In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If Jesus had had a better campaign manager, maybe He wouldn’t have said things like this: “the one who comes to Me and does not hate his mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, is not able to be My disciple.” Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not renounce, reject, leave everything behind, is not able to be My disciple. If Jesus had had a better campaign manager, that person would have looked at the large crowds accompanying Jesus as He goes, and would have coached Him on what to say and what not to say; would have formed and shaped and molded His public image, so that He didn’t alienate anyone, so that He could appeal to the broadest base possible, so that these large crowds would continue to support Him all the way to the end. Now maybe there are some politicians who can say things that everyone tells them not to say, and still draw large crowds. But not Jesus. When He finally gets to where He is going, to Jerusalem, where He has been going explicitly in the Gospel of Luke since 9:51; when He finally finishes His race, there are no more large crowds—except those shouting “crucify Him.” Even His own team has left Him. There is no one to vote for Him, no one to support Him or speak up for Him. He dies alone, crucified in the company of common criminals. If Jesus had had a better campaign manager, maybe none of this would have happened.
Or maybe Jesus didn’t come to get elected. Maybe He didn’t come to compromise, to pivot, to engage the electorate. Maybe He didn’t come to walk down the middle of the road so that He could gather supporters from both sides of the aisle. Maybe He didn’t come to appeal to the masses, because to appeal to the masses is to appeal to people who cannot hear Him. He says, “The one who has ears, let him hear.” But who has ears? How do you get ears to hear Jesus?
Now sometimes we can hear Jesus. We listen to Jesus very readily if He gives us some good advice, a common-sense approach to our problems; we can appreciate Jesus if He helps us do the things we were going to do anyway. We like it when He gives us principles for living; when He tells us things that we already know, and when He says things that fit in with the ways we already think. Then we applaud Him and maybe put a bumper sticker on our cars, or a sign in our yards, or wear a t-shirt with His name on it.
But we should realize that that way of listening to Jesus is no different from the unbelieving world. Every unbeliever can tolerate a Jesus who says things that seem to fit with what they already think. Talk about love and tolerance and words that seem to hit back at the powers-that-be, which we already don’t like, the world has no problem at all with that Jesus. It’s like a little salt: a little salt improves food and brings out the flavor. A little salt is good. But too much salt, and your food is ruined. So the world can handle a little religious salt, even now. The world is perfectly happy if the Church is all about making Christians nicer and less certain about the things that the Scriptures say. But what the world and our sinful flesh cannot handle is when Jesus stops giving us pearls of wisdom, of good, common-sense advice, and starts talking about death and denial, and hating the people whose relationships mean the most to us. That’s going too far; that’s too much salt, and we find we’ve lost our religious appetites.
But Jesus knows that it’s no good encouraging and propping up Adam, who has a death grip on our flesh. Because Adam is dying, and there’s no way around it. The Adam in you and the Adam in me, the Adam who resides in every person since Cain, made in his own image, refuses to go quietly into that good night. No matter what, he refuses to die; he refuses to stay in the ground where he belongs. He’s a stubborn son of a…devil. Adam cannot and will not hear Jesus when He talks about dying. Because the only thing Adam wants is to go on living the way he sees fit: enjoying life, enjoying his family, enjoying the things he has gathered and hoarded as if they are life itself. Adam cannot comprehend Jesus when He says that He must die. He cannot understand Jesus’ words about denying and hating and leaving everything behind. In short, the Adam who is an inveterate and irreformable sinner, is not able to be Jesus’ disciple.
So Jesus has to take things—to take Adam—into His own hands. He takes Adam and nails him to the cross in Jesus’ own flesh and blood. Jesus takes Adam and pins him to the cross until he’s dead, and then he buries him with Jesus in His own grave. But that means all sorts of problems for those who can’t quite get rid of Adam themselves. Because it’s Jesus who sits down and calculates the cost of building His Church. Will He be able to complete what He started? The sign over Jesus’ head says, “King of the Jews,” and this King sits down and asks whether He alone, in human flesh, can go out to meet all the armies of death and hell, and come out victorious. And what does Jesus say? Those who see him will mock him and say, “This fellow started to build, but he wasn’t able to finish.” And so it goes: the soldiers, the spectators, the criminals, and the leaders of Israel all mock Jesus in His death. This Man was not able to finish what He started. He claimed to save others; He can’t even save Himself! He calls Himself a King? He lost the battle. He’s supposed to be the Messiah and the Son of God?
But Jesus knows that you can’t coddle death. You can’t reform sinners. You can’t keep Adam on life-support. You’ve got to kill death itself, and bring the sinful flesh to an end. So Jesus does it in His own body, in His own death, and then He kicks Adam in the head and leaves Him in the ground on the third day. Dying is the only way to get there, and resurrection is the only victory, and Jesus is the only life there is. That’s why He talks this way. Because when you stack up anything against Jesus, who is Life, that thing, or person, or job, or property, becomes death in comparison. Finally, there are only two categories: Jesus and everything else, which is death. So if you try to hold on to the the things or people according to this creation, you will not only lose them, you’ll lose yourself. The old Adam is like Woody Allen, “I’d rather be immortal by not dying.” Unfortunately, dying forever is no way to live, so Jesus has to kill you before you can live. And only when every last trace of your flesh is dead, including the parts that cling to even the best of this creation—that is, when you’re dead—then real life can be had.
In the life of Christ, water is thicker than blood. Blood can be shed. Blood can, and will, grow cold in death. Blood carries the disease of sin, and dying genes. But baptismal water carries Jesus’ own death and resurrection. So anyone who’s connected only by blood will be separated from each other. But if it’s baptismal water that connects you, then nothing can separate each of you from Christ, and since you’re all connected to Christ, then nothing can separate you from each other. Only in Christ will you keep your family. Only in Christ will this creation be cleansed and restored. Only in Christ is there life. The cross, without a doubt, ends in death. But the cross of Jesus, which marks you as one redeemed by Him, means resurrection. That’s what Jesus began when He began to build His Church, and when He went to war. And Jesus always finishes what He starts.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/2/16