2nd Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark chapter 8.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Have you ever been shopping for a new car? Have you ever walked along the rows and rows of new vehicles admiring their appearance? Then you wanted to look at the interior and so you took a good, long look through the window, and then you walked to the other side where that list of all the options and features were and that’s when BLAM! There was the price of that vehicle. And so you moved to the next vehicle and BLAM! It happened again! This phenomenon is known as “Sticker Shock.” “Sticker Shock” is defined as “the feeling of surprise or shock experienced by consumers upon finding unexpectedly high prices on the price tags of products they are considering purchasing” (www.wikipedia.com).
Many years ago now (2004), the movie The Passion of the Christ was a regular part of many conversations at this time of year. The movie caused some “sticker shock,” that is, the movie was too violent, too graphic. Blam! The scourging and crucifixion scenes were too long and bloody. Blam! It was seen to be inappropriate for children and even for many adults. To many, it was just so offensive. Blam! It was just too much! The Passion of the Christ was absolute sticker shock to perhaps the majority of those who saw it. They were shocked at the brutality and the violence, and even 14 years later, the shocking nature of the film cannot be ignored. You know what is going to happen, and it is still shocking. Blam!
Humanity has its idea of what the sticker price should be for salvation, but Jesus reveals God’s sticker price for salvation. In verse 31 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus announces, “The Son of Man must suffer many things” and He must do so because of the sin of mankind. Jesus had no sin; when He was tempted he overcame. He was the perfect, spotless Lamb of God – yet He had to die to pay the price for our sinfulness. In fact, the word in verse 31 that we translate as “must”(dei) is commonly translated “it is necessary,” and that is the translation that I prefer. That phrase demonstrates the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death, and when we hear of that happening, it creates – Blam! – sticker shock.
It shouldn’t, though. Ever since the days of Abraham, the forgiveness of sins required the sacrifice of something, and typically that involved a blood sacrifice. The forgiveness of sins carried the price tag of death. It always had: pigeons, oxen, bulls, lambs, sheep, goats, rams, and doves were all sacrificed to atone for sins. When Jesus revealed that He too must be killed (v. 31), – Blam! – sticker shock. There are no shortcuts to the forgiveness of sins. It requires, it necessitates, the shedding of perfect blood. That is the price – Blam! – but Jesus has paid that price in full.
Consider what the disciples heard. They heard that their teacher, the one they had followed, was saying that he must go and suffer and die. All they could hear right now was the price that Jesus was saying he would pay and not looking any further than their own needs; “what will happen to us if something happens to you?” And Peter suffered a severe case of sticker shock. Blam! “Oh never, not you Lord. This shall never happen to you!”
It seems harsh what Jesus said in return – “get behind me, Satan” – but you can hear the mistake behind Peter’s reasoning. Peter failed to grasp the utter depravity of the sinfulness of man and, as such, the price seemed too heavy to him. “Well,” Peter may have thought, “sure we do some stuff wrong, but no one has to die because of it…right?” Blam!
The sticker shock of Peter is common today. “Our sin is not so bad,” we may rationalize, “it’s no big deal. No one gets hurt by what I do. I’m not nearly as bad as so-and-so.” And so we go through the motions of confessing ourselves as “poor, miserable sinners” with a bit of a pious snicker. “That’s somebody else…not me.” Blam! Because our sins aren’t so bad (we think) what we need is the cute, huggable Jesus; the smiling, non-bloody, pal who’s going to forgive all our “little” transgressions anyway which then allows us to rationalize all kinds of sinful behavior. The reality is that all of us, ALL OF US, need the bloody, beaten, scarred, and suffering servant Savior because it is OUR SINS for which he suffered and died. Sure, it’s not pretty when we think about what Jesus had to do for us and sure, it is shocking…and maybe it should be.
Imagine what the reaction would be if people went to a car dealer, found the perfect car, and found out that there was no cost. Wouldn’t everyone drive off the lot in a brand-new, perfect car? The same is true when it comes to our salvation offered by and through Jesus. There is no price demanded of us; it comes to us as a gift. And that gift prompts a response. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must (not dei) deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v 34). These words are not stating that he has set a price for us to pay in regard to our salvation. No, he has paid the price in full on our behalf. Instead, he enables us to respond to his grace with a life of self-denial, a life of “cross bearing,” and following him.
The cost of being a disciple is neither a payment nor divine mandate, but it is a joyful connection to Jesus by grace through faith in his unconditional love. That joyful attachment changes us. It gives hope in the face of uncertainty. It gives love in the face of anger and hatred. It gives a future where before there was none. It enables us to make the correct decision in various situations. You know what all that adds up to? Frankly, something rather shocking. Blam! The sticker shock of Jesus’ passion is our passion to serve and follow him.
What a miracle! God has given us a passion for denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following him. His Passion makes this a reality in our sanctified life. We do not have to live for ourselves anymore, but desire to live for him who died and rose for us. The Gospel makes us new. We proclaim it daily in our Baptism, and we feast on it in the body and blood of the One who faced the shock of damnation, so that we can put on the new self wrapped in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Blam! The sticker shock of Lent was absorbed in Jesus’ Passion, which now enables us to have a passion to deny ourselves and follow him.