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Sermon for February 25, 2018, Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 8:27-38 (Second Sunday in Lent—Series B)

“Christians Live Under the Cross”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

February 25, 2018

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 8:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 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.”

 

To be the Christ means that Jesus would suffer on the cross. “It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The reign and rule of God would come by Jesus giving up His life into suffering and death. Jesus’ messiahship would be fulfilled only in terms of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh who would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). This message of a crucified Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). And Peter reacts. “Jesus, what good to us is a Christ who suffers and dies? That’s insane! You’ve got it all wrong!” 

Yet, Jesus the Christ was elected and appointed by God with a divine commission to seek and to save the lost. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21 ESV). That’s the reason why Jesus told Peter and the Twelve, and us who read this Word of God today, that “it is necessary” for Jesus to suffer, to die, and to rise again on the third day. This is the only way that people are saved from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. Jesus is the Servant who suffered for the people, on behalf of the people, so that all people might be saved. 

Jesus’ obedience even to death on a cross is nothing other than the carrying out of His divine commission as the Christ. He alone is the One who goes to the cross and dies for humanity. As Isaiah predicted of the Servant of Yahweh, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 52:13-53:11 ESV).

The death the Christ died as payment for the sins of the world satisfied the wrath of God, purchased our forgiveness, and guarantees our resurrection from death because the Christ is now risen and lives and reigns to all eternity. The sacrifice for sins is complete. As proof that “It is finished,” that salvation, forgiveness, and life everlasting are truly ours, Jesus rose from the dead. In Baptism, Jesus the Christ unites us with Himself in His death and resurrection. We read in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”  (Rom 6:1-11 ESV).

What, then, does it mean for us to believe in Jesus and to confess Him to be the Christ? It means that we receive Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant of God who died for our sins on the cross. It means that we trust that Christ alone shed His blood to purchase our complete forgiveness. It means that we believe and confess that Jesus rose again from the dead so that we need not fear death, but can live with the assurance that we will be raised to live eternally with Him.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, by means of the Word and Sacraments, the Christ has given us new life—a life that we now live under the cross. To be the Christ meant that Jesus would suffer on the cross. To be a Christian disciple of Jesus means that we now live under the cross. Let’s explore this together.

In his 1539 treatise, “On the Councils and the Church,” Dr. Luther identified seven visible marks or signs by which the true Church of Jesus Christ, the disciples of Jesus by faith, is distinguished from the world. The first six are the Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Office of the Keys, the ordained ministry, and corporate prayer and praise. The seventh mark of the Church is the one that permeates and conditions all of the others: “The holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh . . . by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s Word, enduring this for Christ’s sake.”[1]

Jesus told His first disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the Gospel’s will save it.” To be a disciple is to be like the Master. The Christian is wrapped up with and united in Baptism to the Savior’s very cross and life of suffering. This means that we as believers in Jesus Christ accept the burden of being imitators of Christ. Yes, this means that you and I follow Jesus through suffering and death.

We have a word for that. In German, it is “Anfechtung.” It means something along the lines of an “antagonizing struggle.” “Anfechtung” involves public hostility because the struglge is wrapped up with trial and temptation, suffering and affliction, opposition and persecution because of Jesus Christ and His Word. The direct result of being Jesus’ disciples who are people of Word and Prayer is this Anfechtung, this struggle and suffering under the cross.

As Jesus came to suffer, die, and rise again, so everyone who follows Him must carry the cross. Just as Jesus willingly submitted to God’s will, even when it was painful, so His disciples submit also. But the temptation to avoid the Anfechtung, the anguish and suffering because of Christ and the Gospel, is great. As the author of our current Sunday morning Bible study writes, “Is Christianity promoted [today] as a way to avoid ‘bad stuff’ and to achieve worldly success? . . . Being ‘religious’ is widely seen as a path to freedom from pain and failure. Suffering is seen as but an invigorating ‘challenge’ on the road to reaching one’s ‘full potential.’ ‘Spiritual disciplines’ are observed, often at the expense of our God-given vocations and their trials, to achieve personal fulfillment, even salvation.”[2]

Christians faithful to God’s Word, however, hold out a different vision of Christianity and spirituality. It is one that is shaped by life under the cross and not a safe life that tempts us to deny Christ and His cross or to deny our union with His suffering, death, and resurrection in our lives. You see, cross-bearing leads us back into the Word of God rather than away from it in preference to an easy life of “gaining the whole world,” as Jesus says. A life of bearing the cross leads us deeper into prayer as we seek the power of the Spirit through the Gospel so that we might endure and bear up under the cross, rather than looking with trust to the fleeting things of this world that move us away from faithful living, denying ourselves, and being like our Lord Jesus Christ.

We hear the Word of the Lord in 1 Peter 4:1, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” We are prepared to live the Christian life of Anfechtung, following our Lord Jesus in suffering, because we have been united with Him in His suffering, death, and resurrection in Baptism. We have the ability by the power of our baptismal faith to be committed to Christ in faith to the very point of suffering on account of Him and His Gospel. Billy Graham, whose soul now rests with the Savior, once preached, “When Jesus said, ‘If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,’ it was the same as saying, ‘Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.’ He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind—the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution.”[3] Our lives now belong to God and to His service, and that means serving with suffering. Our Christian life is a life lived out under the cross.

As Christians, we have “a new focus and are not occupied with personal pleasure. Though we continue to be sinners, we are also declared righteous and saints before God. In Christ, we know we are forgiven and so we can live with a new attitude” (TLSB Notes, 2156). By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, you and I follow Jesus through suffering and death and into resurrection and life. We daily deny ourselves and take up our cross following Jesus with faith in His Gospel promises: “Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account. Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account” (Matthew 5:11-12). “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas. 1:12 ESV).

The blessing of the disciple’s life of cross-bearing is that God teaches you how all-sufficient His Word is for you. Through it all, the Lord reveals to you how awesome and powerful His Word is to sustain you and bring you through the cross-bearing, through the suffering on account of Jesus and His Gospel, with an even stronger faith into the reality of resurrection life and Easter victory.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you live under the cross. Along with St. Paul, you can declare in the midst of Anfechtung, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10 ESV). The Lord Christ also has this word for you from Revelation 2, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).

To be the Christ meant that Jesus would suffer on the cross. Through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, by means of the Word and Sacraments, continue to live faithfully under the cross as you bear it in His name and rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41). Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 148.

[2] Holger Sonntag, Cross: We Suffer with Jesus (The Lutheran Spirituality Series), (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 6.

[3] From, “The Offense of the Cross”; Great Sermons on Christ, Wilbur M. Smith, ed.

 


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