Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent 2 of Series B (Mark 8:27-38)

“Whoever is ashamed of me and 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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, our Lord took His disciples up to Caesarea Philippi, the farthest away from Jerusalem that they would ever be during His ministry. There, at the foot of Mount Hermon, He had a question for them: “Who do people say that I am?” Far from the crowds of Galilee or His dangerous opponents in Jerusalem, Jesus wanted an impartial evaluation of what people thought of Him. They answered, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” But Jesus wasn’t really all that interested in what other people had to say about Him. He wanted to know about what His closest companions, His friends, His disciples thought of Him. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers boldly on behalf of them all: “You are the Christ.” Their great teacher is much more than a mere man: He is the Messiah, the anointed One! The disciples, especially Peter, were excited, they were enthusiastic, they had visions of glory running through their heads. This was Israel’s triumphant Savior, come to establish God’s kingdom on earth!

But then Jesus tells them what it means that He is the Christ. “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.” Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, but the Christ will not receive glory before suffering. He is the suffering Messiah, who will give up His life into the hands of the religious leaders, the enemies of the Gospel. His destiny is rejection and death. And the disciples can’t believe it. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Peter may be bolder than the other eleven disciples, he may speak his mind more freely than you or I, but he is simply saying what we are all thinking: Jesus is a suffering Messiah? We are often ashamed of the sufferings of Jesus. We are embarrassed by a God who acts in weakness. Sure, we love the baby Jesus, the great teacher Jesus, even the exalted Jesus, but we turn quickly away from the suffering Jesus. That is why so many churches have empty crosses, or no crosses at all. That is why you find it so difficult to speak about Jesus to your friends and family. That is why Lent is such a difficult time of the year. Why? Why are we ashamed of Christ’s sufferings? First of all, our world hates weakness. The weak get crushed and despised, not admired and worshiped. But the attitude of our world is only part of the answer. Deep down, we are ashamed of Christ’s sufferings because we know that His sufferings will lead to our own.

We hear the words of Jesus in our text for today, and we know that He is calling on us to follow Him on the path of sacrifice, humiliation, and suffering. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” There are only two paths: the way of the world and the way of Christ. The way of Christ is a way of self-denial. Jesus calls on us to cease our self-promotion and pride and instead deny ourselves. We are to refuse to acknowledge ourselves; we are to place all people, especially Christ Himself, above us. When we do this, we will face ridicule, we will be trampled upon. We will suffer as Christ did. We will truly sacrifice, we will give up our own lives for others and for Christ. Our lives will be completely focused on following Christ, in everything we say and do, from Sunday morning in church to the rest of the week in our vocations at work and at home. It goes without saying that we don’t do this; we follow the way of this world. We don’t deny ourselves; we worship ourselves. We seek our own interests above all else. We desire the good life this world offers, the material things that will make us feel better and make our lives more convenient. We seek the approval of the world, and the world approves those who help themselves, those who keep their religion private. We are ashamed of the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus calls for, and so while we live for Christ on Sunday, the rest of the week we live for ourselves.

Jesus has stern words for us this morning: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” There are only two paths: By following Christ, you may give up all earthly possessions, you will be ridiculed and persecuted, and may even give up your life, but you will receive eternal life. On the other hand, by following the world, you will keep all your possessions, you will praised by others and preserve your life, but you will receive eternal death. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” Nothing in this life can pay the ransom for your soul. All the wealth, all the popularity in the world counts for nothing in eternity. You cannot exchange the things of this world for the eternal salvation of your soul.

Only one price could be exchanged for your soul: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes in our Epistle lesson, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The world has deceived you; nothing it offers can defeat death. All of its praise and wealth cannot travel with you beyond the grave. Suffering is the only path that brings salvation, the only way to eternal life. Jesus gave Himself in exchange for your soul, He walked the path of suffering, the path that Peter didn’t want Him to walk, for you and for me. We have a suffering Savior because that was the only way that He could deliver you and me from death. Mark tells us: “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.” This is the divine ‘must,’ the ‘must’ of salvation. Jesus must go to the cross because it was the only way to save you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. No other way would suffice, no other path would lead to salvation, all that the world claimed to offer was a lie. The world offered salvation, but Jesus knew that the path of the world lead only to death. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Every rich person dies, every poor person dies. Every Christian dies, and every non-Christian dies. Jesus went to the cross so that those who believed in Him, no matter how much they had to suffer and sacrifice in this life, would not die eternally, but instead receive eternal life.

Jesus wasn’t ashamed of His suffering; He walked willingly, boldly to Jerusalem, where He knew that humiliation and death awaited Him. Mark tells us in our text that Jesus spoke the prediction of His suffering and death “plainly.” The Greek word Mark uses is even stronger; Jesus spoke ‘boldly.’ Jesus boldly declared His suffering, humiliation, and death. He boldly proclaimed His cross, because He knew that this was the only path to deliver you from sin and death. He wasn’t ashamed of the cross, but He boldly proclaimed it and He boldly walked that path for you. The Gradual for Lent calls on us to look to Jesus, “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.” Jesus despised the shame of the cross, enduring it for you and for your salvation. His love for you would not let Him avoid paying the price for your redemption; He knew the cost, but He boldly declared that He would pay it, saying in John’s Gospel, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.”

He was not ashamed of you; He was not ashamed to bear your sin. The author to the Hebrews writes: “For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Jesus was not ashamed to take flesh and become your brother; He was not ashamed of your sin, and so He bore it to the cross. He was not ashamed of the cost of your salvation, and so He paid it. You and I are covered with sin; we fall into pride and fail to deny ourselves, in our sin we are even ashamed of His humiliation. There is plenty for Jesus to be ashamed of. But He doesn’t reject us; He calls us to repentance, and then in love, mercy, and compassion He forgives our sins, cleansing and purifying us to live before Him forever. To follow Christ, we will face the loss of status in the eyes of others, ridicule, and persecution. We may perhaps be called upon to give up our possessions or even our lives for the sake of Christ. But this text gives us the assurance that despite all that we lose in this life for the sake of Christ, our Lord has a heavenly inheritance for us, won by His shed blood. Even though we die, yet through Christ, we will live. As we sang last week in the hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”

For us as well as Jesus, suffering comes before glory. Good Friday comes before Easter, and for us, a life in a world opposed to Christ comes before an eternity spent with Him. We travel with Jesus to the cross this Lenten season, for there the price has been paid, there the gates of heaven have been opened wide to us. Through His sacrifice on Good Friday, all the glory that belongs to Jesus is given to us. Like Jesus, we travel the road of the cross, we walk through suffering and sorrow, all the while knowing that our Easter is coming. For the God who vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead will surely raise those who belong to Jesus on the Last Day, bringing you to the glories of heaven, where we will no longer suffer, but instead will praise the Lamb who suffered for us. In His holy and precious Name, Amen.

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