Text: Mark 8:27-38
Date: Lent II + 3/1/15
Before I begin I feel I have to make it very clear that the sermon title, “God Saves Everyone,” does not mean to fall off the doctrinally pure wagon to begin to preach “universalism.” God has made it possible for the whole world to be saved. God so loved the world. Yet those who reject the gift of His salvation make it necessary that, in the end, they also will be rejected, as our Lord says at the end of today’s Gospel reading, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” This title was simply meant to contrast last week’s title: “God Tempts No One,” but “God Saves Everyone,” that is, there is no salvation except that worked by God.
Today it’s finally beginning to sound more like Lent with the emphasis on repentance, confession of sin and confession of faith and beginning to talk about the cross. Jesus only says to His disciples that He will be killed by the Jewish Sanhedrin, the council of seventy-one. But He does not yet reveal that they will murder Him by means of crucifixion. Nevertheless, when He talks to us about what it takes to be His disciple He speaks of taking up a cross, our cross. The classic definition of discipleship is in these words, “deny self, take up your cross, follow me.” I find myself repeating these three things whenever I am under pressure or frustration. “Deny self, take up your cross, follow me.”
Our text begins with Peter’s fundamental, God-given, faithful confession of Jesus as the Christ in contrast to the people’s popular views (just like today!) that see Jesus only as a man; maybe a good man, even a holy man, yet only a man as were John the Baptist, the prophet Elijah or one of the other prophets. Or we might add Mohammed or Joseph Smith!
The first disciples, of course, were originally drawn to Him because they recognized Him to be the long-awaited, promised Messiah. Along with that expectation, of course, came a number of shallow or even false expectations of what the Messiah was to be, a political liberator establishing an earthly kingdom or a spiritual liberator conquering sin and death and giving eternal life?
So you have been drawn to Jesus and told that He is the promised Messiah, the Christ, which means “the anointed one,” that is, a king. The first disciples at first didn’t know the depth of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. Still, Peter (and you can see the rest of the Twelve behind him nodding their heads in agreement) confesses of Jesus, saying, “You are the Christ.” So when you confess Jesus to be the Christ, you are to grow in your awareness, faith and knowledge of Him, His eternal existence as the Son of God from eternity, and also as true Man born of the virgin Mary, for us and for our salvation, coming down from heaven to make atonement for the sin of the whole world then to go back up to rule and reign at the right hand of God the Father almighty. And there’s so much more. That’s what we can say to Peter today at this moment, too. There’s so much more.
Mark 8:27 is actually the beginning of the second part of Mark’s Gospel. For only now do we begin to hear our Lord teaching His disciples “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.” ‘Sounds like Lent! And for us who know the rest of the story we look forward to the Lord’s victory of Easter. But it is fair to question whether Peter and the rest understood what Jesus meant by “after three days rise again.” Did they even hear that? As we know their shock on that dark Friday of Passover suggests they hadn’t.
Did the other disciples also nod their heads in agreement when Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him? “Don’t talk like that! That can’t happen!” “Get behind me, Satan!” Yes, Satan…again. Remember, already just in the first chapter of Mark? The forty-day temptation, “If you are the Son of God….” Then in the Capernaum synagogue, “‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” (Mark 1:24-26). And now turning to look into Peter’s eyes and seeing all the others behind him, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Yes Peter and Satan! It was almost as if Peter had been personally possessed by the devil at that moment. And it can be that easy for you and me, too, to ever deny or reject any word of our Lord whether it be of demonic intent to entertain false doctrine or even from simple ignorance. The rebuke of the Law is sent to wake us up, to slap us upside the head that we repent and return to faith in our Lord’s words, every one of them.
Deny self, take up your cross, be following me. This is what we must learn now in Lent to take with us as our daily possession even in and after Easter. To come after Jesus means to attach yourself to Jesus as a disciple by the grace that has first come to you to draw you to Him.
Deny self. He taught this not only to the Twelve but also to “the crowd” which he called to himself. As C. S. Lewis said it, “to deny self is not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.” It is more than merely the giving up of some special habit or desire or outward practice. It is true conversion that sees everything of self as tainted and disabled by sin and death. It is to surrender self to God as did the mother of our Lord when she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), or the Gentile centurion that asked for Jesus’ healing help for his servant but then said only (as we do before we come to the sacrament of the altar, the prayer of humble access) “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and [your] servant will be healed” (Mt. 8:8). Peter himself would later write, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
This self-denial, this surrender, this humbling is part of the preparation for following Jesus. The second part of the preparation is, “take up your cross.” Each is to take up and bear his own cross. This is not to speak of any and all suffering that is common to everyone in this sinful world and especially not that which is the result of our own sin or ignorance. This “cross” is that suffering you endure from the enemies of Christ, precisely because you have identified with Jesus as your Lord. It will be also the daily, deathly struggle against your own sin which so easily besets you as much as the rejection and even martyrdom at the hand of others for the sake of Christ’s name.
Having prepared, therefore, by denial of self and each taking up our cross, then follows the ongoing action of following Jesus. We follow Jesus first by having been baptized into His death and raised to His new life by faith. Then we follow Jesus by hearing and receiving His word and especially that word of His last will and testament when He says, “My body, My blood, Take eat and drink.”
“You are the Christ.” “Deny self, take up your cross, be following Me.” So then, let’s go.
Lift high the cross!
Still lift your standard high
Still march in firm array,
As pilgrims through the darkness wend
Till dawns the golden day.
At last the march shall end;
The wearied ones shall rest;
The pilgrims find their home at last,
Jerusalem the blest.
Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing! (LSB 813)