Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Deny or Confess. . .

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (B), preached on Sunday, February 28, 2021.

    It must have been hard for Peter.  He had given up everything to follow Jesus. He had risked irritating and alienating His own people.  But Jesus did not seem to care about all he had given up and Jesus seemed intent upon riling up the very people who were threatening Jesus.  Then as they wound their way through Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks them “Who do people say I am?”  It was an innocent question and it cost the disciples nothing to report on what others thought.  But Jesus made it more pointed.  Who do YOU say I am?  This was a different matter.  There was risk involved to answer this question.  Nobody spoke up but Peter.  And Peter spoke well. You are the Christ!

    Strangely enough there was no patting Peter on the back for his bold confession. Instead, Jesus charged them to keep silent.  If Peter had done well and confessed rightly who Jesus was and is, why must Peter remain silent about it?  As if that were not enough, Jesus began to teach them what it meant to be the Christ.  And the picture was not what Peter or any of the disciples wanted to hear.  The Son of Man must suffer, must be rejected, and must be killed.  I suspect neither Peter nor the rest of the disciples heard much from that point on.  What they did hear was how openly Jesus spoke of the cross and His death. And they wondered what it meant since Peter and all the rest had pinned their lives and hopes and dreams on this Jesus.

    It is no wonder that Peter found this betrayal, suffering, and death a hard pill to swallow.  Mark records that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus for speaking in this way about suffering and death.  All the disciples were watching and listening when Jesus rebuked Peter publicly with the worst condemnation that could be said:  Get behind me, Satan!  Who would not be stung by such a rebuke!  But the reality is that there is nothing more satanic that interfering with or trying to prevent God from completing His redeeming work.  Jesus is plain about this.  There cannot be anything which would get in the way of God’s redemptive work by the cross, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ.

    As if this were not shocking enough, Jesus cross shaped life is the cross shaped life of those who would follow Jesus.  Deny yourself, take up cross, follow Jesus, lose your life, and gain it for eternity.  All around Peter and the disciples the world was dying and men were being consumed by evil.  In the best of people and the best of lives lived the secret sins of thought, word, and deed.  Those sins reigned down death and destruction upon every sinner.  And there was is no way out.  Jesus is blunt, alright.  The only hope is the cross. If Peter is not ready for this, he knows where the door is.

    It is just as shocking to you and me.  We want a Savior who will fix our problems and clean up our messes and help us when we need help and know when to make Himself scarce.  We want a Savior who will insulate us from the costs of discipleship, not call us to follow Him in a life of cross bearing.  We want a Savior who will make sense out of a senseless world of COVID 19 and uncertainties and fears.  But the Savior whom we need is the Savior who will take on our biggest need, who will suffer in our place for our sin, die in our place the death that was ours to die, and rise up so that we might have a new life to live.  This new life we live is not a new or improved version of the old life of sin we once lived. It is a radical new life, the shape of the life we see in Christ – where cross is center, forgiveness reigns, and we gladly suffer for His name.

    The Gospel is not safe or easy.  It is dangerous.  The enemies of Christ and His kingdom are clever.  Like Caiaphas they see the wisdom of one life sacrificed for many.  But they refuse to endow this life with the power to redeem.  On the other hand, there are many Christians who are sincere but completely confused about what the Gospel really is.  They presume that sincerity and good intentions  and the desire to fix the world will count for something.  Only faith matters and in faith only a life in which the people of God are unafraid of this dangerous Gospel.  When Jesus began to speak of why it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise again, the disciples were shocked. When what Jesus said played out before their eyes, they were afraid.  Even the resurrection did not silence all their fears.  They met Jesus behind locked doors.  It would take the Holy Spirit to open their mouths to speak this Gospel before the world.

    St. Peter did not forget this rebuke.  On Pentecost he spoke boldly.  When he wavered, St. Paul would rebuke him.  You cannot make the Gospel inoffensive or palatable. It is always dangerous and radical and shocking.  You and I will suffer the same rebuke when we would try to make the Gospel harmless, make it all sound reasonable, and take the cross from Jesus or the cross from discipleship.  You win nothing if you gain the world and lose your soul.  Though we have nothing here, if we have Christ we have everything.  If we are ashamed of these words and draw back from the cross-shaped life of those who follow Jesus, we have nothing left.  But if confess Christ openly and live without fear the cross shaped life of self-denial, trusting in the Lord, we have everything worth having.

    The generations have not changed.  We live in an adulterous and sinful generation. Things are not improving.  Virtue is called evil and evil is called good.  An example is the so-called Equality Act now before the Senate.  When we no longer know male from female and are willing to sacrifice religious freedom on the altar of gender confusion, we face a grave threat to the very Gospel itself.   Of all our proud attempts to improve upon God’s work, nothing here will endure.  It is shocking to us but it is not news.  The prophets proclaimed it long before Jesus came to suffer for it.  The Gospel is still scandalous and the cross is still a stumbling block.  The answer does not lie in trying to repair what is ruined but to repent and rejoice in the answer that is Jesus, in the power of His cross to redeem our sinful world and release us from the curse of sin, and to proclaim and live this Gospel without fear before the nations.  Only what is in Christ shall endure.

We do not need religious wolves in sheep’s clothing to tell us how to wind our way through this sinful world and find as much happiness as we can here.  We do not need religious charlatans to tell us that evil is good and good is evil.  We do not need spiritual distractions which give us the impression of new life without the cross that makes that new life possible.  We need truth and truth tellers.  We need people willing to suffer the rebuke of truth when they are in error and people to repent of their sinful words and ways.  We need pastors with backbones willing to tell us that falsehoods are not truth and the truth is not negotiable.  

We need nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffering and dying upon a cross that was made by us and for us, and rising to deliver to us grace and mercy none of us deserve.  We need parents who will teach and pray this Gospel into the hearts of their children and teachers who will impart this Gospel to Sunday school and catechism classes.  We need a Church in which this Gospel is the center of our life and worship and not a sideline to programs that appeal to our wants and desires.  

Whoever is ashamed of Me, says Jesus, or of My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His glory at the last day.  There is no sugar coating this word of warning but neither can we afford to miss the promise.  If we confess Him, He will confess us.  Jesus will know us and commend us to the Father and open the door to the place He has prepared where all the struggles, sorrows, sin and death of this life will not even be a memory.  Amen.

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