O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Embrace your death
Embrace your death
Based on Mark 8:27-38
Preached on Feb. 25, 2018
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Kaiser Kyrios. Lord Caesar. That was the word on the street in Caesarea Philippi. They worshipped Caesar. Had built him a temple. The city was dedicated to him. Caesarea Philippi had a lord. But then Jesus enters the scene.
And He’s asking questions. What about Me? Who do men say that I am? He asks His disciples – not because He wants to know, like one of our modern leaders, desperate to know where they stand in the polls. No. Jesus wants His disciples to see it – to say it – the difference between the way the world sees Jesus and the way His disciples see Him. It’s the difference between faith and unbelief, between confessing Jesus and denying Him. It is ultimately the difference between life and death.
Who do men say that I am? What’s the word on the street? They answer Him, “Some say you are John the Baptizer come back to life.” The people had loved John and respected him. Some thought he was the messiah and were ready to follow him. But he wound up in Herod’s prison and had his head cut off for the crime of criticizing King Herod’s shack-up arrangement with his sister-in-law. “Others - say you are Elijah, and still others that you are a prophet in line with the great prophets of old.”
Has anything changed? What about today? What do people have to say about Jesus today? Opinions vary. Some say that Jesus was a great teacher, a great philosopher, an example of true godliness and humility. Even Islam calls Jesus a great prophet, second only to Mohammed. Some Jews even say that Jesus was a true, obedient Jew who did the works of God. Others today think that Jesus is more or less a figment of our religious imagination, that perhaps there was a “Jesus of history” who walked around two thousand years ago but the “Christ of faith” that is promoted in the Gospels and the church bears little resemblance to that Jesus of history. There are some who consider Jesus to be nothing more than a myth or legend, a kind of pious religious fairy tale figure.
You can understand that. Jesus does stand out as a unique figure in human history. No one else is quite like Him. Born of a virgin. Power to cast out demons, heal diseases, multiply bread and fish, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, calm storms. He teaches like no other rabbi ever taught. He shines on the mountain brighter than the sun. Can you blame people if they are a bit skeptical about all this? If they have a hard time believing it? If they think what we are reading in Mark’s Gospel is something made up?
No matter what men say about Jesus, it always falls short. He may be a great teacher, philosopher, moral example, religious leader, prophet, and whatever other title you try, but until you get to Savior and Redeemer and Lord, you really haven’t scratched the surface of Jesus’ question. And no matter what nice things people try to say about Jesus, it all means nothing if you don’t acknowledge His death and resurrection from the dead. It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that stand out most of all, and if that didn’t happen, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He is either a world-class liar or a stark raving lunatic. This is Lent. Death and resurrection is all we have.
And then comes Jesus’ second question. He wants them to speak the difference now – manifest it in real space and time with words: Who do you say that I am? Peter delivers the answer: You are the Christ. As usual, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone, lest everyone get the wrong idea, because when you said “Christ” it meant revolutionary, and the last thing Jesus needed was a bunch of armed jihadists looking for a revolution with Him as their head.
Jesus’ holy war was a different sort of holy war. Different enemy. Different weapons. Different scope. He was the Only One waging this war. So He began to teach them something that previously He had only hinted at – that He must suffer many things - that He must be rejected by the religious authorities - that He would be killed and after three days rise again. Remember now, that if Jesus is a great prophet and teacher and these things didn’t happen, then He is anything but a great prophet and teacher.
Now this doesn’t fit Peter’s profile of what the Christ should be. I suspect that Peter, like so many of his day, is operating with that revolutionary model, and so this talk of dying and rising doesn’t fit the mold. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him. “Are you kidding? What are you saying here? We didn’t leave the fishing business to watch you die! This is not what we signed up for, Jesus. That’s the last thing that should happen. May it never be! Why, we’ll draw swords to defend you, and cut off ears for your sake. Don’t you worry, Jesus. We’ve got you covered!
Jesus sees His disciples out of the corner of His eye. And He knows they’re thinking the very same thing. And He rebukes Peter, the same Peter who had made that glorious confession moments before. “Get behind me, Satan!” Satan? That’s right. Satan. Peter the great confessor had in short order and a moment of unbelief become the spokesman for Satan. See how easy it is! And don’t think for a moment that you aren’t prone to the very same thing. As the apostle Paul said in Romans, “When I do good, evil lies close at hand.” Peter the confessor and Peter the denier go hand in hand, just as we are both sinner and saint in one and the same person. Peter can make the great confession in one breath and the great denial in the next. And isn’t that how it goes with you? With me? With all of us? We are capable of great faith and great unbelief, of great confession and of great denial, of speaking on the side of God and then speaking against Him, sometimes even in the same sentence.
Jesus calls the crowds to draw in closer. What He has to say is not only to His inner group of disciples but to all. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is much more than a little Lenten denial of a small guilty pleasure like chocolate or a glass of wine. This is denial of self, denial of everything that we are and have, denial of our whole life as we hold it. If you try to save your life and hang on to it, you will lose it. And if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of His Good News Message, you will save it.
No, this doesn’t necessarily mean martyrdom, but it might. Don’t kid yourself. The winds of persecution are variable and unpredictable. Don’t think they can’t blow across this country. But more than that – much more than that – if you hear one thing in this whole sermon it is this: the only way to live is to die in Jesus. The only way to live is to take up your cross, that is, your death, and follow Jesus to His cross and His death. Your cross won’t save you; His cross will. Your death won’t save you; His death will. So embrace your death. Pick it up. Acknowledge it. Sin is killing you. But Christ is killing sin. Take it to Him. Give in to Him. Die in Him, for in Him is life.
What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? We struggle, we strain, we toil to make a profit, to acquire wealth, to gain whatever it is we seek to gain. We look to leave a legacy, make a mark, leave a significant footprint somewhere. But what is it all worth if you lose the one thing that makes it all possible – your life? And Jesus isn’t talking about dying here. Dying is a given. Dying is inevitable. He’s going to His death too. He’s going to lay down His life to literally gain the whole world. He’s going to give His life in return for your life.
Jesus is talking about eternal life, your connection with God. He’s talking about your eternal destiny, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And so think in terms of “temporal” and “eternal.” Nothing in this temporal life lasts forever. It either corrodes, decays, dies. But life with God and life from God is eternal, it never ends, it never dies. You go on, and what use is there for all the gain in this temporal life if in the process you forfeit eternal life.
Then Jesus speaks of being ashamed of Him. “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.” Jesus wasn’t simply speaking of His own generation when He called it “adulterous” and “sinful.” Ours is no better and probably worse. I’m not going to use the usual preacher’s device to list all the adulteries and sins of our generation. You know them well enough, and we all participate in them too much.
But the sadness and grief - is that we’re not ashamed. Our generation least of all - has a sense of shame. What once shamed us to the point where we didn’t talk about it and hid it and blushed when it was mentioned, now we brag about it, boast about it - and justify ourselves.
And what are we ashamed of? What do we keep hidden and personal? Not our sins but our Savior. Not our sins but the cross of Jesus. Not our sins but the One who takes away our sins, who justifies us, who washes our Sin away with His blood. For Him we blush and hesitate to speak.
You can see why Jesus said this. He was going to the cross. Peter wanted nothing to do with it. Peter, who made the bold confession to Jesus’ face would deny even knowing Jesus to a humble servant girl. He was ashamed of Jesus. Embarrassed for being seen in His company. Ashamed of the One who lost His life to save the world, who endured the cross, scorning its shame, all for the joy of saving you. Jesus was not ashamed of Peter. And He is not ashamed of you – No – He has shed His precious blood for you. Washed and cleansed you with it in the waters of Baptism. Called you His own. His beloved. You can treasure His words. Trust them. Rely on them. Die in them. Truly then you are alive.
There’s an old hymn in TLH by Joseph Grigg that completes our meditation. It is called Jesus! And shall it ever be:
And shall it ever be, a mortal man ashamed of Thee?
Ashamed of Thee, whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days?
Ashamed of Jesus?
Sooner far let evening blush to own a star.
He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.
Ashamed of Jesus?
Just as soon let midnight be ashamed of noon.
‘Tis midnight with my soul till He,
Bright Morning Star, bids darkness flee.
Ashamed of Jesus?
That dear Friend on whom my hopes of heav’n depend?
No; when I blush, be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
Ashamed of Jesus?
Yes, I may when I’ve no guilt to wash away,
No tear to wipe, no good to crave,
No fear to quell, no soul to save.
Till then – nor is my boasting vain –
Till then I boast a Savior slain;
And oh, may this my glory be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me! In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr