"Christ Without A Cross is Satanic"  (Mark 8:31-38)

                                                                           The Second Sunday in Lent  (February 28, 2021)

Quite a few years back, I was discussing with my Junior Confirmation class the meaning of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Deliver us from evil.  In an attempt to introduce the lesson, I asked the class to define evil. After several answers giving specific examples of evil; like murder, breaking the commandments, and even one person simply saying, “Osama Bin Laden” one of the girls responded, “Evil is anything that opposes God!”  Wow!  I could have hugged her!  What a budding theologian!

One name for the evil one is Satan, from the Hebrew for adversary. From the very beginning Satan was busy opposing God.  This ancient enemy of God and Man has deceived himself into thinking that he knows better than God.  With his sly, slanderous, and lying tongue, he has also managed to dupe our whole human race into thinking that we, too, know more than God.  Accordingly, we can rightly say that every one of our thoughts, desires, and actions that oppose God, His Word and His will, is indeed evil; that is, satanic!

Where God receives the most opposition, whether that be from Satan, our world, or even our own sinful flesh, is with His plan of saving sinners. Chiefly God’s enemies are zeroed in on that place where our salvation is achieved; the cross of Jesus. 

So we see in our text.  Yet, it all began so innocuously.  Just prior to the occasion of our text, Peter had given a glowing confession of Jesus.  When asked by Jesus who His disciples believed Him to be, Peter boldly said, “ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Sounds impressive doesn’t it!  But as we shall see, Peter’s concept of what it meant for Jesus to be The Christ was totally contrary to the truth!

Mark notes that at this juncture in His earthly ministry, Jesus started teaching his disciples quite straightforwardly all about His true mission as the Christ.  Instead of talk about how He would make things better for the people of Israel by defeating their dreaded rulers, the Romans, Jesus told them that it was necessary for Him to suffer.   Instead of receiving a royal reception in Jerusalem by the ruling authorities of the Jews, Jesus said He would be rejected by them. Instead of victory, He spoke of being killed

Such talk of suffering and death all proved too much for the poor, glory-minded, Peter!  He couldn't bear to hear His Christ talk like this.  Nothing Jesus said squared with Peter's image of the Christ nor his own vision of Israel’s salvation.   Jesus was talking like a crazy man!  From Peter’s point of view, a bruised, battered, and dead Savior was of no help to anyone!   There was no time to waste.  Peter felt passionately that he had to set Jesus straight before it was too late! 

Mark states that Peter then rebuked Jesus.  This word rebuked is the same word Mark used to describe Jesus' charge, or command, to the demons to come out of their victims, as well as His command to the wind and waves to be quiet.  In other words, Peter didn't just make a suggestion to Jesus or simply counsel Him to think more positively about His mission.  Peter scolded Jesus…chewed Him out

Bold and impetuous Peter had certainly gone over the top this time!  He scolded the Son of God!  He was so convinced that he was right and Jesus was wrong, that he had no qualms telling God that He was not in His right mind!  Jesus immediately responded with some scolding of His own! Jesus said to His great confessor:  "Get behind me Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 

Jesus was not afraid to call a spade a spade.  Peter's logic was purely and completely satanic. He was not thinking the things of God but the things of men.  It is Satan and the world who think that might is right and weakness is for losers. It is sin weakened men that avoid the cross. 

God, on the other hand, rejoices in His love for sinners to endure the cross for them.  It is men that prefer a Theology of Glory.  God teaches a Theology of the Cross; a suffering that brings glory.

Putting the best construction on Peter’s response, I’m sure he had meant well. He did not want Jesus to have to undergo such suffering and death.  In fact, Matthew records Peter saying to Jesus, “May God be gracious to you, Lord! This surely shall not be!” (16:22)  But as is often said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!  By Jesus’ own assessment, Peter’s logic was satanic; that is, evil, placing Peter in direct opposition to God!

No doubt some today, who seek to purge the Gospel of its offensive bloodiness, also think they are doing their listeners a favor and even protecting God’s honor and image.  After all, who wants to portray to our world a suffering and bloody God!  Wouldn’t it be better to project an image of God being in control and powerfully vanquishing His enemies than some victim of injustice Himself!  When Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ first came out almost two decades ago now, it created a firestorm of protest.  “It’s just too graphic! There’s too much blood and gore,” many insisted. Never mind that Hollywood puts films out by the dozens that depict the harsh realities of war, heads being sliced off by swords, people being blown apart by bomb blasts or people being eaten alive by monsters.  But to show an actual portrayal of the gruesome torture Jesus’ received, that’s too gory?  So, how do you tone down a true crucifixion anyway?  It was one of the most tortuous and bloody means of execution anyone has ever devised!

What do you think?  Does Jesus' suffering and cross prove too much for you and me, as well? We live in a time when many are searching for the real Jesus.  That means they don't accept the one presented in the Bible. They are not looking for a Jesus who sacrifices Himself for sinners.  They want a sanitized Jesus…  One that is more politically correct… One who accepts their lifestyle choices… One who is “woke”!

The central problem with this toned down version of the Christ is that it doesn’t force anyone to have to deal with the truth:  the truth that all of us have sin that needs to be atoned for and the truth that there is no forgiveness for us without the shedding of blood.   

If Jesus is not allowed to shed His blood in our place, then we better be prepared to receive the full, eternal,  punishment ourselves for our own sin.  After all, God has always made clear through His Word, “There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood,” (Lev. 17:11, Hebrews 9:22).  And, as the apostle Paul implies in our Epistle Reading this morning, there is only one blood with the quality necessary to atone for the sin of all of humanity; the blood of the God/Man Jesus Christ.  He is the sacrifice of the godly for the ungodly… the righteous for the unrighteous (Ro. 5:6,7).  He is the perfect sacrificial Lamb.  God’s portrait of the Savior is not that of a conquering General on a white stead, nor a handsome man wearing love beads.  Quite the contrary, it is the portrait of a suffering servant; despised and forsaken of men...a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... smitten of God ...pierced and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:1-5). 

God’s greatest glory is that He sheds innocent blood in place of the guilty sinner.  The message of God’s forgiveness has always been a proclamation of the blood of the sacrifice.  Look at the Old Covenant sacrificial system.  Thousands upon thousands of lambs and bullocks were yearly slaughtered and their carcasses turned to cinders and ashes on the altar of the Lord. Imagine being in the temple on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest, taking of the blood of the sacrifice, would go in to the most Holy Place and sprinkle the blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and then come out and sprinkle the blood on the worshipers!  There is no way to sanitize that or make it an exciting and upbeat worship service like so many think they need today!  The forgiveness of sins is a costly and bloody business.  All those animal sacrifices kept the worshippers pointed to the sacrificial blood of the very Lamb of God Himself, who would atone for the whole world. 

The enemy... the adversary... Satan is always seeking to rob God of His truest glory, as well as, sinners of their salvation. He wants to empty the cross of the Son of God of its glory.  Even up to the very last minute, Satan, through the crowd of jeerers under Jesus’ cross, was still taunting Jesus to avoid the cross by coming down off of the cross and showing people His divine power.  Had Jesus done so, we would all have been lost.  To forbid Jesus of His cross... to forbid the necessity of Jesus’ rejection, His passion, His death, and His resurrection from the dead is satanic.

This means that what is popular in the world is always going to be contrary to God, and therefore evil.  The things of weak minded and sinful men are not the things of a just and righteous God.  The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (2:14).  If we find ourselves a friend of the world, we are an enemy of God, just like the prince of this world is an enemy of God.

What if I, as a preacher, were to fill this church, through the preaching of a sanitized gospel; that is, I never mentioned the blood... I refrained from preaching the cross... I failed to mention the need for repentance ...I spoke of God’s love without His great sacrifice for us... I built up my hearers self-image with positive words or words of possibility thinking?   Oh, they might love me, but my preaching would be satanic, giving people false hopes, and causing them to lose their very souls.  I would be preaching out of shame of the real Jesus. And as Jesus says here, The Son of Man will be ashamed of (me) when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

What our world needs is not woke politics or a sanitized and easy to swallow Gospel but rather the bold proclamation of the bloody truth: The only Savior of the world is the bloody, battered, God of the cross.  It’s a given that to believe this bloody message and to proclaim it, will bring opposition from God’s enemies.  But it is also the only message that saves! In the blood of the real Christ sinners will find their salvation.

But there is another cross when it comes to following the real Christ. You might be surprised but Jesus' first use of the word cross in the Gospel of Mark is not in reference to His own, but in reference to the scorn, shame, pain, and trouble that will accompany His followers.   Jesus said, "Whoever desires to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me."

Believe me, Jesus' first century disciples had a most vivid image of the suffering of the cross.   They regularly witnessed their Roman captors use of the cross to execute political enemies of the state.  In fact, Josephus in his Antiquities (17:10:10) relates how in 2 B.C. the Roman governor Varus crucified 2000 Jews in quelling a revolt. Imagine seeing a whole field of bloody corpses impaled to crosses rotting in the noon day sun!

With that image Jesus is assuring those who seek to follow Him that there is no escape from, nor any avoiding of the cross; not His cross nor one of their own.  The cross of suffering comes with the territory.  And that cross is about sacrifice and death. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor jailed by the Nazis, once wrote:  "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."  Boy, how's that for an evangelism slogan to share with your neighbor!  But it is the truth!  Jesus calls upon His followers to die to worldly passions through repentance and faith in Him and His sacrifice.  He bids those who follow Him to "crucify" all their selfish desires by putting God's will above their own and by serving the needs of others before their own.   He bids all sinners to submit in faith to His sacrifice to atone for their sins. 

Unfortunately, we often want our “religion” to be simple and our life of discipleship to be hassle free.  We get pretty put out with God when He allows some disease or trouble to come into our lives.  We want our worship services as comfortable and as fun as possible.  That means: no sermons that make us squirm in our guilt ... no hymns that take special effort to sing ... no services that last over an hour.   And, of course, services that are held at the most convenient time for our busy schedules. 

We also tend to want the freedom and ease to turn off our Christianity at times so we can better "fit in" with the world around us.  We want to know the wonderful truth about Christ, but with the convenience of never having to boldly articulate it to others, because they might reject us... or mock us. 

The cross of the disciple is Christ’s way. To oppose it is to oppose God. There can be no glory without suffering. Jesus’ greatest glory is His cross born for us.  Only in our own crosses born for His sake do we as His disciples truly share in His glory. (Ro. 8:17)

Jesus' cross also sanctifies the cross of His followers.  When we suffer for sake of following Jesus, it's not just that we know that we are in good company.  Jesus’ cross assures us that our cross is not punishment but rather is a means of sharing in His suffering that we might also share in His glory.  We can shoulder our cross by looking at the cross He bore for us. As Peter himself would write: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you" (I Pet. 4:12-14).

A story which I never tire of telling concerns Alexander the Great. In his great conquest of much of the civilized world of the 4th century, he led his army through a desert in Persia.  It was an arduous campaign. At one point his troops suffered greatly from lack of water.  Some managed to find a little water and proudly presented it to him in a helmet.  But seeing how his warriors gazed longingly at the refreshing drink, he refused it with the remark, "If I alone drink this, my men would lose heart!" With that, they let out a shout and gladly continued to follow their thirsty king.

We follow the One who thirsted for us… was tortured for us… was bloodied for us.  When we take up our cross and follow Him in repentant, confident, faith, we are not only rejecting what is satanic but we are following our Leader to true and eternal glory! 

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