As Goes the Christ, So Goes the Christian

Audio here.

Video of the Divine Service here.

Bulletin here.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What kind of follower you will be depends on what kind of Christ you follow. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, but when he finds out what kind of Christ Jesus is, he rebukes Jesus. He tells Him to stop talking that way. That can’t happen to the Christ, that He should suffer and die. But Jesus looks at His disciples, and then He must rebuke Peter. He tells Peter to stop talking that way. He says, you’re acting like the Satan who was tempting Me in the wilderness, trying to get Me to be a different kind of Christ.

We know from the other Gospels that Satan tried to get Jesus to be the sort of Christ who put God to the test, to see if He would really keep His promises; the sort of Christ who would act on His own behalf, independently of the Father—as if the Father might not provide His daily bread; the sort of Christ who gains the whole world but forfeits His life.

And now Peter is trying to do the same thing: get Jesus to be the sort of Christ who is not rejected, doesn’t suffer, doesn’t die—and doesn’t rise from the dead. But it is necessary—divinely necessary, according to Jesus—for Him to be this kind of Christ: the rejected, suffering, dying, rising kind. It is no coincidence that those who don’t believe that rejection, suffering, and dying are necessary to who Jesus is are the same people who don’t think suffering belongs to the Christian life. What kind of Christ you have determines what kind of Christian you are.

But, of course, if you don’t have the rejected, suffering, dying Christ, then you don’t have the Jesus who actually lived and died. And you don’t have the Jesus who is risen from the dead. And then your Jesus, your Christ, is worthless. He can’t save you any more than any other pretty good man or woman can save you. What kind of Christian you are depends on what kind of Christ you have.

Jesus says that those who follow after Him will also have a cross. It will not be the same as Jesus’ cross. His cross is unique. There is no one but the Son of God in flesh who can give to God the price of the whole world and ransom every person from sin and death. No one else can die that sort of death on that sort of cross. Jesus is the only one who has the vocation of Savior.

But your cross, too, is unique, depending on your vocation. The cross that belongs to being a father or a mother is different from the cross that belongs to those who do not have children. The cross that belongs to being a pastor is different from the cross that belongs to those who are not children. Your cross and mine are different, but they all end up in the same place. Because though our vocations are many and unique, the crosses are tied to Jesus’ cross. We have one Jesus, and it’s the Jesus who is rejected, suffers, dies, and rises.

The question isn’t what sort of cross we have, but what sort of death we die. Will we die the death in that belongs to us? In that case, Jesus says, you can gather and gain and get all you want, even up to the whole world, and it will be worth nothing in the end. What good is it, what profit will it be for you, if you get everything, but then you die? Death means the end of all of that. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be. And if your heart is in this creation, in this age, in this adulterous and sinful generation, then it will die along with this generation and age and creation. We all have a death that is ours, because we all have sin that is ours.

But Jesus, by His cross and burial, and by the baptism He gives us, has a different kind of death for us to die: His own. His unique cross and death become ours in baptism, as we are marked by His Name, His cross, His death and grave. And if you die Jesus’ death, then there’s nowhere you can end up but in His resurrection. If you have the rejected, suffering, dying, rising Christ, then that is the sort of Christian you will be. And that Christian cannot and will not ever be ashamed of Jesus’ words and gifts, because the rejected, suffering, dying Christian knows that only in those words and gifts are life. Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. And that is a life that goes beyond the cross and death, into eternity. If you die your death, there is only death. But if you die Jesus’ death, then it is necessary that you rise from the dead as well.

Jesus says here that if anyone is ashamed of His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, then He will be ashamed of that person when He comes in the glory of His Father with all His angels. Elsewhere, He adds the positive: if anyone confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. Peter actually does both here: he confesses Jesus to be the Christ. But then he is ashamed of Jesus’ words by rebuking Jesus for being the Christ He is. What happens to Peter? Well, Jesus says to Him, “Go behind Me. Follow Me.” And after the resurrection, after the Spirit is given, Peter is no longer ashamed of Jesus as this rejected, suffering, dying, and rising Christ. That is, in fact, the only Christ whom Peter preaches. And Peter bears that cross to his literal death on a cross like Christ’s. So on the day Jesus appears, He will not be ashamed of Peter, because Peter was not ashamed of Him.

We are not ashamed of this rejected, suffering, dying, rising Christ, because we know that He is life itself. And our true life is hidden behind the cross with Christ in heaven. And when Christ, who is our life, appears, then we shall be appear with Him in glory. No one can touch or harm or destroy our life, even if we die here, because our life is Christ, and He cannot die any more. When He appears, He will not be ashamed of you, because He knows His own. He knows those who bear His cross, baptized into His crucifixion and buried with Him. He knows those who will be raised to life with Him. He will never be ashamed of those who belong to Him, His holy ones.

So He continues to shape and conform us, through Lent and the whole church year, by the Word and Gifts He has given. We bear the crosses that we have as Christians in our particular, unique places. But we know where that cross ends, because we know where Christ’s ended: in an empty grave, and the glory of eternal life.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/23/18

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