Summary: Jesus teaches us that the way of Christ and the Christian is the way of the cross
Impending war in Iraq; an uncertain economic future; terrorism, a serial killer at large in Baton Rouge -- many things weigh heavily on our minds. At times, we wrestle with doubt and worry, fear and concerns.
Our Lord wants us to struggle with our thoughts and concerns today. In the Gospel reading our Savior probes into our innermost being and dares to move us forward in grace. Jesus does this by having us grapple with our thoughts. The Savior asks each of us: WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? Is it 1) The Things of Men, or 2) The Things of God?
1) The Things of Men
You might remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, “What a country!"
Mr. Smirnoff was joking but we make similar assumptions about Christian discipleship. Some churches teach that once a person is brought to faith that’s it, as if there’s an immediate, substantial, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character; perfection is achieved. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christians. Just add water.
Now it is true that God declares us to be perfect in his eyes -- Justified. But that is because he sees us through Jesus Christ, our Savior. God does declare us holy and perfect in Jesus, but what declares us to be he also calls us to be -- Sanctified. This is where the struggle becomes real in our lives.
Jesus was teaching his disciples this truth: “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Jesus did this so that his disciples might understand what he came to accomplish. The problem is that sinful minds are slow to understand this blessed truth. It focuses on the “things of men.”
The 12 disciples were of no exception. They failed to see the necessity to Jesus’ suffering and death. Therefore, they failed to appreciate the value of his death. Our weak, sinful minds also have great difficulty appreciating the truth of Christ’s redemptive work. In fact, we might even detest the thought of a Savior who died for us.
The thought of it is offensive. We may even want to deny the thought of it. It’s depressing. It’s frightening. It’s appalling. Our minds try to convince us that we’re not so bad. Things aren’t so drastic that God would have to go to such measures. And so our Lord’s sacrifice is pushed aside. It is the last thought we’d want to have on our minds. To be honest, many churches push Christ’s redemptive work aside. It’s too gruesome a subject matter. It’s too troubling to talk to children about it, so the message of the Savior is crammed into the deep recesses of the mind in favor for other things.
Instead of the cross many preachers focus on earthly success and prosperity: Instead of God’s grace that heals the soul, there is the mystic power of the preacher’s touch that heals the flesh; rather than the heavenly riches purchased by Christ’s blood, there is the fascination with balanced checking accounts, casting out the “evil spirit of debt” from our lives, and pursuing financial freedom as greater gifts from the Spirit.
Just like Peter, we are tempted to focus on the “things of men” to the point we take Jesus aside and rebuke him. We’re tempted to be instant-mix disciples, powdered Christians. The temptation is for cheap grace. Cheap grace is grace without the cross, grace without discipleship, grace without Jesus Christ, living, suffering, dying, and rising in our place. Cheap grace tells Jesus to stay in heaven that we really don’t need him. Everything’s all right here. Cheap grace looks for a quick fix to spiritual problems. Cheap grace winks at sin, doesn’t seriously consider its consequences, and denies any payment for it.
Christ did not come to offer “cheap” grace. Our salvation cost him dearly. It cost him his very life. Yet, Jesus offered himself willingly for us because he is not content with powdered Christians, or instant-mix disciples. So Christ came to be crushed for us. St. Mark writes: “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”