Passion for the Cross

Mark 8: 27-35  (Lent 2 - 2018)

“Passion for the Cross”

The time was drawing closer for Jesus to leave Galilee for one last Passover. He had much to teach his students in northern towns. They had tasted the ministry of Jesus after he sent them out among the villages north of the sea. It was time now for preparation. Jesus took them further north into area called Caesarea in Philippi. Jesus continued to teach them, again, about the cross that he must face and the personal crosses that they will endure. He prepared them for the Passion. He revealed his passion for his mission to face the cross on our behalf. He explained the passion he had for them, and us, in taking up our crosses to follow him. The cross is the only way!

Christ’s Passion for His Cross

“The Son of Man MUST suffer many things.” This is the only way. This is the way the Father designed from eternity. This is the way the prophets pictured salvation. This is the only way God’s wrath could be satisfied for all mankind. This was the only way the Father and the Spirit would draw sinners to grace and heaven. Jesus must suffer prisons and beatings. He must suffer mockery and shame. He must suffer open wounds on his body. He must suffer death like a murderous criminal. His dead body must be placed in a tomb where sinners are normally laid to rest.

Peter says, “No, Lord” in a rebuking tone. Peter does not want it to happen this way. Peter’s misguided compassion for his Friend is really the devil’s idea to turn our Savior away from his path. Peter was already turning his head away on Good Friday imagery. The devil twisted his emotions into an imagined faith without the cross. Jesus rebuked Peter, “Satan … you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man.”

Our passions, like Peter, are for something else. Our passions by nature are for the devil’s ideas. Our passions are misguided and evil desires for self gratification. We don’t naturally desire the cross; his or ours. We naturally despise what God says must happen. We naturally rebuke him for what he thinks and does. We are not likely ones to embrace and make our own the way God would have things. We enjoy the easy way out of things. Our passions are for things that God forbids. Our desires are for things that God detests. Jesus regroups our thinking with his words to the weeping women: “Do not weep for me, but for yourselves.” Because of our devilish ways he has every right to have passion for our eternal punishment in hell.

Still our God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, but that they should live (Ezekiel 18: 32). His grace desires us conform to his will.  His grace passionately seeks out what anyone else would throw away. His passion is to remove our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103: 12). The only way for it to be removed from us is for the Father to place our sins on his willing Son. No man can redeem his brother, and no one can save themselves. It MUST happen this way, so in his passion for you he rids Satan from the discussion by rebuking Peter’s satanic words. He demonstrates his passion for HIS passion. He demonstrates his passion to embrace his cross for you.

Christ’s Passion for Your Cross

And those who want to follow Him will not avoid the cross. Self must go away. Pumping up ourselves must be shattered. A passion for an earthly life that snuffs out spiritual things must be crushed. A passion for the way the world thinks must be dealt with. A passion for me and what I think must become a thing of my past. Self-denial will be accompanied by the cross for every Christian. With the cross will follow the reality that those who still live like the world, think like the world, talk like the world, will brutally be against us for following Christ to Golgotha.

Christ desires this for you. He passionately prays that we take up our cross. It is the only way. The world will hate you because of me and when they do you will be blessed. Blessed are the Stephens who die with their eyes fixed on heaven. Blessed are the Middle Eastern Christians who teach Jesus to their children through invisible sunday schools and in the face of danger. Blessed are the 5 year olds who get laughed at for going to “Jesus schools”. Blessed are you when they persecute you because of his name, his word and all that he says. Blessed are you when you sacrifice earthly well-being to spare your eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Blessed are you when the way the cross is more precious to you than anything this world has to offer.

Both of these crosses - his and ours - demand preparation. So Jesus gathered “The 12” and took them to the hills for teaching and prayer. He asked them about the crowds. He asked what was being thought and said about him. All worldly assumptions and conclusions were wrong. The Father and the Spirit gave this same Peter courage and faith to confess: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”

The Spirit gave testimony regarding what Jesus knew: “This is who you are! This is what you do!” You are the Anointed One from the Heavenly Father. You are designed from eternity to take on human form. You are designed from eternity to preach the truth. You are designed from eternity to live according to the law in our place. You are the Son of God who became the brother of all humanity. You are the sacrificial Lamb born to suffer many things and die innocently at the hands of wicked men. You are the Son of the Living God, with power to rise from death and return to glory in heaven. This is who you are! This is what you do! You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.

Jesus agrees. He reminds Peter - and us - that this confession of Jesus is the only confession on which the Church lives and breathes; rises or falls. It is a confession that does not come naturally, but is a gift from God’s Spirit through the Word. This is the truth, by God’s grace, which you believe and confess. This is who you are and what you do! The name Christian characterizes you before a world that will hate you for it. But it must be this way!

Jesus and his closest companions once stood on the hills of pagan history and pagan people. In those hills is a cave believed by pagan superstition to be the very gateway to hell. It is in those very hills, among those very pagans, where Jesus them, and us, that the gates of Hades will not overcome Christ and his Church! In passionate love for sinners like us, he prepares to suffer the cross on our behalf. In that same vein he says to you, where I go you also will go. What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

This same Jesus says, whoever confesses me before the world him will I confess before my Father in heaven. Be not afraid. See the passion Christ has for his Cross, so that you, too, will bear it faithfully until the day he returns to take you safely where he has gone – the streets of life and heavenly peace! Easter will be here soon and we will sing his promise:

He brings me to the portal

That leads to bliss untold

Whereon this rhyme immortal

Is found in script of gold:

“Who there my cross has shared

Finds here a crown prepare;

Who there with me has died

Shall here be glorified!”

(CW 156: 5) Amen!