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LSB Lent 2B Sermon – Mark 8:27-38

March 3, 2015

March 1, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, [Jesus] 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 and the gospel’s will save it.’”

Who is the Christ? What must He do? Those are the questions posed by Jesus as He winds His way from Galilee to Judea. Jesus asks His disciples about His identity: “Who do people say that I am?” And after hearing His disciples’ reports about that, Jesus puts the question to them: “But who do you say that I am?” Those questions elicit the familiar response from Peter: “You are the Christ.” They also bring forth the statement that Jesus makes about the Christ’s identity and work: “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.”

Jesus’ statement about the Christ’s identity and work summarizes what He will do in Judea. That is where Jesus is headed. The events that He plainly discloses will happen. You will commemorate and celebrate those events. It’s where you are headed in Holy Week. Why are they so important? It’s not just that Jesus said that they must happen, though that alone would give them significance. It’s because that is what the LORD had foretold concerning His Christ. They are “the things of God” that Jesus has His mind set on, even if His chief disciple Peter did not. Jesus is going to fulfill those prophetic statements and the promises that are rooted in them.

What Jesus discloses is the work of redemption that He will perform. He endures the suffering, rejection, and death, in order to bring reconciliation to sinful humanity. He will rise from death to bring salvation. This is the central teaching of the Christian faith, as Paul writes about it to the Romans: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but 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.” 

This work done by Jesus sets you into a new life. It brings you into fellowship with God the Father, making you part of His household. It takes you from being at enmity with the LORD to being a sharer in His righteousness. It delivers you from aimlessness or open rebellion with how you live to having a new purpose that is in harmony with the LORD’s will. You were the weak, ungodly sinners for whom Christ died. But now you are the empowered, reconciled holy people of God who are saved by Christ’s life.

Jesus speaks about this life that He has instituted for you: “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 and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus makes very clear that being His disciple means setting aside any idea of being your own lord and master. Instead, discipleship at its very heart is a matter of following after Jesus, of being led by Jesus, of being directed by Jesus’ teachings. That following includes relinquishing control over your lives, so that you are governed by Him.

When Jesus speaks these words, it may seem strange to the way that you are naturally accustomed to thinking. Recall what Jesus said: “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 and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus calls you to give up your life in order to save it. It seems counter-intuitive. How does someone keep something by giving it away? Isn’t that a loss? Isn’t that a negative mark in the ledger? If I take the title to my house or car and give it to someone, how do I keep possession of it?

But Jesus is pointing out something that none of us naturally know: that there is a greater reality beyond this world. That is revealed by Jesus’ words that followed His statement about losing life for His sake: “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? 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.” 

When only thinking about this age, the idea of losing possession of something equals gain seems ludicrous. But Jesus reveals that there is more than just your time here on earth. Having all the goods of this world will ultimately be of no benefit if you have no share in the life of the world to come. Keeping control over the temporal things and refusing to let them go when Jesus demands it will actually mean losing possession of what is eternal. But being led by Jesus to let go of temporal things can lead to the gain of what is eternal.

Part of the transformation that Jesus’ redeeming work accomplishes leads you to selfless obedience. This can be seen as you have the same mindset of Jesus that led Him to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah: the suffering, rejection, and death that He disclosed. During Holy Week, you will hear a statement from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians that described that mindset: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

That description of Jesus is how He brought reconciliation to mankind: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That selfless obedience marks all the work that Jesus performed as the Redeemer, as the LORD’s Christ sent into the world. But it also marks your life of discipleship: denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him. That is part of the mindset created in you. It allows you to make the statements that Paul did: “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. Not only that, but 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 that you have because of Jesus’ actions done for you leads you to a life of selfless obedience. Selfless obedience is part of the whole stewardship concept. You are given title to all sorts of things in this world. The LORD allows you to have possession of your bodies with their abilities, of temporal goods and property, of a place in His creation. He says that they are all yours. You own them. But what should be done with them? How are they to be used?

The mindset that is created in you answers those questions. Just as Jesus counted others more significant than Himself and looked to their interests, becoming a servant to them, giving what He possessed, so you look to use what has been entrusted to you for the benefit of others. Selfless obedience governs how you use the things of this life. That is what drives you to use your physical abilities not only to secure your place in this world, but to assist others. It moves you to open up your wallets, so that you can contribute to the works of evangelism and charity done by the Church. It allows leads you to consider how your place in this world can be used as a way to interact with others, so that you can proclaim to them the LORD’s righteousness in words and deeds.

Such acts can be done by you because of Jesus’ acts that redeemed you and His words that revealed the greater reality that exists beyond this age. Recall again what Jesus said: “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 and the gospel’s will save it.” That moves the idea about gaining all that you can in this world and holding it for yourself out of the equation. Such attempts will not gain or preserve life for you. It would be a selfish disobedience that leaves you outside of the salvation that Jesus brings.

Instead, you are led to act selflessly as Jesus did when He took up His cross for your salvation.  You know that all that had to be offered in return for your soul has been given for you by Jesus, granting you a claim on an eternal benefit. So you seek the direction that Jesus’ teaching gives concerning temporal possessions. You know that selfish ambition that tries to cling on to everything is not the way that you are made secure. You know that giving away money or goods for righteous causes is not actually a loss. You know that Jesus’ instructions about being generous, that life does not consist of possessions, that assisting the least of His disciples is a way of helping Him are all revealing the truth that what seems risky and foolish to others is actually good and wise. They are “things of God” that He sets your mind on.

You have a great hope because of what Jesus has accomplished. That hope is in what awaits because you have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. Paul’s description of this sounds shocking to the world: “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.” But that hope drives your life now.

Your place in the life of the world to come is set because of the divine love shown to you in Jesus’ work. That divine love is what you reflect in your selfless obedience. Your selfless obedience drives your stewardship of what has been entrusted to you. That is your purpose in this lifetime, as you follow Jesus toward the end that He has made to be yours. That hope which comes from the great expression of divine love allows you to imitate Jesus and abide by His commands. So you can give things up and actually gain from that, just as your Lord says: “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 and the gospel’s will save it.”

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

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