Pastor Mark Wiesenborn
St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God, our almighty Father, and from our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our message for this morning is taken from the Gospel reading, where Jesus asks each of us a very direct question:
“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?”
Lent is a sober time of reflection and repentance; a serious business. It coincides with the cold, damp, and sometimes gloomy days of late winter. But I have to admit, I like it anyway. Not that I don’t like Epiphany, which we just finished. In Epiphany, we saw the unfolding revelation of Jesus – who He is, and what He came to do. We heard, “This is my beloved Son” at His Baptism and again at His Transfiguration. We saw him as the true bridegroom of the Church, and the one who preaches and teaches with authority. He is the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about. He’s the narrow door that leads to heaven. He’s the one who makes lepers, and sinful folks like us, clean and righteous before God!
But now it’s Lent. And as the mood has turned, yet again we come to the question in our text today: “Who is Jesus?” He asks it himself, of his own apostles. “Who do people say that I am?” And after all the speculation, he presses them: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ!” But Jesus isn’t done yet.
For the first time in Mark’s Gospel it’s made entirely clear that yes, Jesus is the Christ. He’s the One. The Lord, The Savior, The Messiah. Not just another in a long line of prophets, but the one greater than Moses they have long been waiting for. The Prophet, and Great High Priest, and AnointedKing over Israel that was promised for so long. Now he’s here! Here he is! The Christ. But...
What does this mean? A good Lutheran question, which Jesus means to answer.
Immediately he begins to teach them, plainly, what it means that he is the Christ. He tells them, straight out, that this means suffering, and it means death. Oh, and after three days it means resurrection, too.
And Peter’s head almost explodes. He can’t stomach it. He has other things in mind. NOT suffering; NOT shame; NOT betrayal and rejection; certainly NOT death. He’s thinking of self, and status, and success, and glory and power! But in this Lenten Epiphany, in this great moment of revelation Jesus shows them not only that he IS the Christ, but just what kind of Christ he has come to be. A suffering, bleeding, dying Christ. He comes to us as the Christ of the cross.
What kind of Jesus are you looking for? A blessings-on-demand Jesus? One who takes all of life’s troubles away, and puts you on the path to comfort and status and success? A rock-star Jesus, loved and admired by all? A Jesus who affirms you and tells you you’re good enough just as you are, so just believe in yourself? A politically-correctJesus who is a bright shining example of what to say and do, so that you can imitate him and be all bright and shiny, too? Perfectly pious little people who always smile and seem cheerful? As if we could manage that...
Or do you want the real Jesus who gets down and dirty and bloody, and is hoisted up and humiliated and crucified – for all to see and mock. A man of sorrows. A man forsaken, even by God the Father. A worm of a man, surrounded by dogs, pierced hands and feet and bloody head and back. A Jesus condemnedby Jews and Romans alike. A Jesus rejected by the crowd who call for his blood. Only a few women and one disciple stick around. And even that brings more bitterness. That may not be the Jesus we want, but he’s the Jesus we get – and He is the Jesus we need. The Christ of the cross.
Because by all this, it is finished. By all this, your sins are put away. By his suffering and bleeding and dying, abundant life and eternal life are yours.
God’s ways are not our ways. Our immortal, invisible, only-wise God has a strange and mysterious and wonderful way of doing things. He reveals his power in weakness. He brings glory through shame. He wins life by death. He kills death by dying. And he forgives sins by becoming sin.
St. Matthew Lutheran is certainly not one of the biggest congregations in Houston. We don’t have all the facilities and programs and glitz that some others do. People aren’t busting down our doors in droves, but week after week new people certainly are coming here (or joining our virtual worship) and being blessed by God’s Word and loved by God’s people. Some would say we’re not that successful, or that we’re failing to change quickly enough to engage the community around us – but year after year we certainly hope and intend to be mission-minded. We may not be a mission-planting congregation at the present time, but we have been faithful partners in mission to many others. Perhaps those who are unable or unwilling to see this have in mind the things of men, not the things of God.
You are a faithful congregation. Sinners, yes, but forgiven sinners who proclaim the suffering servant Christ. People who know that it’s not about us anyway, but always, only, about Christ. You are a group of believers gathered around what is most important – his Word and his Sacrament – his true Body and Blood, given and shed for you, according to his promise. You are his baptized and believing children, and that is enough.
Just as Jesus of Nazareth himself had a different idea from the world of what it meant to be the Christ, we Lutherans have a different idea from the world of what it means be the church. It may not mean outward success or worldly glamor. Instead it means faithfulnessto His truth. Sometimes it means suffering, and sacrifice, and even dying. But that’s ok, because that’s what our Savior does for us. None of this makes you betterthan anyone, but in Christ, it does make you blessed.
The Lenten Epiphany – the great surprise – the big reveal – is not that Jesus is the Christ, but that the Christ came to suffer and die for us. And this is good news, no matter what Peter or the world thinks. This is the will of God the Father, to save you, the sinner. This is his plan from the foundation of the world. This, the cross, is what Jesus is all about. And so it’s what we’re all about. To drive home this message, Jesus goes on to say:
“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.” [Mark 8:38]
Brothers and sisters, are you ever ashamed of Jesus? Let me invite you to look carefully at the cover of today’s worship folder. Setting your mind on the “things of God” places our focus on the old rugged cross. Christ’s eyes are turned downward – toward the foot of the cross – gazing sadly upon the “things of man.” These include sad and hurtful things that we all sometimes think, say, and do… willfully and deliberately. The cross reminds us of good and gracious things that are often left undone – opportunities for worship and Bible study and Christian service and fellowship that are avoided, bypassed, and denied until it seems like just an everyday habit of life apart from Jesus Christ.
I have absolutely NO DOUBT that you could find other things to do with your time and abilities and resources, than reflecting the love of Jesus. Easier things to do, certainly, than asking someone to forgive you – or seeking reconciliation in a broken relationship. But think about the message in our Hymn of the Day, asking whether you are ashamed of Jesus. And if you have no shame for the areas of your life in which you may be denying Him as the centerof your life, and the source of your blessings, and the hopeof your salvation – well, then at least be thankful for His abundant mercy!
I have come to understand and accept that our spiritual enemy Satan knows our every weakness. He has studied each of us carefully, testing us relentlessly until he has discovered every vulnerable place in your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual defenses. And do not be deceived, he is constantly at work seeking to bring you down. His flaming arrows bring waves of worry and stress, doubts and discouragement, anger and divisiveness. He influences even the people whom we trust and depend on to deliver some of his most hurtful criticisms, accusations, and lies. On our own, we are powerless to withstand his attacks!
This is WHY WE EACH NEED A SAVIOR. As Paul writes: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” [1st Corinthians 10:12-13]
That way out comes by learning and remembering the teachings of Jesus Christ, who speaks this promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20] If anyone would come after Jesus, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ and for the Gospel will save it. That confidence in the power of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection makes all the difference, as we fix our eyes on the cross and set our hopes on the promised blessings which await all who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.
May we never be ashamed of this! In Jesus' precious name, Amen.
GOSPEL LESSON – Mark 8:27-38 [ESV]
27And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And 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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 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.”