Pentecost 12, Proper 17a, (August 31, 2014)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “The Suffering of Jesus”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter sixteen.
Peter is at it again. It is right after his great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” For one, shining moment, it seemed as though he got it. Peter is the rock! Peter is the Man!
Then Jesus tells him the rest of the story.
Betrayal, suffering, death and THEN resurrection? I don’t think so! “May it never happen to you,” Peter declares. And in one fell swoop, Simon Peter demonstrates that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what is going on with all this talk of suffering and death. HE doesn’t understand the relationship between Jesus the Messiah and Jesus the Suffering Servant.
Neither do you. Christians shouldn’t suffer, or so the worldly church would tell you. Christians should be positive and upbeat! Christians should never fear death or hurt in any way.
Tell that to the 100,000 Christians who have lost their homes in Iraq and Syria this year. Tell it to the widows and orphans of those who have been murdered by a religion of “convert to Allah or die.”
Suffering for the Christian faith isn’t an option; it is a gift. A gift, you say? How can suffering be considered a gift? Peter learned this, eventually. He wrote of it in his First Epistle:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV)
let’s be honest here. Most of us have never suffered for being a Christian. Not like Jesus and Peter are talking about. Oh we suffer. We suffer for being human. We suffer because we are broken and frail and we suffer because of our sin, and the sins of others. We are more like the thief on the cross than we are the modern day martyrs:
“But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:40–43 ESV)
Here’s the thing which Peter forgot and we forget ever day. Anything that gets between you and Jesus’ death and resurrection, anything, is from Satan. Or is being used by Satan, if you prefer. What suffering does is strips away all of the bravado and false piety, all of the stuff that would get in the way of eternal life in His name. St. Peter tells us to rejoice when such opportunities present.
So what does this all mean for you and me as Western Christians at the dawn of the 21st Century?
The answer is simple: repent. Repent of the notion than you are better than Peter. You’re not. You are as guilty as he was of wanting a different Jesus. Repent of your self-righteousness and your desire to have a sanitized and safe Jesus. Repent of thinking that the suffering, real suffering of Christians around the world couldn’t happen to you, or that you are somehow above their sorrows.
Peter wept bitter tears at his own betrayal of our Lord. And you know what? God restored him. He lifted Peter up, fed him and gave Peter a place at the table with the Twelve. He didn’t deserve it. But God is about mercy, not keeping score.
And so it is for you. Our Lord did not shy away from the cross. He did it for you. He still does. His wounds still plead before God on your behalf. And now he bids you to follow him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once ssaid,
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
But remember that to die with Jesus means you are raised with Jesus. Remember Romans Six?
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2–4 ESV)
Death and resurrection. That is your life under the cross. And while it may not always appear so today, one day, beloved, one day you will shine like stars, and God will give to you the thrones of the Kingdom, and you will be lifted up and honored far above your station, and mine. One day, by God’s grace, it will happen.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.