SCRIPTURES – Genesis 28:10-17; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38
Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-3)
There are some very interesting people, interesting “characters,” let’s say, in church today:
Ø Jacob. He is obviously a devout man. He dreams of God. He has God’s favor, as God assures him that He will be with him and will bless him. This all takes place while he is on a journey. Where is he going? He is running away from home. You see, Jacob had lied to his elderly and feeble father and deceived him. He had pretended to be his older brother, Esau, and in order to gain from his father the blessing of the firstborn, an important blessing which put him in charge of the family and his father’s wealth. Esau is now out to kill him. And so, we see that Jacob, this devout man, is also a liar, a cheat, and a thief.
Ø The apostle Paul, the author of the book of Romans, from which our Epistle reading is taken. He speaks of having “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and even rejoices in sufferings, for they produce endurance, character, and hope. Paul is quite a strong believer! A couple of chapters later, however, he confesses that he often does not do the things that he knows are good, but the things that he knows are sinful. The sin living in him has made a slave of him! He concludes that he is a wretched man in whom nothing good dwells.
Ø Then, in our Gospel reading, we hear about Peter, that great apostle of Jesus. He confesses Jesus to be more than just a prophet. “You are the Christ,” he boldly declares. “You are the Savior God has promised to send!” But then, when Jesus says that He must suffer, be rejected, and be killed, Peter not only disagrees but even takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him for saying this! In response, Jesus now calls Peter, this great confessor, Satan.
Quite interesting characters are these people we read about today. They vacillate between faithfulness and disobedience, between confession and denial.
Gee, how like us! How many times have you felt strong and fervent in faith one day, and then weak the next? Even in the same day you can be loving God – following His Word, saying the right things and speaking of Him – and then later be cursing and saying dumb things in anger and acting nothing like a Christian. How can this be?
It’s our nature. This is what sin does to us. Our reading from Romans 5 tells us about ourselves. Before you believed in Jesus:
You were weak, sickened in body and soul, by your sin;
You were ungodly, not at all like God;
You were not a righteous and good person, but an enemy of God.
Even now, after you have been brought to Christ and washed of your sin and guilt in Baptism, this sinful nature remains and shows itself in your turning from faithfulness to disobedience, from confessing Jesus to denying Him.
Does this really matter, though? Does God really care about our disobediences and denials? After all, He knows that we’re only human! "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Jesus cares, and His response to Peter is a warning. Turn from sin, lest it destroy you by making you like the devil!
Jesus warns us, "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.” Turn from your sin! Do not excuse or be unconcerned about it and about your weakness of faith, lest you forfeit your soul!
But, since sin is part of us, how can we turn? Where can we turn? Turn to Jesus. He is not ashamed to be the friend of sinners or to be confessed by sinners. He rebukes Peter harshly, but He does not send him away. No, Jesus calls Peter, and the crowd, to Him. He warns them and teaches them, that they might not trust in their faithfulness but in His and so turn to Him for help. God’s glory is always to have mercy, and so He is honored most, not when we declare our obedience and ignore or try to hide our sins, but when we acknowledge them and cry out to Him for help and forgiveness. When you are concerned and upset because of your weakness and sin – as you should be – you have Jesus.
“Oh, come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” it says in Heb. 12:2. The joy set before Jesus was the salvation of us sinners. He gladly comes to us and stands with us. He gladly goes to the cross for us sinners, making Himself accountable for our sins and enduring God’s judgment in our place. Fix your eyes on Jesus upon the cross for you, for there is your peace with God! There your every sin is forgiven and your shame covered!
Keep your focus upon Christ and His death on the cross for your forgiveness, and not on anything you do or think is right. Listen to and take to heart what God says through Paul, who knew his sin and weakness so well:
“Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Through faith in Christ we stand in grace, in God’s favor. You see, the cross is not only before our eyes: it is before the eyes of God. Because of Jesus and His cross, God is not looking down upon us with scrutiny, just waiting to catch us thinking or saying or doing the wrong things. “I saw that, and you’re going to get it now!” is not our God’s reaction to our sin. Because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, God looks upon us as a loving father looks upon his sick and weak child: with compassion and love. God comes to us with help and comfort, not with judgment. The help and comfort He provides, the medicine He gives, is the cross of His Son. The cross is given to us in His Word and Sacraments, bringing to us the forgiveness of every sin. And then, the cross of Christ is laid upon us. Because He loves us, our Father gives us crosses to bear ourselves. He challenges our faith, He tests us with trials, He gives us sufferings for the sake of His name. He shows us our weakness, that we might not trust in ourselves. Then, by His Word and Sacraments God pours into our hearts His Holy Spirit. We are not left with only our spirit and strength to draw upon. God Himself struggles against our sin with us and for us.
He will not stop doing this for you, for God does not vacillate or change. “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life,” it says in Romans 5. We are now reconciled, forgiven; we are His children; we are loved deeply; we stand in His grace and love. Cling to this grace in faith, and “rejoice in hope of the glory of God!” Your Father will keep you in Christ until the day that glory is revealed!