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Second Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text: Mark 8:27-38

Title: “The Great Exchange”

Date: Sunday, February 25, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

This morning, I want you to place yourself in the following situation. You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. Last night, two people from your barracks attempted to escape but they were caught and killed. The next day, a decision is made to severely punish such behavior. So the guards select five additional people in your group. Their intention is to lock these five in a room and starve them to death. Unfortunately, you are one of the five chosen.

         As you are about to be led away, another prisoner steps forward. You know him to be a kind and giving person. He says to the guards, “I would like you to take me instead.” The guards have a conversation for a moment and agree to his request. Eight days later, you learn that this prisoner was the last of the chosen group to suffer and die.

         What great love and sacrifice exemplified by this prisoner. Some might argue that he was going to die anyway because of the horrible living conditions. Even if that is true, what matters the most was his selfless, loving action. He was thinking of someone else above and beyond himself. 

         Our Lenten journey continues as we follow our Lord to the cross, where He must suffer many things, be rejected, and be killed…but then rise from the dead on the third day. (cf. v 31) As you know, Lent is a time when we Christians focus on repentance and the depth of Christ’s agony and sacrifice on our behalf. St. Paul brings the reality of Lent home to us in our Epistle reading when he writes: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)

         In the Gospel reading, the disciples are all excited about Jesus because He gives every indication of being the Messiah. They are happy to be on His team. Even admiring crowds gather around Jesus much to the delight of the disciples. The miracles He does are thrilling. Now, the disciples are eager and ready to hear what Jesus is about to teach…or so they think.

         In our sermon text, Jesus begins to teach the disciples about the cross, which, by the way, they are not excited about. St. Mark writes, “And 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. And he said this plainly.” (vv31-32a) This kind of talk from Jesus…that He must suffer…be rejected and killed…did not sit too well with them. (v. 31) In fact, Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to set Him straight (v. 32) by saying in Matthew 16: “’Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ (Mt 16:22) Peter wants to let his Lord know that this is not how you get ahead in the world. “Lord, You will achieve absolutely nothing through suffering. You do not succeed in life by being rejected. And if you are killed, then who will lead us and be there for us?”

         The disciples are no longer shielded from the painful realities of the sacrifice that Jesus has to make. Peter strongly disagrees as to what Jesus has to do, but Christ rebukes him and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 33) The cross Jesus faced was a real cross…a cross on which He shouldered all the sins of the world.  It was a cross on which He bore the whole dirty mess of our guilt and shame. Brothers and sisters in Christ, make no mistake…Christ died a real death on the cross…for you and for me! The God-man’s death was real and it meant…once and for all…the end of the power of sin to condemn us. Without Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we

would still be in our sins and lost and condemned forever.

That’s why our Lord Jesus gets up close and personal with Peter…and with you and me too. You see, Peter thinks he has it right…but he actually has it all wrong. Jesus didn’t come as an earthly king to wield power over Israel’s enemies. Instead, He demonstrates His dedication to the mission for which God the Father has sent Him. Jesus makes it clear that there is a cross in store for anyone who belongs to Him by faith. The Savior of the world tells it straight…detailing the involvement of all who call themselves His disciples. He says, “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.” (vv. 34-35)

         St. Mark’s first readers had already experienced suffering and shame in their lives and were going to experience it even more. In postmodern times, Christians are not spared either, as proven by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS.  They have done beheadings of Coptic Christians.  In Iraq, Christians have been killed by ISIS and Syrian Christians have been kidnapped and murdered by them. Christians seeking sanctuary at a Central African Republic refugee camp church were killed in a Muslim raid. Christians suffering and being murdered throughout the world…not only by ISIS but by other groups as well…continues day after day.

         Christ makes the point in our Gospel reading that losing one’s earthly life for Christ and the Gospel means having eternal life. But whoever denies Him will lose their life and end up eternally damned! That’s why the Lord commands each and every one of us to deny our-self…take up our cross…and follow Him! Be ready to suffer shame and death in order to remain faithful to Him. Stand up for Jesus and His Word of absolute Truth by speaking out for the right-to-life of every unborn child in the womb, who is created by God and redeemed through the life and death of Jesus. Stand up for Jesus and His Word of absolute Truth by speaking out for the union of one man and one woman in holy matrimony, as instituted by God prior to humanity’s fall into sin.

Remember, following Christ means refusing to make yourself the sole object in your life and making God and His will the center of your life. That will always involve sacrifices and avoiding anything that might come between you and your Savior. (cf. Mk 7:20-23) Jesus invites you to do it His way. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He wants you to lose your life in Him in exchange for finding your life in Him. (cf. v. 35)  Fourteen years ago, (2004) the movie The Passion of the Christ was the talk of the town. Many were asking, “Have you seen it? What did you think of it?” Critics were saying it was overly violent and graphic. People were shocked at the brutality. The scourging and crucifixion scenes were too long and gory. It was deemed inappropriate for children and even for many adults. Jesus did what for us? The world was generally stunned even to suggest such a price had to be paid for saving people from sin, death, and the devil. For many, this Great Exchange was very offensive and just too much to take in and believe! The only way out from under the eternal death sentence for you and me was for God Himself to die. In His death, the Lamb of God took away your sin and in exchange, He clothed you with His righteousness. The Great Exchange had to happen…and what a miracle it is!

In Christ, God has given you a passion for denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Him. You don’t have to live for yourself anymore. Yearn to live for Jesus, who died and resurrected from the dead for you! Daily share the Gospel message of what Christ has done for sinners with others who do not know it. Remember your Baptism. Feast on God’s Word and on the true body and blood of Christ. He is the One who made the Great Exchange for your sins and wrapped you in the robe of His righteousness. His work makes the Great Exchange complete. His gracious love entirely covers you.

So, “…rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [you] have now received reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:11) Amen. 

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