Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Sermon: Wednesday of Reminiscere – 2012

7 March 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27-38 (Rom 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Saint Peter tends to the extreme. One minute, he’s riding high, as he had just given the right answer to our Lord’s question about who He is: “You are he Christ,” said St. Peter correctly, “the Son of God.”

But then Peter got a little too big for his britches. For when our Lord told him the plan, and did so plainly: “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,” well, let’s just say that Peter didn’t really like that idea. Peter “rebuked” Jesus – a term that in Greek is very strong. In other words, Peter scolded Jesus harshly: “I don’t want to hear you say that ever again,” is kind of what he is saying, “Do you hear me, Jesus?” He talks to him the way an angry parent wags his finger at a naughty child.

Peter has forgotten who the Creator is and who the creature is. Peter thinks he is above God to the point where he can call the shots. And this is exactly what the devil did in his pride. This is why Jesus turns around and lets Peter have it full bore with one of the harshest rebukes in the Bible: “Get behind Me, Satan.”

What causes the Lord to use such shocking language is not that Peter committed some great crime against humanity, or hurt a child, or swindled a widow out of her home, or bowed down before a stone idol. No, what prompted this outburst from the Son of God was that Peter was not setting his “mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now there is a sin that I suppose all of us commit nearly all the time. How can we not? We live in a fallen world that is wrapped up in itself. We live in a me-first culture where we get to make all our own choices, and get to be offended when the world doesn’t behave the way we think it should. And what’s more, we treat God the same way Peter treated Him. We think we know best. We get angry at him when we don’t get our way. We ignore him and continue dropping him lower and lower on our priority list – and then when things are really bad for us, we summon him up like a Genie in a lamp and expect Him to do our bidding.

To that, our Lord scolds us: “Get behind Me, Satan.”

If we really want to know the plan, the Lord has made it plain to us. Indeed, He taught us all about the suffering of the Son of Man, His rejection by The Important People, His passion, His death, and yes, His resurrection.

And we are part of that plan too. We are called to follow Him. And here is what it means (for He says this plainly): “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. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Who actually likes this plan? Take up a cross? Deny ourselves? Our Lord tells us plainly that the plan is that we give up our lives. We too will suffer, be rejected by The Important People, die, and yes, rise again. That is what it means to follow Him. Where Jesus went, we go. Where Jesus goes, we shall go. And when our sinful flesh rises up on its hind legs and wags its fist at Jesus saying: “I don’t like this plan, I have a better one,” the Lord Jesus Himself rebukes us: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

This, dear friends, is where the first commandment comes into our lives. It almost never involves stone idols. Rather we worship idols of flesh, idols we see in the mirror. We put our hearts where our treasure is, and we treasure ourselves.

Thanks be to God that the Son of God is not as selfish as we are, otherwise we would have no Savior willing to take up His cross and die in our place. And we would have no hope of rising again. Thanks be to God that Jesus casts out Satan from our sinful hearts when we confess our sins, repent, and hear the words of absolution and the proclamation of the gospel! Thanks be to God for Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper!

“For whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani knows exactly how to save his own life. He sits condemned to hang from a Muslim executioner’s rope, which would leave behind a widow and two young orphan sons. His captors tell him that he can save his life by simply renouncing Jesus. But Pastor Nadarkhani knows better. He will not place himself in the role of Satan by setting his mind on the things of man, but rather he has taken up a very heavy cross to follow the Lord. When you see the pastor’s picture, whether in a beautiful field before his capture, or in a filthy, tiny concrete cell – he has just the hint of a smile on his face. For he knows exactly how to save his life. He knows our Lord’s warning: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.” He is not ashamed of Jesus, even as Jesus is not ashamed of Pastor Nadarkhani’s good confession. For even if he is hanged, he receives eternal life as a free gift from the One about whom he also confesses, “You are the Christ.”

This is how another man who knew the despair of a death sentence, St. Paul the apostle, can write to us by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”

Again, dear friends, this is the little smile that the saints can show to the world, the devil, and their own sinful flesh even in the face of death. For “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” And moreover, the apostle proclaims: “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.”

This is how Pastor Nadarkhani can endure each day in suffering, not cursing his captors, but praising God and praying for his enemies. And when we are tried and tempted, the Lord is allowing us the opportunity to become stronger, to produce endurance, character, and hope – which we have by means of the Lord’s love for us, poured out as the blood of the sacrifice at the cross, poured into our hearts even as His heart poured out water and blood – tokens of baptism and Holy Communion, given to us so that we might have peace with God.

What a wondrous mystery, dear brothers and sisters! And if the Lord were to do things our way, we would be pretty pathetic indeed, lacking the faith to tap into God’s grace that wins eternal life for us. For if we had it our way, we would not even have the strength to endure so much as a pin prick. Thanks be to our crucified Lord that His love for us compelled Him to endure all the suffering He revealed to Peter, and indeed all that did happen to Him for our sakes.

And, dear brothers and sisters, in spite of Peter’s momentary surrender to Satan, in spite of the Lord’s stinging rebuke, in spite of Peter’s later shameful conduct at the Lord’s execution – St. Peter was justified by faith and had peace with God! He did suffer and endure and grew in character and died himself as a man of hope – not in himself, but in the Lord whom he followed by taking up his own cross.

St. Peter knew that “whoever loses his life for [Jesus’s] sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

No-one likes to bear the cross. We all have sinful flesh that resents God’s plan. But, dear friends, we have been justified by faith for peace with God. We can, in Christ, smile like Pastor Nadarkhani, knowing where we find our life – even if we lose our life. For we know that Jesus is the Christ, and that He will come “in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” And “we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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