Ash Wednesday Feb.

6, 2008 Matthew 16:21-23 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen. What does today mean to you? That might seem like a silly question. “Why, it’s Ash Wednesday. It’s the first day of Lent. We come and get ashes and repent, and well, it’s a good start to the Lenten season.” That’s true—but only partially. For today marks the beginning of a journey. Not only our journey through the Lenten season, but Jesus’ journey to the cross. Our Lord clearly calls us to go where He has gone —ultimately that means heaven—but before then we must go to the cross. “Whoever desires to follow me must deny himself and take up his cross.” And so, that is what we are going to do. Literally, we will each take up our cross this Lenten season—you each received one at the door. Each week we will receive a piece of the passion to add to the cross, which will serve as reminders of Christ’s passion. But taking up our cross means much more than simply receiving this wooden work of art meant to adorn our home. Journeying to the cross with Jesus begins by denying self—in theological terms, repentance. In this lesson we not only hear Jesus telling of his impending death and resurrection, but we also hear something else. Something

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strange. Something that doesn’t seem to fit—Peter’s words of rebuke: “Never, Lord, this shall never happen to you.” Peter doesn’t want Jesus to die. Perhaps this is due to his love for Jesus. Or maybe it is something more. Maybe Peter is reacting to Jesus like many Christians today do—with disdain for a suffering and dying Lord. We don’t mind a smiling Jesus, a loving Jesus, or a friendly Jesus. We like a Jesus who promises health and wealth. We want to follow Jesus so that we can have a good family life, and be successful in life. But somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten or ignored that the chief thing is eternal life. And in order to have eternal life, in order to be delivered from eternal suffering, we have to die. We have to die not only physically, but spiritually. WE have to die to self. Even more important, we need to have a suffering servant. One who denies Himself and takes up HIS cross. One who dies on our behalf. We need not only a resurrected and glorified Lord, but a crucified and dying Lord as well. But that’s not what we want. And that’s not what Peter wanted. And that is why Jesus responds so harshly, “Get thee behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” How many of you remember the days of the “Herr Pastor”? The pastor who ruled with an iron fist? I’m sure you heard many harsh words sounding forth from the pulpit, words that perhaps hurt us or made us feel bad, it is a safe bet that none of us have suffered such a stinging rebuke. None of us have been called “Satan”. How could Jesus say such a thing? WHY did Jesus say such a thing? Quite simply, to bring

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Peter to repentance. Jesus is speaking the Law, and the work of the Law is to act as the Hammer of God. On your cross you have a small stone. We might associate that with the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. But it also symbolizes the hardness of our hearts. Our hearts are hardened by sin, and only the Law, functioning as Jeremiah says, as the Hammer of God, can break that hardness and bring us to repentance. There are two parts to repentance. First, there is the terror of conscience because we know how our sins offend our just and holy God. Luther put it this way: “The man whom God would make pious He turns into a despairing sinner; the man whom He would make wise He turns into a fool; the man whom He would make strong He makes weak; the man whom He would make alive He thrusts into the jaws of death; the man whom He would lead to heaven He sinks into the abyss of hell.” The second part of repentance is for this terror of conscience to result in a change—a change in the way we think, a change in the way we believe, a change in the way we live. We think that we are, by nature, clean and Un-sinful. We elevate our own intelligence, we work hard every minute of every day to reinforce a false ideal that we have of ourselves—to build ourselves up, often-times at the expense of God and others. The call to repentance is a call to deny ourselves-- to crucify our egos—and to take up the cross.
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We believe that we can justify ourselves—that we don’t really need Christ to do it for us. If only we “do unto others . . . “ then God will smile on us. We believe that if we love more, serve diligently, and sacrifice a bit of our time and treasures, then He will reward us. The call to repentance is a call to deny these idolatrous beliefs—to crucify the gods we have made in our own image—and take up the cross. We live as we please. We live for ourselves. We think that God doesn’t know—and if He does, He doesn’t care—what we do. We look good and act good on Sunday, but the rest of the week is ours. We can say whatever we want, and do whatever we want to whomever we want. In so doing we conveniently leave God out of the equation. The call to repentance is a call to deny these ungodly actions—to crucify anything in our lives that is not of God—and to take up the cross. The purpose of repentance is to bring us to the cross. It’s a place we don’t really want to be found. Like Peter on the mount of Transfiguration, we want to be at the place of glory. We love the glory. We love the glitz. We love the glamour. But that’s not where Christ is to be found. At least, not yet. The cross. That is where He is headed. And that is where we are headed as well. The question is, how will we get there? Amen.

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