Life Saver

Text: Matthew 16:21-28
Date: Pentecost XII Proper17a + 8/31/14

Today’s Gospel is a mirror image of last week’s reading. Last week Peter was praised for his mighty, God-given confession of faith. This week he is reproved for his devil-inspired rejection of the heart of the gospel. Last week the question was “who is Jesus?” And Peter got that right. This week is revealed what Jesus came to do as the Christ. And Peter rejected it. Today Jesus says, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The gospel is, ultimately, a matter of life and death. Because of sin someone has to die—“The wages of sin,” you know. Today Jesus begins to say plainly how he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This is the heart of the gospel, the only way anyone can be saved from the punishment and condemnation of eternal death and delivered to eternal life in the family of God. It took nothing less than the bloody, violent sacrifice of the body of Jesus, Son of Mary and God’s beloved Son, executed by our murderous hands by hanging Him on a cross. For there, amid the mocking, the nails and spears and manifold disgrace, by God’s own will and design, He turned our captivity to sin into release and freedom, our violence into peace, our hatred into love, our ungodly ways to the only way, truth and life through the forgiveness of our sins and a change of heart. This becomes the salvation of all who by faith believe and receive it. Nevertheless it can also be lost by those who do not believe and deny it.

Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is the way the blindness of sin sees the suffering and cross of Jesus. What seemed to be faithful words, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you,” were actually words that deny the gospel. The world looks at the cross and asks, “What sort of God would be such a dirty bully who delights in such gore?” So spiritually blind human wisdom imitates Peter by rejecting the gospel of Christ as merely an ancient superstition the product of a more primitive less enlightened age. Interestingly for us in our day this is precisely the error of the Muslims bent on rediscovering seventh century barbarism. The Qur’an promotes the lie, saying, “And for their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but another was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in might and Wise.” “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

You see, you don’t even necessarily have to be admittedly or outwardly against God to deny the gospel. Peter felt he was being the most loyal. So why, after all, are some of our churches removing or covering up the image of the cross in their sanctuaries? Then, not only do we deny the cross of Christ but we thus deny our own crosses, too. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” But when you deny the cross of Jesus then only a crossless so-called Christianity is had as nothing more than a program of positive thinking pandering to people’s deepest desires by denying sin and evil and replacing eternal salvation with temporal prosperity.

Quite to the contrary, Peter, and you who would design your own religion of mere happiness and good feelings. Rather, only by way of the cross of Christ can we faithfully face all suffering, trouble, and hardship that come our way. It is not the prayer of “the happy church of joy and denial” but that only of those who faithfully take up their cross that can sing in certain hope the words of Paul Gerhardt, as we will today,

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near
With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.

When life’s troubles rise to meet me,
Though their weight
May be great,
They will not defeat me. (LSB 756:1-2)

We know this, we believe this because we know and believe that this same crucified Savior, this once-despised Jesus is risen from the dead and has already won the victory for us.

Yes, Peter, this shall indeed happen. It shall happen to Christ the Son of the Living God. And it shall happen to you. And you shall learn to change your mind, to set your mind on the things of God, on God’s Word and will “from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works” and “the peace which the world cannot give.” It is only in the way of the cross that we “may live in peace and quietness,” confidence and true inner joy.

The mystery of faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.