“The Cross and Christian Discipleship”
From that time Jesus
began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer
many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be
killed, and be raised the third day.
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far
be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are
an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the
things of men.” Then
Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone 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 will find it.
For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and
loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
There may be legitimate reasons
to criticize Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”
I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. But
from what I’ve read, it appears that much of the criticism of the
movie is criticism of the crucifixion.
That’s not surprising. When
Peter took Jesus aside to tell Him that He must not suffer and be
killed, he was expressing the natural human response to the message of
the cross. Jesus was an innocent man and it does not make us feel good
to see innocent people suffer. The
innocent suffering of Jesus compels us to think thoughts that we may not
want to think. Why would
God permit an innocent man to suffer?
But there is a sense in which
the movie’s physical violence and the criticism of it are beside the
point. No film can possibly
depict the true nature of Christ’s suffering for us because it was
hidden from human sight. Isaiah
describes it in these words:
We turned our faces away from
Him. We did not look upon
Him with a horrible fascination as if fixated upon His suffering,
wanting to look away, but unable to divert our eyes.
No, we hid our faces from Him because He was despised and
rejected. He did not appear
to our eyes as a man of beautiful innocence.
As the prophet writes: “His visage was marred more than any
man, and His form more than the sons of men.” (Isaiah 52:14)
The offense of the crucifixion
of Jesus is not primarily in His physical suffering.
Many men were crucified and I’m sure many of them were innocent
of any crime. There is no
perfect justice in this world. Jesus
is not just an innocent man suffering injustice.
The offense of the crucifixion is that Jesus must endure a
spiritual suffering that goes deeper than any human eye can see.
It is the sorrow and grief of the One who bears sin, as the
prophet continues in his description: “Surely He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God,
and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)
The One who bears sin is bearing
more than reproach, shame, insult, persecution, and physical pain.
The One who bears sin is the One upon whose face we cannot bear
to look. We cannot bear to
look at Him because our Father in heaven has turned His face of favor
away from Him. Jesus Christ
is forsaken in His suffering.
goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of all men bearing
Peter did not want Jesus to bear
anyone’s sins. “Far be
it from you, Lord.” Literally,
“Mercy to you, Lord.” Should
we not respect Peter’s desire that Jesus receive mercy?
Surely nothing but love motivated it.
But the love of men is not the love of God.
Peter may have intended angelic sentiments but they were in fact
satanic. And that’s what
Jesus said: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you
are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
It was Satan who tried to divert
Jesus from His divine task of redeeming sinners.
In the Jordan where Jesus was baptized St. John the Baptist
identified Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Immediately after His baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the
wilderness. The essence of the devil’s temptations in the wilderness
was that Jesus should renege on His baptismal promise where He obligated
Himself to fulfill all righteousness.
Fulfilling all righteousness not only obligated Jesus to live the
righteous life all of us owed to God, it also obligated Him to suffer
God’s curse against all sinners.
When Peter urged Jesus to avoid the cross, He was urging Him to
break God’s word to us all and to leave sinners helpless in their sins
and under the curse of God.
Men don’t understand the
things of God because they don’t understand the depth of their own
sins. Part of our sinful
condition is our failure to acknowledge the seriousness of our sinful
condition. The crucifixion
of Jesus brings it out. On
the cross both judgment and mercy are revealed.
The suffering of Jesus is God’s judgment against our sin.
The suffering of Jesus is God taking our sin away.
The disciple of Jesus does not
shrink from the cross of Christ. St.
Paul wrote to the Galatians:
To the Corinthians he wrote:
The crucifixion of Jesus is at
the center of our faith because it was on the cross where Jesus Christ
regained our lives for us. By
facing our death, Jesus obtained life for us.
The life we need is to be found only in Him who was crucified for
us. Should we try to save
our own lives, we will lose them. Only
when we lose our lives and find our life in Christ will we find true and
This is why we must deny
ourselves. We are our own
worst enemy. We trust in
ourselves. This is what sin
is all about. We think we
know best. We don’t.
We look inward for the solutions to our troubles, but our worst
troubles lie within. We
look for solutions to where our problems lie.
Unless we deny ourselves we will destroy ourselves.
This is why Jesus said: “whoever desires to save his life will
lose it.” He alone can
save it. We can only lose
it. When we lose it for
Christ’s sake, we gain it because we gain what belongs to Christ.
What belongs to Christ was won
on the cross. And what is
that? It is our very lives.
Our lives are Christ’s because He won life for us by bearing
within Himself divine retribution against us.
What are our lives worth to us?
The whole world is not worth what our lives are worth.
What good is the whole world if our own lives – our own souls
– are forfeit? What can we give in exchange for our own lives?
We have nothing to give. But
Christ did have something to give.
And He gave it. He gave it on the cross.
And so we deny ourselves, pick
up our cross, and follow him. To
deny ourselves is first of all to reject the false faith with which we
were born. All natural
religions are religions of the flesh and even we catechized and
confirmed Lutherans who have memorized the six chief parts of Christian
doctrine along with many Bible passages still have that germ of natural
religion hiding within our sinful hearts.
He teaches us that we are our own saviors and that the road to
God is paved by our good deeds. The
flesh calls good evil and evil good.
He hates the cross of Christ.
He would have us despise Christ’s suffering for us and turn
away from Him. Should we do that, we will have to bear the curse Christ
already bore. So we must
constantly kill the flesh within us.
We must drown that prideful and lying monster in the blood of the
Lamb. Only when we die with Jesus is the flesh put to death.
In addition to denying the faith
of our flesh, we deny his values as well. True treasure does not consist in the things we have.
It does not consist in having health, wealth, worldly wisdom, and
success. True wealth cannot
be had apart from our union with Christ and His crucifixion.
But when we are bound to Christ’s cross by faith, God lays on
us our own cross to bear as well. The
natural religion of the flesh won’t bear any crosses.
God sends crosses only to His Christians.
The Christian doesn’t choose the cross.
God does. The cross
He sends is designed to lead the Christian ever closer to Christ.
It may be a marriage in which there is no joy.
It could be a job with no future under the authority of
incompetents. It could be
an ongoing disability or disease that brings chronic pain and
frustration. The Christian
bears the cross of an unhappy marriage by bearing the burden of the
other with patience and humility. He
bears the cross of a unpleasant job by offering whatever service the job
requires to God and putting up with everything that is unfair in service
to Him who bore all the injustice of this world.
The Christian endures suffering and disability by looking to
Jesus who bore our sorrows and sicknesses on the cross.
When our crosses drive us to hold on in firm faith to the
crucifixion of Christ for us, God has been gracious to us in our deepest
need. Faith is what we
need, and we are so pathetically incapable of it.
God knows our weakness. Everything
He does for us, whether we welcome it or not, is designed to bring us
safely through the temptations of this life into the eternal joys of
heaven where, seeing our Savior face to face, we will be confirmed in
love and bliss forever and ever.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus