Lenten Midweek 3: 2/24/16
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… When Jesus calls us to discipleship, He does not discuss rewards. He tells us the cost. He doesn’t offer us a comfortable religion and He doesn’t offer us an easy-chair Christianity. Instead, He offers us a cross. What’s that you say? Nobody told you that when you signed up? No one warned you that your confession of faith might mean denial of self and giving up what you want?
Take heart, dear Christian. Though the idea of cross-bearing may sound foreign to our ears tonight, it is nonetheless the word of our Lord to us. And though it may be troublesome to us, there is something very Christ-like here.
Think for a moment about why you are a member of this congregation: What is your motive? What is your interest in the cross of Christ? Well, obviously, we want to pray, we want to praise, we want to give thanks to God for what He has done for us. Yes, we want our faith to be strengthened for the daily Christian life and we get that through God’s Word and Sacraments. And yes, we seek guidance for our lives, we seek blessings, and we seek fulfilled promises. Those sorts of things…
And there are other benefits of having faith in Jesus our cross-bearer: Christian fellowship, peace of mind, peace in the heart, the good things He adds to those who seek His kingdom. And we do enjoy comfort in times of sorrow and help in times of pain and trial. These are the blessings of our faith; rewards, you might say.
But as was mentioned before, when Jesus calls us to discipleship, He does not discuss rewards; He tells us what it costs. Again Matthew 20:18-19: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
The detail in which Jesus describes these events is damaging to our somewhat sanitized view of Christianity and the cross. Jesus was punished in the most brutal way known to man. He was delivered to the chief priests…delivered! Who delivered Him? Judas? The Romans? The disciples? No. God the Father Himself delivered His own Son. God the Father Himself designed the rejection; God the Father Himself designed the scourging; God the Father Himself designed the crucifixion. This is our focus tonight – that the Savior of all mankind was delivered over to suffering and death at the hands of His own Father!
This is a mind-boggling reality. In all the events which surround and involved Jesus, God the Father does not stand afar off; He is involved, He cares. Behind the scheming politicians and religious leaders, behind the puny power of Pontius Pilate, behind the disabling fear of the disciples – behind all of that is the full-blown power of God the Father. As we gaze in Scripture on the cross of the One who was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification, we see also exactly how much the Father loves us, even to the point of delivering up His only-begotten Son.
As has been mentioned previously, Jesus the Son of God does what you and I can scarcely believe anyone would do: He denies Himself, He takes up His cross – for you and for all people. And He does these things perfectly and purely out of love for you and for all people. Not because anyone deserves His love – no way. But He does these things for our benefit. He was delivered into death in order that we may be delivered from death.
Scripture declares, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Christ Jesus died that death for us. Our sins were laid on Jesus in His death. He endured the penalty of all sin in His suffering and death. And in His death we have peace with God. Our entire debt of sin has been completely erased in the death of Jesus Christ.
We can scarcely believe this – that we are that bad and God is that good. The disciples had a hard time with it too. In our text we see two of them wanting power and position at the Lord’s right and left hand in His coming kingdom. A concerned mother wants to be sure her children will have a place in the kingdom with Jesus. And would that all parents have a similar concern for their children; if only all parents would pray to Jesus, “Lord, I want my son, my daughter to be with You in Your kingdom.”
Parents today are concerned about their children, but so often they have only superficial concerns. Too seldom are moms and dads concerned about the spiritual welfare of their offspring. We want them to be happy, we want them to have everything the other kids have, we want them to know how to live in this world. And yet, here’s the thing: if we do not teach them first and foremost how to die in faith, then we have taught them nothing.
Jesus asked James and John if they knew what they were asking. He asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink…?” They answered, “We are able.” And in this we see the pattern for Jesus’ disciples. You want to be great in the kingdom? I will tell you how to be great in the kingdom. “…whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The price of His life? Service. The purpose of His death? Ransom – the payment price. Enslaved by sin, bound in the chains of guilt, doomed by that sin to a death that never ends, we have been ransomed by the blood of Christ.
“The soul that sins, it shall die,” (Ezekiel 18:4) declares the Word of God. But here in Christ the soul that never sinned is delivered into death and hell for us. Why? So that we would be His; so that we would be set free to serve Him all the days of our lives; so that we with Him would deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him in faith; so that we would be servants of one another as He was a servant for us. That, dear Christian, is discipleship according to Jesus Christ.
Are you ready for this? Are you prepared to bear the scorn, the mockery, the misunderstandings for your confession of His name? Are you willing to bear the burdens of others who suffer for His name? We need not fear nor back away when we hear that the demands of discipleship include being delivered into difficult situations for His name’s sake. We need not fear that the cross we bear will prove too heavy, too demanding, to restricting.
Jesus reminds us tonight that before He offers us our cross, He offers us His own; He offers us Himself. He reminds us tonight of the severity of sin, as we sang earlier,
Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see Who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God. (TLH 153:3)
And through the sufferings, the cross, and the death Christ bore for us we are even more profoundly reminded that His cross and death to sin has become our cross and death to sin. Again as we sang,
Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our Salvation, His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded, Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built. (TLH 153:4)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.