Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jesus Calls You to Die

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Conversion of Paul
January 25, 2009
Mark 1:14-20

In the Gospel reading we have an end of an era, a beginning of an era, and the one who stands in the middle of it all. John the Baptist was on his way out. Peter and Andrew, James and John, they were on their way in. Jesus, He was always there—before John was ever born, and long after the last apostle was laid to rest.

The Gospel, then, is never about John, or John, or his brother James, or Peter and his brother. It’s never about you and me, but always about the one who is in the middle of it all, the one who has been around long before we ever knew there was a Gospel.

If you look at what happened to John the Baptist and what would happen to Peter and John and their brothers, you might wonder exactly what good the Gospel is. John the Baptist gets arrested, and then decapitated. Peter, Andrew, and James, and all the other apostles were likewise martyred. John was the only one not martyred, and even then, he was sent to the island of Patmos to live out the rest of his days in isolation.

Where is Jesus in all of that? Jesus didn’t go get John the Baptist out of prison, He simply called more men to be martyrs for Him. And that’s exactly what He calls you and me to. Today. Every day. For our whole lives.

It doesn’t sound so great, does it? Maybe even kind of dreary… But it’s right there, in His very own words: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” He is calling you to die. And in calling you to die, He is calling you to life. Just as He did with John the Baptist; just as with Peter, and Andrew, and James, and John. This wasn’t the end of one era and the beginning of another, after all. It was simply what our Lord has been doing ever since His first promise of the Gospel in the Garden of Eden. Calling sinners to repentance. Calling them to life.

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

Everybody dies. There is no escaping death. The question is, what kind of death are you going to die? When Christ calls you, He calls you to life. But true life can only come through death. You cannot circumvent death. So He gives you life through death. Repentance is death to self. It is the drowning of the Old Man and the resurrection of the New. Repentance and faith go together: Repent and believe in the Gospel. Repentance turns away from the wretchedness of selfishness and sin. Faith clings to Jesus Christ and His righteousness. There is no true life without death to the sinful nature.

Jesus is always there in the middle of it. He didn’t go get John out of prison. He didn’t prevent John the apostle from being incarcerated on Patmos. Didn’t step in when the other apostles were martyred. Jesus, in fact, was only around for three years in His Ministry. That’s what He came for.

He came to do His thing. Not get us out of jams. Not pave the way for us so that things would go smoothly. Not to make everything work out for us. He came to minister. To serve. To save. He came, in fact, to die. That’s why He came. And that’s why He calls us. He calls us to die, too. He came to die in order to bring life. He calls you to death in order to bring you to life.

In that prison cell, John the Baptist had life. In his prison cell on Patmos John the apostle had life. In the moments before their martyrdom and in their deaths, the apostles had life. Jesus had given all of them eternal life in their Baptism. Daily they lived out their Baptism, repenting of their sins and believing in the Gospel.

You have this same life. Because you have died the same death. You, too, have been Baptized. You too, repent of your sins. You also believe that Jesus is your hope and salvation. You, too, have been called by Jesus. And you also endure suffering for the sake of Christ. There may come a day when you, too, will be martyred on account of Christ. There will come times when others see you as weak for leaning on a God you cannot see for your help and your hope. You will be derided by those who are offended at your certainty that there is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ. Your life on this earth ultimately isn’t what your life is about. Your life in Christ is. Your life on this earth continues because you sustain your life. Your life in Christ is sustained by daily dying to sin.

As you go through life Jesus isn’t standing next to you, but He’s in the middle of it all. He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the one in whom you live and move and have your being. He is, He was, and He always will be. He is the eternal God who died for you. He is the eternal God who bids you die to bring you life that has no end. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. God comes to you in His Son. He comes as the one born a baby of Mary, the one who was Baptized by John, the one who called Peter and James, the one who lived and suffered for people who are dead in sin.

And who are those people who are dead in sin? Your neighbor. Your boss, your employee. Your dad, your daughter, a person on the other side of the world you don’t even know. John the Baptist. John the apostle. Peter. You and me. We could go on with the list, but there’s no need. The answer is everyone. Jesus died for everyone who has ever lived. He wants all people to live forever with Him and that only comes through death. His death is what brings about life for everyone. You are brought to life when you die in Christ. This death occurs in your Baptism. That is how you die to sin.

Since while you live on this earth you remain in your sinful flesh, you must die daily. That’s what repentance is. You confess your sins. You turn from your sins and believe that Jesus is your salvation from them. You struggle daily against your flesh. It wants to feed your sinful appetites. But in the new life Christ gives you in Baptism you are fed by His Word and by His Body and Blood. That’s why you need to sustain yourself with Christ and not what you are tempted with.

How do you repent? How do you believe in the Gospel? The answer is Jesus. It’s how John the Baptist, Peter, Andrew, James, and John repented and believed and it’s how you do, too. When He calls you, He calls you to die. That’s how you repent. That’s how you believe. He is the one who kills you and He is the one who makes you alive. He has the power to do it, He is the Creator of universe. He has the love to do it, He died for the sin of the world. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Rejoice in Christ’s call to you to die, which is nothing else than His bringing you to life. Amen.


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