Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 20)
September 23, 2012

Text: Mark 9:30-37

            Our Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy in our Old Testament lesson: “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19; ESV).  Indeed, Jesus is, as St. John the Baptist points out, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb whose blood takes away our guilt and covers our sin.  His death on the cross is the atonement for our iniquity.  He carried our sin and death there, to be nailed to the tree, to be put to death, to be buried forever in His tomb.  By His stripes we are healed.  In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples and us that this is why He came.  This is the second Passion prediction Jesus makes in the Gospel according to St. Mark, and He says, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).  Pretty heady stuff.  Death and resurrection stuff.  This is the essence, the heart and center of our Christian faith, as I’ve been drilling the Catechism students: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.  And the disciples do not understand it.  And they are afraid to ask about it (v. 32).  Instead, how do they react?  In the face of this grave prediction, this word of death and resurrection, the disciples shrug their shoulders, and then argue among themselves about who is the greatest.  And in so doing they unwittingly demonstrate just how necessary it is for Christ to come and do this very thing, to be led like a gentle lamb to the slaughter for us lost sheep, to be delivered into the hands of sinners, to be killed, and on the third day to rise from the dead.

            How do we react to this preaching?  There is nothing new under the sun.  We react the same way the disciples do in out text.  Well, we have an advantage over the disciples in that we know precisely what Jesus means by the Passion prediction.  Thanks to the apostolic witness recorded for us in the New Testament, we know that He’s talking about His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday for our forgiveness and eternal life.  But we still shrug our shoulders in indifference.  I mean, really, if the full impact of what Jesus here tells us, of what Jesus has done for us, is so manifestly clear to us, shouldn’t we be on our knees in tears of repentance and thanksgiving?  Shouldn’t we be shouting the good news of this Gospel from the mountaintops?  Jesus Christ, God almighty, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son of the Father, became flesh to suffer and die for us so that we don’t have to suffer for all eternity in hell for our sins.  So that we don’t get what we deserve.  And He’s risen from the dead.  He rose on the third day, so that death is not the end of the story for us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.  He who rose from the dead will raise us, too, on the Last Day.  This is incredible news.  And we’re glad to hear it.  But in some ways we shrug our shoulders, and everything goes on the way it always has in our lives.  We take the Gospel for granted and, instead of asking Jesus about it, inquiring more and more into His sacred Word that we may delve deeper into the mystery of this good news of our salvation, we’re more worried about what’s for lunch after church, and what the afternoon holds for us.  Repent.

            What’s even worse is, like the disciples, we continue to worry about who is the greatest.  Now, not every argument takes that precise form, but think about this for a minute.  I’m convinced that the heart of the matter in any conflict between two sinners is this argument about who is the greatest.  “I’m right, and you’re wrong!”  Whatever particular thing you may be arguing about, you’re arguing that you are the greatest.  When you argue with your spouse about money or the kids, it’s because you think you know better than they do how to run the budget and raise the family.  When you argue with your co-workers about a task or a project, it’s because you believe you know how to do it better than they do.  When you argue with your friends or your brothers and sisters in Christ about anything, it’s because you think you know better, or can do it better, or deserve to have it your way.  If the world would only see things from your perspective, everything would be great.  We’re always jockeying for first position, for the seat of honor, for fame and fortune, to get what’s coming to us, even at the expense of others.  It’s all an argument about who is the greatest.  Meanwhile, there’s Jesus.  He is the greatest.  He’s God.  But He does not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but makes Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He becomes obedient to the point of death, even to the point of the accursed death of the cross for us men and for our salvation (Phil. 2:6-8).  He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Therefore God has highly exalted Him, raising Him from the dead, seating Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, and given Him the Name that is above every Name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). 

            Shame on us.  How dare we argue about who is the greatest.  Repent.  We’re nothing, you and I.  We’re poor, miserable sinners.  That’s what we are.  We deserve none of this.  But God loves us in spite of ourselves.  He forgives us all our sins.  God saves us without any goodness or merit in us, because He is good.  He loves us who are unlovable, because He has declared it so.  So there’s no room for us to be climbing over one another and biting one another and devouring one another.  We’re all in the same boat.  And that boat is the ark of the Christian Church which we have entered by grace in the waters of Holy Baptism, all our sins washed away, united to Christ Jesus and His innocent suffering and death, declared righteous by His resurrection from the dead, inheritors of the Kingdom of the Father by grace alone, possessors of the gift of eternal life.  Who’s the greatest?  Jesus is.  And He gives His greatness to us.  It’s a ponderous mystery, stupendous good news for us who would otherwise be condemned.  Nor more shrugging of the shoulders.  No more arguing about greatness.  Instead, we’ve been freed to do something else, called for this very purpose.  And what is that?

            We’ve been called in Holy Baptism to imitate Christ, to give our very selves for the sake of the other.  If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35), as Christ Himself became the least and the last, the Suffering Servant who gave Himself for our sakes, to redeem us.  To make this point to His disciples, and to us, Jesus calls a child to Him.  How Jesus loves the children.  He takes the child in His arms right there in the midst of the disciples and He makes this point: Such a servant should you be that you serve this little child as you would serve a king, as you would serve the Lord Himself.  Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (v. 37).  Humble yourself to serve a little child, and in so serving, you serve Jesus.  In receiving a little child, you receive Jesus, and in receiving Jesus, you receive God the Father Almighty.  Parents, this brings a new perspective to your vocation, does it not?  And what light this sheds on the abortion issue.  And in any case, for all of us, this is a reminder that we’re not above serving the least of these, for that is the very thing Jesus commands.  We’re not above any lowly task in the church or in society or in our families.  There is nothing beneath us.  And there is no one beneath us.  We are to be beneath them, lifting them up, serving them, lavishing upon them the Savior’s love and bringing them as a little child to the Savior’s arms.  You do this with your children when you bring them to Holy Baptism and to church and Sunday School and Catechism class, and when you do family devotions with them in the home.  You do this with others when you serve them in the love of Jesus Christ, and confess the Savior’s Name and what He’s done for you in your daily life and vocation.

            The Lord Jesus was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter that Good Friday as He carried His own cross to Golgotha.  Though there was one difference between Him and a lamb.  A lamb knows not his fate as he marches to the slaughter house.  Jesus went willingly, compelled by love for you.  You are the little child He receives as He stretches out His arms to be nailed to the tree.  No more shrugging in indifference.  No more arguing amongst yourselves.  Behold your God, God Almighty, crucified for your forgiveness.  On the third day He rose from the dead.  He is risen and lives for you, and rules all things at the right hand of the Father.  And He is with you always, the very end of the age.  He is with you now in His Word and in the Sacrament of His body and blood.  Ponder this mystery.  Don’t be afraid to ask Him by His Spirit to reveal more and more about this to you in His Word.  For His Word is life.  This is, after all, the heart and center of the Christian faith: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      


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