Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 23, 2012)

The letters around Jesus are from the Greek.
"o wn" means "He who is."  The name underneath
is Greek for "the Christ," or "the Anointed One."
MARK 8:27-35

In the name + of Jesus.

     In St. James’ epistle, we are warned not to show favoritism.  It’s not hard to figure out why we do it.  We make judgments about people.  We assess their worth.  If we determine that they are good for society or, more particularly, that they are good for us, we treat them well.  We have little regard for those in whom we see no advantage.  Now, consider what our actions confess.  Our favor declares, “You are worth much to me,” while our disregard confesses, “You have little or no value to me … or at all.” 
     Our Lord has not created people so that we could value them so little.  Not when he values every person – both in creating them and in redeeming them.  Jesus did not come to play favorites.  All have sinned.  All deserve his wrath.  Instead, Jesus came to have mercy upon all.  He has carried the sins of all people to the cross with him.  Therefore, Jesus delivers forgiveness to all.  Now, it could be argued – and rightly so – that some people need much more forgiveness than others.  Perhaps you need more forgiveness than the person sitting next to you or behind you.  Fear not!  Jesus does not play favorites.  If he carried more to the cross for you than for others, he did it gladly.  Sin may abound in you, but grace abounds all the more.  Jesus is most merciful.  He poured out his blood for you.  Your sins are forgiven. 
     Stunningly, people don’t care that much for Jesus to be a merciful Savior.  Many would rather make Jesus be the champion of whatever cause they stand for.  There have always been campaigns of one sort or another.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  “What Would Jesus Drive?”  “What Would Jesus Eat?”  The name of Jesus has been invoked for just about every right, cause, or group that can be imagined.  It is a variation of the question Jesus asked his disciples.  “Who do people say that I am?”  And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)  Many people are willing to say nice things about Jesus.  But Jesus did not enter this world just to have people like him, say nice things about him, or gather a following around him.  Jesus is no politician.  He is no spokesman, no motivator, no teacher, and no social reformer.  Many think they honor Jesus with such titles.  But such titles are a rejection of Jesus.  You cannot make Jesus who you want him to be.  That would make Jesus an idol and a figment of your imagination.
     No one has the right to make Jesus who they want him to be.  Jesus is who he says he is.  The disciples took Jesus at his word.  Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  Jesus is God Almighty, the promised Messiah, the appointed sacrifice, and the Savior of mankind.  He is not merely a teacher, or a wise man, or a prophet, or a good guy.  To limit him to these things denies that he is God, and that is blasphemy.
     As soon as Peter had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus began to teach his disciples what that meant.  And he began to teach them that the 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.  And he said this plainly.  (Mark 8:31-32)  Jesus is the Christ, and that means the cross.  Jesus came for the purpose of fulfilling all of the Scriptures.  He not only fulfilled the Commandments to earn a place in heaven, but he also fulfilled the words of the Prophets who had foretold that the Lord’s anointed would be hated, be beaten, and be killed.  Therefore, he not only kept the law for us, he also died under the law for us.  Jesus was anointed to be the atoning sacrifice for sinners – all sinners, whether notorious or anonymous.  That was the whole purpose he came.  Jesus is the Christ, and that means the cross.
     Peter rebuked Jesus for this.  Peter did not want a Savior who is weak or is despised or dies.  It is almost embarrassing.  That’s not the glory people seek, so who would want such a Savior?  Peter didn’t.  Peter wanted the Savior who would bring popularity and praise.  He rebuked Jesus for going to the cross.  The cross means pain and death.  Who wants that? 
     But if Jesus is the Christ, that means the cross.  The cross is where sins are paid for, and there is no other payment.  The cross is where God and men are reconciled, and there is no other peace with God.  The cross is where the curse upon sinners is consumed; apart from that, there is no blessing and no hope of heaven.  Nor is there any favoritism at the cross.  At the cross, Jesus dies for every sinner and for every sin.  At the cross, all find full salvation and total forgiveness.  Therefore, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33)  You cannot have the Christ without the cross. 
     Jesus assures you that if you bear the name of Christ, that also means the cross.  [Calling] the crowd to him with his disciples, (Jesus) said to them, “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 and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)  If you, like Peter, confess that Jesus is the Christ, that means the cross.  It means the cross for you.
     The cross is not optional.  It is a reminder that you are a sinner living in a sinful world.  Martin Luther once wrote, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said, (“Repent!”), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” (95 Theses, Thesis 1)  Day after day, you must crucify your sinful flesh or else you will be led into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.  You must deny your sinful, selfish desires, no matter how pleasurable or beneficial they seem to you.  Your sinful nature will always crave evil.  The sinful nature cannot be taught to behave.  Therefore, if you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that means the cross.
     Now, if the cross seems undesirable to you, it is no surprise.  The sinful nature does not want to die.  It wants to control you and own you.  It cannot be curbed; it must be killed.  That is why the cross is not optional for you.  Repentance is not occasional, for you are not a sinner just occasionally.  If you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that means the cross.
     But the cross is where you will find your life.  When the Lord lays a cross on you, he highlights how you are weak and frail.  He shows you that you are living in a world that has been corrupted and is dying.  In short, he shows you that you have no strength and no hope without him.  You have no answer for death apart from Jesus.  You have no relief from your guilt without Jesus.  You have no comfort and no peace without him.  The cross drives you to Jesus, and that is always good.
     If you confess, “Jesus is the Christ,” that means the cross.  The cross reminds you that, while anything and everything can go wrong in this world, you have a God in heaven who always loves you, is always merciful to you, and will always be with you.  The Lord may even take away every support you have in this world if only to demonstrate to you that the only support that matters is Jesus and his promises.  Your life is with Jesus Christ, and he will never fail you.
     Jesus is the Christ, and that means the cross.  It means the death of sin.  It means reconciliation with God the Father.  It means comfort in your sorrows.  It means relief from all your fears.  It means encouragement to flee sin and to do good.  It means the resurrection to glory.  It means life everlasting.  And it means it for you. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

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