The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 16:21 “From that time Jesus Christ began to show 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 up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ 23 But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’ 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (NASB)
Good intentions are a double edge sword. As we learn in the Small Catechism’s explanation to the 8th Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
When it comes to the words and deeds of our neighbor we are to vest those words and deeds with good intentions, unless in so doing we are aiding and abetting our neighbor in doing harm others.
On the other hand, good intentions don’t guarantee good results and good intentions can be the gateway to bad doctrine and resulting in works righteousness. As it turns out, second only to self-righteousness, good intentions in big and small congregations alike are a great source of conflict within a congregation and injury to the Word and Sacrament Ministry and to Christian souls.
For example, most Christians and church bodies want their respective congregations to maintain a healthy and active membership list. Most people want a busy, active, kind, and helpful congregation. Scores of programs, marketing gimmicks, innovations in worship styles, and proposals in congregational programs and organization have been created over the past 50 years because of good intentions. Yet, most of them have proven harmful to the visible church on earth.
“Let me tell you this,” Luther wrote in his explanation to the Third Commandment in the Large Catechism,
“Even though you know the Word perfectly and have already mastered everything, still you are daily under the dominion of the devil, who neither day nor night relaxes his effort to steal upon you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against all these commandments. Therefore, you must continually keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears. For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realize it.
Even when people know the Word of God, they must be constantly on guard against sin and error. When it comes to the Christian and the Christian congregation, the devotion and the application of the Word of God, and only the devotion and application of good theology, is to govern the work and worship of the church. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the same is true in the spiritual realm.
That is the lesson we are to learn from the Gospel lesson this morning. In last week’s Gospel reading Jesus asked, “‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” This week, Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
The very same man who spoke the clearest confession of Jesus Christ recorded in all of Scripture, now gets it so wrong that he earns the strongest recorded rebuke in all of the New Testament. This from Jesus’s boldest and most vocal disciple and friend. It reminds me of that prayer of Luther’s. “Lord protect me from my enemies and save me from my friends.”
Peter had made the great confession faith. You are the Christ the Son of the Living God, and now Jesus teaches Peter and the rest of what it means to be the Christ, namely, “that He [the Christ] must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
Peter had the best intentions. In fact, Peter is so committed to his convictions and was so motivated by good intentions he “began to rebuke” Jesus. Until recently, students did not even dare to rebuke their teachers. That was something you just didn’t do. Peter didn’t want to see his friend, teacher, master, and Messiah suffer and be killed. After all, what kind of friend would Peter be if he just stood by and let that happen. Peter believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he just wanted his Messiah to be safe, popular, and successful. So when Jesus presents the exact opposite picture of what is going to happen Peter didn’t offer advice. He scolded Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t let Peter’s folly stand. He doesn’t ignore it. He doesn’t indulge it. He doesn’t try to make use of any part of the utterance or idea so he doesn’t hurt Peter’s feelings. Jesus rebukes the rebuker in front of God and everybody else within hear shot. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
There is the problem. That is always the problem in the church. That is the problem every Christian struggles with. St. Paul wrote this to the Christians in Colossia. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2) We read in last week’s epistle lesson, Roman 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.”
It is truly amazing that the true Church of Jesus Christ still stands after century after century, generation after generation, and meeting after meeting each filled with the good intentions of the pious constantly derailing the Word and Sacrament Ministry of the visible church and turning the church into something she was never to be.
Our love, our good intentions, our good ideas, no matter how good they seems to us are shallow, misguided, and vain. Thus Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done.” “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”
Both Scripture and experience teaches us that we are not, by nature in tune with God’s will and ways. Yet, while we are sometimes rebuked, not nearly as often as we deserve to be, Christ does not disown us.
The Son of God became Man, was born of the Virgin, and lived the perfect life of obedience for the sole purpose of “suffering many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
That is the Gospel in a nutshell! Jesus not only tells Peter that He is marching toward Jerusalem to be crucified on a cross, He teaches Peter and all Christians that we will all have crosses to bear in this life too.
When Jesus instructs us to take up our cross, He is not calling us to our own Mount Calvaries. He is not saying that we are to follow His example so that we too can offer a payment for our sins. Jesus does not mix the Law and the Gospel. The church is not to be a preacher of good intentions and good deeds. It is to preach the Law and our standing before it. And it is to preach the unadulterated Gospel. It is by Christ’s perfect life of obedience and His atoning death on the cross and the distribution of His grace and forgiveness that we are saved. Jesus Christ did what only God could do. He paid the full and complete price for our sin.
On the cross, Jesus endured the full wrath and punishment for all mankind for all time. This is what He meant when He said, in John 13:13, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Only Christians have the kind of crosses Jesus is talking about here. Luther sometimes referred to Christians as “Crosstians.” When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, He was specifically talking about the hardships we carry because we are Christians. We, the baptized, are all Crosstians and we carry the cross of being a Christian in a very un-Christian place.
The only proper governing force for the church, is the Word of God. Human reason must bow down before God’s Word. Theologians call this “the ministerial use of reason.” We are not to be emotive, irrational creatures. Rather we are to place our intellect and reasoning powers, weak as they might be, under the influence and direction of the theology of the cross.
The most difficult task of a faithful pastor is to train members of the congregation, especially the leaders to reason and see things through a Scriptural and Christological. Even more difficult is to try to explain to people from outside a proper theological tradition just how radically different a faithful congregation and pastor is from the rest of what they think to be Christian. When someone does come to understand, then what is written comes true. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.”
Remember, if you are not making an concerted effort to think theologically, the vacuum is constantly being filled by junk . . . rules, philosophical principles, good intentions, emotions, and self-righteousness. In other words, we are serving man’s interests not God’s.
There was and is no such vacuum in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He truly served the interest of both God and man by becoming God and man. He did what you and I can never do in this life and in this sinful weak flesh. In Him there was no vacuum of faith, love, and understanding. The Word of God, the words of His Father, were always on His heart, in His mind, and in His lips.
He alone fully understood what it meant to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He knew that before He could get to the resurrection, there had to be a life of complete obedience, suffering, and death.
And we Christians, theologians and people of the Cross, walking in His shoes. We now live in this vale of tears, in this life of suffering, sadness, illness, and ultimately our own physical death. But in all these things, Christ is doing great things in and through us.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.