Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
Jesus, His Cross, and Yours
There are many ideas concerning who Jesus truly is. Even among the serious answers we see a range of responses. We might get answers anywhere from mythical character to a cool dude. Christians have faced this question in themselves and with those outside the Church ever since the day it was put forward to the disciples in our text. Whether Jesus was merely a myth, a man, a god, a man inhabited by God, half God and half man are all things that were addressed in the early centuries of the Church. Because man has such a short memory, we see that these same heresies continue to arise in our day such that we are asked again and again the same question: Who is Jesus?
What Peter answers our Lord is a statement of what he believes and knows to be true. It is a creedal statement and it is a statement of worship. It is an acknowledgement of who Jesus is and an acknowledgement of who Peter is as well. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God to lead His people into freedom. Through the teaching of Jesus along the way and by the proof of His deeds, the Holy Spirit has brought Peter to faith in believing that Jesus truly is the one promised from of old even though he doesn’t fully understand what that entails. The ecumenical creeds that we recite in worship and in home are built upon this statement of Peter. They incorporate more thoroughly what the ministry of Jesus entails and who He is me completely as true God and true man. They are the corporate memory of the Church reminding us who Jesus is and what He has done for us so that we do not slide into heresy. And they are true worship of the Holy Trinity as we confess what has been revealed even to us by the Spirit through the Word.
While it was not time for the disciples to reveal the identity of Jesus to the world, that time would come. Because Jesus knew what lay ahead and that it was not yet time, His identity was not to be disclosed. But soon that day would come. Soon the time would be ripe for the Christ to suffer and die. It was not far in the offing that Jesus would be exposed as the great sinner and the sinless Son of God as He would hang and die upon the cross for the sins of the world. Peter’s creed did not include such things because he could not foresee them. We have the benefit of the fuller picture recorded for us in the gospels and the epistles so that our creeds are fuller and more complete. But even then they do not conclude with “he died and was buried,” for He did rise and did ascend for our justification and to be with us to the end of the age. He did send the Holy Spirit that we would not be alone and forsaken but that we would be encouraged and strengthened in every trial and for every temptation.
There is a saying that I have heard concerning people in that their strength is also their weakness. Such might be said of Peter. A strength that he exhibits in the Scriptures is his boldness. He doesn’t spend a lot of time deliberating and he certainly isn’t paralyzed by indecision. He demonstrates such in our text. He is quick to respond that Jesus is the Christ with strength and boldness. But that boldness becomes his weakness in the next instance as he scolds the Lord when Jesus begins talking about His fate. We might cut Peter some slack since this all happens before a full understanding of the Christ’s purpose, but to oppose Jesus the moment after declaring Him to be God’s anointed? That seems brash, even satanic as it undermines the will of God.
The creeds help to keep us from making such mistakes concerning the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus. They teach us the faith. They guide our worship in our confession of the faith. They shape our faith both inwardly and outwardly so that we believe rightly and we confess before others rightly. They help direct our thoughts and words so that we can be as bold as Peter in confessing Jesus as Christ and bridling our boldness that we do not stand opposed to God’s will in our imaginations.
The cross was to be in Jesus’ future. It was why He had come to earth and become man, that He might live as man under the Law and die as man under that Law. But so too then rise as man shedding sin and death and destroying the devil’s hold over man and also ascend as man before the throne of God. There is nothing pretty about the cross, in fact, it is a horrible image when we consider the reality of what it is. But it is the image of our freedom from tyranny by the devil. It is the image of our death being destroyed. It is the image of our sin being atoned. It is the image of God’s love for this is how He has loved you that He did not withhold His only Son from you but gave Him up that you would be redeemed. The cross is horrible to behold but what it represents is beautiful beyond description.
This we accept and this we confess. We worship God with the words that declare all of this as reality; as truth. Yet, when it comes to our own crosses; those that Jesus says we must take up to follow Him; we are more like Peter than we want to admit. Our boldness becomes our undoing. We cry, “NO, Lord. Why me? I don’t deserve such things.” Yes, we know that there will be sufferings for the people of God because of what we confess. The world is going to hate us. Our neighbors might egg our houses. Our family may want nothing to do with us. It may some day come to the point that the Christian religion may once again be illegal and forced underground. But when we are burdened with a cross that we dislike, one that is ugly by every measure, we are quick to rebuke the Lord along with Peter for we certainly shouldn’t suffer such things.
You are all smart enough and faithful enough (catechized well enough) to know that the garbage spewed by so many of the TV preachers about how God wanting you to have your best life now is a theology of Satan that follows that same logic as Peter. It is to ignore the cross, to deny the cross, and to avoid any cross. Such teaching looks upon the cross as the evil that God wants to lift from you. Jesus teaches something very different. He tells us that just as He had to bear a cross, we too will have crosses to bear.
Again, I would say that you are taught well and that you believe well, knowing that the Christian life is one of burden. Crosses will come your way and you will have to bear them. They may be in the form of persecution and suffering, They may be in the form of temptation to sin, sickness, and even doubt as to whether you really believe all that God says. But we can quickly fall into the heresy of this false theology when we think that God will or must lift these crosses from us. Our natural inclinations are to follow the devil’s lead as well and think that God should deliver us from everything that we think is evil like poverty, and sickness, and difficult relationships. It is too easy trying to impose our will on God but much more difficult to depend upon God while under the load of a cross.
We think it a travesty of justice when a family is forced into bankruptcy because they confess the faith in every aspect of their lives. We think it unconscionable that people are executed because they refuse to deny Christ. We think it unloving of God to allow hurricanes, cancer, and the death of children. But what else is a cross than an opportunity to deny self and to confess Christ. Our prayers in every one of these situations should always be that God’s will be done and that we have the faith to believe that it is so. We do not know the outcomes any more than Peter knew what the cross would mean. We presume too much when we think God should do this or that, that somebody doesn’t deserve what they suffer, or that if God really loved this one, then He would spare her life.
No, it is the one who loses his life for Jesus sake that saves it. It is the one that confess Jesus as Lord and God as loving Father in the midst of suffering and death that exhibits faith. For faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1) God wants us to confess that Jesus has taken all such things away even while we suffer under them. Our hope is not in our best life now, for what does that leave us in the life that is to come? We live now trusting through every evil that we might be a faithful witness to our neighbor. It is how we love them.
Yes, your crosses are heavy, but unlike our Lord, you do not bear them alone. Peter and the others would come to understand the significance of the cross and they would be His witnesses and the first bishops of the Church where you would find relief from your burdens. It is through her ministry that He sends the Comforter to enliven and strengthen your faith under the cross (Jn 14:15-17), and where He has not left you as orphans (Jn 14:18) but comes to you in Word and Sacrament to sustain you in your every trial, and where His body dwells to encourage and support you in times of need. Here, He answers your prayers by giving you all that you need that your faith may be steeled and in the resurrection, you will have the glory that is elusive and unseen in this life.
We pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, we ask that You would give us faith to believe even while we suffer, that we may deny ourselves and cling to the cross of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.