It was in last week’s Gospel lesson that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, and it was Peter who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By the grace and knowledge of God, Peter was right. Before him stood Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Imagine the thoughts and reactions of the disciples: their Teacher has gotten off to a humble start, what with this walking from town-to-town and teaching. Nevertheless, He’s the long-awaited Christ. Things are going to get better, aren’t they? He’s only going to grow in popularity and power, and gather the love of the many, right? It’s only a matter of time until He sits on a throne and begins to rule…isn’t it? And how wonderful for the disciples, to be in this on the ground floor and going along for the ride. All of this must appeal greatly to the disciples’ human minds and thoughts.
But then all of a sudden, the mood changes: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed? How can that be? How could the Son of God allow Himself to die? Why would He? This doesn’t fit in with the disciples’ preconceived notions.
Ever the spokesman, it’s Peter who pulls Jesus aside. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” How could Peter have said this, given his great confession of who Jesus was just a few verses earlier? Peter’s intentions were good. He could not bear to think of such terrible things happening to his Lord. He spoke without considering what he was saying. The man who had just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, now presumed to contradict Jesus’ very plain words. Christ came to save lives by losing His.
Christ has come into a dying and broken world with a single goal and purpose: to save it, but our idea of saving lives is usually quite different from what Jesus had in mind. The people of Jesus’ day were looking to Jesus to be a great earthly king who would save them from oppression and restore Jerusalem to glory days of old. Their salvation was merely focused on the here and now.
But no matter whom Peter or anyone else wants Jesus to be, Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God who has become flesh to die on the cross. Peter and everybody else shouldn’t expect any different.
Jesus’ salvation was not focused on the here and now, but it was focused on the people’s eternal salvation. He has something completely different in mind than Peter and the rest of the people. He issues a stern warning to Peter, and in essence, all who would oppose His saving work: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
What does this mean for us? If you’re going to follow Jesus, deny yourselves. Reject who you think Jesus is supposed to be, and submit to His Word. If you think that following Jesus is all about glory and power and an exalted life on earth, you’re not going to follow Jesus. You’re going to abandon Him with the crowds who don’t like His teaching, or you’re going to run away when you see Him arrested, suffering and crucified. If you run away from Jesus to save your life, you’ll lose it. Deny yourself, confess your sin and be His forgiven people, and you’ll live forever. Never forget the reason that Jesus is going to that cross – He is going for you; that’s why He’s going to exchange His holy, precious blood for it, that you might have grace and life forever.
If your primary concern is to save this life, to get the most out of this life in pleasure and satisfaction and enjoyment, you will end up losing everything. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, if you dedicate all to Him, follow His Word, you will live a meaningful life and God-pleasing life in this world and enjoy all the blessings of everlasting life in heaven. That is what Jesus desires for you – life everlasting with Him and the Father.
Jesus had to bear His cross, and all who follow Him have their crosses to bear too. The crosses Christians bear are the hardships and sufferings and persecutions they endure as a consequence of faithfully following Christ. These crosses vary from person to person, but every Christian must expect to bear a cross.
Today, Jesus redefines your life with His own cross. Since you have been redeemed by Jesus’ great sacrifice, you bear His mark. The cross inscribed on your head and heart in Baptism has become the very signature of your life. It marks you as “one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” It places the very name of God on you and says that you belong to Him, that His Son has paid for you with His very body and blood, that wonderful gift that Christ Himself gives to us at His Table.
Because Jesus has made His cross your own, therefore you are forgiven. And you are forgiven for all of your sins. Thus, when you doubt His faithfulness to you in your sufferings, He declares, “Remember how I delivered people from sickness and grief on My way to the cross. As I healed and delivered them, I will also heal and deliver you from all your afflictions. It will be in My time, which is best for you; and in the meantime, you can be certain of My faithfulness because I have already delivered you from sin and death and hell by My own death on the cross.”
Though you will still fall far short of making your life a perfect, living sacrifice to your Lord, you are not forsaken. The living God declares to you this day, “My Son has died your death and made His cross to be yours. Because He has taken your sin away, I do not hold your sin against you. For His sake, I see you wholly acceptable before Me, because all of your sin is taken away.” What joy you have to deny yourself and confess your sins daily, knowing that the Lord sees you perfect and righteous for the sake of His Son.
And so you have joy and glad confidence in this world of suffering and death. By the grace of God, you daily deny yourself and confess your sins before the Lord. Daily, you live with the sure comfort that Jesus has borne His cross for you to take away your sin, and that He makes His cross, your cross. In Him, your life is found, because He has exchanged His own lifeblood to gain your soul for eternity. Because He has done it, you bear His cross: and you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.