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Lenten Midweek III: “Eyes on Jesus: Betraying Eyes”
March 18, 2020
Text: Mark 14:26-31, 66-72
Peter, how could you botch this? You, who boasted that you would never fall away, never deny the Lord, that you would follow Jesus to death, if necessary. You had confessed Him! “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; ESV), you declared boldly, on behalf of your brother Apostles. But then you tried to dissuade your Lord from suffering, being rejected and killed, going the way of death and resurrection. “Get behind me, Satan!” He had to say then, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33). Now confronted by a little servant girl warming herself by the fire, you lose every ounce of courage. You deny that you even know Him, not once, not twice, but three times! There is even a rooster crowing his sermon in the midst of it all, calling you to repentance, but you call down curses upon yourself, swearing to God that you do not know the Man. Your eyes betray you, wild with fear. Your accent gives you away. You are a Galilean. Surely a Christ follower! The rooster crows again, and this time the Lord’s Word hits its mark. Right between the eyes. You break down and weep bitterly.
It is easy, of course, to beat up on Peter. But what of you? You, also, have seen the great salvation of the Lord, His saving deeds, forgiveness, life, and salvation by His death and resurrection for you. Like Peter, you've heard His gracious Words, you’ve received His saving and healing renewal, born anew by water and the Word, baptized into Christ. Like Peter, you’ve been there, at the Supper, where Jesus gives you His body, His blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. And you’ve made your boasts. Even if I have to die with you! Never, never, will I deny you.
But you do. You do deny Him. Every time you insist on your own way. Every time you neglect or mistreat a precious human being for whom Christ died. Every time you recklessly throw yourself into the lustful passions of your flesh, disregarding what Christ has said in His Word, not treating your neighbor’s body, your own body, as holy, created by God, redeemed by Christ, who was crucified in the flesh for you, who is risen, bodily, for you. Anytime, like Peter, you’ve failed to speak when you should speak, you’ve denied Him. Anytime you’ve been afraid of the cost of confessing, ashamed of your Lord and His Words, you’ve denied Him.
Anytime you fear, love, and trust in anyone or anything more than Him, you deny Jesus. You deny Him in favor of other gods, your idols. If there is one thing this pandemic is doing for us, it is exposing our idols. What do you fear more than the Lord your God? What do you think can overpower His love and care for you? What do you love more than the Lord your God? What things, what people, do you think it is your job to protect, because the Lord cannot possibly handle it on His own, without your help? What do you trust more than the Lord your God? We pray for our doctors and nurses and healthcare workers. We pray for our government, for the scientific community and researchers, and we pray that media will keep us informed so that we can be responsible and cautious. But you know what all of those entities have in common? They are not God. They are not your Savior. Repent. Fear, love, and trust in God alone. He is your only help and salvation. Through Christ. He will deliver you from this pandemic, one way or another, either by keeping you safe from it, or by healing you… here and now through medicine, or there and then, on the Day of Resurrection. The medicine you need more than anything is that which is delivered by Christ in the preaching of His Word and in the Holy Sacraments. Your sins, your idolatry, your denials, are forgiven you for Jesus’ sake, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, was fully man, and I’ll bet He was scared when He stood before Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate. He knew where this would lead. “Crucify Him!” called out the bloodthirsty crowd, and He knew that soon the wood would be laid upon His shoulder for the slow and agonizing march toward Calvary. He knew the nails would pierce Him. He knew He would be lifted up, naked and bleeding, shamed and mocked by the bystanders, crucified between two criminals. He knew the Father would turn His back: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). He did not deserve any of this. Sinless. Holy. That is what He is. It was in His power, you know, to not do this, to not suffer this, to leave us in our sin and condemnation. So why does He do it?
He will not deny the Father, whose will is to save you, and to save you in this way.
He will not deny you. His own will is to save you, and to save you in this way. By paying the price for your sins, the price of your redemption, the sacrifice of atonement, His blood, His suffering, His death. He takes up His cross to make you His own. It is in that way that He is for you, as Peter confesses, the Christ.
Jesus died for you. But He didn’t stay dead. He is risen. Bodily. And He lives and He reigns for you. Remember that when you’re scared of this virus. Remember that when you’re scared of your sin and your guilt. Remember that when you’re scared of anything else in the whole world. Jesus lives, and Jesus reigns. This is all in His hands. The very hands that were pierced for you. The very hands He showed His disciples to prove to them that He is risen and alive.
The way to resurrection is only through death. The way to Easter is only through Good Friday. We will get through this, not because we are strong, but because Jesus is strong, because Jesus is risen from the dead. Resurrection is the end result of all of this. Now, hard times, yes. But keep your eyes on Jesus. He who is risen will raise you. The Lord has given us quite a Lent. But imagine the joy we’ll all have when we finally gather together for the great Easter celebration, however and whenever that is.
Peter denied His Lord and wept bitter tears of repentance. You have denied your Lord, and your eyes weep in sorrow, too. Remember what Jesus did for Peter on the lakeshore after He was risen from the dead (John 21:15-19). “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Three times the question. Three times the answer. Three times the charge: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Three denials. Three-fold restoration. Sins forgiven. Then the call: “Follow me.”
To follow Jesus means to take up your cross and go where He goes. Peter would stretch out his hands and another would dress him and carry him where he did not want to go. Our Lord told him this to indicate what kind of death Peter was to suffer to glorify God: Crucifixion, like his Lord. You now have to suffer this pandemic and isolation and the fallout in our nation and our world. Or cancer, or arthritis, or sacrificial care for a loved one, or persecution for confessing Jesus, or whatever it is. We all have crosses. Right now a particular cross of the whole Christian Church is how to be faithful to our members, caring for them with Word and Sacrament ministry and confessing Christ to the world, without endangering them or being irresponsible, and continuing to honor the governmental authorities without compromising our responsibility to preach. We don’t know exactly how to do this. We’re doing the best we can, but is it right? I don’t know.
I only know Jesus and His forgiveness if we’re wrong, and His mercy for all our denials and sins. He forgives us, He restores us, He enlivens us, and He emboldens us, to take up our cross and follow. To walk in faith. To confess Him boldly. To die in His Name, and so to live eternally. We know exactly where He is taking us. Through the valley of the shadow and out the other side. Through the cross and suffering to resurrection and eternal life. Beloved, eyes on Jesus. Only on Jesus. On we go, in the Name of Jesus. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The theme and many of the ideas in this sermon are taken from Eyes on Jesus (St. Louis: Concordia, 2019).