Proper 17 (Women 2023)
The Cross Life
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
These are Thy Words oh Lord. Help us, and sanctify us in the truth. Thy Word is truth. Amen.
Our text today begins with “from that time on…” Right after Peter's confession of Jesus’ true identity (from last Sunday), Jesus begins to unfold the purpose of his mission. He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise again. There's no other option he must go, and he must be killed. The cross loomed inevitably before the Messiah whose mission it was to mount it.
We don't want the cross. Not for Jesus, and certainly not for us. Peter wanted Isaiah 63 not Isaiah 53. He had no room in his worldview for a Savior who suffers and dies on a cross. Never Lord! Peter cried. Jesus answered: “You are speaking the lies of the devil. Not just a cross for me, Peter, put it a cross for every Christian. Now pick up yours and follow me.”
The Cross is the Power of God
The Cross is the Power of God
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
When Peter took Jesus aside to tell Him that He must not suffer and be killed, he was expressing the natural human response to the message of the cross. Jesus was an innocent man and it does not make us feel good to see innocent people suffer. The innocent suffering of Jesus compels us to think thoughts that we may not want to think. Why would God permit an innocent man to suffer?
Isaiah describes it in these words:
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
We turned our faces away from Him. We did not look upon Him with a horrible fascination as if fixated upon His suffering, wanting to look away, but unable to divert our eyes. No, we hid our faces from Him because He was despised and rejected. He also was note much to look at. As the prophet writes: “His face was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” (Isaiah 52:14)
Jesus is not just an innocent man suffering injustice. The offense of the crucifixion is that Jesus must endure a suffering that goes deeper than any person can see. It is the sorrow and grief of the One who bears sin, as the prophet continues in his description: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)
The One who bears sin is bearing more than reproach, shame, insult, persecution, and physical pain. The One who bears sin is the One upon whose face we cannot bear to look. We cannot bear to look at Him because our Father in heaven has turned away from Him. Jesus Christ is forsaken in His suffering.
Peter did not want Jesus to bear anyone’s sins. “Far be it from you, Lord.” Literally, “Mercy to you, Lord.” Shouldn’t we respect Peter for his comment, and his desire that Jesus receive mercy? Truly he was motivated by love. But the love of men is not the love of God. Peter may have intended angelic sentiments but they were in fact satanic. And that’s what Jesus said: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense — a scandal — to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
It was Satan who tried to divert Jesus from His divine task of redeeming sinners. In the Jordan where Jesus was baptized John the Baptist identified Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Immediately after His baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.
The purpose the devil had in tempting Jesus in the wilderness was to cause Jesus to renege on His baptismal promise, where He obligated Himself to fulfill all righteousness. Fulfilling all righteousness not only obligated Jesus to live the righteous life all of us owe God, it also obligated Him to suffer God’s curse against all sinners. When Peter urged Jesus to avoid the cross, He was urging Him to break God’s word to us all and to leave sinners helpless in their sins and under the curse of God.
People don’t understand the things of God because they don’t understand the depth of their own sins. Part of our sinful condition is our failure to acknowledge the seriousness of our sinful condition. The crucifixion of Jesus brings it out. On the cross both judgment and mercy are revealed. The suffering of Jesus is God’s judgment against our sin. The suffering of Jesus is God taking our sin away.
The disciple of Jesus does not shrink from the cross of Christ. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
To the Corinthians he wrote:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
This is not only the sentiment of St. Paul, it is also true of every Christians because we know...
The Cross Brings New Life
The Cross Brings New Life
The crucifixion of Jesus is at the center of our faith because it was on the cross where Jesus Christ regained our lives for us, bringing about the new creation.
By facing our death, Jesus obtained life for us. The life we need is to be found only in Him who was crucified for us. If we try to save our own lives, we will lose them. Only when we lose our lives and find our life in Christ will we find true and eternal life.
This is why we must deny ourselves. We are our own worst enemy. We trust in ourselves. This is what sin is all about. We think we know best. We don’t. We look inward for the solutions to our troubles, but our worst troubles lie within. We look for solutions where our problems lie.
Jesus’ ridicule to Peter was: Matthew 16:23
Matthew 16:23 (EHV)
But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “...You are not thinking the things of God, but the things of men.”
You see, friends, unless we deny ourselves we will destroy ourselves. This is why Jesus said: “whoever desires to save his life will lose it.”
What belongs to Christ was won on the cross. Our lives belong Christ because He won life for us by bearing within Himself divine retribution against us. What are our lives worth to us? The whole world is not worth what our lives are worth. What good is the whole world if our own lives – our own souls – are forfeit? What can we give in exchange for our own lives? We have nothing to give. But Christ did have something to give. And He gave it. He gave it on the cross.
And so we deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him.
To deny ourselves is first of all to reject the false faith with which we were born. All natural religions are religions of the flesh, and even we catechized and confirmed Lutherans still have that germ of natural religion hiding within our sinful hearts.
It teaches us that we are our own saviors and that the road to God is paved by our good deeds. The flesh calls good evil and evil good. He hates the cross of Christ. Our sinful flesh and the devil would have us despise Christ’s suffering for us and turn away from Him. If we were to do that, we will have to bear the curse Christ already bore. So we must constantly kill the flesh within us. We must drown that prideful and lying monster in the blood of the Lamb. Only when we die with Jesus is the flesh put to death.
In addition to denying our flesh, we deny its values as well. True treasure does not consist in the things we have. It does not consist in having health, wealth, worldly wisdom, and success. True wealth cannot be had apart from our union with Christ and His crucifixion. But when we are bound to Christ’s cross by faith, God lays on us our own cross to bear.
The natural religion of the flesh refuses to bear any crosses. Crosses only to His Christians. The Christian doesn’t choose the cross. God does. The cross He sends is designed to lead the Christian closer to Christ.
It may be a marriage in which there is no joy.
It could be a job with no future under the authority of incompetents.
It could be an ongoing disability or disease that brings chronic pain and frustration.
It could also be a betrayal from the friend or loved one. Yet,
The Christian bears the cross of an unhappy marriage by bearing the burden of the other with patience and humility.
He bears the cross of a unpleasant job by offering whatever service the job requires to God and putting up with everything that is unfair in service to Him who bore all the injustice of this world.
The Christian endures suffering and disability by looking to Jesus who bore our sorrows and sicknesses on the cross.
The Christian deals with betrayal knowing that Jesus, too, was betrayed. Therefore, we cling to his promise of: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
When our crosses drive us to hold on in firm faith to the crucifixion of Christ for us, God is being gracious to us in our deepest need. Faith is what we need, and we are so pathetically incapable of it. God knows our weakness. Everything He does for us, whether we welcome it or not, is designed to bring us safely through the temptations of this life into the eternal joys of heaven where, seeing our Savior face to face, we will be confirmed in love and bliss forever and ever.
In the meantime we are here in this place, bearing our crosses. So, our Lord gives us spiritual food and drink to sustain us in this life — a foretaste of the feast to come. Here at this altar He strengthen us for the cross-bearing that will come when we leave this place. And He assures us that He is with us always to the very end of the age.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.