Sunday, March 25, 2012

LSB Annunciation of Our Lord Sermon -- Luke 1:26-38

March 25, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And the angel said to her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’”

The Time of Christmas and the Time of Easter are inextricably linked. They do not speak of two different events or persons, but different aspects of the same great event accomplished by the same Person. The Collect of the Day recognizes this: “O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection.” So it is not inappropriate to celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lord on this March 25, though it is but seven days before Holy Week begins.

Nearly all of you gathered here today are familiar with what was read in the Gospel Reading from Luke’s account. Even the youngest members of our parish are told about the angel who delivers a message to a young woman in Galilee. It is told in pageants, in carol services, and in formal study of the Scriptures. Gabriel comes to Nazareth, bringing word from God Himself: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

The message that angels bring carries power because of who authors it. The Lord who can perform a sign “as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven” sends the message. In this case, the message is sent to one who has received the Lord’s favor, a choice of His for a purpose: “And [the angel] came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” The Lord is present with Mary for a purpose, though she does not yet know what it is: “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

The purpose is disclosed by Gabriel to Mary: “And the angel said to her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’” Mary is to bear a Son, the long-awaited Descendant of David who will exercise eternal rule over the Lord’s people. That is her purpose. That is why she has received the Lord’s favor.

Here, the incarnation of the Eternal Father’s Eternal Son is made known for the first time. That is what takes place. It is the result of what the angel says will happen: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” But the incarnation of the Eternal Son also has a purpose. It occurs in order for something to be accomplished. This is not simply God becoming human for no reason—though even that is no simple thing! No, there is a reason for it.

The reason for Christ’s incarnation is for Him to fulfill the Father’s will to bring salvation. In fact, that is why Mary is commanded to give her Son a particular name: “you shall call His name Jesus.” That name speaks to what He will achieve: “the Lord saves.” It is what Joseph is told in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, words familiar to you: “He will save His people from their sins.” Mary’s Son will be the One through whom the Lord brings salvation. There will be a method by which it is accomplished. That is the reason why He is born.

This reason is discussed in the Epistle Reading for this day. It begins with a statement: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Salvation cannot be given by such means. It is why the Church sings: “Not all the blood of beasts / on Jewish altars slain / could give the guilty conscience peace / or wash away the stain.” That is the truth made known to the Scripture Writer who states: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.”’” The Christ comes to do the Lord’s will. That is why He takes a body, assumes human flesh and nature, is incarnate.

So what is that will? The Lord’s will is that sins be atoned for and that His Son would bring that atonement. The Christ is present to take away sins. He is present to sanctify what was unclean, unholy. He is in the world to bring salvation to it. His motto is this: “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.” And so Jesus does. He is given as an atoning sacrifice, bearing the sins of the world, healing sinners by His stripes, handed over to death. It is the Father’s will: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

That is the purpose of the Eternal Son’s incarnation. It is why the Church sings: “But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, / takes all our sins away; / a sacrifice of nobler name / and richer blood than they.” Or in words written just a decade or so ago: “This great High Priest in human flesh / was icon of God’s righteousness. / His hallowed touch brought sanctity; / His hand removed impurity. / The holy Lamb undaunted came / to God’s own altar lit with flame; / while weeping angels hid their eyes, / this Priest became a sacrifice.”

“By [the Father’s] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is a profound statement, a statement of pure Gospel for those who suffered the indelible taint of sin. You have been made holy. You have been cleansed. You have had sins taken away. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” That is true. But what the angel Gabriel declared about divine power is also true: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” And when it is Immanuel—“God with us”—who is working, who is offering Himself in sacrifice for our sake, then it is possible for sins to be taken away.

There the purpose, power, and product of Christ’s incarnation are disclosed to you. From this you see that Christmas and Easter and the events surrounding them are inextricably connected. The Annunciation takes place, bringing the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God. He takes flesh and is born of Mary. His body becomes the sacrifice offered for the atonement of the world’s sin. And in His resurrection, life everlasting is won again for humanity. It all takes place for your sake. It is done for you. It is done because “you have found favor with God”. It is done because “the Lord is with you” not against you. All that is accomplished by this Christ is done out of the Father’s divine grace and mercy.

On this March 25, you have again known the incarnation of the Father’s Son by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary. You also have again known the message of His cross and passion that you have heard on this day. This will bring you to the glory of His resurrection. So you will sing: “But death would not the victor be / of Him who hung upon the tree. / He leads us to the Holy Place / within the veil, before God’s face.” That is what the Son of Mary and of the Most High does for you, as by death and resurrection He makes you part of His kingdom that has no end.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

LSB Lent 4B Sermon -- John 3:14-21

March 18, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said:] “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

The Exodus people had done it again. Their habitual complaint poured out of their mouths: “And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” The complaint is voiced against the Lord and His appointed servant. It reveals the people’s doubt and unbelief, as well as their lack of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Had Moses led the people “out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” No, he had brought them out of slavery to lead them to a land of their own. Had the Lord left the people to their own attempts to fend for themselves? No, He had provided for their daily needs, as well as given them victory over their various enemies—from the Egyptian slavemasters and soldiers to the nations that they encountered along their trek to Canaan.

But none of this was satisfying the people and their sinful wills. So they engage in another bout of rebellion. They spread their seditious statements throughout the company of pilgrims: “Moses, you have led us to our ruin! God, You have not provided what we want! We are tired of this never-ending, circuitous route and this lousy manna we must eat! We’re not following anymore; we will lead ourselves!” And to that sin, the Lord responds: “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” He answers in action that brings the message: “Take that! If you think that My chosen one Moses has brought you out to die and that My provision is worthless, let Me cut off the flow of blessing and work to your detriment. Let us see where the big talk and complaint ends up!”

When the Lord acts that way, the Exodus people comprehend what they had done. They recognize their sin, their guilt: “And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us.’” At that moment, Moses doesn’t seem so bad to the people. Even more than that, they acknowledge his position as the Lord’s chosen leader. At the same time, the people’s loathing the Lord and His provision disappears. They are humbled, brought to contrition. They realize that their only hope is in receiving what the Lord provides. In this way, the circle of repentance is made complete.

In His mercy, the Lord answers the people’s plight. He provides a remedy for them: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” The Lord’s provided remedy directly answers the people’s problem. The fiery serpents brought death, so the Lord provides a serpent that brings life. Believing the Lord’s word of promise connected to this New Serpent, the one that is lifted up and brings life, the people are saved from death.

Centuries after this event in the wilderness, Jesus declares that this is a type that illustrates what He is present in the world to do. He identifies Himself as the remedy for mankind’s plight: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

But what is the plight of mankind that Jesus answers? What has happened that requires such a remedy? The issue is the rebellion that all mankind has participated in. The problem is sin. So it has been from ancient days. What the Exodus people did in the wilderness is but one aspect, one episode of the great rebellion that the Lord’s creation has waged against Him. Discontent at what had been provided by the Lord, the desire to be followers of their own way: these thoughts that were voiced by the Hebrews in the wilderness were found in the sin of the first people and throughout the generations.

Mankind has been its own worst enemy. We have brought ruin and destruction to ourselves by what we have done. The situation is as the apostle described: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Such description shows the comprehensive nature of mankind’s plight—what man first put itself into and which subsequent generations furthered.

But the remedy is provided for you. That is the Lord’s great act of mercy and love: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” In the wilderness, the fiery serpents brought death, so the Lord provides a serpent that brought life. In the world, man brought death by his sin, so the Lord provides a Man who brings life. That is the meaning of Jesus’ statement: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

So the remedy is provided for you. It is in the person of Jesus Christ. He has been lifted up. It happened on Calvary for you. There the Son of Man, the Promised Christ, the only Son of God was hoisted up on a cross to become your salvation. It is the expression of God’s love for you, even while you were engaged in rebellion against Him: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages, He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

That is what Jesus achieved for you on Calvary. So it is most appropriate that a place named for that location where the Son of Man was lifted up has a great depiction of it. The crucifix is here, so that you may look on it and remember how the Lord provided the remedy for your sin that kills temporally and eternally. Believing what Jesus did on that day, you are saved by Him. But not only do you have a reminder in a form of art, you have a participation in the act of salvation accomplished for you. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death. The Lord’s declaration of pardon for your sins is spoken here by His appointed leaders with frequency. Jesus’ Body given into death is put before you. And these give your faith more to cling to—many and various ways that you access the merits of Jesus who was lifted up for your salvation.

The Lord has not left you in the wilderness to die, but has come to redeem you. He has brought you from rebellion and unbelief to faith and obedience. So now you are not “children of wrath,” but are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You have been remade, reshaped, regenerated, recreated. That is how much the Lord’s remedy has worked in you. You have been drawn to the light of Christ and empowered to do what is good and right: “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”

So you now do the good works that the Lord desires you to perform. And the greatest work is to believe in what Jesus has done for you. Your will is brought in line with His, so that you love His ways. No more are you “following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” This change from death to life becomes the grounds for what you say about the Lord, just as it was for the Exodus people: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.” You follow the way that the Lord has laid out for you, the path of life, the road that the Holy Spirit leads you on to a heavenly dwelling place.

So from your mouths complaint doesn’t flow, but praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done: “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men!” He shows His steadfast love in the remedy that He gives for your plight, the wondrous work that Jesus performed for you: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Never loathe what He supplies, but always give thanks for how the Lord provides for all your needs of body and soul.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

LSB Lent 3B Sermon -- John 2:13-25

March 11, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove [the vendors] out of the Temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.’”

Jesus has a passion for the Temple. It is many times greater than all the athletes who scream about their stadium or arena: “We must protect this house!” The passion that Jesus has is a love for what is sacred and holy. It is a love for His Father’s house, a zeal that flows out of knowing exactly what was meant to occur in the place set apart by the Lord.

The passion that Jesus has for the Temple leads to drastic actions. This is what John the Gospel Writer records. The event that is described takes place at the greatest festival for the ancient Hebrew people: “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The Passover Feast marked the time when the Lord had delivered His people from Egypt. It is the great annual celebration of the divine redemption shown to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord takes them from a foreign enslavement and makes them a strong nation. But the way that the Israelites were freed was not a simple earthly act; the angel of death strikes down the first-born in all of Egypt. Yet, the Lord preserves His people through the spreading of lamb’s blood over the doorways of the Hebrew people’s slave quarters.

The Lord’s awesome act of deliverance at the Passover requires remembrance. He commanded it to be so. But the remembrance is meant to be solemn. The Lord’s power and ability are to be recalled, a presence that brings death but also brings life. There is an encounter with the identification that the Lord makes of Himself: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…. I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” And when the Lord’s people are situated in their new homeland, they have a place where the Lord’s presence is promised to them. They are promised to have His actions done to forgive their sins. The Temple was the venue for that sacred purpose.

But what solemnity or sacredness was found in the Temple on the day that Jesus arrived? How was the Passover—the time for recalling the powerful actions of the Lord—being remembered in the Temple? The faithful people were there. But they encounter something less-than-holy when entering the Temple grounds: “In the Temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.” The place set apart for the Lord to act for His people’s benefit had turned into a marketplace. It had lost its character—the set apart status—that the “jealous God” had given it.

So Jesus begins to restore the Temple’s sacred nature: “And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” The corrupting elements are removed, forcibly removed. They are driven out, just as Jesus had cast out the unclean spirits from people in Galilee. No more was the secular to have reign in sacred space. And Jesus explains His actions: “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.” Trade between people has no place in the Temple. The Lord reserved the Temple as the location of His actions. So when the Incarnate Lord stands in its grounds, He makes the Temple holy again by removing the profane from it.

Jesus’ drastic actions get the attention of the people: “So the Jews said to Him, ‘What sign do You show us for doing these things?’” But Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple reflects something more than just cleaning up externals. It is a sign of what He Himself is meant to accomplish as the Christ. He is present as the Lord performs the ultimate act of gracious deliverance, a Passover of cosmic significance. This is referred to in the answer that Jesus gives to the question posed to Him: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was standing in that Temple. And He was there to bring deliverance to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but also the descendants of Aquila, Yadida, and Julius.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes people of all nations holy, set apart for the Lord. It delivers them from slavery to sin, death, and Satan. And the people will receive it in the same way as the ancient Hebrews did in Egypt. There is no transaction made by them, no purchase of freedom. No, deliverance is given through the gracious act performed by the Lord Himself. He makes atonement for sin. He brings life into the place where death rules. He overthrows the usurper who holds His creation in subjection. The Lord is the actor. He achieves this through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul puts it plainly: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

But the Lord does not stop there. He establishes the ways that His salvation is given to people in all times and places. He institutes a sacred venue where His salvation is given out for people to receive. That is what the Church is today: a place where people gather around the words of Jesus that bring forgiveness of sins. The externals of the building—if there even is a building—do not matter. But having the Lord’s presence in the Gospel that speaks, cleanses, pardons, and feeds does matter. That is what makes this gathering sacred as you come to be taught by Jesus, to be washed by Jesus, to be forgiven by Jesus, to be nourished by Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Not only is the gathering made sacred, you are made holy.

But all of this is lost if the Church loses its reason for existence, if the Church loses what the Lord gives that makes it sacred. What is found when Christians gather together to celebrate the Sunday festival, the day that recalls the divine act of Jesus’ resurrection that makes people God’s nation? What is seen here? Is there a solemnity, a respect for the “jealous God”, a focus on using His name properly and keeping holy what He deems sacred? Or do we see “those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there”? Has this congregation or the Church-at-large turned the Father’s house—the place where the Lord is present to act—into “a house of trade” or a venue centered on secular concerns? These are questions about the Church’s essence, about holiness and sacredness. Such questions are what the events in today’s Gospel Reading should bring to our minds.

If our concerns as a congregation or churchbody have become absorbed with the secular, then it’s time for a little table turning and whip wielding. Whenever the Church has become an institution that cannot be distinguished from any other earthly organization, then it’s time for some “zeal for the [Lord’s] house” to consume us. The Lord has not called us to monasticism; He has given you all sorts of callings in the secular realm to fulfill: to be faithful citizens, faithful employees or employers, faithful parents or children, and so on. These are all good callings—divine callings—and must be fulfilled. But here in the Church proper, the calling is to be hearers of His Word and recipients of His grace. The calling is for us to know exactly what the Lord has done for our benefit, to bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The Church has been given the word of God to proclaim, especially the Gospel of salvation that creates, forms, and maintains disciples of Jesus. So that must be the focus of the Church’s functions. Primacy must be given to teaching, preaching, speaking, singing, learning, and hearing the word of God. That is the essence of this institution, what makes it sacred and different from any other organization. If the focus is on this sacred task that the Lord has given, then we will receive the gifts that Jesus’ death and resurrection have earned for us. The apostle’s statement is true: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Through our receiving that word of the cross, God becomes “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

And yet, when that essential, sacred task is fulfilled, there are effects in the secular realm: in the home, society, economy, and government. Hearing the Lord’s word of Law also brings you knowledge of this creation that He has established. It tells you what is expected in your other callings that the Lord has given to you, what you are to strive for as you spend the hundred-plus hours outside this building each week. His “Ten Words” from Mount Sinai included statements about living: “Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet.” These are not vain words; they do give you direction for your life in the world. The Psalmist’s description of them is true today: “By them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

So as we have heard the Lord’s words this day, a similar zeal as Jesus had in the Temple is created. “We must protect this house!” is a fine motto for us, the Lord’s people. We must protect and preserve the unique gifts and purposes that the Lord has granted to us, the Church. A bit of cleansing and reform to make that so may be needed in our own congregation and in the Church-at-large to put the focus on the specific calling that the Lord gives. But it is eternally worth it, so that we may receive the power of God that saves and not miss out on it. Always recognizing the divine character that the Lord’s words carry, we will be careful not to despise them, but gladly hear and learn them. Then our souls will be revived, we will be made wise to salvation, our hearts will be gladdened, our eyes will be opened to see what the Lord is doing for us, and we will be His righteous people both now and for eternity.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

LSB Lent 2B Sermon -- Mark 8:27-38

March 4, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“[Jesus said]: ‘For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’”

Shame at what is said and the person who said it: such feelings arise in the hearts and minds of many. There is the “cringe factor” when hearing people associated with your ideology, organization, political views, or religion make outlandish statements. How many times have you switched the volume down or spun the radio dial when hearing callers’ phone-in on the talk radio stations? Or when a leader makes a gaffe in a speech, have you either mentally or physically shake your head? When something truly offensive is said, even you are quick to disavow any affiliation with the speaker: “How can they say that? They may have the right letters behind their name or the right title on their nametag, but I’m not with them. That isn’t what we in Group X/Party X actually believe or think.”

Shame at what is said and the person who said it: such feelings are shown in the Gospel Reading for this day. But the events in the Gospel Reading did not start with shame. Mark tells us: “And 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?’ And they told Him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’” In this dialogue, there isn’t a hint of shame at all. While the disciples might disagree with what the people were saying about Jesus, the peoples’ thoughts were not out-of-line. They had recognized greatness in Jesus’ words and deeds. Then the question is put to the Twelve: “And He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Christ.’” And again, there is no shame at all to be found. There may even be some pride at fully knowing Jesus’ identity and being affiliated with Him.

But then the outlandish comment is dropped from Jesus’ mouth: “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. And He said this plainly.” Jesus tells the Twelve about what He must undergo. He reveals what it essential to His identity as the Christ. Jesus’ words actually reveal how He would accomplish the redemption of the world, including the salvation of the Twelve who sit in front of Him. And yet, it is full of gaffes—or that is what the Twelve think.

You heard how Peter reacted to Jesus’ statements. The “cringe factor” was fully evident: “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” No, no, no. That is Peter’s response to Jesus’ statement about Himself. It is the response of shame at what is said and the Person who said it. The volume dial is turned all the way down. The heads vigorously shake in disagreement. The statements of disavowal are made: “You may think that Jesus, but that is not how the Christ is to be. We in this Messiah Party distance ourselves from any of these statements of suffering, rejection, and death that our Leader has spoken.” But in this case, the problem is not really in what is said, but in those who hear it. What Jesus says cannot be seen as objectionable, if one is to receive the benefit of His actions that He performs as the Christ.

So this shame that Peter shows at Jesus’ words is not left unaddressed. It can’t be. What Jesus says about those ashamed about Him and His words applies to Peter at that moment: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” So Jesus moves to restore Peter, to bring his mind in alignment with the Divine Will: “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.’” A readjustment is going to be made here. A new setting of the mind must take place, and Jesus must be the actor that makes it so for Peter, so that this disciple and others will receive what the Father’s gracious will has established for them.

This readjustment happens as Peter, the Twelve, and the crowd have Jesus’ words spoken to them. He speaks about discipleship, about this enterprise to which He has called them. Jesus explains what it means to be a follower, to be under His authority: “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. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?’” Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow: the instructed acts are shameful to those who want to govern themselves, who want autonomy, who want to set their own direction according to what their own wisdom deems expedient. But that is not how salvation will be given. It is not how one will be a recipient of the benefits that Jesus brings. No, to gain from what Jesus does, you must be a dependent, a servant, a subject, even if the world believes that is not good, right, or salutary.

Your salvation is given when Jesus undergoes what seems to be shameful: suffering, rejection, and death. That is how you have been delivered: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” What Jesus reveals about His fate is the method of your salvation.

But are you ashamed of it? Do you cringe at what Jesus says? There are ample opportunities for that. Think of what Jesus has taught and how it runs against the wisdom of man. Sure, there will be those who find some decent things in Jesus’ teachings. You know, the Sermon on the Mount things: the Golden Rule is pretty good; giving your extra coat to someone who doesn’t have one is acceptable; don’t judge anyone by a standard you don’t want to be judged by would make society better. But then there are the teachings of morality that are a bit strict. And then there are Jesus’ claims of exclusivity: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…. I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” What then? Does the “cringe factor” rise at these statements of Jesus?

Yet, those are only the remarks made about what Jesus teaches. Reflect on how you have thought about His statements about His actions of dying and rising again. You claim that they are what bring salvation. But what comes to mind when you hear comments about Zombie Jesus at Easter time? Or the charges of cosmic child abuse leveled at the crucifixion? Or when the remarks are spoken about trusting something that a bunch of backwards nomads in the Middle East made up? How do you feel about the objections about a god of love that actually visits wrath on people? In what direction are the cringes aimed—at what is said in these remarks or at the Person and words of Jesus?

Remember what Jesus has said: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Has your mind drifted to “the things of man” and set itself on them? If so, then have Jesus speak again to turn you back to “things of God” so that your mind can be set on them. Take the statement that He makes to Peter and apply it to yourselves: “Get behind Me, Satan!” Receive the rebuke that your Lord makes against you. But know that He follows it up with restoration. Jesus’ word of forgiveness follows His admonishment. It was so for Peter and it is so for you.

Through the reception of Jesus’ words and the Holy Spirit’s actions through them, you are brought back to the way of discipleship. They give you the ability to deny yourselves and take up your crosses and follow the way of your Lord. He sets your minds back on the “things of God”. By having that done, you see and know what the world does not recognize in Jesus’ Person and words. It is the gift that He bestows to you: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The hope in the glory of God given to you is what leads you away from shame and to delight in what Jesus has done for you. So you will confess Him as Christ. And you will say that His suffering, rejection, and death have atoned for your sins. And you will be found victorious in His resurrection. Not ashamed, but proud in Jesus and His words, you will be recognized at His people when He comes in the glory of His Father.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.