Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Lord and His Cross; Your Lord and Your Cross

Second Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2012
There’s the Lord you want and there’s the Lord there is. There’s the life you want and the life your Lord gives you. There’s the Lord you imagine—glorious, above the fray—and the Lord who comes to you—in humility, in weakness; suffering, going to a cross. There’s the life you pray your Lord to give you—free-flowing, glorious—and the life your Lord gives to you—where you suffer in weakness, where you bear your cross.

There’s the sermon you’d like to hear, where everything’s going to be all right, God will remove you from your hurt and your sorrow and your trials. And there’s the sermon you’ll hear, where you are to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow your Lord in the way of the cross, the way of suffering and trials.

It’s not that God doesn’t want you to have glory. It’s not that He wants you to be miserable. Just look at the Old Testament reading and it’s clear that God wants you to be blessed. His words to Abraham is a message that directly applies to you. His promise to Abraham was that he would be the father of many nations. At another point He tells Abraham that all peoples will be blessed through him. In the New Testament we are told specifically how we are children of Abraham, it is by faith. It’s not that we are the genealogical descendents of Abe. It’s that we are his children because of the promise made by God to Abraham that was fulfilled in Christ. That’s why Paul says in the Epistle reading that we are justified by faith.

There is glory here. There is victory here and we can latch on to it as Abraham did. But notice how it’s brought about. It’s not in glory. It’s not a cakewalk. It’s through humble means. How would God’s promise to Abraham be brought about? Through a son. Sarah, who was unable to have children, would give birth to a son. This is a great blessing, of course. But think about what God is saying to him. Through this one child, Isaac, will come multitudes. Here the stage is set for not relying on our own visions of grandeur. God could have blessed Abraham with many children in order to bring this promise about, but He didn’t. He said it would be through one. And this promise ultimately would be brought about through one other, the only-begotten Son of God. Going back to Paul in the Epistle reading: “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is in Christ alone that we have this ultimate glory, peace with God, a status in which we are right with Him eternally.

This is your Lord. He is the one who brings about this glory. To this we’re all ears. Bring it on. Bring me into this glory so that I can enjoy it. This is the kind of life we want from our Lord. He’s God, after all. Why should we expect anything less than glory? Why should we settle for less than a life we can fully enjoy? This certainly was the way Peter was thinking. In the Gospel reading he showed his command of Christian theology. He knew who Jesus was. He believed in Him.

But oddly enough Jesus told him and the other disciples to keep quiet about it. It would seem that the best course of action would be to make this known. Since it all started with Jesus asking them what the general consensus was of who He was and that it was way off, it would seem the best thing for Him to tell His disciples was, You guys need to pound the pavement and get people on the right track. Tell them who I really am, I am the Christ, as you have confessed. Some were thinking He was John the Baptist having come back from the dead, some Elijah come back from the dead, some one of the prophets come back from the dead. At least the disciples could have put a dent in the misconceptions so many people had of who He was.

But no, Jesus’ MO is, Be quiet. Don’t tell anyone. Keep it to yourself. Some glory. Jesus was God in the flesh, why wouldn’t He want as many people to know as possible?

The answer is in our Lord Himself. It’s in who He is and how He comes to us. He comes to bring glory but He doesn’t come in glory. He comes to share His glory with us but He does it through humility and suffering. The answer of why Jesus told them to keep their mouth shut was in His next words to them. Our Gospel reading says that “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.” This is who our Lord is. This is how He comes to us. He is the Lord and bears His cross. It is the cross of suffering. It’s not just that He underwent a terrible ordeal. It’s that He went to the cross to pay a penalty. He suffered a specific suffering. It was being the recipient of the wrath of God upon sinners and their sin. This is who our Lord was. This is how He came. This is why He came.

Did the disciples know this? Nope. Yes, they knew who He was, He was the Christ!, but they didn’t really know who He was. Good old Peter took to his bully pulpit again and rebuked Jesus. What kind of a Messiah do You think you are? How do You possibly think that it makes sense for You to suffer and even die? What kind of glory can be gotten from You going to the cross?

For all the misconstrued ideas people had about Jesus, the disciples weren’t much different. Neither are you and I. We don’t really want a Lord who comes in weakness and even suffers. We don’t really want a Lord who has to go to a cross. We want a Lord who is God in all His power, glory, and majesty. We want to share in that glory. Instead we get one who was rather pathetic as He hung on the cross. Think about it, the Lord, God Almighty, meekly consented to a bunch of religious leaders to trumped up charges in order to get Him crucified. Think about how the eternal God quietly submitted to a bunch of soldiers mocking Him and slapping Him and scourging Him. Think about the hands that formed the universe in all its beauty now being nailed to wood.

A strange God indeed. A strange Lord. He is basically saying that He’s not the Lord of glory but of the cross. He came to bear His cross. When we think of Him otherwise we are thinking the things of men, not of God. We are letting Satan control how we view, no, believe in, God. I mean, Jesus was pretty pointed in His response to Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There is method behind the madness, so to speak. Our Lord is our Lord because of who He is. That is, He’s glorious and Almighty and all that good stuff, but primarily He is loving, He is merciful. He doesn’t come to you in glory because that wouldn’t do you any good. He comes to you in mercy because that does all the good in the world. Or rather, in all eternity. And if this sounds great, it is. Paul makes that abundantly clear in the Epistle reading. He did all this for you. While you were still His enemy, while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Yes, this is all indeed wonderful, glorious, and fantastic.

And true to form, we’d like to keep it right there. Thank you Lord, that You have finally given me the glory that I want. Thank you that in Your suffering You have brought me the glory that I seek.

To that there’s something else your Lord has to say. He rebukes you. Bringing you this glory doesn’t mean that you have an easy ride now. What it means is that now you bear a cross. I have borne the cross for the sin of the world. Now you bear a cross. It’s your own. I save you from eternal suffering, now I call you to a life in which you bear a cross. Yes, that means suffering.

If you don’t like the sound of this, join the club. Get in line behind Peter. Paul wasn’t on board at first either. None of us are. It’s part of the nature of bearing a cross that it’s not something you relish. It’s not something you seek. It’s something you’d just as soon dispense with. But glory in it, you can. That’s what Jesus is getting at. It’s what Paul’s getting at in the Epistle reading. I’m not sure why they used the word ‘rejoice’ there, because the word is more along the lines of ‘boast’, or ‘glory’, or even ‘take pride in’. Be that as it may, your Lord gives you a new life. You’re not always going to like it, certainly not always enjoy it. But you can glory in it. In fact, in your new life in Christ, you do. Why? Paul lays it out nicely in the Epistle: “we [glory] in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we [glory] 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 Lord is the Lord because He went to the cross. That is how He is your Lord. Your Lord is the Lord who gives you your cross to bear. You may not see any glory in that but neither did anyone see at first glory in His bearing the cross for the sin of the world. It is because He bore His cross that you may bear yours. Bearing a cross is by nature difficult and not enjoyable. But Jesus as He drew all men to Himself in His cross will draw you to Himself in your bearing your cross. He is your Lord, He will not leave you without hope and strength as you bear your cross. He has strength to give you as He has undergone what you could never imagine. When you bear your cross you won’t always see how you can bear it, how you can bear up under the pressure and the strain of being ostracized for believing in Christ, for serving and helping those who have taken advantage of you, of deferring present glory for humility and suffering.

But He has given you His promise through Abraham. He has justified you by faith. He has gone to the cross so that you are the recipient of these promises. He gives you the very body delivered on the cross to you in His Holy Supper. You drink of the very blood that was shed on the cross. He is your Lord, He will give you strength to bear your cross. He will finally bring you to glory beyond compare. This is something to glory in. Amen.


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