Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (February 25, 2018)

MARK 8:31-38


In the name + of Jesus.

     And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, (Jesus) said to them, “If anyone would come after me...” (Mark 8:34)  This begs the question: Why would anyone follow after Jesus?  You would only do it if you recognized some benefit from it.  If you follow someone on Twitter, you want to know what that person is up to or what he thinks.  If you follow a sports team, you get some kind of enjoyment in watching them perform.  You share in the thrill if they win.  So, what would make someone follow after Jesus?
     You, of course, know the answer to that.  It is because Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.  It is because Jesus alone forgives all your sins.  Only Jesus has gone into the grave to rise again, to conquer death, and to live forever.  Only Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty to prepare a place in heavenly glory for you.  And because of all this, it is only those who believe in Jesus who are forgiven, who will be raised from the dead to have eternal life, and who will dwell with the Lord in heavenly glory.  We have every reason to follow after Jesus, and we forfeit everything of real, lasing value if we do not.
     Nevertheless, that does not mean it is easy to follow after Jesus.  Jesus himself lets you know that there will be a struggle in it.  (Jesus) said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  When you were marked as a child of God through your baptism, you were also set apart for a life of good works.  By these good works, you honor the God who saved you and you serve the fellow man God gave you.  In order to honor God, you recognize that his commandments are good and right, and you order your heart and mind, your mouth and your body according to them. 
     You do not have to invent the good works God wants you to do.  They are presented to you every day.  St. Paul reminds us: We are (God's) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)  Even though we have been marked as children of God, the sinful nature we were born with clings to us.  So, when God tells us the good we are supposed to do, we don't want to do it.  When God gives us opportunity to serve our neighbor, we are annoyed by it.  And it is not just the stranger whom we try to avoid.  Husbands would rather watch TV in the man cave than vacuum the living room.  Mothers would rather have a glass of merlot than run another errand.  Good works are avoided because they are usually hard.  They take effort, and they may take years before you actually see the benefits of your good works.  It takes parents years to raise a child.  It takes teachers months to educate a 3rd grader.  Doing what is wicked or lazy or greedy has instant results.  And we would rather have what is quick and easy, even if it is wicked.
     Therefore, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  To follow Jesus, you must deny yourself the desire to be the god of your own world.  To follow Jesus, you must deny that your opinion and your feelings can overrule what God declares.  To follow Jesus, you also must deny yourself the cravings of your sinful heart.  You deny yourself how badly you want to utter sarcastic words or gossip.  You deny yourself how much you want to embarrass your coworker, skip going to work, or avoid household chores.  You deny that your time, energy, and money are devoted exclusively to yourself so that you can give to others and serve them.  These things are not optional.  While Jesus' words, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) may sound like a strong suggestion, they are actually imperatives.  It is imperative that your sinful nature not master you.  If it does, that means you follow it and reap its rewards of death and hell.
     To confess Jesus, you must deny yourself.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  No one wants to take up his cross because the cross is meant for putting things to death.  And your sinful nature does not want to die.  But to confess Jesus, you must deny yourself.  You cannot try to teach your sinful nature to behave.  It cannot behave; it must be killed.  So, day after day, we repent of our sins.  We renounce what God calls evil and fight going back to it, because we know that sin leads to death.  Rather, we flee from our sins and we follow and cling to Jesus.
     To confess Jesus, we must deny ourselves.  Now, understand that Jesus is not teaching us to do anything different from him.  Jesus denied himself when he came to earth to be our Savior.  He explained that to the apostles.  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)  The God who made heaven and earth should not have to submit to its limitations.  The God who made man should not have to suffer at his hands.  He who is the author of life should not have to die.  Yet, Jesus did all of this—and he did it for sinners.  The Lord became a flesh-and-blood man in order to have his flesh beaten and ripped by scourging, and to have his blood poured out through wounds from nails and a spear. 
     More than that, Jesus also denied himself by taking upon himself the punishment for us all.  He who is innocent was condemned so that we, who are guilty, would be pardoned and set free.  Jesus emptied himself of power to suffer in weakness.  Jesus emptied himself of glory to die in shame.  Jesus gave himself completely to the will of his heavenly Father and resolutely set his mind on the things of God—which is to save sinners.  Jesus did all of this for no other reason than he loves us.  He wants us saved from death and hell, so he endured our death and suffered our hell.  He wants us to live with him for eternity, so he conquered death and opened heaven to us.  Jesus did all of this because we needed it.  He did it for you.  And therefore, you are saved.
     To confess Jesus, you must deny yourself.  We have been set free from the sins that condemn us.  How could we go back to them, knowing that they only bring God's wrath?  It is true that sin brings instant gratification.  That is one of the devil's most convincing selling points.  Your own flesh craves what is evil and is instantly pleased when you give it what it wants.  Of course, that does not mean that the flesh will be content when you give it what it wants.  It will always crave more.  And even if you give your flesh everything it wants, you will lose everything.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37)  
     The Lord Jesus Christ gave up everything to gain your soul and body.  Jesus gave himself into death and hell to purchase everlasting glory for you.  He rescues you from slavery to your sinful flesh.  He gives value and purpose to all that you do in your life.  He shows you that your fellow man is blessed when you deny your desires for his good.  And he even sends his Holy Spirit to fill you with a heart that is eager to do what is good and what is good for others.  In this way, the love of Jesus flows through you to others so that they benefit from you just as you have benefited from Jesus.
     (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)  We have good reason to follow Jesus.  And we lose nothing when we give ourselves away for the good of others.  Your sinful flesh will never like it.  But to confess Christ, you must deny yourself, which is why you take up your cross each day and kill it by repentance.  You are no longer ruled or condemned by sin.  You are saved.  You are Christ's.  Therefore, you follow him who gives you a heart which loves what is good and does what is good. 

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