Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)
March 29, 2015
Text: Mark 14:1-15:47
“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52; ESV). The young man is not named. Mark does this on purpose. It is a literary device employed to pique our curiosity. Who is this young man? Why does he appear here, of all places? The Holy Spirit is not so careless an Author as to weave meaningless details into His Composition. This is here for a reason. Many have surmised (and I include myself among them) that the young man is none other than St. Mark, John Mark, the human author of our Gospel. That could well be the case. It would not be unusual for an author to write himself into the narrative, especially if this is Mark’s way of confessing that he, too, denied his Lord, ran away from Jesus when the going got tough. It is fun to speculate, but we can’t say for sure, because Mark leaves the man unnamed. Because he has an even more important point to make. The young man who runs away, the young man who is already dressed immodestly but now has to run away naked and totally exposed, the young man who abandons Jesus in His hour of suffering is not only John Mark, not only some random figure in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are that young man. And so are the apostles. And so are Adam and Eve. So are all their children. This is humanity’s story. This is your story.
Note that the scene takes place in a garden. God in the flesh, Jesus, is walking with His people, His disciples, sons of Adam all. But in the time of trial, mortal men once again fail and fall. In the face of temptation, rather than hold fast to the Word of the Lord, the disciples determine for themselves what is good and what is evil. It is good to flee, they think, and leave Jesus to suffer His own fate at the hands of cruel men. It would be evil to be caught and to die with him, they think; to take up their own cross and follow Jesus. So as the serpent strikes the Shepherd’s heal, the sheep are scattered (cf. v. 27). They all realize they are naked, vulnerable, exposed, so they hide. Undoubtedly they make excuses. Undoubtedly they turn on one another. They are fallen men. “You will all fall away,” Jesus had prophesied (v. 27). Now His Words come back to haunt them. Every one of them had boasted they would never leave Jesus in the lurch, that even if they must die with Him, they would never deny their Lord (v. 31). Their track record would suggest otherwise.
They already show their hand, making a big fuss when the woman anoints our Lord with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the leper (v. 3). “There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor’” (vv. 4-5). The woman’s extravagant gift is a fruit of faith. She anoints the Savior’s Body in preparation for His burial. The reaction of those at the table is neither a fruit of faith, nor the fruit of any real concern for the poor. It is stinginess dressed up with piety. The Church has suffered from this sin from time immemorial. Repent. In any case, this is the last straw for Judas. When the money isn’t handled as he sees fit, he leaves, and from that point on he seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus. He will be there in the upper room to ask with the others, “Is it I?” (v. 19), and to dip his bread into the dish with Jesus (v. 20). But he is there under false pretenses. He bellies up to the Communion Table, but he eats and drinks judgment on himself. For he does not discern the Body of Christ. He does not eat and drink in faith. He is a hypocrite in the true sense of the word. Woe to Judas. “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21).
Judas, of course, is the most egregious example of a disciple who falls away from Jesus. But how do the rest fare? After boasting of their faithfulness, Peter, James, and John cannot watch with their Lord for even one hour (v. 37). They fall asleep when their Friend needs them most. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38). It is true for all of the disciples. Judas comes with the soldiers and every one of them scatters: “And they all left him and fled” (v. 50). Look closely. There is that young man running away naked. There is his linen cloth, lying on the ground.
It doesn’t get any better at Jesus’ trial. Peter follows at a safe distance, but as our Lord is falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and spat upon, Peter doesn’t speak up for Him. Instead, Peter is in the courtyard denying Him three times. Just as Jesus said He would. Peter is not so willing to die with Jesus after all. The rooster crows twice, calling Peter to repentance. Peter breaks down and weeps bitter tears (v. 72).
And the hits keep on coming. The Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of Israel, hand Messiah over to the Roman government to be killed. The crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice call out for blood: “Crucify him… Crucify him” (15:13-14). Pilate denies Jesus justice for the sake of his own convenience. Barabbas (literally “Son of the Father”), an insurrectionist, a robber and a murderer, goes free. Jesus is scourged and delivered up to be crucified. The soldiers worship Him in mockery, beat Him, abuse Him, then strip Him and lead Him out to the Holy Hill to be crucified. They nail Him to the cross and lift Him up between two robbers. They gamble over His clothes. The chief priests and scribes and those passing by deride Him. The very sun in the sky hides its face for three hours. Our Lord is utterly alone, abandoned by His friends, the Church, the State. And what of His Father? Where is the Father? His back is turned on His beloved Son. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34). Even the Father has left Him to suffer on His own. That is hell. He suffers it because of your sin. And Peter’s. And that of the Twelve. Even Judas. Even Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the robbers, Barabbas, Mother Theresa, and Hitler. It all hangs there on the wood in the flesh of the Son of God. This is the payment. This is the sacrifice of atonement. Jesus is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He is the perfect Mediator between God and man, because He is God and Man, by His death reconciling God and man in the forgiveness of sins. Of all people, the centurion in charge of the execution is the first to get it. As Jesus utters a loud cry and breathes His last (v. 37), the centurion confesses what the disciples should have known all along: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
And where are you in all of this? You are there in the griping and complaining, in the hypocrisy and betrayal. You are there in the boasting of your faithfulness and the failure as you flee. You also have denied your Lord when the going gets hard. You also have neglected justice for the sake of convenience. You also have betrayed Him and pierced His sacred flesh with every sin, every breaking of every commandment, every lustful thought, every wandering glance, every juicy bit of gossip or sweet boast that passes over your lips. You talk a big Christian talk, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t watch with Him one hour either. You need your sleep. And you certainly don’t want to take up your cross and die with Him. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you are just like your parents. You just can’t bear the temptation. Instead of clinging to the Word of the Lord, you listen to the serpent. You are convinced you can determine your own good and evil, and you reach for the fruit that is forbidden. Hear the rooster’s early morning sermon: Repent. But know this. Even as you are the young man fleeing naked, your sin exposed for all to see, you are in the naked Man lifted up on the cross, your sin exposed for God’s wrath to be spent on it in His flesh. That you be saved.
You have denied Him, but He has not denied you. You have forsaken Him, but He has not forsaken you. There is great comfort in confessing yourself to be the naked young man. The linen cloth is all the young man has with which to clothe himself. It is immodest and insufficient. It is his own version of Eden’s fig leaves. But in the arrest, suffering, and death of Jesus, the young man and you are stripped of your linen cloths, your fig leaves, the sin you parade before God and others as if it were righteousness. You are stripped of it, that Jesus may be wrapped in it and buried in it. “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb” (v. 46). You see, Jesus does all of that to death. He takes it to the grave with Him. That He might clothe you in something better. In the Garden of Eden, God sheds the blood of animals to clothe Adam and Eve in their skins. At Golgotha, God sheds the blood of His beloved Son to clothe you with Jesus. And you are no longer naked. By your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are given the robe that is Christ Himself. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). And so you don’t need to run away and hide anymore. You already died with Christ. And Easter is coming. No matter what happens to you in the days to come, there is one thing that is certain. In the end, your grave will be as empty as His. He cannot leave you in death. You are clothed with Him. You walk around in His skin. Where He is, you are. Weep your bitter tears this Holy Week for all your sin and all that Jesus has suffered for your forgiveness. But so also, lift up your head and rejoice. All of this has come to pass that you may be God’s own child, fully fed and fully clothed. God has written it in the flesh of Jesus: You are loved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 22, 2015
Text: Mark 10:32-45
Jesus does not rebuke James and John for their request. After all, they had simply taken Jesus at His Word. Did He not say, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7; ESV)? Throughout His earthly ministry, our Lord taught us to ask God in prayer “as dear children ask their dear Father” (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction). Dear children ask their dear fathers for all sorts of things, many of which would not be beneficial for them. As a father, I am asked for candy probably 12 times a day, and that doesn’t include the candy petitions my wife receives from the same three dear children. If we said yes every time we were asked, our kids would already be in dentures. But it isn’t wrong for them to ask. They ask the right people. They ask those who have God-given authority over them, who have been entrusted with their health and welfare, and who hopefully have enough wisdom to balance the concern for a healthy diet with the occasional joy of sugary treats. As an imperfect earthly father, my goal (though I often fail miserably) is still to always hear the needs and desires and requests of my children, and respond to them in love and for the good of their bodies and souls. And if I, then, who am evil, know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matt. 7:11). So also, our Lord Jesus. The point is, you can ask God anything. He always hears your prayers. He never fails. Even when you ask for things that are not good for you. He hears. And He always answers. He always responds with something good. The answer is never simply “No.” No prayer falls from a Christian’s lips without some benefit bestowed by God. Oh, He may not give you exactly what you want in the manner and time you have prescribed. But He will give you what is good. You can count on it. Your prayers are never in vain. When God does not give you what you want, it is because He is giving something better.
Jesus does not give James and John their request. He answers their prayer by giving them something better. He teaches them. He teaches them that the Son of Man is glorified (and therefore also His Christians are glorified), not by sitting in the highest seat, being honored and served, but in serving and giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus turns everything on its head. This is the theology of the cross over and against the theology of glory. James and John are theologians of glory. They want to be exalted, being Jesus’ right and left hand men, His closest advisors, His trusted confidants. They want the VIP seats in heaven. Though it is not wrong for them to ask, to be sure, their motivation is all wrong. Pride, one of the seven deadly sins… Pride, which goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18)… Pride is what leads them to ask. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Pride responds: “We are able” (v. 39). James and John don’t know what they are saying. For Jesus is a theologian of the cross. The cup He drinks is that of His bitter suffering and death for the sins of the world. The Baptism with which He is baptized is the Baptism of His blood shed for proud and fallen humanity, to save us from eternal death. And in this way, by doing this for James and for John, for you and for me, Jesus Christ is glorified, and He glorifies our Father who is in heaven.
James and John make their request out of pride, but don’t be too hard on them. They had simply beaten the other 10 to the punch. That the 10 were indignant betrays the guilt of their own pride and lust for honor. And if you had been there, you would have done the same. Our harshest judgments are reserved for those whose sins we see in ourselves. We are proud that we aren’t as prideful as James and John. Not to mention how much greater are the sins of those in the pew across the aisle, or the yayhoo driving in front of us on the way to Church. Judgment and self-exaltation are the fruits of pride, which is deadly. Repent.
And hear the teaching of Jesus: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (v. 42). For that is the way of our Lord. He who is, by definition, greatest among us, God in the flesh, becomes our Servant, is made a Slave, bound, beaten, nailed to the tree, that God may exalt Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His own right hand (Phil. 2:5-11). “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The glory of Jesus Christ is to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, to be condemned to death and delivered over to the Gentiles, to be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed (vv. 33-34). He is crucified between two thieves, one on His right and one on His left, as He comes into His glory (probably not what James and John had in mind). His glory is to shed His blood and give His life. For you. For the whole world. To make you His own. To win for Himself a people and a Kingdom. “And then after three days he will rise” (v. 34). That is the theology of the cross.
Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath for your sins, drinks it down to the very dregs. He is baptized in His own blood, gushing from every part of His Body, His sacred head wounded for you, His hands, His feet, His side, pierced for you, the scourge marks all over His flesh suffered for you. But in this something amazing happens. Your debt to God is paid. Your bondage to sin and death and the devil is broken. And what was a bitter cup becomes now the sweet cup of blessing that is a participation in the Blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). The Baptism with which you are baptized becomes now the font of new birth and eternal life. Your robes are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). James and John and the 10 and you do drink the cup of the Lord and you are baptized into Christ. But you drink and are baptized from the other side of our Lord’s death and resurrection. What was death to Him has become life for you. What was the payment for your sin has become the gift of His righteousness to you. From His spear-riven side poured water and blood, the water of the font, the Blood of the Supper. You are born and nourished by Jesus’ death. You live on His life. His Body, His Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
That being said, there is no room for pride. Jesus has done it all. What do you have that you have not received (1 Cor. 4:7)? Everything you have is a gift, undeserved, given by grace. So that changes your prayers. As you grow and mature in the faith, you recognize that prayers for your own exaltation at the expense of others are not all that helpful. It is not wrong to ask for an improvement in your earthly position. But don’t be surprised if Jesus gives you a lesson in humility instead, which is far better. It is far better to state your needs to the Father in Jesus’ Name, and then let Him work out all the details. It is far better to pray for the needs of your neighbor than the luxury and comfort of your own flesh. And it is far better to become your neighbor’s servant and slave, that at the proper time God may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). You can even give your life for your neighbor, suffer for your fellow Christians, die for the Name of Christ, be a martyr, knowing that Christ died for you, and that just as He is risen, He will raise you. Self-sacrifice for the sake of another is actually your glory, even as it is Christ’s. Suffering for the Name of Jesus is a tremendous honor. Of course it isn’t pleasant at the time, and it isn’t something you seek out, but when God bestows it, you rejoice and give thanks, for great is your reward in heaven. That is the theology of the cross. And the cross is always given for your good.
As it happens, when our children ask for candy, most of the time we give them something more nutritious. Sometimes we make them go without, or we give them broccoli, which is hard for them to bear. Then again, sometimes we do give them candy. Because we want them to have joy. So it is with our God. When we ask Him for things that are not necessary for our body or soul, He responds by giving us the good gifts we really need. He is our dear Father. He knows what is best for us. He always hears our prayers, and He always answers for our good. Sometimes He makes us go without, or He gives us a cross, which is hard for us to bear. Then again, He gives us an awful lot of candy. Because He wants us to have joy. But He wants our joy not to be in the candy, but in the Giver of the candy and the daily bread and the cross. He wants our joy to be in the cup and in the Baptism and in His teaching us. He wants our joy to be in Jesus, who does not rebuke us for our prayers, but gives us His Kingdom. And in this way, you can take Him at His Word: “Ask, and it will be given to you.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Third Sunday in Lent
Third Sunday in Lent (B)
March 8, 2015
Text: John 2:13-25
Jesus knows what is in man (John 2:25). He knows that what is in man is not good. It is unclean. It is destructive. It is deadly. Jesus knows that out of man’s heart come evil thoughts: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt. 15:19). Jesus knows that what is in man is all that is opposed to the Ten Commandments, which we heard in our Old Testament reading (Ex. 20:1-17). Jesus knows what is in you. And it isn’t pretty. Contrary to the culture that tells you to follow your heart, go with your gut, that you are beautiful, that you should always feel great about yourself, that you are a good person, Jesus knows the black hole of your enmity and rebellion against God. He knows the filth that pours forth from your soul. And He has come to clean house. Far from the Jesus proclaimed by our contemporaries, the Jesus who accepts you for who you are apart from Him, who wants you to do whatever makes you happy, the Jesus we encounter in our Holy Gospel is in your face, confrontational, a man of action, violent even. He uses force. He is not someone you want to meet in a bar fight. He cannot tolerate the filth that surrounds you and comes out of you. Not even if that is what makes you happy, not even if that is who you are. Jesus fashions a whip of cords, His holy Law, which kills and utterly destroys, to drive out all that is opposed to His Commandments. Jesus cleanses His Temple. Jesus cleanses you. Zeal for God’s House, Zeal for you, consumes Him (John 2:17).
Don’t for a minute think that this undertaking will be pleasant for you. It hurts to be slain by God’s Law. When we look into the Ten Commandments, as in a mirror, the Law points its accusing finger on every count. For in each case, even if you have kept the Commandment outwardly, you have not kept it in your heart. It may be that you have never murdered, but you have despised your neighbor. It may be that you have never fornicated or cheated on your spouse, but you have looked lustfully upon another who is not your wife or husband. You have not always been chaste and decent in your thoughts and your words. Perhaps you’ve never stolen so much as a cookie from the jar, but you have coveted what is not yours. You have envied your neighbor. It hurts to admit it. It hurts even more to confess it out loud. But the Lord must do His alien work of showing you your sin in the mirror of His Commandments, condemning and killing you by the Law’s accusations, that He may then do His proper work, showing you your Savior in the Holy Gospel, forgiving your sins, pouring out His own righteousness upon you, giving you new and eternal life. The Lord cleans house by His perfect Law, to fill you with all that is good and right and true, with Himself, by His life-giving Gospel.
But what is even more amazing is how He does it. You see, He doesn’t do it by simply erasing your past and then giving you a powerful shot in the arm so you don’t sin anymore. To be sure, He does give you power to fight against the sin of your flesh. But that isn’t how He cleans your house. If He did that, then your ongoing righteousness before God, your remaining clean, would depend on you and not Him. It would be salvation by works. And then every time you commit another sin, which is always… you’re always sinning… you’d have to be baptized all over again. You’d have to stick your head in the font and keep it there until you die. No, here is how Christ cleans house in you. He takes all of your sin and filth and death and damnation into the Temple of His Body. And He destroys it by offering His Body to the destruction of the cross. The whip of cords He fashions in the Temple is a type of the whips used to scourge His precious flesh by the soldiers. The money poured out on the Temple floor is a type of the 30 pieces of silver, the blood money, Judas threw back at the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin. The driving out of the merchants and money-changers is a type of His driving out the demons and Satan by His suffering and death. The freeing of the sacrificial animals is a type of His freeing you and all flesh by offering Himself as the Lamb, as the sacrifice of atonement that pays your debt to God and wins your forgiveness and release. The Temple itself is a type of His Body. The building is a picture of His flesh. The Temple is the place where God dwells with His people. In Jesus, God dwells with His people, with you, in the flesh. “Destroy this temple,” says Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19; ESV). “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (v. 21). And “the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt,” tented, tabernacle, templed “among us” (1:1, 14). The Temple of Jesus’ Body was destroyed, for you, along with all that is deadly and demonic in you. It was destroyed by the death of crucifixion. But on the Third Day our Lord raised it up. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. And now the risen Lord Jesus gives you His righteousness as a gift. His righteousness counts for you. It comes from outside of you. You don’t have to fulfill the Ten Commandments to be saved, because He has fulfilled them for you, and He has covered your breaking of the Ten Commandments by His blood. You are righteous in God’s sight. You are covered with Jesus. The Father looks at you and sees Jesus. The Father looks at you and sees perfection. The Father looks at you and loves you with the love He has for His only-begotten Son.
So why, then, the Commandments? Why even read our Old Testament reading? Why make the kids memorize them in Catechism? Why even try to keep these things? Why avoid the evil that (you may think!) makes you happy? Why do good works? Well, first of all to remember who you are outside of Christ, and why your whole life, temporal and eternal, depends on Jesus. Second, out of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for you in giving His Son for you, in forgiving your sins and granting you eternal life, in loving you and providing for you and making you His own. Third, because these things are good for you. The Ten Commandments show you what is your Father’s good and perfect will for you. In them, He speaks to you as Father to His beloved child about what is beneficial for you and what is harmful to you. And fourth, because your neighbor needs you to keep the Ten Commandments. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. You don’t do good works because you in any way become righteous before God by them. You do them because you love your neighbor, who needs you to believe in and confess the one true God, who needs you not to murder them, or fornicate with them, or steal from them, or lie about them. Our Lord’s death and resurrection makes you perfectly righteous before God. Our Lord’s self-sacrificial love which He pours out on you in His Word and Sacraments now overflows in you so that you love and serve your neighbor. By placing in you the Temple of His Body and His cleansing Blood, He refreshes you and strengthens you in faith toward God, and fervent love toward one another.
And He makes you, now, His Temple, His dwelling place. Even as you are in Christ by Holy Baptism, the risen Christ is in you by the Supper. His Body and Blood become one with your body and blood. As He speaks in His Word, He breathes out His Spirit upon you. St. Paul writes, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). As the Lord forgives your sins in Absolution, He reconciles you to the Father and makes you one with Him. You are God’s house. You are His Temple. In you, He dwells with your neighbor. By you He works for your neighbor. And you become a living sacrifice to God for the sake of your neighbor (Rom. 12:1).
Jesus knows what is in man (John 2:25). He knows what is in you. That is why He came. To clean house. To cleanse you. To make you holy. And He does so by death and resurrection, His for you, and yours in Him. He does it by killing you and making you alive, by Baptism and new life, Law and Gospel, repentance and faith, Confession and Absolution, Body and Blood. He is in your face, confrontational, a man of action, a man who is not afraid to fashion a whip and draw blood. For zeal for God’s House consumes Him (v. 17). Zeal for you consumes Him, consumes Him on the cross. You consume Him, risen and living. You consume Him in the Supper, that for you and in you, Christ may be all in all. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Second Sunday in Lent
Second Sunday in Lent (B)
March 1, 2015
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34; ESV). Broadly speaking, bearing the cross is any suffering a Christian bears in the Name and for the sake of Jesus. In this sense, all the sufferings of the Christian are baptized in His blood, sanctified, made holy, and the promise applies to these sufferings that God will work them all for the good of His beloved baptized child (Rom. 8:28). That means all your aches and pains, all your heartbreak and loss, your grief and your sorrow, all these have been turned into gifts of God, crosses laid upon you in love by your gracious heavenly Father, so that you despair of yourself, crucify your flesh, lose your life in Christ, and flee to Him alone for help and salvation. The cross drives you to Christ. The cross drives you to His Word. The cross drives you to prayer. So you should always receive your suffering with thanksgiving, for God is working a mighty thing through it, even though you may not know what that thing is until you see Him face to face. Faith believes what the eyes cannot see, even in the face of great suffering.
But Jesus is more specific about the cross in our text this morning. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it… 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 8:35, 38). The crux of the matter is being ashamed of Jesus and His Words, who He really is and what He really says, in this adulterous and sinful generation, a generation that doesn’t want the real Jesus or His real Word. The cross the Lord bids you take up in our Holy Gospel is that of faithful confession of Jesus and His Word, no matter what persecution it may bring you. Think here of the hundreds of Christians who have been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Think here of the 21 Christian martyrs who were beheaded in North Africa. Think here of the florists and photographers and bakers who have lost their businesses, reputations, and livelihoods because they were not ashamed to confess the Word of Christ. They considered it more important to be faithful to the God who was so faithful to them He gave His only Son into death. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (v. 36). The word “life” can also be translated as “soul.” You can easily gain the admiration and approval of the world, but at what cost? Your soul. Things can be easy now, but you will, in the end, lose your soul into an eternity of sorrow. Or things can be hard now. You can be despised, mocked, rejected now, suffer now, lose your life now, and your reward will be an eternity of the Lord’s admiration and approval in heaven. For whoever would save his life, his soul, his self… NOW… will lose it in the end. But whoever loses His life, his soul, his self… NOW… for my sake and the gospel’s, will save it in the end. When it comes to confessing Jesus and His Word, it’s either your way, which is to confess a Jesus who is acceptable to this adulterous and sinful generation… or there is the way of the cross, which is to confess Jesus as He is, and His Word as He says it, and to do so without shame, and so to suffer whatever consequences such confession may bring.
Peter doesn’t like that plan. Peter is ashamed. Oh, he’s willing to die for Jesus. At least he thinks he is. But he’s not willing to die for a Jesus he finds unacceptable to his own reason or ideals. He is not willing to die for a Jesus who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, surrenders Himself to the cross and death. Jesus teaches that the cross is divinely necessary, that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, that He must be killed, (and then the part that they all miss) that He must rise again after three days (v. 31). He says it plainly (v. 32). He says it boldly. And Peter does not like it one bit. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him (v. 32). But Jesus will not save His life, His soul, His self NOW and so lose the souls of those He loves. His mission is to lose His life for Peter’s sake, for your sake, for the whole world, to save your soul for His eternal Kingdom. And seeing His other disciples, Jesus cannot allow Peter’s adulterous and sinful, indeed, demonic preaching to continue. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 33), on the things of this world and this generation, the things of your fallen, dead flesh. Incidentally, talk about a Jesus who is offensive to our politically correct sensitivities. When Jesus hears false doctrine, He isn’t tolerant. He isn’t even nice. He calls Peter (one of His three best friends in the world) “Satan!” For false doctrine has as its source the very father of lies.
The truth is, though, sometimes Jesus has to say this to you. Because there are any number of things about Jesus that you don’t like, and there are things that He says that make you ashamed of Him. There are things in His Word that make you cringe. There are commandments you wish His Church wouldn’t proclaim quite so loud. And worst of all, there is the Gospel, which preaches a Savior who just surrenders Himself to His enemies, gives Himself up into death, willingly, without a fight. And then has the audacity to say that this is necessary if you are to be saved. Because you are so evil that it takes the death of God to pay for your wickedness. Because if He doesn’t do this, you will be the rightful property of Satan. So He does it, because He loves you. Not because you are so loveable. But because He has decided to love you anyway. Because He says so. Because that is how gracious He is. Because He is faithful. He remembers His mercy and His steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Ps. 25:6). He remembers us, and He blesses us (Ps. 115:12). That’s just who He is. For “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
And now Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Peter is forgiven and restored. He is no longer ashamed to confess His love for the Lord. He is given the charge to feed the Lord’s sheep and precious lambs. And now he will lose his life, literally taking up his cross, for he will stretch out his hands and be dressed with the wood and carried where he does not want to go. Those are Jesus’ words, indicating the kind of death with which Peter would glorify God. It’s all right there in John 21 (vv. 15-19). So you also are forgiven and restored. You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). This all happened at the font. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. So the you that is ashamed of Jesus and His Word is crucified by daily repentance, a daily return to the baptismal water. And raised to new life in Christ, you are no longer ashamed. With St. Paul, you confess that you are “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). You are not ashamed to confess your love for Jesus. You are not ashamed to speak His Word in season and out of season. You are not ashamed to lose your life, to surrender yourself to the cross, to die with Him who died for you, that you may live with Him who lives for you.
This adulterous and sinful generation has many ideas about who Jesus is and what He says. He is a prophet, a great teacher, a revolutionary, the model of morality, a practitioner of tolerance and acceptance of everyone and everything. There are as many opinions about Jesus as there are people on the earth. To take up the cross is to die to your own opinion of Him. There is only one true Jesus. He is, as Peter confesses, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior appointed by God from all eternity to suffer the cross to save sinful humanity. The Christ is defined by God in His Word, not by the opinions of men. And when you go confessing the Christ as defined by God, you will suffer for it. They may mock you. They may reject you. They may dress you in an orange jump suit and lead you where you do not want to go, to kneel by the sea and there receive your martyr’s crown. But losing your life in this way, you will glorify God. And you will receive the better life won for you by Jesus in His own suffering and death. Those 21 men by the sea in North Africa cried out to Jesus as their throats were slit. It was the last thing they heard on earth, the last word they said. Then, all at once, they heard for themselves the choir of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. And Jesus confessed them before His heavenly Father. He was not ashamed to call them brothers. For redeemed by the cross of Christ, they were not ashamed to deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow Him.
And so you. Since you have been justified by faith, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, you have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and you rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, you rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put you to shame. You are not ashamed. Because God’s love has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you (Rom. 5:1-5). This is God’s doing. He turns everything on its head. Losing your life, you save it. Hated by the world, you are loved by God. Yourself a sinner, God declares you righteous. Having died with Christ, you have new life in Him. With Jesus, Good Friday always ends in Easter. And at the End of all things, your grave will be as empty as His. Christ Jesus will raise you from the dead. And because of that, you need never be ashamed. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.