SPEEDBUMPS

2.25.18 Lent

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Mark 8:31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

 

Last week, Jesus showed us how he never needed to turnaround from sin, because he fought off every temptation of Satan.   We do need the turnaround, the repentance, because sin does find its way into our life every day.  But that turnaround from sin does not happen by putting the focus on me and my work.  Instead, repentance flows from faith in Christ and is focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean that the road will get easier when you turnaround from sin.  Faith in Jesus does  not mean a nice earthly existence.  In fact, God’s Word leads us in faith to turn around from sin on a regular basis and living in that new direction means there will be more opportunities for difficulties.

It’s kind of like the difference between the interstate and county highways.  The interstate is the road that is nice.  It’s fast, it’s smooth (for the most part), it’s accessible, it provides everything you could want.  Tons and tons of people take the interstate for those reasons.  But the backroads, aren’t as nice.  You can’t go as fast.  There are not as many nice stops and amenities along the way.  The road can get twisty and turny and bumpy and lumpy.   There are even stop signs and those rumble strips along the way.

That’s the difference between the road to destruction and the road to heaven.  Ironically, the road to destruction is so nice, and it is preferred for its ease and convenience. The road to heaven is tough and ugly.  It gets bumpy, painful even.

Just listen again to what Jesus was teaching his disciples.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…”  That was the road he chose for you.  Jesus was telling his disciples that he didn’t come here to make our life on earth easier.  He didn’t come here to make men and women more capable of turning this world around.  He came here to fulfill everything God has said about the Messiah. He came here to suffer and die for sins.

But the end result is far greater than anything our suffering or pain could ever produce.  Jesus finishes by saying, “and after three days rise again.”  All the suffering he would endure as he followed this road to our redemption,  all of the excruciating pain he would be forced to  undergo, and all of the heartache he would have from knowing the separation sin creates between God, it was all worth it.  His road to winning our redemption was never going to end in a grave.  This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and life in heaven.

Inevitably, when people hear about suffering and pain, we want to avoid it.  Even if there is good news at the end, it kind of depends on what the good news is.  Think of the pain and sacrifice that Olympians go through.  Depending on the sport they train for hours a day, for weeks, months, and years to get to the top level.  In order to get to that level, they give up time, they give up some relationships, they give up some enjoyment.  To a lot of people that doesn’t seem worth it.  Why would you do that to yourself?  But at the end of it you might give yourself and your team a chance to win a gold medal.  For some that is the good news that gets them through the sacrifices.

But you know what happens when you have to wait for the good news.  You know what happens when any kind of hardship, a rough patch, or some personal sacrifices come up before you reach the goal?  We get near-sighted and lazy.  The jostles and the bumps get annoying.  The pain and suffering get frustrating.  The persecutions make us lose sight of what’s at the end.

That’s where Peter got stuck.  He didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die.  He wanted the glory and power of God.  He wanted the good life, the restored nation of Israel, the earthly peace, and all the great miracles.  He wanted life to be good.  I mean, if you are following the Son of God, shouldn’t life be great all the time?

I think we understand where Peter is coming from.  We want to avoid the suffering and pain, too.  We rebuke the idea that suffering is necessary for Jesus and for us.  We look for the nice, smooth, wide, and fast road.   How many people want the speedbumps that jostle you and slow you down?  Who wants to be twisted and turned?  Who wants to be removed from the nice amenities and easy conveniences?  Who wants to deal with sacrifices?

We get caught looking for so many blessings that any kind of suffering, or speedbump, knocks us off track.  How easy is it to think that if God is watching over me, then nothing bad should happen?  “My life on earth should be better if God is on my side,” we say.  “I shouldn’t have any speedbumps.  It should be smooth sailing now and in forever in heaven.”

But then pain comes.  Loved ones die.  Finances get tight. Things get tough.  Relationships are tested.    People question your faith.  “The bible says what about marriage?  About respecting government and leaders?  About your money?  About your priorities?  About putting others’ needs before your own?” You start to wonder what’s up.  The jostles and hardships can make us sound like Peter. “No, Lord!  This can’t happen to me.  I need my life to be easier and better for me.”

To that notion that my life needs to be easier and less bumpy, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, hang in there.” When we start thinking too much about how we don’t want the speedbumps, these sufferings and persecutions, Jesus  says this: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Jesus says, “If you do not have the things of God in your mind, then there is only one other option.”  That easy way without pain, without persecution, without any speedbumps is the devil’s doing.  It makes people focus on “merely human concerns,” or to put in another way, the things that are not God’s.  And how well do you think the things that are not of God can help you have a life with him?

Jesus went the road of suffering and persecution and pain because that was God’s way to save us.  Jesus had to suffer for sin.  He didn’t have to suffer just to experience the frailty of the human existence.  He had to suffer because that is what sin deserves.

We try so hard to avoid the speedbumps in life, because they are jolting and annoying.  But that is what sinners will always have to deal with because that is life with sin.  God wants us to have the speedbumps.  He wants us to deny ourselves what so many people would call basic human needs. He wants us to follow Jesus even when there are difficulties and persecutions.

But that is not suffering for sin.  God’s punishment went on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus is the one who died for sins.  The Bible often refers to the kinds of crosses we carry as “light and momentary.”  Jesus carried the eternal weight of guilt on his shoulders, so that we would never know what that feels like. Instead, we have these little speedbumps.  We have the denial of serving our self with the pleasures and desires of this world.  We have the cross of suffering and persecution to sharpen our focus on what God has already done for us in Christ and what he will do for us in heaven.  We have the blessed joy of following a Savior who loved us so much that he took our punishment and death, so that we could have life with him.

That’s why these speedbumps are so great for us.  The get us to slow down.  They might jolt you.  They might isolate you. They might force you to giving up the way you want to go.  But that’s good.  Because then we realize that we need help, we need strength, we need comfort that the world cannot give, we need saving from the pain, we need a place where these difficulties don’t exist, a place where sin cannot get to us.

Jesus walked the tough, grueling road to provide redemption for us.  His suffering has produced the eternal reward that far outweighs any of the hardships we face on this earth.  His death provides the life that is never taken away, a life that is never disappointing.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.”  If you want to get rid of your pain and suffering in this world so that you can have a great life with all sorts of worldly conveniences, then you won’t have a life with Jesus.  But Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”  When we follow Jesus in faith the world will say we lose certain things.  Maybe the next time you can let loose and get a little rowdy will be lost.  Maybe the guy, who is so great in so many ways except for his stubborn refusal to listen about your faith in Jesus, will have to be lost.  Maybe the promotion will be lost because you are not willing to stomp on others.  Maybe friends will be lost.  Maybe the focus on all the possessions and hobbies and stuff will be lost.

It might seem like you are denying somethings that would be so nice to have.  It might seem that we miss out.  It might seem like people are looking down on you and making you feel worthless.  But there is one looking down who is not ashamed.  He is glad to call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’  He is glad to speak in glowing terms to the Father in heaven about you.  He is glad to prepare a place in his home for you.

These speedbumps are necessary in life.  We need them to slow us down and get our attention where it needs to be.  Jesus is the only one who can save our life.  Following him might get difficult, but he has overcome every one of our light and momentary hardships with an eternal victory that will not disappoint us.  So slow down and enjoy his road, speedbumps and all.  God grant it.  Amen.

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REPENTANCE IS A COMPLETE TURNAROUND

2.18.18 Lent 1B

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Mark 1 :12-15

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

I was watching a skiing race the other night.  It amazes me how anyone in their right mind would want to careen down a mountain at 80 miles per hour on two little skis without any padding.  As I watched, I saw a couple skiers take pretty bad falls down the mountain into those few layers of fencing they have set up on either side of the course to catch out-of-control competitors from going into the trees.  A few skiers later I saw something that I hadn’t seen before: one skier was pushing his way back up the mountain.  Now, why in the world would a skier in the Olympics turn around in the middle of his moment on the world’s stage?  He missed a gate.  A downhiller has to weave in and out of those designated markers to successfully complete the course and register a time.  If you don’t, if you miss just one, you are disqualified, and you won’t show up in the final results.  This guy missed a gate.  So, he stopped himself, turned around, and went back up the course a bit to do it the right way.

Have you ever missed a gate before?  I’m not talking about skiing in the Olympics.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume we don’t have any Olympians here this morning, right?  I’m talking about life.  You know the way God has laid out for you – he’s got a guideline for his people, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – and you missed a gate.  On purpose or on accident doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you went off the course.  Do you know what you need at those times?  A turnaround.

The people living in Palestine during Jesus’ day needed a turnaround, badly.  The Jewish religion was trying to show people what they had to do for happiness and contentment, how they had to deal with their guilt and sin, and how they had to appease God by making their own turnaround. That Jewish religious road, however, was leading to a disqualification (hell), because the search was focused on themselves, on what they had to do.

If you could follow through on your end, then God would follow through on his end.  That was the deal. First, you show how well you can represent the name of Abraham and Israel and David, and then God would bless you, hopefully in similar ways to Abraham and Israel.  First, you follow the works and rituals to demonstrate your worthiness to God, and then you will be rewarded.

This is not a foreign system in the 21st century.  The road the Jews were paving was way narrower, more black and white, but the religious systems today still have the same focus: me first.  If I am acceptable in my culture and society, if I am dedicated to being what I think kind is, if I am tolerant and open-minded with people, if I am trying hard to be a better person, if I have a religion and I’m dedicated without being to closed off and biased, then all of those things should put me on the right path.  I am showing myself worthy to whatever god I follow.  I have earned the respect of others.  I am deserving of blessings.  I should get whatever reward I’m looking for.

This is a road that is so easy to pave for ourselves, too.  Me first sounds so logical.  If you are nice, then nice things should happen to you.  This 21st century religious open-mindedness sounds so loving and kind.  My acceptance and kindness, and it will make this world better.  It sounds like this road of togetherness and peace would lead in the right direction.

But that is the irony.  A road that puts the focus on me first and what I do won’t help me with God.  Because my road is always going to shoot off the course God has laid out.  My way has never, does never, and will never line up with his way, because my road is sinful, and his road is perfect. My road leads to disqualification and his road leads to redemption.

So the question becomes, how can a sinner be on God’s perfect road that leads to perfect glory in heaven?  Jesus shows us how.  It’s a turnaround from religious rituals and observances.  It’s a turnaround from what our cultural definitions of religion, faith, love, and God.  It’s a turnaround from personal passions and pleasures.  It’s a turnaround from putting the focus on me and what I do.   It’s a turnaround from anything that is distracts us from the kingdom of God.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news!”  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow after all of that stuff that seems to make so much sense.  You’re going the wrong way if you think you can make yourself more acceptable to God than others because of what you do or who you are related to.”  That’s what those people in Palestine needed to hear, and we do to.  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow those who water down the Bible into something we can all agree with.  You’re going the wrong way if you want to make this world your home.”  He says, “Turn around.  Don’t continue going the way that is contrary to God’s.  Repent.”

Isn’t it nice to know there is someone loving enough, someone interested in your life enough, someone who is willing to give you the tough talk you need? That is good news for us.  It is good news that someone is willing to shout, “Turn around!”

When a racer goes off course, misses a gate in a ski race, or misses a flag like I once did in a cross-country race in high school, it’s really important to have someone who is willing and able to point that out.  I would have been disqualified for missing one right hand turn, but someone was there to call me out and got me back on track so that I could finish the race the right way.

Do you see how necessary that is?  When we talk about repentance, turning around from sin, we need to remember this is not my work to make God happy with me.  A sinner can’t make themselves turn from a sinful road, can we?  We need someone perfect to turn us around.  That’s Jesus.

He went in the desert to face off against Satan so that he could overcome our temptations.  He could see that sinful road, but he said no.  That way wouldn’t lead to our redemption.  Sure, Jesus would have had food for his belly, he would have had power in this world, he would have proved the power of angels, but none of that was what Jesus came to do.  He said no to Satan, because Jesus came to follow the perfect road.  That was the only way to give us redemption.

That’s the good news he was preaching in Galilee.  Jesus was here to defeat Satan.  He was here to say no to the sinful road.  He was here to provide the turnaround that sinners needed.  By his perfect life a new road is ours.  Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of free and full forgiveness given to sinners by the perfect love of a perfect God and Savior, not earned by sinners.  That’s not possible.  That is like a bunch of cheaters trying to compete for who will be less disqualified than the other cheaters. It’s nonsense.

Jesus has good news for us, a shabby bunch of people who couldn’t stay on course if our life depended on it.  His good news is that he never once strayed from the perfect road.  He fought the devil off.  His perfect life is for us.  There’s more.  He is also that person who is willing and perfectly able to shout out, “Turn around” when he sees us going off course.

Brothers and sisters, do we ever need that!  We need the voice of Jesus calling out after us to turn around.  Maybe it’s a parent.  Maybe it’s a pastor.  Maybe it’s a friend.  We need the voice of the Savior who fought against sin perfectly and gave us the perfect road to heaven.  We need to know when we have strayed from God’s way.  When people are willing to show you, rejoice that people look out for you as Jesus would want them to.  Rejoice that your God has a different road for you.

And then, repent, turn around from the sin that leads to disqualification.  Turn around from the sins that might be popular or easy.  Turn around from the things that you thought were maybe ok but on second or third glance might be questionable.  Turn around from the sins that don’t just offend parents and the family of God, but they offend God.  Jesus did not come to live here, he did not earn the perfect life that was necessary for us, he did not give up his perfect life with such a gruesome sacrifice on the cross, he did not conquer death for us, he did not make us his children through the power of his Word and baptism, he did not send the Spirit into our hearts so that we would throw it all away.  He did all of that to save us from hell.

That’s the good news that leads us, guides us, motivates us, and gets us to turn around.  Repentance is not me first.  Repentance is God’s Word at work.  It’s listening to your Father’s loving voice. It’s sorrow to God for the slipups and selfishness.  It’s sorrow to God for accidents and ignorance, for bad purposes and choices.  It’s sorrow to God for all of the messes and mistakes.  It’s turning around from all of that.

And when you hear the voice of Jesus, calling out to repent, do you know what you see when you turn around?  You don’t see a long list of all the things you need to do to get back into God’s good grace.  You don’t see all these angry faces.  You sure better not.  God says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  You see loving face of Jesus.  You see the object of your faith that made you turn around in the first place.  You see all that he has done for you.  You see the road that he traveled so that he could shut the doors of hell and open the gates of heaven for you.  You see and hear good news from the Savior who knows you and loves you.

Jesus’ road to win our redemption was hard.  We are going to look at during this worship series.  Today, we see how the turnaround happened.  It wasn’t me first.  It is Jesus first.  It is his love walking the road to redemption for us.  It is his grace suffering the punishment of sins for us.  It is his gospel changing sinners into God’s children through faith in Jesus.  It is his voice calling out after us when we stray.  It his good news of forgiveness and life getting us back on track.  It is his never-ending work through the Word and sacraments keeping us going.

You don’t need to be ashamed when you hear the word “repent” or when you hear the voice of the Savior coming from someone who cares calling out to “turn around.”  Be thankful that God cares that much.  Be sorrowful that you got of his path.  And be faithful as he guides you.  God grant it.  Amen.