Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent (B)
March 8, 2009
Text: Mark 8:27-38

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is an offense to the world. He is a scandal. He is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). Why is that? Because this bloody Roman instrument of torture and death, the cross, as a means of salvation, cannot be otherwise to unbelieving hearts. Nor does our Old Adam, that which clings to every one of us, the old sinful flesh even of Christians, much like the sight of the cross, especially not when there is a corpse belonging to God nailed to it. Even we Christians must admit that the cross is, by nature, an offense to us. I think sometimes we Christians are oblivious to the offense of the cross simply because we’ve seen it so often that we take it for granted. Crosses and crucifixes are everywhere in church, and many of us even wear them as jewelry, which is very appropriate, by the way, for Christians to wear the death of Christ around their necks. But imagine for just a moment that you saw someone wearing a piece of jewelry depicting a limp body hanging from a noose. Offensive! I bet you would be offended. I certainly would. And so you can perhaps begin to understand just what is so offensive about the cross of Jesus Christ. But there is something even more offensive about the cross than just that it depicts a death. The cross of Jesus Christ is offensive because it depicts the death of God in the flesh for the salvation of all people. It depicts a death. It depicts the death of God. It depicts the death of God in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. And it proclaims, in a sort of picture sermon, that this death of God in the flesh alone accomplishes the salvation of all people.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches His disciples and us that it is divinely necessary, that it is the Father’s plan, that Jesus go up to Jerusalem to suffer many things, to be rejected, to be killed, and after three days, to rise again (Mark 8:31). This is why Jesus came. This is why God became flesh. This is what it means that Jesus is, as Peter confesses, “the Christ” (v. 29). But even Peter, who has just made this astounding confession on behalf of himself and the other disciples, is offended, scandalized. He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32). Peter does not want a Christ who suffers and dies on the cross for the sins of the world. Peter wants a Christ who saves by a great display of power and glory. “Lord, with one word, with one motion of your hand, you could defeat Satan and all our enemies and take us to heaven. Far be it from you to do such a thing as to submit yourself to death at the hands of the Romans.” Peter has such good intentions here. We certainly understand Peter’s reasoning. He is trying to spare his Lord the great anguish of Calvary, spare Him from death itself (apparently Peter wasn’t listening to the rising again after three days part). But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the old cliché goes. Let this serve as a warning to all of us, beloved. Sincerity is not the same as truth, and good intentions get no one into heaven. By Peter’s good intentions he becomes an instrument of Satan himself. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus rebukes. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33; ESV). Peter was tempting Jesus to forsake the cross, to go the way of glory, to take the easy way out. And we understand. We almost want Peter to win the argument, and we feel the sting of our Lord’s rebuke as well, as I’m sure the rest of the disciples did also. But the cross is necessary, divinely necessary. “[T]he 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” (v. 31). Unless our Lord suffers and dies, there can be no resurrection. Unless our Lord suffers and dies, He cannot conquer death forever. Unless our Lord suffers and dies, He cannot pay for our sins. God, who is just and holy, must mete out the punishment of our sin. In His mercy and great love for us, He does so on the cross of Jesus Christ, that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.

There is no other Jesus than the one who dies on the cross, and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). What a scandal! This is why so many in our world, including many well-intentioned Christians, seek a Jesus who is more user-friendly. They hide the crosses and especially the crucifixes in their sanctuary. They want only songs and sermons and Scripture lessons that make them feel good. They want a Jesus who will lead them in the way of monetary prosperity, keep them safe from danger and disease, give them resolve to quit smoking, give them ten steps to strengthen their marriage and raise well-rounded children, and in general, be their buddy. They want anything but the Jesus of the cross. But beloved, this is a lie of the devil. Have you ever been tempted to seek this Jesus? Repent! Do not be deceived. This user-friendly Jesus will hold your hand all the way to hell. The only Jesus who saves is the Jesus who is crucified and risen again for you, for your forgiveness, for your life, for your salvation. Do not be ashamed of this Jesus. “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” (Mark 8:38). Do not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ crucified, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe it (Rom. 1:16). Do not be ashamed of our crucified God and His Gospel, but cling to Him by faith. Hang on His every Word. Be cleansed by Him, be fed by Him. For His blood covers all your sins. In Him you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and by His wounds you are healed. It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer and be rejected and be killed, and after three days, rise again. It is necessary for you and for your salvation.

It isn’t easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ with all this talk about cross and suffering. But Jesus takes it even another step. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). That means that if you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, mark my words, you will suffer for it. Satan will not let you have any rest. He will attack you from within and without using every means available to him. The world, with its hatred for Christ and the cross, will hate you as well. It will mock you for your Sunday School faith, your prayers, and your confession that Christ crucified and risen is the only way of salvation. It will persecute you, maybe even imprison you, take all your possessions away from you, and perhaps even put you to death for Christ’s sake. And your flesh won’t leave you alone either. For even though you’ve been redeemed by Christ the crucified, and even though you’ve been given the Holy Spirit, you still have the old flesh wrapped around your neck. You will still be tempted and you will still sin and you will still doubt. But all of this, beloved, is the cross Jesus calls you to take up as you follow Him. The cross is, ironically, a gift of God. It is any suffering that conforms you to the image of Jesus Christ, the cruciform image of our Lord. The cross is suffering baptized. It is suffering sanctified for the good of the Christian. God gives the cross. You don’t seek it. It finds you without you seeking it. And you aren’t saved by it. You are saved by Christ crucified alone. But God gives you the cross for your good. It drives you to your Lord Jesus alone for help and salvation. It drives you to prayer. It causes you to deny yourself, to lose your life, that you might find it in Jesus Christ. It drives you to die to all things that try to take the place of Christ in your life, the things you make into idols. Even if it were possible for you to gain the whole world, all the honor, all the riches, all the power, what good would it be if in the end you went to hell? None of those things could buy your salvation. Jesus Christ alone can buy your salvation, and He has. He has purchased you out of sin and death and hell at the price of His blood on the cross. The crosses that you bear remind you of, and focus you upon, His cross, and the salvation that is in Him alone.

Jesus’ cross gives meaning to your own cross and suffering. And God has not left you to bear your cross alone. While you bear the cross, He bears you. You have been justified by faith. You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You have access to God by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Jesus won all of this for you on His cross. So now you can rejoice in the crosses you bear. You can rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that through these God is forming you, conforming you to the image of His crucified Son. For as Paul writes in our Epistle lesson, we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). God is molding you into the Christian He would have you be through the cross He places upon you. He is driving you to Christ’s cross, from which flows your salvation. You stand before Jesus' cross in Word and Sacrament. The cross is pronounced upon you in the Word. You eat and drink the body given and the blood shed by our Lord on that cross whenever you come to the Lord’s Supper. When you need strength to bear up under the cross, you go to Christ’s cross, and you can only get Christ’s cross here in His means of grace. For “we preach Christ crucified,” writes St. Paul (1 Cor. 1:23). And we are not ashamed. We seek no other Jesus. The cross may be a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor, young and old… for all who are called, for you, Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. Be not ashamed. The cross of Christ is your life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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