2nd Sunday during Lent
February 25, 2018
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
“Life in Christ Demands Suffering / Death”
1) The Son of Man Must Suffer, Die; Rise the Third Day
2) Jesus’ Disciples Must Take Up Our Cross, Die to the World; Follow our Lord
Dear living disciples of our crucified but risen, ascended, living Lord Jesus Christ,
Without death there will be no life. We know by experience, seeds we sow in a garden in spring must die or no new plants shoot up through the earth. If we will enjoy corn on the cob, picked fresh from the field, in the fall, kernels planted in the ground in the spring must die. As illogical as it first sounds, without death there will be no life. What disciples observe in nature – what souls studying Scripture could possibly anticipate – Jesus begins to plainly explain on a spiritual level, ‘The Son of Man must be killed.’ Without death there can be no life. Life in Christ – spiritual life, eternal life – demands suffering; demands death.
First, Jesus! Referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus must suffer, must die; must rise the third day. For a first but certainly not last time, our Savior voices a message he regularly reiterates as attention turns to Jerusalem. Picturing events we stress in Lent, Jesus plainly predicts what he in fact knows will eventually occur in Jerusalem, ‘The Son of Man, must suffer many things, must be rejected by the elders, by the chief priests; by the teachers of the law. He must be killed & after three days rise again.’ Notice, no options! Jesus gives disciples no choices. Nor does God the Father give Jesus a choice other than suffering at the hands of Jewish leaders before being crucified by Roman soldiers. In Gethsemane, the night before he will climb our cross, Jesus will fervently ‘pray that if possible this hour might pass from him, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”[MK 14] While the Father will send an angel to strengthen his Son to do his will, God will never alter his plan of salvation, never send Jesus any direction other than to a cross where his innocent death atones not only for our sins, but atones for the sins of the whole world. There are no options. Without death there will be no life.
God clearly, definitively announced, ‘The wages of sin is death;’[ROM 6] The punishment sin deserves — my sins & your sins — whether we disobey God’s command for our every word to be true & loving or if we ignore our Lord’s order for each action in our life to benefit other souls rather than serve our own selves – the punishment every sin deserves & demands is; always was death. Consequently, if ‘the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ [ROM 6] as our Lord so beautifully promises believers we will live with Christ forever, then our God-given Redeemer must satisfy God’s justice by paying sin’s price; our Savior must suffer the death our sins demand. Without death there will be no life.
But death – specifically, Jesus’ death — is not what Peter wants to hear…not now; not ever! Responding to the Lord asking a question about his identity, Peter just finished powerfully confessing, ‘Jesus, you are the Messiah’ – you are the Savior God has been promising he would send his people ever since Adam & Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden. Peter sees in Jesus a Conqueror, an all-powerful Ruler, not a victim suffering at the hands of Jewish elders, priests; teachers of the law. ‘Taking Jesus aside, Peter rebukes him;’ undoubtedly instructs his Lord to forget about death. Did he not walk away from a crowd intending to toss him over a cliff in Nazareth? Is not his wisdom repeatedly refuting trick questions asked to trap him? Can he not order evil spirits to leave people they possess, order graves to give back their dead? Why will Jesus speak of suffering when he is obviously able to outwit & overpower every opponent he encounters in our world?
Peter apparently forgets several signs Jesus promises proving he is our Savior. Peter forgets Jesus first identifying his authority to drive money exchangers & cattle sellers out of the temple courts, saying, ‘Destroy this temple; I will raise it again in three days,”[JN 2] a promise which might not immediately make us think Jesus will die. John, in fact, admits disciples do not understand until after the Lord rises Easter Sunday that the temple Jesus is talking about is his body. A second sign Jesus offers more obviously indicates he will die; will be buried, ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah. As Jonah was three days & three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days; three nights in the heart of the earth.’[MT 12] Has Peter forgotten Jesus’ signs? Despite Jesus’ promise to rise the third day, a promise added every time he previews death – a promise Jesus’ disciples forget, but Jewish opponents will remember Good Friday — Peter does not want to hear; Peter does not want his Lord to talk or to even think about death.
While misdirected Peter means well, the Lord will not allow error to linger in their minds. Jesus’ response is not a private conversation. Jesus’ response addresses disciples who all obviously share Peter’s desire for their Lord to only enjoy success; to never face suffering, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Are the echoes obvious? Do you hear the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness, inviting God the Son, a Son of Man, to bow before Satan one time in exchange for all the kingdoms of this world? Why suffer? Why die? Jesus, why not take a path to victory easier than God the Father’s plan for his sinless Son to suffer hell, to suffer spiritual death as our substitute? As he rejected Satan’s temptation in the wilderness, Jesus rejects, Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke. Jesus emphatically explains, ‘You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.’ Do not let human desires mistakenly take you down a dead end. God is very clear: Without death, without Jesus’ death, there will be no life.
First clarifying the fact he, the Son of Man, must suffer, must die; must rise the third day in order to win forgiveness, absorbing; erasing our sins’ death penalty — delivering God’s gift of eternal life in Christ — Jesus identifies another necessary death every disciple must experience as he calls the whole crowd to hear, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves; take up their cross & follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lost it, but whoever loses their life for me & for the gospel will save it.
To live in Christ, we disciples must die – we must die every day. Without death there will be no life, no Christian life. Hearing how Jesus’ disciples must – again, there are no options – Jesus does not say ‘may’ but ‘must’ – hearing how Jesus’ disciples must take up our cross; must die to the World to follow our Lord, it is clear Jesus is not describing earthly death, Jesus is not demanding that our physical life end day after day after day. What is demanded, as our soul is reborn – as we are made alive in Christ, as the Holy Spirit working with God’s Word gives us faith in Jesus our Savior & Lord, as inspired apostle Paul pictures us being buried with Christ by baptism; by this same baptism being raised from the dead to live a new life in Christ – what Jesus demands is for our spiritual self to constantly crucify our sinful nature so we do what God desires, not what we or our world might want. As Luther would explain, we must drown our Old Adam with daily contrition & repentance.
Repentance is required. Where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness, for ‘if we say we have no sin, we deceive our self; the truth is not in us.’ On the other hand, where there is death, there is life for Jesus’ disciples. ‘When we confess our sins, God is faithful, God is just. God will forgive us our sins; God will purify us from all unrighteousness because Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; for the sins of the whole world.’[1 JN 1;2] Expressing our sorrow to the Lord for disobeying his commands in every way is essential. Begging the Lord to be merciful, admitting we deserve eternal death, we will daily ask God to graciously count our guilt against his Son who paid sins’ penalty when he died outside Jerusalem Good Friday, only to rise to life again Easter Sunday – just as Jesus predicts.
First, Jesus must die & rise the third day. Today, Jesus’ disciples must die & rise to live in Christ. Without death, there is be no life … no Christian life. Inspired apostles re-painting a picture our Lord insists upon here constantly encourage us in our Christian life. Paul urges, ‘Putting off our old [evil] self; being made new in the attitude of our mind; put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness & holiness.’[EPH 4] James warns, ‘Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’[JAM 4] Paul again instructs, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died; your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’[COL 3]
Looking to the last day, Jesus similarly asks us to evaluate the ultimate value of following my own earthly desires today as opposed to now crucifying my flesh to follow God’s will for words & works imitating Christ. As we weigh our worldly life against an eternal life God gives us in Christ; as we evaluate physical life against our Sprit-given life in Christ, Jesus warns while he at the same time promises, ‘Whoever want to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me; for the gospel will save it.’ Anticipating his final judgment Jesus asks us disciples, ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Is our answer obvious? If not, Jesus will offer a unique warning, ‘Remember Lot’s wife!’ Called to follow the Lord without looking back, warned to flee from Sodom before burning sulphur from heaven will destroy this wicked city as an example of God’s ultimate judgment on evil, Lot’s wife looks back to the apparent pleasures of this world, only to be turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus warns us, ‘Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it; whoever loses their life will preserve it.’[LK 17]
Humanly speaking, death never seems desirable, but without death there will be no life. Thank God, Jesus does suffer & die to redeem every soul from our sin. Thank God, raising his Son to life the third day, God our Father raises us to live our new eternal life in Christ, constantly putting the death our worldly desires, regularly repenting of our sins & rejoicing forever in Jesus’ forgiveness.