Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, 2014 (Proper 17, Year A)
Text: Matthew 16:13-19
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and from Jesus Christ our Lord.
"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." This is the Gospel of our Lord.
That Christ should suffer and die at the hands of sinful men and be raised on the third day is not just the heart of the Gospel it IS the Gospel. That is why Paul told the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That is why Luther could say, “The cross alone is our theology.” But to this proclamation of the Gospel by Jesus Peter responds not with a “Glory to You, O Lord.” Or a “Praise to You, O Christ.” But what the ESV translates as “Far be it from you, Lord;” is literally a “Mercy to you, O Lord.”
Peter only moments ago had boldly confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Now he prays for mercy for Jesus. When we hear of someone’s death it is often much easier for us to bear if the individual was old or had been sick for a long time. When an individual in the prime of their life drops dead out of nowhere, the shock and the grief is much greater. So one can understand where Peter is coming from. For in Christ we behold not just a healthy 30 year old, but the eternal Son of the living God. If it is a shock for a typical young man to die, how much more so the Son of God.
But Jesus’ passion prediction centers on one little word, three letters in Greek. Dei. It is a word that is usually translated as, “It is necessary,” but in our text this morning it is comprehended in the word “must.” Jesus must go to Jerusalem and suffer. Peter, you are not asking the right question. That Jesus goes to Jerusalem to suffer and die may shock you, but really the heart of what Jesus says and does is encapsulated in that word dei. You must ask why Jesus goes to suffer and die and rise again, Peter. Because it is because of you. It is because you have in mind the thing of men rather than the things of God. It is because you want to be the greatest, because you are bold in your speech, yet deny Jesus when put to the test. Your faith falters, your trust wavers, you Peter are a sinner, and that is why it is necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
We miss the point of Jesus’ Word just as badly as Peter when we ignore the need, when we forget why the cross is necessary; why Jesus must go to Jerusalem. Jesus must go because you cannot. No once you have chosen to have things you way and not God’s way, once you have set you mind on the things of man and not the things of God you are unable to earn what Christ by His death and resurrection has earned. You cannot return to God once you have forsaken Him. That is why Jesus must go to the cross.
Jesus must be the one to go to the cross because Adam fell, because Eve saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pleasing to the sight and desirable for gaining wisdom and she took some of it and ate it. Jesus must go to the cross, because when God looks down at His creation He sees that the wickedness of man is great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually. Your sin, your evil heart, your hatred of your neighbor, your covetousness and envy that wants things your way, your unwillingness to listen to the Word of God, your tendency to waste your time and squander your wealth, your unfaithfulness to the wife of your youth, your desire to tell God how He must act—to require of you Maker that He be the God you desire rather than that you be the person your Maker desires; this is what makes Jesus passion necessary. If you went to Jerusalem and suffered many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and were killed, nothing would happen. Even if you were raised on the third day it would only be to die again, because you are a sinner.
And that is why it is necessary for Jesus to be the One who goes to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed and raised again. Because His death is not the death of a sinner, but the death of sin itself.
Peter desires to see God’s unbridled glory. And our Lord will graciously permit him to be one of the three who sees the Son of Man coming in glory when He takes him up the mount of the transfiguration. But that glory is then hidden. That glory is not the glory to which Peter will point people for the rest of his life after our Lord’s Words are fulfilled. The glory of God is made known at the cross. There the Kingdom of God comes.
The world wants to see God’s shining face, but when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God hid him in the cleft of the rock and made His glory pass him by as the Lord covered Moses with His hand, and then when the Lord had passed Moses by He removed His hand so that Moses saw His back.
Now Jesus tells Peter the same thing. If you look at my face you will die. If you stand infront of me, you will be consumed by my glory, because if you stand infront of me to prevent my suffering and dying then you will remain in your sin and my glory will destroy you, just as it would have destroyed Moses if he had looked upon God’s face.
No Peter must get behind Jesus. And You must pick up your cross and follow Jesus, always standing behind Him, always looking not into the face of God but at His back, not at His glory, but at His suffering, not at His throne in heaven, but His cross on earth.
To the World, this cross is foolishness, but to the people of God, this cross alone is our theology. Whatever one would say about God apart from the cross is an attempt to make God in our own image, to tell God how He must act or to speculate about how He might be. The cross however is what God has revealed Himself to be. The cross reveals not God’s might, or wisdom, or eternity, instead it reveals meekness, His love, His mercy. For at the cross it is revealed that God found it necessary, to send His Son, that Jesus had to suffer and die, because Your Lord would rather die than lose you forever.
But still God reveals Himself through the lowly, the despised, the rejected. He gives the simple Word proclaimed to you that Christ has shed His blood to redeem you of all your sin. How many people need to hear this message, but how few come to hear it. The multitudes scoff, God’s word is mocked and ridiculed, yet still God proclaims His love to us not in a message written in the heavens, but in words on a page that speak of a Baby laid in a manger, a Carpenter with no place to lay His head, a teach forsaken by His pupils, rejected by His people and executed on a cross.
Barely enough water to quench your thirst combined with this Word washes your sins away, not because of the energy of Niagara Falls, or the depth of the ocean, but because of Christ’s promise, “Whoever believes and is Baptized will be saved.” Yet who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Even many who claim to belong to Jesus will not believe His promise that baptism now saves you because they insist that God does not do such great things in such a simple way.
Perhaps your own mind thinks the same. Perhaps you have your mind set on the things of man rather than on the things of God. You want God to act in big and impressive ways. But Jesus says to you, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Jesus calls you to die. Die to your understanding of the world. Die to your insistence that God act in the manner in which you expect God to act. Die to the expectation that God glorify Jesus before you and the world and remove all suffering from His people. Be crucified with Christ, return to Your baptism through repentance and drown the Old Adam , that rejects God’s Word and wants to decide for himself what is good and what is evil.
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. So listen to Him, take heed to His Word and when you hear the Gospel proclaimed that the Son of Man must suffer and die, when you hear of Christ’s promise to work through the lowly and despised things of earth, do not reply, “May it not be,” but rejoice. Shout out “Praise to You, O Lord.” For the Lord did not receive mercy in order to show you mercy. And in His body and blood given and shed for You he continues to build His kingdom. Truly, I say to you, [if the Lord should tarry until we finish this service] there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
The peace of the Lord be with you always.