Jesus preaches a sermon that leaves Good Friday as predictable as a bad joke at the beginning of a sermon. The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter offers a reasonable alternative. Have you considered not suffering many things and being murdered? Could we maybe try it that way instead? Criticism doesn’t get much sharper. Get behind me, satan.
The Lord isn’t name calling. He hears the enemy whispering the same sermon to Peter that he whispered to Eve. The tell is simple if you know what to listen for. It might be the last thing satan has in common with the Lord after the rebellion. Their sermons don’t change. The devil always preaches life that ends only in death. Christ always preachs death that ends only in life. Since the garden of Eden, when the serpent sneaks in to preach about a piece of fruit, “Eat. You will not surely die. Do this, and you will live like God, knowing good and evil.” He promised life. It ended only in death. So God sought out dying humanity, hiding in the bushes, and promised them death ending only in life. There will be a child, born of a woman, who will crush the head of the serpent, though the serpent will bruise His heel.” The Son of God will be born of Mary to conquer the evil one by His sacrifice. Since then it’s always been the same. The things of man are to try and live only to die. The things of God are the cross then the resurrection, to die only to live. So any Christ but the crucified one is of the devil.
It’s hard enough to deal with a God who suffers many things at the hands of His enemies and then dies. Yours brings you into it too. “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 will find it. Real talk, I didn’t want to preach this at a time in America where Christianity looks at the pandemic and then spends more time explaining what “take up your cross and follow me” doesn’t mean than what it does.
Look at the two sermons that never change. One promises life that ends only in death. One promises death that ends only in life. God never called the church to safety, but to faithfulness. Temporal safety has always been the promise of the evil one. He made it to Eve. He made it to Jesus in the wilderness. He made it to Peter. He makes it to us. How many have avoided the tomb so far?
Just as unprofitable, though, is when we push too far the other way. Peter took to heart what happened today. Later, he’ll swear never forsake the Lord three times before the rooster crows. Even if I must die with you, I’ll not deny you. He’s ready to throw down. Draws his sword on all the soldiers that come to arrest the Lord. Cuts off an ear for the Jesus. But it’s not about that. Jesus stops Peter from losing his life for His sake. It still misses the point. Christianity also isn’t a reckless rush to death to prove to Jesus you trust Him.
The church actually had to preach sermons telling people they didn’t need to die as martyrs to be saved. That’s up there with the warning labels that say ‘do not iron shirt while wearing’. It’s only there because folks thought it was a good idea. We’re clearly bad at time savers. Also, you don’t need to prove anything to Jesus. You don’t need be reckless and stupid in the world you live in, draw a sword on those who’d oppress, or iron a shirt while you wear it to impress God. He already knows who you are just fine. Some of you are the ones too scared to carry your own crosses. Some of you are the ones so eager to bear them you think you can prove something by it. Some of you are the reason so many things have warning labels. God knows us just fine. He knows us so well He realized the only way any of us were ever going to get to the resurrection was if He bore the cross to win it for us.
Don’t knock St. Peter though. He figures it out eventually. The disciple told to take up his cross and follow Jesus was given the chance later on. Peter was also arrested, charged, and condemned to death by crucifixion. He could literally follow Jesus. Instead, he insisted to be hung upside down because no death Peter could die would be equal to the one Jesus died for him. Peter’s sacrifice just left him upside down and dead, but Christ’s sacrifice gave Peter life. Peter insisted that his death not follow his Lord’s in that shape so that nobody would get confused. Peter died on a cross, but not the one Jesus told him to carry.
Take up your cross and follow me. Your cross isn’t your suffering. It’s right there, when God says His cross is for you. It’s your cross now. He gives you His death, that you would have His life. It’s the sermon Christ always preaches. Your cross is the one Jesus carried for you. Take up that one. Trust in His death that you would have life. Never flee from it. Every promise the devil makes about life and safety and power always runs from the cross. Christians find our shelter not in the world, and not in our own sacrifices, but in the once for all sacrifice God made for us.
What can you give to save your soul? No scratching for life, no act of sacrifice. You can’t, no matter how careful you are, save your soul. You can’t, no matter how grand your sacrifice is, win it either. Instead, look to Jesus who died for you to win for you eternal life, to save you from death in a way that changes how we see it.
We know that unless Christ returns first, none of us will escape death. We also know we don’t need to. We have been given the path through the grave and back out again. Jesus gives us His cross to us to carry so that we would not be afraid of death anymore. This is not a race away from the tomb, but also not a race into one. It’s shelter in the cross that saves. Your cross, where Your Jesus died for you, is your safety. Here, even death can’t harm you. Christ has destroyed it and He is risen. Every one of the devil’s sermons that promise life only promise you a place you shouldn’t look to that cross for salvation. Every temptation to find a way around this ends only in death. Every temptation to carry a different cross seeks to replace His. Instead, Jesus just calls us back to the only one that helps until the day He returns in glory to resurrect those who have fallen asleep, that we would follow Him, not just into the grave, but back out too. Christ is risen. You will rise. This death ends only in life.
He promises we’ll taste death while we wait. Eat and drink His body and blood. Be not afraid of the evil one. Need not his false promises of life that can’t save. Instead, take shelter in the Lord and His gifts. Take and eat death, the body of Christ, for you. Take and drink the blood of Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Even as we receive this gift out of death the Son of Man brings His kingdom of life to us that we would live.