Jesus Speaking Hard Truths
Sermon Series – Jesus on His Way to the Cross
February 24 and 25, 2018
Mark 8:27- 38
Dear Friends in Christ.
On these weekends in Lent, we see Jesus on his way to the cross. Last Sunday, we saw Jesus submitting to baptism by a mere mortal, we saw Him as the Son in whom his father in heaven was well pleased, we saw the Spirit casting him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, we saw Jesus as both true God at the same time. Jesus Baptized as he begins his public ministry, Jesus tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. Today we see Jesus speaking hard truths on his way to the cross.
Saying yes just once. It was Sunday, January 21, 2018, at approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time when I said yes to Debi’s request to have a puppy. It had been nine years, seven months, and approximately 15 days since we had laid our last dog Kandi into her eternal rest. I had said “no we’re not going to have a puppy for nine a half years in a row. I had resisted the kind and gentle requests from Debi to think about it. She would talk about how cute and cuddly this puppy would be, I would think about cleaning up the messes and standing outside in bitter cold temperature coaxing her to go poop. She would mention the grandchildren squealing with delight and a fluffy puppy wagging her tail and sitting by the fireplace, I would mention veterinary bills and the monthly cost of replacing chewed up shoes and other treasures. But this afternoon was different, the Vikings were getting destroyed by the Eagles, our daughter Michelle was sending across the nation pictures of one cute little puppy named Gabby, our other daughter Heather was promising to watch over her whenever necessary, but after I had said no for nine and a half years in a row, Debi mentioned that little Morgan was crying her eyes out because Grandpa wouldn’t let Grandma have a puppy…. I said yes just once.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you all of that to tell you this. There are all kinds of hard truths that come along with saying yes just one time to a puppy. Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for properly training and caring for a puppy, not so much.
So also for anyone who would dare to say, “Yes, I will follow Jesus Christ.” Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for Christian disciples, not so much. …
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.
Hard Truth #1 – Divine love can’t be (sugar- coated). Up until this point in their life together as disciples of Jesus, the road had been full of signs and wonders. The preaching was strong, the crowds were enthused, and the miracles were amazing. Jesus had been driving out demons, cleansing lepers, and healing all kinds of sicknesses. The paralyzed were walking, the blind were seeing, dead people were sitting up and breathing, Jesus was walking on water, thousands of hungry people were getting fed in miraculous fashion. The kingdom of God was near, hopes were high, and the multitudes were getting ready for a kingdom of glory and power to come to their rescue!
Jesus starts the conversation in our text by asking who people were saying he was. The answers came back, John the Baptist come back to life, Elijah come back to life, one of the prophets come back to life. Jesus wonders who the disciples are thinking, and Peter speaks first, “You are the Christ.”
One great task had been accomplished. The disciples had been brought to the full realization that Jesus was divine, He was in fact the very Son of God, the promised Messiah. And now the hard work would begin. From this time forward, Jesus began to teach them that the Kingdom of God was exactly the opposite of what they were thinking. Instead of earthly glory there would unbearable brutality. Instead of military victory, there would be death by crucifixion. As was true in the Old Testament, it was true in the New – if there was going to be the forgiveness of sins, there would have to be the shedding of the blood. This good shepherd wasn’t just going to be making his flock lie down in green pastures and be leading them beside the still waters, he was going to be the sacrificial lamb himself led to the slaughter.
Hard truth #1 today is God’s love for us can’t be sugar coated. Jesus wasn’t one of these earthly kings that swatted down the opposition, he was going to be the one swatted down. He wasn’t going to be the leader of a government that punished evildoers, he was going to suffer in the place of evildoers. He wasn’t going to inflict the death penalty on the masses who deserved it, the plan was for him to have the death penalty pronounced and carried through on him. Life was going to get ugly in a hurry, as ugly as it could get, and Jesus needed those first disciples to understand that.
The same hard truths Christ would have us understand this morning. There are those who would sugarcoat God’s love in these days. They would suggest that God is love, that God loves everyone, and therefore at the end of all time, pretty much everybody is going to be alright. You can call that universalism or you can call that “in the end everybody’s going to be just fine because God is love” movement, but all of that comes crashing down when we hear Jesus teaching that the way of salvation is narrow with few on it, while the road of destruction is wide and traveled by the many…..or by the last verse of our text, “whoever is ashamed of me and 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.
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.”
Hard Truth #2 – Human love can go wrong (in a hurry) Peter no doubt loved Jesus as much as anybody could love Jesus, but our text for today is proof positive that human love is frail at best and downright embarrassing at worst. One minute Peter is confessing Jesus as the Christ, in the next he is rebuking the Christ for carrying out the very mission for which he was born.
Go all the way back to The Garden of Eden. One hour Adam and Eve are in strong and perfect fellowship with God, no doubt they love their Maker with a strong love, and yet the next hour, they are listening and then persuaded by a talking snake to eat that which is forbidden, they are tasting what it feels like to be ashamed and coming up with excuses. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Go to the palace of King David. One night, David is loving God, he is as grateful as he can be for his position and his power, he is presiding over the people of God with honor and dignity, the next night he is summoning a beautiful and a married woman into his bedroom, he is falling into adultery, he is tasting how awful life can be when the devil himself gets ahold of you and you set your mind on the things of man. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Fix your eyes on this very communion rail, and see there rows and rows of white robed confirmands. They’re on their knees a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, they are saying yes to following Jesus Christ, but a week later, a year later, dozens of years later, they have wandered, for many of them God is a distant and far away kind of a God, some aren’t even sure if there is a God anymore. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
The Good News, of course, is that God’s love is for sure, it’s as steady as it can be, it is ours for the long run. God’s love has never wavered, it is the same yesterday, today, and into eternity. God’s love has been poured into our hearts in the waters of Baptism, it has been poured into our hearts in words of absolution, it has been poured into our hearts in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, it has been poured into our hearts again and again in the eating and the drinking of the Supper, and all of it for this purpose – that we would spend our days denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him wherever He would lead.
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow me.
Hard Truth #3 – If you’re going to pick up your cross, you’re going to have to (put a few things down). Jesus said it this way to his first disciples, If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well;
That rang true for early Christians who suffered at the hands of Rome, and it rings true in these days as well. According to the Center for Study of New Religions, 90,000 Christians were killed for their believes this past year, one third by Islamic groups such as ISIS. The torture and the brutality, even the beheading of Christians is particularly prominent in countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, and Iraq. Christians numbered 1.5 million in Iraq in 2003, today the number is less than 300,000, and some suggest they will be completely eradicated in that country in the near future.
In our day, in our protected and safe little corners of the kingdom, the crosses we carry aren’t quite as obvious. But it is still true that whenever we suffer for saying and doing what is right, we are picking up our crosses.
And it is still true in every generation and in every locale that if your cross, you’re going to need to put a few things down. For young people, carrying your cross may mean saying no to the party crowd, saying no to sex outside of marriage if you’re going to say yes to Jesus Christ. For husbands, it means laying down your life as Christ laid down his life for his bride. For wives , it means forgiving that which is truly hard to let go. For married folks and single parents raising up kids, it may mean saying no to a crowded schedule so you can say yes to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, for retired folks, carrying a cross may mean saying no to certain purchases and lifestyles so that you can say yes to supporting the kingdom of God. For me, in this Lenten season, (it may not sound like much), carrying my cross may mean saying no to that extra hour of sleep in the morning so I can say yes to an hour of reading, treasuring, and holding onto Holy Scriptures and the promises I have learned from my mother’s knees.
Saying yes every day. The Good News is that Jesus Christ not only said yes to us on the cross, he not only said yes to us in the water of baptism, he says yes to us every day. Christ is, in fact, the yes, he is the amen to every one of God’s promises. Every day, he creates, he preserves, and he sustains us in a thousand and one ways or more. Daily and richly he forgives our sins. Daily and richly he sends his angels to watch over us, he leads us into the green pastures and beside the still waters, he follows us around with goodness and mercy.
The kingdom of God is like a man who understands that if he says yes to a puppy just once, it means he and his wife will be saying “yes, I could do that” every day for a long time to come. It’s like confirmation class students who understand that saying yes to following Jesus Christ on the Day of Confirmation is a lifetime commitment. It’s like a large church in a small town full of folks who go home on a snowy weekend in Lent first of all praising and thanking God for saying yes to them countless times and in amazingly generous fashion. They praise and thank God that he keeps on holding out salvation as a gift no matter how many times people slap it away. They go home determined never again to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they go home rejoicing in their sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and they go home wondering what it is they need to be laying down these days so that they can be picking up their assigned crosses and following Jesus Christ. Amen.
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