“Two Attitudes toward the Cross”
(Mark 8:31-38 – Lent 2 – February 25, 2018)
Mark 8:31-38 – And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
After the recent school shooting in Florida, a sheriff deputy is accused of acting in a cowardly way. Apparently, as the shooting went on inside the school building ending with 17 dead, the armed deputy took cover outside for 4 minutes, failing to enter and confront the killer.
Our natural response is to shake our heads in disgust. What society in history has ever honored cowardice and failure to do one’s duty? We should shake our heads in disgust when we hear of an act of selfish self-preservation instead of loving self-sacrifice. It is intolerable.
We can be thankful for the many who do respond to the call of duty, who rush to protect our citizens and our freedom – from law enforcement officials, to firefighters, to soldiers… In such lines of work, there is a cost to be counted. There is no place for cowardly self-preservation, but duty requires some measure of self-denial. It ranges from willingness to forgo personal comfort and safety, to being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, as many have done.
This is true to some extent in any vocation, or godly calling. It requires a certain amount of self-denial. In the vocation of motherhood, a woman is called to love the child in her womb, to be willing to deny herself comforts and even risk her own safety in childbirth. In the vocation of marriage, one is called to love his or her spouse, to be willing to deny one’s own interests for the good of the other. In the vocation of neighbor, we are called to love the person God puts next to us in life, even if that person is an enemy, as in Jesus’ account of the Good Samaritan. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, there is no place for cowardly and selfish self-preservation. It could be devastating to that unborn child, that deserted spouse, or any neighbor in need, if we “pass by on the other side” of the road (Luke 10:31-32) in selfish self-preservation.
In our text, Jesus speaks of a calling on a different level, the call to be His disciple. But it is not just one more vocation in life, one more hat we may wear among many, or one more subset of a busy week that we can relegate to Sunday mornings or whenever we feel like it. This calling defines our whole life. Jesus tells us there is a cost to be counted: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” There is no place for selfish self-preservation here; it would be eternally devastating to our soul.
Today, let us consider the “Two Attitudes toward the Cross”: 1) The attitude of self-preservation that leads to death, and 2) The attitude of self-denial that leads to life.
1) The attitude of self-preservation that leads to death
As Jesus tells His disciples about going to the cross, we see the attitude of self-preservation coming out in their response. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’ “
Jesus recognized in Peter’s words a temptation of Satan. Early in Jesus’ ministry, when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, the basic temptation was the same: to forsake His Father’s call to duty, to abandon the way of the cross and choose the way of self-preservation. Satan promised Jesus an earthly kingdom of glory the easy way. However, any temptation to seek a kingdom and salvation apart from the cross of Christ is from Satan. So here again, Jesus rebukes Satan and commands him to leave. It was also in loving protection of His disciples.
When Peter rebuked Jesus, it was not just about Jesus’ safety. Jesus knew it was more about Peter’s own self-preservation. Peter was mindful of the things of men rather than the things of God. Like many, Peter wanted an earthly Messiah, who would bring political power and peace. He was more concerned about gaining a worldly kingdom than a heavenly kingdom of glory. He was more concerned about friendship with the world than faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching – particularly about the cross. Peter realized that if Jesus were rejected by men, he would be also. If Jesus lost His life for the sake of the truth He taught, Peter might also. So Peter took offense at Jesus’ cross, its shame, and its potential suffering in his life.
It was this repulsion at the cross that later led to Peter’s downfall. On a good day, Peter had boldly vowed to Jesus: “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” In fact, we read that all the disciples had said the same thing (Matthew 26:35). Yet how quickly, when the cost had to be counted, they all demonstrated that they would rather preserve their life than lose it for Jesus’ sake. When He was arrested at Gethsemane, they all fled. To a man, they all became cowards and forsook their Lord rather than face the cross with Him (Matthew 26:56). During Jesus’ trial in the courtyard of the high priest, people began to identify Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples; and three times, he denied having anything to do with the man (Matthew 26:69-75).
What about you and me? If it came right down to it, despite our bold vows to be faithful, if our faith were put on trial would we be willing to lose our life for Jesus’ sake? If a gunman entered the church and threatened to kill anyone who confessed Christ (as happened at a college in Oregon two years ago), would we be willing to stand up for Jesus?
We need not wait until such an unlikely trial; every day our lives answer this question. Our attitude of self-preservation shows as we seek to save our lives by putting worldly gain before Christ and His Word. We are tempted to think: “My soul cannot be content unless I have sufficient life savings, or I have accomplished such and such.” Knowing our daily temptation, Jesus warns: “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Our attitude of self-preservation shows when we put friendship of the world before Christ. We are tempted to think: “I need these friends to be happy; I need to fit in with the world and its changing ideas. If I confess Christ and His unchanging Word, I will sound foolish and be shunned.” But again Jesus warns: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Not only does our attitude of self-preservation show in our in relationship to the Lord; it shows daily in our relationships with other people. We seek to save our life by putting others down to lift ourselves up. We seek to save our life by wanting to be served rather laying down our life in love. Thus we sin against our vocations in the home, in society, and in the church.
At bottom level, the self-preserving attitude is rooted in sinful pride and self-righteousness. We want to save our life by overlooking our faults, building up a holy image in our own eyes. We think: “I am not as bad as that man in the news; I have lived a good life of heroic deeds. I deserve better than a cross; I deserve a kingdom of glory.”
But the attitude of self-preservation apart from the cross leads to death. Jesus asks a pointed question to all who would seek to save their own lives: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The answer is, absolutely nothing. Not all the treasures one could gain in the world, not all the best works one could achieve in this life, could even begin to redeem our soul from the huge debt of our sin, from bondage to Satan, and from the just punishment of hell.
2) The attitude of self-denial that leads to life
Only the blood of Jesus Christ crucified can do that. 1 Peter 1:18-19 reminds us: “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
How thankful we can be that Jesus responded to His Father’s call to duty as our Savior. Jesus saw us in our lost condition, trapped by Satan’s murderous lies, dying in our sin. He did not flee in cowardice or hide to save His own life. He rushed to our side. He counted the cost and gave the ultimate sacrifice. He showed the greatest attitude of self-denial to save our lives.
As He came to Jerusalem to “suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Isaiah’s prophecy came true: “He is despised and rejected by men…. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53). In selfless love, the Lamb of God laid down His life as the once for all sacrifice. He shed His innocent blood to take away the sins of the world. On the cross, Jesus took all our selfish, self-preserving sinfulness on Himself. He took all our unfaithfulness to our vows, all our lack of courage to stand up for His truth. He took all our pride and unwillingness to lay down our life for others. He bore the cross with all of its shame, with all of our guilt. He suffered and died the punishment and death we deserved before God.
Is there any excuse for a man failing to do his duty and save the lives of others? Absolutely not; it is intolerable. Is there any excuse for selfish self-preservation in any of us? Absolutely not; there is no excuse before God. But is there forgiveness? Absolutely! The blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, declares it boldly! At the cross, God has takes all our sin from us and cries out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). In Christ crucified, all your sins are forgiven.
It was this forgiveness that brought relief to Jesus’ disciples after they had forsaken Him; and it was this sacrificial love that moved them to deny themselves and take up their own crosses. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others counted the cost and boldly preached salvation in Christ. When imprisoned and mistreated for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel, they continued, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Most of the apostles would lose their lives for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. His self-sacrificing love for sinners moved them to self-sacrificial love in bringing His saving Gospel to others.
Our Savior has given us the same calling. He has given us a new attitude of self-denial that leads to life. He has given us repentance and saving faith. In daily repentance we deny ourselves, dying to the will of our sinful flesh, Satan, and the world. We bow at the foot of Jesus’ cross and confess: “I deny myself any excuse for sin – whether things I have done that I should not have done, or things I have left undone that I should have done. I deny myself any claim to merit or worthiness. ‘Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.’ My dear Savior, forgive me for the sake of Your cross and cleansing blood.”
And in faith, we rise with our Savior. Jesus lifts us up in His forgiveness and eternal life. This is the daily power and meaning of our baptism: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Having died with Christ, we live forever with Him. Though we suffer the cross in this world for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel, we will share in His eternal heavenly glory. And along the way, what a great privilege it is to share His self-sacrificial love and His life-saving Gospel, wherever He calls us to serve our neighbor.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.