2nd Sunday in Lent – Mark 8:27-38 | Jesus foretells His death and resurrection.
In September 1918, in the throws of World War I,
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force,
Under the leadership of British General, Sir Edmund Allenby,
Launched an offensive against Ottoman forces in Palestine and the Jordan Valley.
Sir Allenby’s plan was to encircle Ottoman forces in the area around Meggido,
And cut off their escape routes.
This was so successful that the British advanced 30km on the very first day.
It was so successful, that the General’s next move confused everyone,
Even his own troops.
The day before the major battle was to begin, he laid out his strategy:
“In phase one, I will go ahead into the occupied area, and surrender.
They’re going to kill me.
Then, when I’m dead, you all follow.
That’s phase two.”
One bright troop asked if they were to become Prisoners of War,
And then revolt in mass when they reached the strategically positioned war camp –
A risky but potentially brilliant phase three.
“No,” Said General Allenby.
“You’re going to die, too”
“And that is how we’re going to win the war.”
Now, you don’t need to be a military strategist to know that is no way to win a war.
And you don’t need to be a historian to guess that this is not what happened at all.
Such a strategy, if you can call it that, would have been utter foolishness.
Nothing would have been gained;
And everything would have been lost.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant or brave or inspiring the General is,
No soldier on the planet would march on those orders.
That’s about where we find ourselves this morning.
Peter had just confessed who Jesus really is.
“You are the Christ.” He said – plain and simple.
“You’re the promised Messiah.
You’re the Lord, the God of Sabbatoh,
The Commander of the angelic armies,
You’re the Deliverer and Redeemer of Israel.”
And he was right.
So it was quite a shock when
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – ‘That’s how we’ll win.’
It was such a shock that Peter took Jesus aside,
And began to reprimand Him for His ridiculous field strategy.
“This,” Peter would say “is no way to win a war.”
“This is foolishness.”
Of course it does appear foolish.
And so it might seem that Jesus is overreacting, at least a little,
By calling Peter “Satan” in front of all his friends.
But He had to.
He had to because Peter and the disciples still had their minds set on the things of men.
Victory will be ensured by a sound strategy, an overwhelming number of troops, etc.
Men win wars by winning battles.
It turns out that Satan thinks the same way.
He knows the Word of God spoken by Moses and the Prophets better than you do.
He knows who Jesus is and what He has come to do.
And yet, despite all his knowledge,
Satan is so twisted that he thinks the cross ensures his victory,
Even though it means his total defeat.
Satan would say, with Peter, that the cross as a strategy is foolishness.
Despite all our knowledge to the contrary, this is still how Christians so often think.
By grace through faith we know that the cross really was the only way.
We know that Jesus crucified for us and risen three days later really did mean victory.
But then, things get tricky.
As soon as we leave church, we start setting our mind on the things of men again.
We perceive the crosses appointed for us, but would prefer not to pick them up.
We see them and ask, “Couldn’t there be some other way?”
A way to somehow lose our lives for Jesus’ sake,
But also save our lives for our own sake;
A way to somehow gain the whole world, or at least our favorite parts of it,
But not forfeit our souls;
A way to somehow not be ashamed Jesus and His words,
But at the same time live lives that are ashamed of Jesus and His words.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Have you shrugged off the crosses appointed to you?
Have you put yourself and your word above Christ and His Word?
Have you built a beautiful home and savings account while robbing the Church and your neighbor who is in need?
If your answer to all of that is no –
If you really aren’t a sinner, then this next part isn’t for you.
Christ is not for you.
But I’ll take you at the words you spoke when we first arrived –
That you really have sinned in thought, word, and deed.
I’ll give thanks for that.
Because maybe every once in a while someone will die for a righteous man,
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.
For all your sin and all your shame, Jesus was not ashamed of you.
He did not wait for you to improve and become a little better than you are.
He didn’t hold out for you to start sinning less, or to see if you would keep your fast.
Christ died for you while you were still His enemy.
It’s nothing like someone stoically dying for a good and virtuous man,
That some good would come of it.
Instead, Jesus dying for you is more like you willingly dying for a guy
Who robbed you and killed your family.
Despite all the unsolicited advice of Peter, that’s whom Jesus is going to the cross for.
Strangely enough, Jesus wants a Kingdom full of spiritual failures.
Despite all your sin, you are worth it to Him.
And you’re not only worth it,
You are, in fact, more valuable than anything else.
You’ll remember that when Lent began, and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness,
He was offered the kingdoms of this world,
But He would not accept them.
Jesus would not gain the whole world and forfeit your soul.
You have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.
You are sealed with Christ’s victory.
Salvation is yours, and it is certain.
So for the rest of Lent, for the rest of your life,
Don’t fear being a loser.
Losing your life,
Losing your friends,
Losing your savings.
You’re going to lose them anyways. Everyone will.
Don’t fear being a loser in the way of the Gospel.
Don’t fret when things don’t work out.
Don’t freak out when the church isn’t growing the way you’d hoped.
Remember that Noah’s preaching convinced no one but his own family.
The apostles, too, infected as they were with God’s own Spirit,
Even to the point of performing miracles, built no cathedrals.
Peter was crucified upside down.
The rest died in poverty – failures, losers, and victims of their congregations’ violence.
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Of course, it doesn’t work.
It isn’t designed to work.
That is the “alone” of “grace alone.” (Thanks to Rev. David Petersen for this note)
The Gospel has to lose.
Jesus has to lose.
That’s how He wins.
Dying on a cross for losers is foolishness to strategists and soldiers.
It’s foolishness to us.
And thanks be to God, that’s exactly what He’s done.
Happy Lent to all us losers.