Monday, February 26, 2024

Get behind me, Satan

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (B), preached on Sunday, Februar7 25, 2024.

The famous Peter principle is that everyone will rise to the level of their incompetence.  It is a terrible truth that admits that when we are at our glory, we are also the most vulnerable.  For this reason then, the failure of Peter and the occasion for the Lord’s most biting condemnation is very bit as important as what Peter got right by claiming Jesus is the Son of the Living God.

Jesus warned Peter and His disciples of this before.  You have your minds on the things of men and not on the things of God.  That describes Peter to a T.  Maybe even everyone in this room.  The things of man are the things on which we plan and connive.  The things of man are the things that well up inside of us and begin to define who we are despite our good words about belonging to the Lord.  The things of man are the things the world also values just as the world does not leave much room for the things of God so our hearts have small space for the things of God and plenty of room for our wants and desires.

Peter is no fool.  He heard the Lord.  The Son of Man shall suffer many things, be rejected, crucified, die, and on the third day rise again.  Peter knew that what was the future for Jesus was probably his own future as well.  Who wants that?  But before you condemn Peter, look into the mirror of your own soul.  You don’t want that either.  No student is above His teacher.  Peter could read the writing on the wall.  He may have thought he was protecting Jesus but he was also protecting himself and his life from the pain and suffering that Jesus seemed entirely too comfortable with.  Set up a tent on the mountain top but do not venture in the valley of the shadow.  Is there anyone here who does not get this?  Of course not.

Peter is looking for an easier way.  So are you.  So am I.  None of us wants pain or suffering or sacrifice.  None of us is good with loss.  We are really good at pretend – at playing the game of life more with the what ifs than what is.  We are really good at playing at happiness.  The purpose driven lives we live are driven purposefully at avoiding what happened to Jesus happening to you and me.  That is why the Christian life is hard.  We value our happiness more than holiness.  We want pleasure more than faithfulness.  We want a God who understands even more than a God who forgives.  We want to hold onto our bitterness and anger rather than forgive.  We want to increase the distance between our enemies rather than forgive them as God has forgiven us.  We want the bird in the hand of a good life now even more than we want a perfect eternal life.

We think that the purpose of this life is to get what we want.  Like Peter, we are not quite ready to risk all trusting Jesus.  Meanwhile the Holy Spirit is working in us to see the cross as the path for our own lives, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, to repent of our sin and to forgive as we have been forgiven, and, most of all, to live in fellowship with our Father through His Son.

Jesus’ life is no tragic opera.  He does not lose anything.  Instead He gains everything.  The Gospel is not some fairy tale but the love of God exposed for the world to see and the call for the loved by God to love God as He has loved us.  In the end, Peter would drink the cup of suffering and be baptized into a painful death.  What Peter did not see was that God would raise him up to everlasting life and that the moment of suffering would give way to an eternity of peace.

Jesus is happy to go to the cross not because He likes suffering but because He loves you and me.  Having been given faith by the Spirit working through the Word and baptized into Christ, He gives to each of us the opportunity to know and to return such love.  To love Him back with all our mind, body, soul, and all that we have.  Don’t be afraid.  The Lord is committed to us no matter what the cost.  Let us rejoice in this but let us also learn to be steadfast in Him, fearing not what the world can take from us but trusting in what only God can give to us.

Peter is not such a bad guy.  Neither are you.  We are human.  More than that, we are sinners.  But God loves sinners.  He loves them not with the weak love that would do anything to preserve Himself but with the strong love that would pay any price and do any work that would save you and me and deliver us to everlasting life.  He will not betray us even though we betray Him over and over again.  Sometimes that means even calling us Satan and telling us to get behind Him.  But you can be sure of this.  The Lord is not acting out of spite but purely out of love when He calls us to surrender our attachment to the moment in order to hold on to eternity by faith.

When Jesus recounted how He was to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffer, die, and on the third day rise again, He was not speaking a lament.  Instead if was the most profound love story of all.  The God who inhabits our flesh in order to die for our sins, who cleanses the temple so that it might cleanse sinners, and to lay Himself upon the altar of the cross without any thought of a ram to rescue Him.  This God fulfills all that was demanded of us so we might be declared holy.

Satan’s problem with Jesus is not that He is the Son of God or righteous or  incarnate or willing to die on the cross.  His problem is that Jesus does all of these things out of pure love for sinners.  The very same sinners the devil had counted on as his own.  Jesus problem with Peter is that Peter was not willing to be saved if saving him meant the suffering and death of Jesus.  But without this suffering and death, Peter would belong to Satan.

In the end we are in the same dilemma.  Part of us is embarrassed by a Gospel that is born of suffering and death and yet without it we would not be saved.  What ties all of this together is this.  Those who are ashamed of Christ and of His Word in this life will find that Jesus is ashamed to call them His in the life to come.  So, what will it be?

Like Peter, we are tempted to believe that sin is not so bad that it would require a Savior to die but Jesus insists it is either a Savior who dies or we have no Savior at all.  The world is evil and dying and so are you.  Jesus refuses to mince words over a bruised ego.  We need to be just as resolute.  The cross is the most profound statement of God’s love for sinners.  In order to benefit from that cross, we must admit we are sinners.  Without the cross, there is nothing and we still belong to Satan. Which Christ do you confess?  

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