2nd Sunday in Lent – Vicar Stoppenhagen

Second Sunday in Lent

Text:  Mark 8:27-38

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh

26 February 2021


In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.  Amen. 


Last Sunday, Pastor explained in his sermon that most of Jesus’ preaching was never meant to clear up our confusion and smooth out all the wrinkles in the world.  Instead, his teachings and parables were often vague, convoluted, and perplexing, leaving his disciples frustrated, the religious elite indignant, and the rest of us with our heads spinning.


But this week is different.  Jesus doesn’t teach in parables.  He doesn’t use veiled language.  Today, Jesus speaks his Word plainly. There is no attempt to conceal his true intentions.  He speaks openly, frankly—the word can even be translated, with boldness and confidence.  And compared to when Jesus’s teachings leave us confused, when he speaks plainly is much more terrifying.  Beyond terrifying, it’s enraging and discouraging.  Jesus speaking plainly is not what anyone who follows him wants to hear.


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.”  Nowadays, we don’t give these words a second thought.  Of course, Jesus must suffer, die, and rise again.  But put yourself in the disciples’ shoes.  You have been following this rabbi for about a year and a half.  You’ve slowly learned that he’s not just another prophet.  You watched the Holy Spirit descend on him.  You saw him walk on water, heal countless people, and feed five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish.  He teaches with divine authority.  You and your fellow disciples have been discussing this for a while.  And it’s Peter makes the logical conclusion and confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ!”


You nod your head in agreement.  It makes sense, you think.  He’s got all the characteristics the prophets said the Messiah would have.  You can get on board with Jesus being the Christ.  Besides, life has been pretty good for you!  You’ve become pretty famous as part of Jesus’s inner circle.  Yeah, his teachings are a little confusing, but they’re slowly starting to make sense.  You might be on the road a lot and never see your family, but miraculously, you haven’t been sick or gone hungry in the last year and half.  It’s a pretty cushy gig, being one of Jesus’ disciples—and if he’s truly the Christ, life can only get better!


But suddenly Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, and be killed.”  Hold on!  You didn’t sign on for that!  What about the miracles?  The bread?  The walking on water?  Come on, Jesus!  You can take on the scribes and Pharisees and show ‘em who’s boss.  Let the good times keep rolling!  But Jesus is firm on this teaching.  You and the rest of the disciples start to get a little nervous.  Has he been deceiving us this whole time?  Will all of us have to die, too?    Peter is livid.  He corners Jesus and tries to explain how suffering and death can’t be on the Messiah’s agenda.


So Jesus turns around and gathers all of us disciples and the crowds and rebukes Peter right there in front of everyone.  He makes it crystal clear:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  It seems your fate is sealed.  Most of the crowd that had been following turns around and walks away.  Death, let alone death by crucifixion, is not a price many are willing to pay to follow a powerful preacher and miracle worker.  You can feel your own anger and frustration rising.   You begin to doubt.  Do I really believe what that this man teaches?  Am I willing to give up the fame and suffer and die for him?  And if I do, what will be in it for me?


When Jesus speaks plainly to us, there’s part of us that should feel frustrated and indignant.  Too often we try to smooth over what Jesus says to make it palatable to our modern sensibilities.  We simply ignore the tough and confusing parts of his teaching.  But when Jesus speaks plainly, we must listen and wrestle.  Jesus’ question for all of us today, “Why are you following me?”  Are you following me because it’s fashionable?  Do you stick close to me to better your chances at earthly success?  Are you my disciple because everyone else is?”  And Jesus words are plain:  “If you are, then you’re following for the wrong reason.  My kingdom is not of this world.  In fact, I and my people will suffer in this world—and if you’re going to follow me, you must grapple with this truth.”


Our old sinful nature wants us to get the best of both worlds when it comes to Jesus.  We want a comfortable Christianity that lets us cling to Jesus while also attempting to gain the whole world.  We want to have our minds set on both the things of God and the things of man.  We want to save our life without losing it—even if we’re losing it to Jesus.  We want to continue in sin, so that grace may abound.  But we can’t have it both ways, Jesus says.  It’s either him, or the world.


But to choose the way of Jesus over the way of the world isn’t like flipping a switch.  We don’t just choose to do as Jesus does.  The Old Adam in each of us still strives against the will of Christ.  And we grapple with this tension for our entire earthly lives.  There will be times when the call of the world draws our hearts more powerfully.  But in those moments, we must speak plainly to ourselves and to one another:  This world is passing away, but Christ’s kingdom stands forever.  The world offers only death—to the body and the soul.  So we conform ourselves to the ways of his kingdom, because in his kingdom is eternal life.


This battle in each of us is tough and angering and frustrating.  But ultimately to lose our soul to Christ far exceeds losing it to the world.  And Jesus speaks plainly about what is ours to gain:  The Son of Man must suffer and die, yes; but “after three days rise again.”  The hope of the resurrection is why we can willingly deny ourselves and submit to Christ.  His suffering is our suffering.  His death is our death.  But his glorious resurrection is our glorious resurrection.  In light of that promise, the things of this world look empty and meaningless.  The pleasure of worldly fame and fortune will never completely satisfy.  But the promise of new and eternal life beyond suffering and the grave never loses substance.  It always brings peace and comfort.


In fact, our hope in that resurrection is strengthened by our suffering, says Paul.  “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…”  Our present sufferings and battles with the things of this world are re-forming us for the glory to come.  And we can rejoice in that fact.  Jesus speaking plainly about our sinful desires, the ways of the world, and the necessary sacrifice is indeed terrifying.  But in the midst of suffering, we can be joyful, knowing that the love of God has been poured into our hearts.  And that love sustains us until the we see him in glory face-to-face.

About Vicar Ethan Stoppenhagen

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