Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit was a carefree person, living in a peaceful land called the Shire. He lived in a cozy hobbit hole. He was respected by all, never doing anything unexpected. Asked if he liked to go on an adventure, he would decline. He didn’t like missing his Supper. But when Gandalf came along, he summoned Bilbo to lead a number of Dwarfs on an adventure. Bilbo thought he would just sleep it off, until the next morning brought thirteen uninvited Dwarfs to his doorstep. Gandalf had chosen Bilbo to go and do way more than Bilbo would have ever imagined. And what an adventure! Bilbo learned that there is more to life than being comfortable. He went on an adventure that people still talk about.
There is a similar adventure presented by our Lord to His disciples, once they realized that Jesus was more than a prophet or any other mortal man. They confessed Him to be “the Christ” (Mark 8:29). And immediately He began to explain to them what being “the Christ” was all about. It had nothing to do with a life of comfort and ease. He invited all who would follow after Him on an adventure of a lifetime. Jesus explained that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected . . . and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
The very thought of such a preposterous prediction of the Messiah caused Peter “sticker shock.” It’s like hunting for a car at a dealers’ car lot, finding one you like, and being shocked by the price of the vehicle. It’s like going in for a medical procedure and afterward getting the bill and going into shock at the price for the procedure. It’s like having a baby and finding out the cost and amount of time necessary to spend and raise the little one! There are costs in life we don’t expect until we’re shocked to find out how much it costs. Peter and the others thought Jesus was doing fine, teaching and preaching with authority, healing the sick and casting out demons. But when they heard Him predict His Passion, they were shocked. Jesus told Peter and the rest, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). The idea that Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ, would not be glorious and successful, but rejected and killed, was shocking, but it was God’s plan of salvation. The Christ must suffer, die, and rise again. The Christ’s true purpose was for Him to be “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). And to be a follower of the Christ meant more than comfort and ease. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). To deny self is to put God first and foremost. The cross meant obedient responsibility. Following Christ are His means of grace in Word and Sacrament.
Jesus would have us repent our sinful self-centeredness. The First Commandment says “You shall have no other gods.” Our faith is focused on Christ and His cross. His empty tomb proves His atoning sacrifice was valid, reconciling us to God the Father. We deny ourselves by putting aside “the things of man” and seek after “the things of God,” to serve one another as He cares for us. Jesus calls us to an adventure in following Him each and every day, looking out for the needs of our neighbor. God’s forgiving grace, His empowering Spirit, and our new life in Christ, brings us on an adventure of a lifetime.
Like the disciples, we too learn what it means for Jesus to be “the Christ.” He was indeed the anointed of God, the promised Messiah. But He must accomplish God’s plan of salvation, not be man of divine powers, but the Son of God who bears the sins of the world and defeats sin, Satan, and death. His resurrection prefigures our own. Our natural inclination is for a comfortable, easy life like Bilbo Baggins. But with Christ as our Leader and Lord, our lives are also an adventure, that by His grace, “we are His workmanship , created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).