Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent

Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent

(Transcribed by machine 04/08/2024)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
I don’t really have any kind of statistical data or facts to back up what I’m about to
say, but I think if you were to take a poll or a survey of a group of people, a group
of unbelievers, and you asked them the question, why don’t you believe in the triune God, I
think one of the most prevalent answers that you would receive is, well, I just can’t believe
in a God who allows people to suffer.
And I think probably also if you ask a group of people who claim and profess to have once believed and now don’t
that you’d likely discover that for many of these people would stop believing that they had encountered some type of trouble or
Struggle within their life and at some point they blame God for it
Which doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you think about it that
If you blame God for something, then you obviously believe in him
They just don’t like what he put on it.
And likewise, I think if you were to ask a group
of Christians, if you gave them an opportunity
to have one question answered about faith,
I think right up there with that question,
will I see my dog in heaven,
would be, why does God allow suffering?
In particular, why does God allow the Christian to suffer?
And I think this is just simply because
we can’t wrap our brains around
why, if God professes to love the world so much, if we have confessed faith in
Christ, why he doesn’t just stop punishing us? Why he doesn’t remove
suffering from our life? And that, in and of itself, assumes that suffering is some
kind of punishment for something we have either done or we have failed to do. And
yet our Heavenly Father tells us something completely different about
suffering, and if we would only listen to his word, maybe we can understand it. The
suffering is actually for our own good. And I know that that sounds pretty
outlandish to most people. It sounds crazy. Like maybe you remember when you
were a kid and you got in trouble, and your father or mother, whatever the
punishment was, they always added disqualifier, I’m doing this for your own
good. Yeah, right. Now we may think of suffering as punishment because, but
Really, it’s just part of discipline.
It is discipline.
Discipline is something that is used to shape our behavior.
It is used to keep us on a path going somewhere,
or in this instance, in our case,
oriented on someone.
And we also have to remember that everyone suffers.
And yet, the Christian suffers in a much different way
and for a much different reason than the unbeliever does.
And in doing so, in suffering the way of the Christian,
and the Christian is going to come to experience a joy
that the unbeliever will never have.
And I think, I feel like we’re in good company
with our inability to understand this,
to question it, to doubt,
to have uncertainty about why we suffer,
and really what it means to be a follower of Christ
in some instances.
And in our gospel lesson from St. Luke,
we hear this confession of St. Peter,
that Peter, that Jesus is the Christ,
He is the Messiah. And this is, of course, it’s a breakthrough. It’s the first
confession that anyone has said about Jesus, about who Jesus truly is. But I
don’t really want us to focus on that, on the confession part of that, because
although it’s important, it’s also what Jesus says afterwards that’s really what
we know and understand about what it means to confess Christ. Because in this
moment, Peter and the rest of the disciples and the multitude of the crowd
that Jesus will pull into there, they’re about to learn this true lesson about
what it means to be in the kingdom of God and what it means to be a disciple.
And in doing so, this gives us what we should expect as the life of a Christian.
Now we do have to talk a little bit about Peter’s confession, and it is this
remarkable confession, and one of the remarkable things about it is it doesn’t
happen in a synagogue, it doesn’t happen in the temple, it doesn’t happen in
Jerusalem. It doesn’t happen in even in the confines of Judea. It happens way up
there north in this kind of, you know, mostly Gentile, mostly pagan area of
Caesarea Philippi. And as we heard a couple weeks ago with the Sermon on the
Transfiguration, Jesus was up there kind of out of the area where he could go and
spend some time alone with his disciples to teach them and to train them. And for
the disciples, this teaching moment first comes on the heels of this reproof that
Jesus has to give to Peter, for Peter’s own rebuke of Christ about his words,
about his pending passion. And of course, to be sure we know, this had to shock the
disciples that they heard this, that they’ve heard this revelation of what
Jesus’ fate is really going to be, because Mark tells us today that Jesus said it
plainly. He didn’t, at least he wasn’t in this time, he wasn’t speaking in a
parable, he wasn’t mincing words, he was speaking clear terms about what was
going to occur. And Peter, as we know, he’s often impetuous, he’s often quick to say
things, and so he sort of blurts out this rebuke to Jesus. Mark
doesn’t tell us what what Peter said. Matthew does. He says, where’s the effect
of, far be it from you, Lord, this is not going to happen to you. And no sooner
then he got the words out, Jesus gives his rebuke, and I’m sure Peter was
reaching to grab the words and bring them back into his mouth. But Jesus takes
this opportunity not just to rebuke Peter, that’s not what this is about, he
wants to use his words as a teaching moment. And so he doesn’t even entertain
the doubt in Peter’s mind, he doesn’t say, well Peter, I don’t, why do you not
understand? Or Peter, what do you mean by that? He doesn’t even do that. Instead
he says, get thee behind me Satan. And then he turns around to the disciples,
and he sees the crowd, and he calls them to join into this discussion, because
these words aren’t going to be just for the disciples, they’re going to be for
everyone, as they are for us today. And of course, Jesus knows that even though
these disciples have been with him for some time, and now, you know, kind of under
this captaincy of Peter, they have all confessed him as the Christ, they still
don’t really know what that confession means, and they really won’t get it until
they’re in the upper room with Jesus after his resurrection. As I said, they
don’t really know what this confession implies. They don’t know why Jesus has
told them to not tell anyone, but the reason that he told them not to tell
anyone about him is he doesn’t want them to spread these false ideas that they
have about what his mission and his work really is. He doesn’t want them to feed
into the people’s desire to have this Messiah who will rule over an earthly
kingdom, and so that’s why he brings the crowd into this discussion. And we’ve
heard these words of Jesus many, many times. If anyone would come after me, let
him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. And we think, well that
sounds pretty easy. And that is until we realize what self-denial and
cross-bearing really are, and they’re not what we thought they would be. Self
denial is more than oh perhaps committing to some type of Lenten fast,
which generally usually we’re not very good at keeping anyway. No, taking up your
cross is more than just putting up with some type of minor inconvenience or doing
something we don’t want to do. Self-denial and cross-bearing mean suffering for the
sake of Christ and for the gospel. It could mean various things. It could mean
being shunned in your social circle. It could mean losing a friend who now wants
nothing to do with you because you don’t condone their lifestyle. It could be
estrangement from your family because your faith conflicts with their social
or political views. It could mean leaving or, God forbid, losing your job because
of your beliefs. And really, ultimately, these are trivial sufferings because we
know, as Christians in the other parts of the world know, that many of them are
killed by the enemies of the gospel for their faith. Now, honestly, the likelihood
that we are going to be asked to give up our mortal life for our faith is
pretty minuscule. And though Jesus tells the disciples many times that they will
be persecuted, they will be beaten, they will even be killed for his namesake,
here, Jesus is not talking about their mortal lives. He’s talking about
spiritual death. He’s talking about the forfeiture of their souls. And this is
what Jesus means when he says, whoever would save his life will lose it, for to
gain the whole world is to desire those things that the world offers. Money, wealth,
power, knowledge, security, comfort. To seek acceptance in a world hostile to
the gospel means that you are now willing to give your life over to the
same world, to deny this way of Christ rather than to deny yourself. No, Jesus
says. Instead, we must be ready to suffer. We must expect that we will suffer. But
St. Paul tells us that because we are now righteous, because we have been
justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And
And that word peace, to mean that we now have peace, implies that at one time we were hostile
to God.
We were part of this rebellion.
We were enemies of God.
We were the ungodly.
And yet, even in our state of rebellion, in our state of unbelief, Christ died for us.
The righteous for the unrighteous.
He suffered for us, though we esteemed him not.
Now Paul says here, we’ll barely suffer for somebody we like, much less die for
them. It may be only if we think they deserve it. But in this depth of love
that God has for us, he became man to die for us, to turn away his very
own wrath and save us in our own unworthiness. So through Christ, God has
reconciled us to himself. And this reconciliation, as Paul says, is the peace
that God’s wrath has now put away, and this relationship that we had prior to
the fall has been restored. And this sounds crazy. Paul says that because we
are now in this state of grace, we can rejoice in suffering. And that is, it’s
foolishness to the world. You want me to suffer on purpose for no good reason? No,
Thank you. But earlier I said that Christian suffering looks different than
the suffering of the unbeliever. Our suffering doesn’t mean God is angry with
us. It doesn’t mean he’s embarrassed by something we did. It doesn’t mean that
he’s turned his back on us. It doesn’t mean that he’s refusing to hear us. No, we
are being disciplined in our suffering. I don’t want anybody to think
that this is discipline as in punishment. It’s discipline as in being trained for
something, as in being trained to have a certain kind of outlook or mindset. I
like to think about how an athlete trains their mind and body to overcome
weakness and pain and fatigue to build stamina. I don’t think that you would
just show up to the game or show up to the track meet or whatever one day and
expect that you would win if you hadn’t trained, if you hadn’t put in the time.
And if you’re an athlete, if you’ve been a member of a team or anything like that,
you know that training often means suffering with sweat, pain, and maybe
sometimes even a little blood. But the suffering is part of the discipline. It
is the discipline. And Paul uses similar language here when he says the suffering
produces endurance. So we suffer for the sake of Christ and for our justification
in Him. Luther, and Paul is really, you know, basically paraphrasing what Luther
Luther said that the righteous one, the one who is justified because his life is
spiritual, he has peace with God, but hostility with the world. And so the
unrighteous one, because his life is worldly and carnal, he has peace with the
world, but he has hostility with God. We must remember that since this world is
temporal, that the peace that the unrighteous man has and the suffering
that the righteous man has is temporary, but that the suffering of the unrighteous
and the peace of the righteous will be eternal. Christ suffered for us and now
he calls us to suffer for his sake. The psalmist writes, the Lord tests the
righteous, and for you, O God, have tested us. You have tried us as silver is tried.
And in testing us, God removes from us our trust in everything but him, so that
we look to him alone for our comfort, for our assurance, and of course for our
salvation, so that we will draw nearer to him, and that we will know that he alone
is the one who is in command and charge of our sufferings. And so suffering in
and of itself is not good. It is what comes out of suffering that is good. It
is this hope of the glory of God that Paul writes about. One more Luther quote.
Luther said about this, without trials a person can neither know scripture nor
faith, nor can he fear and love God. If he has never suffered, he cannot understand
what hope is. And hope brings joy, but it is not a joy that comes from within
ourselves because our flesh is weak. It’s a joy that comes only by the work of the
Holy Spirit. This is the only way, the only way that our suffering makes any
kind of sense at all, is that we know that it comes as a gift of faith. But the
world says, no. The world says, I don’t need all that. And sadly, some Christians
say the same. They say, no. They say, no, the Christian doesn’t have to suffer,
mustn’t suffer, doesn’t need to suffer. God doesn’t want that for you, and that
is this dangerous theology of glory that makes us then look away from the cross?
It leads away from the cross. Peter averted his eyes from the cross when he
rebuked Jesus after this confession. He would do it again as we heard two weeks
ago on the Mount of Transfiguration. And of course he denied his own Savior three
times. But Jesus corrected him with love and with this desire to teach Peter
what it meant to be a true disciple. And we have to know that Peter, he finally
got it. He learned this, for he would later write,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you,
as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as
you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his
glory is revealed. So brothers and sisters, what does the Christian have to
say about suffering? Simply that Jesus suffered for us and for our salvation. In
our baptism, our baptism we were buried with him so that our suffering is his
and his is ours. And when we suffer, we have this tendency to want to flee from
God. Sometimes it’s out of embarrassment, as I said before, that we think that we
have let God down or that he’s angry with us or that he’s somehow punishing
us. Sometimes we flee from anger for anger because we’re mad at God, we think
we don’t deserve this suffering that we’re getting, and in fact when suffering
comes upon us we should be doing the very opposite. We should flee for refuge
to his infinite mercy, seeking and imploring his grace. We should turn to him
in prayer, we should jump headfirst into his Word, we should come to receive his
body and blood for the strengthening of our faith and for the forgiveness of our
sins. And so in our times of suffering, we think on the one who suffered all for
us, whose own bitter sufferings and death, even though we were yet sinners, delivered
us from our own sin and from the power of death and the devil. And when we find
ourselves in a time of suffering we look to the cross for strength and know that
Jesus gladly gladly suffered the shame of that cross and of that death so that
we can have eternal life so brothers and sisters you are justified by faith in
Christ because you are justified you’re reconciled to God reconciled and
restored through the vicarious work of Christ and because you are reconciled
You are saved, and you have peace with God.
And may this peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
Jesus our Lord.
Amen.