March 1, 2015 - Second Sunday in Lent
“The Messiah will be
successful.” That’s what Rabbi Jonathan Seidel said Wednesday night at the University of Oregon as part of his answer to the question, “Why do Jews not accept Jesus
as the Messiah?” A person who died without establishing a kingdom on earth
would be a failure and not the Messiah. A real Jewish messiah would come in
power and glory and win a great military victory.
Another participant in
that dialogue was a Muslim imam, Yosof Wanly. As he talked about Islam’s view
of Jesus, he never mentioned their belief that Jesus did not die on the Cross.
Either the crucifixion did not happen or Jesus did not actually die there or
someone else died in Jesus’ place on the Cross. Muslims explain it in different
ways but almost all of them believe that God would not have allowed Jesus to be
dishonored by dying on the Cross. Instead, He was taken up alive to heaven.
If after all these
centuries of Christianity, the crucifixion of the Messiah or the Word of God is
hard for these other two major religions to swallow, it should not really
surprise us that it was hard for the disciple Peter to swallow as it was spoken
“openly” as it says in verse 32 by Jesus for the very first time.
This is the crucial
turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s literally crucial because
“crucial” derives from the word “crux,” which is Latin for “cross,” which is
where He was headed. At this pivotal moment the Lord began to explain that His
mission was not at all what His followers might have expected or what some
people still want from Jesus if they are going to follow Him.
Before then, Jesus was
what you might call “positive.” He announced the kingdom of God. He blessed the crowds with the gracious words of the Beatitudes. He told parables
demonstrating how God’s kingdom would grow from tiny beginnings. He called His
followers to be salt and light in the world, to go out and make a difference.
Jesus’ miracles were
fantastic. He cast out demons and healed lepers, paralytics, the blind, and the
deaf. Twice He fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He
called up a great catch of fish, calmed a storm, and walked on water. The
twelve must have been sure that their master’s power was going to take over the
world. They were ready to follow Him into a glorious kingdom.
They were stunned and
upset, then, when Jesus started painting a more negative picture, as verse 31
opens our text, that He had come to die. It was no parable, no earthly metaphor
for some spiritual reality. The plain simple truth was that Jesus was going to
Peter couldn’t handle
it. In the verses just before, he was the star pupil in Jesus’ classroom. When
asked who Jesus was, Peter’s hand shot up before the question was even
finished. Jesus let the others answer first. They reported what was said. John
the Baptist risen from the dead. Elijah, the prophet who had never died and who
was expected to return from heaven one day. One of the other prophets. Through
it all, Peter bounced up and down in his seat, hand waving in the air. He knew
the real answer.
Jesus finally gave him
a chance. In verse 29 we read, “Who do you say I am?” The others quieted
down and lowered their hands. Jesus nodded at Peter grinning from ear to ear
and about to burst from having to hold it in this long. “You are the Christ!”
Peter had it figured out. Their teacher was none other than the Messiah,
the “Anointed One,” foretold by the prophets and expected for centuries. Peter
had put the pieces together and worked it out correctly. He had the answer.
The Messiah had arrived and the twelve of them would ride His coattails into a
In just a moment,
Peter turned from star pupil to political manager. Campaign managers say “stay
on message,” keep it simple, make it positive. Tell people what they want to
hear. In verse 32, Peter took Jesus aside. He gave him a lesson in politics. All
this death talk won’t play in Peoria. It’s too negative. Peter “rebuked” him,
In the very next
verse, we read that Jesus turned around, and in front of all the disciples,
rebuked Peter. The star pupil flunked the real test of his
understanding. He may have known Jesus was the Messiah, but he had no clue
about the real mission of God’s Messiah.
temptation of Jesus? Satan offered Him easier routes to spiritual success. No
need for suffering. Conjure up some miracle bread when you’re hungry. No need for
unpopularity. Let all the world bow at your feet. No need for dying. God’s
angels can always protect you. Take the easy way out, Jesus. That was the
Jesus rejected Satan’s
temptations once. Now He was hearing it again from His own disciple, the one
who knew Him best. “Forget the dying business, Jesus. That will never happen to
you,” he told Him. Jesus heard Peter’s voice, but He knew where the thought
came from. So in verse 33 we hear, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter’s mistake was an
easy one. Jesus said he did not have “in mind the things of God, but human
things.” We see from the human point of view. Promise people life and happiness
and you succeed. Offer them pain and death, and you don’t get far. Bing Crosby
sang, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the
affirmative.” God’s perspective is different. In spiritual life, accenting the
positive is not always the way to go. This passage teaches us that if you want
life, if you want to be saved, then die.
The rest of the text is
about salvation, about getting saved. That question was also asked Wednesday at
the University. “What do you have to do to be saved?” The rabbi said everyone
already has an immortal soul. You don’t have to do anything. I was surprised to
hear the imam say much the same, though Islam at least requires belief in God
in order to be saved. The Christian spokesperson said what you or I might
expect, that to be saved you need to believe in Jesus Christ and accept His
grace as forgiveness for your sins.
But Jesus Himself says
in verse 35, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who
lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” Jesus
has something to say to any idea of salvation, including Christian ones, which
make it sound like getting saved is easy or painless. It’s not. It costs. It
hurts. It’s deadly.
Over the last two or
three decades evangelical Christians have taken up the marketing idea of
“rebranding” with enthusiasm. Old names and labels and logos fail to
communicate to new generations and they carry negative connotations. So Philip
Morris became Altria twelve years ago to lose its association with cigarettes.
Steve Jobs rebranded Apple Computer as just “Apple” in 1997 to set it up to
sell new products like iPods and iPhones.
rename themselves in order to lose some denominational label like Baptist or
Methodist and any negative associations with those. We don’t have to worry
about that because nobody has heard of our denomination and they don’t know
what “Covenant” means anyway. But perhaps the biggest rebranding move among
young evangelicals is to drop the label “Christian” and to call ourselves
“Christ followers.” I think we heard David use that phrase several times last
Because of where they
serve and what they have given up to be where they are, David and Joy can
rightfully claim that “Christ follower” label, but I wonder how many other
people rushing to give up the name “Christian” and be called “Christ followers”
have thought much about our text today and just what the name implies. Christ
followers are, as Jesus tells us in verse 34, “cross carriers.”
Getting saved means
getting up, accepting a horrible, painful burden and walking behind a Man who
came to die. Put yourself in that crowd around Jesus. He hadn’t died yet. He
hadn’t risen yet. The cross was not a religious symbol. The only crosses were
the rough pieces of wood on which Roman soldiers nailed criminals. Poor
condemned wretches carried the instrument of execution on their own shoulders.
The idea of taking up a cross sounded insane. It was like telling them to sit
in an electric chair.
Deny yourself. Give up
your life. Willingly embrace a kind of death. Accept a status something like a
prisoner on death row. It’s no more popular now than it was then. No wonder
other major religions and some brands of Christianity want to offer something
else. We want a faith that is going to help us. Jesus offers us a faith that is
going to hurt us.
Jesus is no sadist.
He’s not telling us that pain is really pleasure like that sick book and film
currently deceiving people. No, our Lord calls for self-denial and death
because it is the way to true life. His message is not just “lose our life,”
it’s “lose your life for His sake, and you will save it.” It got lost in
Peter’s dismay about Jesus dying, but He also talked about rising again in
verse 31. There is a great and wonderful promise in the pain, not that the pain
is good, but that the pain will bring us to what is good, to a new and better
We remember this truth
throughout Lent. Jesus died and rose again. The way to real life is by the same
route. Die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ. As II Timothy 2:11 says, “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” Dietrich
Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
This year as our
church celebrates its 40th anniversary, we might have thought about
rebranding. Some Covenant churches have gone for cool names like “The Well” in Corvallis and “Quest” in Seattle. But our little anniversary committee is suggesting something
else. Instead of rebranding, let’s refocus our attention on what it means for
each of us and for our church together to follow Jesus. So our 40th,
as you heard this morning, is not just a look back at history, but a look forward
at the path Jesus sets before us.
Jesus called us to
follow Him. He was God’s Son, but He was a human being. Unlike the Koran
falsely relates, Jesus didn’t talk about His mission in the cradle. He had to
grow like all of us must into knowing who He is and what He came to do. And
when He did, He set out for the Cross, asking us to follow Him down that kind
Lent is a time to ask what
it means for each of us to follow Jesus. What abilities or spiritual gifts has
God given me? How does Jesus want me to sacrificially use those for His sake
and for the Gospel? Where will being a Christ-follower lead me? Let us also ask
those same questions together as a church community. Let God show us a vision
for how to be a Christ-following church for the next few years.
As we think about what
it means to give up our lives for Jesus, we cannot possibly forget that His
followers are literally doing just that right now as we sit here comfortably,
thinking about where to go for lunch. Those twenty-one Coptic Christians in Egypt and those hundreds of kidnapped Christians in Syria know far better than you and I what these
verses mean. Let’s not forget them as we’re thinking about us.
Our following will be
good, will be faithful if we will not be ashamed, not ashamed of who Jesus is,
what He did for us, and what it means to follow Him. Verse 38 tells us that if
it embarrasses us to have what seems to others a religion of gloom and doom, a
frightful faith that asks way too much of anyone, then Jesus is going to be
embarrassed by us.
I hate the thought
that Jesus might be ashamed of me, might be embarrassed by me. There are far
too many news stories about embarrassing pastors and/or churches. But Jesus
won’t be ashamed of us if we are do the kinds of things He did, giving up our
lives in the way He gave up His. If we help the poor and share the Good News,
we can’t really miss. If you spend time praying and serving, you won’t go
wrong. If you do something for someone else instead of for yourself, you are on
the right track. If you give rather than try to get, that’s the way to go. So
how will you do that, how will we do that this afternoon and tomorrow
and a few years down the road?
If you want to get
saved, follow Jesus. Yes, believe in Him, trust Him, accept His grace and
forgiveness which redeems and heals all the past, but then follow Him,
find your own cross and carry it, and walk into the new life He has for you.
That’s salvation. Amen.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj