankind,
Amen. †

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