Second Sunday in Lent (B)
February 25, 2018
Text: Mark 8:27-38
This morning Jesus bids us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Mark 8:34). Now, broadly speaking, bearing the cross is any suffering a Christian bears in the Name and for the sake of Jesus. In this sense, all the sufferings of the Christian are baptized in His blood, sanctified, made holy, and the promise applies to these sufferings that God will work them all for the good of His beloved baptized child (Rom. 8:28). That means all your aches and pains, all your heartbreak and loss, your grief and your sorrow, all these have been turned into gifts of God, crosses laid upon you in love by your gracious heavenly Father, so that you despair of yourself, crucify your flesh, lose your life in Christ, and flee to Him alone for help and salvation. The cross drives you to Christ. The cross drives you to His Word. The cross drives you to prayer. So you should always receive your suffering with thanksgiving, for God is working a mighty thing through it, even though you may not know what that thing is until you see Him face to face. Faith believes what the eyes cannot see, even in the face of great suffering.
But this morning, our Lord bids us bear a very specific cross. He says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it… For 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” (Mark 8:35, 38). The crux of the matter is being ashamed of Jesus and His Words, who He really is and what He really says, in this adulterous and sinful generation, a generation that doesn’t want the real Jesus or His real Word. The cross the Lord bids you take up in our Holy Gospel is that of faithful confession of Jesus and His Word, no matter what persecution it may bring you. Think here of the hundreds of Christians who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria and Iraq over the past few years. Think here of the 21 Christian martyrs who were beheaded in North Africa a couple of years back. Do you remember them? The image is burned into my mind, the men in their orange jump suits, kneeling by the sea, knives to their throats, with their last breath confessing Jesus. There is a beautiful icon of their martyrdom, which is worth looking up. Think here also of those closer to home who have suffered for confessing the faith. Think of the florists and photographers and bakers who have lost their businesses, reputations, and livelihoods because they were not ashamed to confess the Word of Christ. They considered it more important to be faithful to the God who was so faithful to them He gave His only Son into death. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (v. 36). The word “life” can also be translated as “soul.” You can easily gain the admiration and approval of the world, but at what cost? Your soul. Things can be easy now, but you will, in the end, lose your soul into an eternity of sorrow. Or things can be hard now. You can be despised, mocked, rejected now, suffer now, lose your life now, and your reward will be an eternity of the Lord’s admiration and approval in heaven. For whoever would save his life, his soul, his self… NOW… will lose it in the end. But whoever loses His life, his soul, his self… NOW… for my sake and the gospel’s, will save it in the end. When it comes to confessing Jesus and His Word, it’s either your way, which is to confess a Jesus who is acceptable to this adulterous and sinful generation… or there is the way of the cross, which is to confess Jesus as He is, and His Word as He says it, and to do so without shame, and so to suffer whatever consequences such confession may bring.
Peter doesn’t like that plan. Peter is ashamed. Oh, he’s willing to die for Jesus. At least he thinks he is. But he’s not willing to die for a Jesus he finds unacceptable to his own reason or ideals. He is not willing to die for a Jesus who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, surrenders Himself to the cross and death. Jesus teaches that the cross is divinely necessary, that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, that He must be killed, (and then the part that they all miss) that He must rise again after three days (v. 31). He says it plainly (v. 32). He says it boldly. And Peter does not like it one bit. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32). But Jesus will not save His life, His soul, His self NOW and so lose the souls of those He loves. His mission is to lose His life for Peter’s sake, for your sake, for the whole world, to save your soul for His eternal Kingdom. And seeing His other disciples, Jesus cannot allow Peter’s adulterous and sinful, indeed, demonic preaching to continue. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33), on the things of this world and this generation, the things of your fallen, dead flesh. Incidentally, talk about a Jesus who is offensive to our politically correct sensitivities. When Jesus hears false doctrine, He isn’t tolerant. He isn’t even nice. He calls Peter (one of His three best friends in the world) “Satan!” For false doctrine has as its source the very father of lies.
The truth is, though, sometimes Jesus has to say this to you. Because there are any number of things about Jesus that you don’t like, and there are things that He says that make you ashamed of Him. There are things in His Word that make you cringe. There are commandments you wish His Church wouldn’t proclaim quite so loud. And worst of all, there is the Gospel, which preaches a Savior who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, gives Himself up into death, willingly, without a fight. And then has the audacity to say that this is necessary if you are to be saved. Because you are so evil that it takes the death of God to pay for your wickedness. Because if He doesn’t do this, you will be the rightful property of Satan. So He does it, because He loves you. Not because you are so loveable. But because He has decided to love you anyway. Because He says so. Because that is how gracious He is. Because He is faithful. He remembers His mercy and His steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Ps. 25:6). He remembers us, and He blesses us (Ps. 115:12). That’s just who He is. For “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
And now Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Peter, once scandalized by the cross and a preacher of false doctrine, is forgiven and restored. He is no longer ashamed to confess His love for the Lord. He is given the charge to feed the Lord’s sheep and precious lambs. And now he will lose his life, literally taking up his cross, for he will stretch out his hands and be dressed with the wood and carried where he does not want to go. Those are Jesus’ words, indicating the kind of death with which Peter would glorify God. It’s all right there in John 21 (vv. 15-19). So you also, though you have been scandalized by the crucified Lord and His Word on more than one occasion, are forgiven and restored. You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). This all happened at the font. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. So the you that is ashamed of Jesus and His Word is crucified by daily repentance, a daily return to the baptismal water. And raised to new life in Christ, you are no longer ashamed. With St. Paul, you confess that you are “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). You are not ashamed to confess your love for Jesus. You are not ashamed to speak His Word in season and out of season. You are not ashamed to lose your life, to surrender yourself to the cross, to die with Him who died for you, that you may live with Him who lives for you.
This adulterous and sinful generation has many ideas about who Jesus is and what He says. He is a prophet, a great teacher, a revolutionary, the model of morality, a practitioner of tolerance and acceptance of everyone and everything. There are as many opinions about Jesus as there are people on the earth. To take up the cross is to die to your own opinion of Him. There is only one true Jesus. He is, as Peter confesses, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior appointed by God from all eternity to suffer the cross to save sinful humanity. The Christ is defined by God in His Word, not by the opinions of men. And when you go confessing the Christ as defined by God, you will suffer for it. They may mock you. They may reject you. They may dress you in an orange jump suit and lead you where you do not want to go, to kneel by the sea and there receive your martyr’s crown. But losing your life in this way, you will glorify God. And you will receive the better life won for you by Jesus in His own suffering and death. Those 21 men by the sea in North Africa cried out to Jesus as their throats were slit. It was the last thing they heard on earth, the last word they said. Then, all at once, they heard for themselves the choir of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. And Jesus confessed them before His heavenly Father. He was not ashamed to call them brothers. For redeemed by the cross of Christ, they were not ashamed to deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow Him. God grant us all such faithfulness when and if the time comes.
And so you. Since you have been justified by faith, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, you have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and you rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, you rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put you to shame. You are not ashamed. Because God’s love has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you (Rom. 5:1-5). This is God’s doing. He turns everything on its head. Losing your life, you save it. Hated by the world, you are loved by God. Yourself a sinner, God declares you righteous. Having died with Christ, you have new life in Him. With Jesus, Good Friday always ends in Easter. And at the End of all things, your grave will be as empty as His. Christ Jesus will raise you from the dead. And because of that, you need never be ashamed. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.