Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17A)
August 30, 2020
Text: Matt. 16:21-28
Peter is looking for a kingdom of glory, glory, hallelujah. He had just confessed the truth revealed to him by the Father: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16; ESV). But he clearly doesn’t grasp the implications of such a confession. He doesn’t like all of this talk about suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and being killed in Jerusalem. And this Third Day business about being raised? What does that even mean? So Peter must do something. He takes Jesus aside to talk some sense into Him. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). “Jesus, this is not how You win an election or inaugurate a revolution! This is not how You get the people behind you! You can’t go to Jerusalem and just give up the fight, give Yourself over to the enemy. Now, look around You. You have twelve strong men at Your side. We’re ready to fight to the death for You. So show the people You are strong. Show them You are capable. Flash some of that divine power in the face of the opposition, and knock ‘em to the ground. Multiply some more loaves and fishes and show the people how well-fed they’ll be under Your administration. Keep up the miracles. Free healthcare for all. They’ll beg You to be their King. And once Jerusalem and the rest of Judea are under Your Lordship, it’s on to Rome, and then the world!”
Does it sound familiar? I don’t just mean if you’ve been watching the Democrat or Republican conventions, although there is a clue about those, here, too. Remember what happened in the wilderness following our Lord’s Baptism? “Tell these stones to become bread. Feed the hungry, starting with Yourself. Throw Yourself down from the Temple. The angels will catch You. The people will see it, and they’ll be Yours. See all these kingdoms of the world, across time and space? They all belong to me. I could give them to You, You know. Just one little act of homage. Just one quick bow of the knee in my direction. No need for cross and suffering. No need to give Yourself over to save these wretched human creatures. You can rule them without all of that!” And it’s no wonder, is it, what Jesus says to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23), the things of Old Adam, the things of the devil himself! Peter’s vision for the Kingdom is the vision of Satan.
How different is Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom! Now that Peter and the disciples have the words of the Creed down, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus begins to teach them the “What does this mean?” part. It means that He must go to Jerusalem. He must suffer many things from the Jewish leaders. He must be killed. And on the Third Day, He must be raised (v. 21). The Greek word for “must” is δεῖ, a freighted word in the Gospels that speaks of divine necessity. It is divinely necessary that Jesus win His Kingdom in this way. It is the Father’s will. He sent His Son, Jesus, into our flesh for this very purpose. To go to Jerusalem to die. To hand Himself over into the clutches of the enemy, the Jewish leaders, the Romans, sinners, the devil, death and hell. To hand Himself over as our Substitute. To take our place. To pay our debt. To undergo our punishment. Jesus is showing the disciples and us that it is divinely necessary for Him to suffer for our sins, to be killed for our sins, and on the Third Day to be raised from the dead, having paid for our sins.
That is how He wins His Kingdom. That is how He wins our redemption. That is how He frees Peter and the disciples and you and me to be citizens of His Kingdom. Jesus’ Kingdom is the Kingdom of the cross. What else could it mean that some standing before Him would not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom? It is not that they would live in their earthly bodies until He comes again in glory. They are dead, now, after all, and we’re still waiting. They saw Him come into His Kingdom on the cross! That is His throne. And they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The King Himself, having died, stood before their very eyes alive. And as they watched, He ascended into heaven to reign.
Jesus must suffer and be killed and on the Third Day rise. That is the divine plan. But, by the way, it’s not just Jesus who must bear the cross. It is all of us who would follow after Him. Now, of course, there is only one cross that pays for the sins of the world, your sins and mine. That is the cross of Jesus. His death is the only and all-sufficient sacrifice of atonement that wins our forgiveness and salvation. But then, in His infinite wisdom and desire for our good, our Father lays a cross upon each one of us. Now, this cross is not to pay for sin. It is to mold and shape us into the cruciform image of Jesus, into the Christians God would have us be. And it must be this way. It is divinely necessary. This is how God kills our Old Adam with all his sins and evil desires. This is how God destroys our idols, especially the ones buried deep within our hearts. This is how God rips away from us every shred of hope or help outside of Himself. You have to come to the end of Yourself for Christ to be your everything. You have to be dead in order for Him to raise you. It is, as we have it in our Book of Concord reading in your bulletin: “Paul teaches in a very consoling way that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son.” Think about that: From all eternity God has known every cross and affliction you would have to bear, and how He would use it, and how He would deliver you from it. And here is the Promise: “His cross shall and must work together for good for everyone, because they are called according to God’s purpose,” as St. Paul teaches in Rom. 8:28.
So you have suffering to endure in this life. The cross of the Christian is every suffering you bear in faith. Especially those you bear for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. But it isn’t only persecution. It is also godly grief over your sins, which is to say, repentance. It is sadness over the state of the world today, the enmity with which we treat one another, our callous disregard for life, our trampling on the weak, the destitute, the vulnerable… the poor, the widow, the orphan, the unborn. It is Lot, living among the people of Sodom, tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds (2 Peter 2:8). It is your groaning with all creation (Rom. 8:22), living in a fallen body in a fallen world. It is the pandemic. It is the civil unrest. It is disastrous groaning of nature, like Hurricane Laura or the derecho, wildfires, earthquakes, droughts, famine, or flood. It is war. It is cancer. It is depression. It is death. Any of these, borne with faith in Jesus Christ, suffered faithfully, with faith in Him, is a cross by which God is working your good, your growth in faith, your perseverance, and your final deliverance. He is bringing you through suffering to the resurrection of your body.
Now, this is not what Old Adam wants to hear. Be honest. Confess it. You don’t like hearing about how you have to suffer and die this side of the resurrection, any more than Peter wanted to hear it from Jesus. That is why, by the way, you think everything is riding on this presidential election. I’ve heard it from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ve heard it louder and louder every four years: “This is the most important election in our lifetime!” Well, maybe. Elections are important, and don’t misunderstand me. I want you to stay informed and vote and participate as a citizen, and I want you to do so as a Christian, as one who has been given the wisdom of God in the Holy Scriptures. I want you to do it out of love for your neighbor and for his good, for your family, for your community, for your country. And by the way, I have dearly held political opinions, if you’d like to hear them sometime, so I’m not knocking that. But don’t be deceived. Neither Joe Biden, nor Donald Trump is the answer to all that plagues our nation and our world today. And neither one will usher in the Kingdom of God. Truth be told, humanly speaking, no matter who wins in November, we’re sunk. I say that for your comfort. But were you listening to Jesus? You don’t win the Kingdom by winning elections. That is Peter’s way. And Satan wants you to think it’s that easy. The fact is, with the right people in power, sure, you could gain the whole world. But what good would it be in the end if you forfeit your soul? “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).
That is, it is not for you to build for yourself a heaven on earth. It is not for you to avoid all suffering; to put your own safety and welfare above all else; to seek pleasure and rest and security and fulfillment in the things that are transient, including your riches, your house, your health, your job, your retirement, or even your family; to provide for yourself a soft pillow and garden of roses here and now, at the expense of what is to come when Christ returns. We live for that Day! Stop seeking the things of this life as though they were ultimate. They are not. They have a limited shelf life. Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Seek the things that are eternal. Take the long view. Have in mind the things of God, not the things of man. Suffer for Christ now; deny yourself now, believing and trusting in Him; lose your life for His sake now; knowing that the life you have in Him is eternal in the heavens, and that on the Last Day He will raise you, bodily, from the dead.
I know you don’t want to suffer. I know you want your good things now, and to be safe and happy always. Satan would have you believe you can have it all without any unpleasantness. But your Father knows what is necessary for your salvation. It is better to let God be God, and Jesus be the Savior. Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Trust not your own thoughts about the way things ought to be. The cross is necessary. That is God’s decree. But the Day is coming. You will be raised from death. Jesus is Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 FC SD XI:49 (McCain, p. 609).