I cannot remember a time when people have seemed more confused about life than they are today. Maybe this is to be expected because our world, including the Church, seems to be more complicated than ever.
An elderly woman, who has been a pillar in the church, was talking with a friend recently and voiced how confusing life is in our day. Her friend tried to comfort her by saying, “We can thank God that our Christian faith is as simple as it ever was.” She replied, “Is it? Sometimes I wonder if I am saved.”
I wonder if this confusion in the church is unique to our day. It seems that the disciples of our Lord had questions about their faith until after Pentecost. Let’s take a look at our text.
Jesus was on a long walk with his disciples from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. During those days, the Scripture says, “He began to teach them that He must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
When they received this news, there was confusion among the disciples. Jesus had called these people from all walks of life. They had left families and friends where they lived comfortable lives and were financially secure. Never had they expressed regret about following Jesus. Life was exciting as they saw people flock to Jesus. He healed their sick, raised their dead and brought joy to many people. When he taught, they listened carefully to what he said. Jesus spoke as one with great authority. The Scribes and Pharisees often made life difficult for Jesus, but he knew how to handle them.
The disciples seemed not to mind that no compensation came with their work. Some, such as James’ and John’s mother, thought they should have places of prestige when Jesus came in his Kingdom.
Jesus had told the disciples, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), and they could not expect anything more. In this respect they could have been called the street people of that day.
But now Jesus’ latest word to his disciples was that he was going to suffer and die, rising again after three days.
This was too upsetting for these men. Peter immediately took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter knew the effect this announcement would have on the Twelve. They were already confused about some of his teachings and this would make it even worse.
But what did Jesus do? In the presence of his disciples he said, “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38).
Don’t you think there was confusion in their midst upon hearing that challenge?
John, who was visibly upset, could have felt that Jesus’ statement was not what they expected when he called them to follow him.
Judas may have agreed with John, adding that they were on a dead-end mission.
Perhaps Thomas agreed with Judas, adding that they needed to give their future some consideration.
Andrew, the encourager, might have rebuked them a bit by saying that Jesus was tired and reminding the group what a strain Christ was under.
Philip might have thought that some would turn from following Jesus and gone out to recruit replacements for those who might leave the Twelve.
James, the quiet one, could have chimed that this was a bigger challenge than he could handle.
Well, this is only an illustration of what could have been going on in the lives of those disciples. We must remember that they were people like us. People become quite confused when things do not go exactly as they had anticipated.
Now let’s take a look at Christianity today. We confess that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the authority in all matters of faith and life. Doesn’t this statement cause confusion? Why do we need a statement on sexuality in our church? Whoever would have thought that committed Christians would endorse same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals?
A world missionary has said, “Once we went to the mission field to save the heathen. Today we go to dialogue with these people. We wonder if Jesus is the only way to heaven. Are we confused about our prime reason for going to the world with the Gospel, or do we now have another mission?”
These are the larger topics. Learn what is going on in some congregations, and the people are quite confused about unimportant matters. I was raised in a congregation that was divided over the question of whether it is a sin to eat in the church basement. Changes in worship styles have also been topics of confusion in churches.
Will there ever be complete agreement in the Church? Human beings, frail individuals, give us the answer. No, a part of our fallen nature is confusion. But it is interesting that in the midst of the confusion, Jesus asked two basic questions. First, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27).
The disciples replied, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” (v. 28).
Then came the most important question: “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” (v. 29).
To this Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 29).
And Jesus replied, “Blessed are you . . . you are Peter, and on this rock [Peter’s confession] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17-18).
This is the central teaching of the Christian faith. When we are clear on this truthÑ that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of the worldÑ we have unity no matter how confused we may be on other confessions of the faith.
We find peace and oneness at the foot of the cross. In this one confession I can live throughout my earthly stay. On this there can be no confusion.