Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 31, 2008
Text: Matt. 16:21-28
How true it is what the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Is. 55:8; ESV). Jesus makes this point crystal clear in the Gospel lesson this morning. The way of God is the way of the cross. It is an utter mystery to us that God chooses to deliver the world from sin, Satan, and death by giving His own Son over to the death of the cross. Fast on the heals of Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), Jesus “From that time… began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). It is a divine necessity that Jesus die a shameful death in the place of shameful sinners, at the hands of the religious establishment no less. This for the forgiveness of sins, your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world. God’s victory will be in death. Resurrection will come after crucifixion. It is necessary for God’s justice and wrath against sin to be reconciled with his love for sinners. And this happens only on the cross of Christ. There is no other way. You can’t pay for your sins, nor can I for mine. Even St. Peter and the other apostles cannot pay for their own sins. Jesus pays for them on the cross. Jesus satisfies God’s justice. In His death, Jesus wins salvation for us, everlasting life. And though Jesus’ death is the point of intersection between God’s justice and love, death is not the end of the story. Christ is risen, victorious over the grave, and you are justified, guaranteed a part in the resurrection of all flesh. The ways of God always have a happy ending in Christ Jesus. But until the end, there is the cross.
Contrast this with the ways of man. Man wants a happy life through and through, without suffering, without pain, without persecution and death. That is why the whole world celebrates Easter (albeit without understanding), but they do not observe Lent and Holy Week. The world does not want a crucified Jesus and it does not want to have to bear the cross with patience. And what is true of the world is also true of Christians in the flesh. Peter is the perfect illustration of this. Peter cannot bear even to hear our Lord’s Passion prediction. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). The cross is unacceptable for the Christ, the Son of the living God, or so Peter thinks. But Peter doesn’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of man. And so he is a hindrance to his Lord Jesus and the divine saving mission for which Jesus was sent. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (v. 23). The biting rebuke shocks us every time we hear it. Peter has just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God! Sure, he may be mistaken when he denies the necessity of the cross, but his heart is in the right place. He’s speaking out of love. And yet, that is just how Satan works. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old cliché goes. Satan is twisting Peter’s good intentions, his love, his very faith, with the lie, the false doctrine, that the glory of God can be attained without the cross. Peter is standing between Jesus and the holy cross, trying to divert Jesus, thwart his mission of salvation, and Satan is the instigator. With his rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is reminding Peter that he is not where he belongs. As long as Peter stands between Jesus and the cross, and as long as Peter resists the cross, he is no disciple of Jesus. He is a disciple of Satan. Anyone who wishes to be a disciples of Jesus Christ must get behind Him, deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus to Golgotha. Jesus’ rebuke is a call to repentance.
To be a disciple of Jesus means the cross now, glory in the end. It is to die now for the sake of Christ, to die to the self, to crucify the flesh, and if necessary, to die physically for Christ and His Gospel. And in this way Christ gives His disciples true life in God. “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 will find it” (vv. 24-25). To be a disciple of Christ means to bear the cross in this life, all the sufferings and temptations and trials of this life, with patience and faith, following the One who has trod this road before, for our sake, for our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever seeks only pleasure and comfort for himself in this life forfeits his inheritance in the life of Christ Jesus. What is this earthly life, after all, but a drop in the bucket of eternity? What is earthly wealth when it cannot buy happiness or peace with God, and when you die its benefits are passed to someone else? What is earthly pleasure and comfort if their pursuit means an eternity of torment in hell? “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (v. 26). Even if it were possible for one man to gain the wealth and prosperity of the whole world, it would not be enough to pay off God. The cross of Christ alone is sufficient for our redemption. Have you sought the things of this world without a care for eternal life? Have you been thinking the thoughts of men and not of God? Have you been offended at the cross of Christ and refused to bear the cross He has laid on you? Repent.
Beloved, do not make a permanent residence in this world. We are but strangers here, in the world but not of the world. Do not make earthly pleasure and comfort your goal. Remember that this earthly life is but a breath. Be concerned for eternity. Trust in Jesus Christ alone, and Him crucified for your salvation, and then gladly bear whatever cross He lays upon you. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. When you seek any other road than the road of the cross, when you refuse to suffer for and with Jesus Christ, who alone won your salvation on His cross, when you seek glory now, your best life now, health, wealth, and prosperity now, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. Get behind Jesus where you belong. That’s the only place for His disciples. Repent of your selfish quest for glory. Follow Jesus to the cross. Die to yourself. Crucify your flesh. Crucify your sinful, selfish desires. Do not live for yourself. Live for Christ. Live for your neighbor. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). For Christ has wiped out your sins on His cross. He is risen for your justification. He has given you new life. For as many of you as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You died with Him, and so now you live with Him. His death and resurrection are your own. And now in this earthly life, He bids you bear the cross for your own good. “The cross is God’s bell by which He calls us to prayer… The crosses of Christians are the cords of God’s love by which He draws us closer to Himself.” With the cross, Jesus is conforming you to His own image, the image of the crucified Son of God. He is rooting out all that is evil from you. He is putting your sinful flesh to death that you might live with Him eternally. He is driving you to despair of yourself and your own good works, to despair of your idols, whatever you fear, love, and trust the most, be they people or things. He is driving you to trust in Him alone for righteousness, salvation, and eternal life. He is driving you to pray, to cast yourself on His mercy, to hide yourself in His wounds, and so to live in Him.
Christ’s victory comes through suffering and the cross. These are the things of God. They do not make sense to us, for they are the opposite of the things of man. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. But His thoughts and ways are better. Our thoughts and ways lead to death. His thoughts and ways lead to life. For the Son of Man is coming again. He is coming with His holy angels in the glory of His Father. He is coming to judge, and He will repay each man according to His deeds. But for those who are in Christ, their sins will not be part of the record. For those who are in Christ, who have died with Him and live with Him, only Christ’s deeds count, His perfect life lived in obedience to God’s Law, His death for our sin, His resurrection. So you are pronounced innocent, justified, righteous. Then will come the glory. God’s ways always have a happy ending for those who are in Christ. Now you bear the cross. But in heaven and in the resurrection your cross will be exchanged for the glory and splendor of the Church Triumphant.
The apostles get a glimpse of this glory, the beginning of Christ’s victory before they taste death. It is true, they die before they see Jesus’ second coming. But Peter, James, and John see Christ transfigured before them on the mountain in the very next chapter of Matthew. John is present as Jesus is lifted up and enthroned on the cross, His glory hidden in death, ushering in His Kingdom. All of the apostles, save Judas, witness the risen Christ, the King returned in triumph over His enemies, sin, Satan, and the grave. And some of the apostles witness the beginning of Christ’s judgment as Jerusalem is destroyed in AD 70, an event that Jesus prophesied as a type of His return in judgment in the end (cf. Matt. 24). These glimpses sustain the apostles as they live their lives under the cross. And you, also, are not left without glimpses. Your glimpses of Christ’s glory are given in the preaching of His Word, and in a very real and significant way in the Supper of His risen body and blood. There you receive a foretaste of the feast to come, a glimpse of the eternal glory He keeps for you in heaven. The Lord’s Supper is heaven on earth as you sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and are seated at the Table of the King. This gives you strength to bear the cross now as you live your life on this earth. It gives you the power to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. For the Lord’s Supper is the tangible promise that the cross is not the end. Christ is risen. And He will call you out of the grave when He comes with His angels in the glory of His Father. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Quotations and Illustrations for Sermons (St. Louis: Concordia, 1951) p. 76.