The Christianís Cross

Mark 8.27-35 NKJ

Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?" So they answered, "John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.

Jesus did not come into the world to improve it. It was never in His mind to be inducted into the hall of fame of great people who have contributed positively to make this a better world. He came to destroy sin and to free all people from the slavery of sin.

In the same way our life is not just an improvement of the general human condition. Christians are not to be people who are simply less selfish than others, less likely to steal, or a little more aware of God in their life. The Christian life is a substantially different life. It is different in that we recognize the horrible reality of sin and cling to our Savior Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. The result of this conversion is a life that moves in a new direction. We do not flow with the world down the sluice of depravity. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to move against the current of human culture. Such a change in direction, such a movement against the sinful tide creates resistance, temptation, hardship and persecution. These things make up the wood and the nails of the Christianís cross.

Learn about two crosses this morning. The first is the cross of Christ. This was the cross of Calvary. This was His cross for us. But then, also learn about the cross of the Christian. This is our cross for Him. This is the cross of the Christian life that repents of sin and resists it at every opportunity. This is the cross of faith in Jesus that is despised by the world, but it is also the faith that brings about the greatest joy in heaven.

The Cross of Christ

The Gospel of Mark is sixteen chapters in length. In the eighth chapter, at roughly the halfway point, Jesus brings up the issue of the cross. So you see that the cross is what the Gospels are all about. The Gospels are not a biography of Jesus. They are not just a summary of His teaching. The Gospels tell the story of the cross Ė the story of Godís rescue plan to save the world from sin.

This most obvious fact is purposely overlooked today by many who would like to cast Jesus as just another good person who contributed positively to the human race. I have often heard people say that Jesus was a good man who tried to bring about some needed changes to the Jewish religion. You may hear people say that Jesus never actually said He was God or that He was the Messiah. This is a deliberate lie. It is true that Jesus didnít walk around every day and say that He was the Son of God or that He was the Messiah. What Jesus did do every day was to show people that He was the Son of God and the Messiah. By His teaching, His perfect life, and His miracles He showed the world that He fit the many prophecies of Godís Messiah. Which is more important: to say you are the Messiah? or to show that you are the Messiah?

This is why Jesus asked the disciples as they were walking on the road, "Who do men say that I am?" The people believed He was special. Some said He was Elijah and others John the Baptist. In both cases that would have made Jesus a very unusual person. He would have been a person who came from heaven in the case of Elijah (because Elijah is one of the two people in the Bible who was taken bodily to heaven) or a person raised from the dead in the case of John the Baptist. Jesus had proven to everyone that He was indeed special. But it was yet to be seen by most just how special he really was.

The three-year ministry of Jesus brought the people close to an understanding of who He was. But it would be the events of the cross and the resurrection that would lift the blinds completely. That is why, after Peter had so boldly confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus went on to explain that "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejectedÖ and killed, and raised again on the third day."

At that point Peter began to rebuke Jesus. He didnít want that kind of messiah. Peter, like many people today wanted a messiah who would improve culture. But God sent His Son to save the culture. Jesus then speaks to Peter with some of the harshest words found in the Bible. "Get behind Me Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." Peter was thinking like all men. We admit that were not perfect. We recognize the need for some help. But we arenít ready to admit that we are total failures, addicts to sin, and a people absolutely unable to save themselves. Improvements can be made by men. Salvation can only come from God.

Yes, it is true. We cannot save ourselves. Try living this week in perfect love toward God and in perfect love toward your neighbor. Try living tomorrow without a sin. Try going the rest of this day without a bad thought. It is impossible. "There is none who does good, no not one."1 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one."2 It isnít just improvement that God seeks in our lives. It is perfection. And perfection is something that only God can do.

All sins hurt somebody. All sins ruin or destroy what God created to be good. That is why God sent His Son, who was not created, to take sin away. Jesus took all the hatred, the injustice, and the uncleanness of my life and your life, and in His death, He put all of that sin to death. I have a bush next to my house in which a dove built her nest this summer. Doves are interesting birds. Whenever people approached her nest she would fly a few feet away and flop around on the ground pretending to be injured. This was her way of drawing the danger to herself. She hoped that anyone who might molest her nest would find her a more favorable victim. This is what Jesus did to Satan. Satan had corrupted everything. But he couldnít corrupt Jesus. His rage and fury against God came to a climax at the cross. Evil leaped upon the Righteous One, the more favorable victim. But in this act his evil power was undone. His grip on humanity was broken. His lies and deceptions were fully exposed. Best of all, his accusations against us were made null and void because Jesusí suffering and death absorbed the punishment that we deserved. This is what the cross and the resurrection of Jesus means.

Our Cross

Now letís talk about our cross. The world has been saved from sin by the cross of Christ. But it is a sad fact that most of the people of this world reject this salvation. Jesus said, "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."3 The majority of people simply refuse to repent of their sins and therefore also reject Godís salvation in Jesus Christ. We still live in a world that turns away from God. As they have rejected Him so they must also reject those who believe in Him. Peter spoke of these people when he said, "They think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you."4 This is why Jesus said, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." The world follows the god of "self." But the Christian follows Christ.

Now I must make something very clear here. The cross we bear does not contribute to our salvation. It is not as though Jesus did His part, and we have to do ours to be saved. Jesus did everything for our salvation. The cross we now bear is not for our salvation, but it does have a very important purpose. It serves to bring other people to Christ for their salvation.

It may seem like a difficult and unhappy life, but it really isnít. The Christian knows the final outcome of all things, and even though they are rejected by the sinful world they know where they stand. When General Lee and the Confederate Army were marching towards Gettysburg, a little Dutch lady decided to confront one of the columns by herself with a fireplace poker in her hand. She was of course laughingly rebuffed. Even years later her friends would kid her saying, "Hannah, what did you expect to do with that fireplace poker against the entire Confederate Army." Hannah would reply in her broken English, "Vell, I dinít expect to do nodings, but I left em know vaht side I vas on, dinít I!" You also let the world know what side youíre on when you confess your faith in Christ, and when you take up the cross of ridicule and shame for being a believer in Jesus.

You might think it is an impossible life, but here again God tells us otherwise. St. John reminds us "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."5 Remember the account of Elisha, who was surrounded by a Syrian army sent to kill him. When Elishaís servant cried out, Elisha said, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."6 Then Elisha prayed for his servantís eyes to be opened, and when they were opened he saw the mountains filled with horses and chariots of fire. How many times have you and I worried needlessly about what the world might do to us because God was there all along to protect and preserve us?

Perhaps the most important question that someone might ask about the Christianís cross is this: What good will it do if I take a stand? What will it matter? The Bible says, "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy."7 A college professor was known for his consistent attacks upon the Christian faith. Day after day the students listened to his one-sided, poorly informed opinions passed off as truth. But nobody would respond. One student began to wonder if he was the only Christian in the class. He finally decided that he didnít care what it might do to his grade or how the others in the class might laugh at him, he raised his hand and challenged the professor. The professor was not pleased, and he did certainly berate the student for what the professor called his "blind ignorance." To be sure it doesnít feel good to have your faith called "blind ignorance." But something interesting happened after the class in the hallway. Several students came to the one who had spoken up and said, "Thank you! We were beginning to wonder if we were the only Christians in the class. You said what we wanted to say, but we just didnít have the courage to say it." For every ten people that put you down for your Christian faith, there will be one that will be blessed for having carried the Christianís cross. That one blessing will far outweigh all the negative criticisms with which Christians must live.

Conclusion

Christ carried His cross to save us. In His mercy he took all the evil of this world upon Himself. When He died, sin and the power of sin died with Him. We carry our cross as an opportunity to live by faith and as a witness to the world that you donít have to live as a slave to sin. Yes, it can be hard. But life in a sinful world is hard no matter what we do. The question is this, do you want a life full of hardships, disappointments, and the emptiness and uncertainty caused by sin? Or, would you prefer a life full of hardships, disappointments accompanied by the joy and the certainty of salvation?

This morning our Sunday School classes will learning about Noah. Noah is a good example of a man who was challenged to bear the cross even before the coming of Christ. God had reached His limits with the violence and wickedness of the world. He told Noah of His intention to destroy the world with a flood, but to save Noah and his family. Noah believed His promises and built that amazing boat. But it wasnít without a priceóthe price of ridicule. But again Noahís cross became the opportunity for many to be saved. Thatís what the cross is all about.

Blest be the Lord, who comes to men
With messages of grace;
Who comes in God His Fatherís name
To save our sinful race.
8

Notes

(1) Psalm 14.3   (2) Job 14.4   (3) John 3.19   (4) 1 Peter 4.4   (5) 1 John 4.4   (6) 2 Kings 6.16 See also Hezekiahís encouragement to Judah against SennacharibÖ "With him is the arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32.8)   (7) Psalm 126.5   (8) The Lutheran Hymnal # 10 verse 4.

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
October 5, 2003

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151
michaelpwalther@netscape.net
www.goodshepherdcollinsville.org

Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2003

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