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This is the 5th Sunday in Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the door through which we enter into Holy Week. Our gospel text for this morning comes from the 10th chapter of St. Mark’s gospel. The 11th chapter starts off with Palm Sunday. Jesus is at the door. For Jesus it’s like coming up to a check-point in Afghanistan knowing that He’s on the ‘most wanted list.’
This morning, we heard Him remind His disciples that He is well aware of what awaits Him when goes to Jerusalem for this third and final celebration of the Passover festival. They too have a clear idea of what lies ahead as they are aware that the Sanhedrin has put out the word that anyone who information about His whereabouts should report Him to the authorities.
Mark writes, “And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them.” He’s a man on a mission. The whole reason for His coming into this world was immanent. “Let’s do this.”
Mark writes, “they were amazed.” Despite danger that lies ahead He goes forward into battle.
Mark writes, “those who followed were afraid.” If He wasn’t AFRAID, they sure were. Afraid of what will happen to Him. And afraid of what will become of them, His followers.
Three times, Jesus has made it clear that He is fully aware of what awaits Him in Jerusalem. St. Mark has arranged these three “passion predictions” of Jesus in such a way that they form the cornerstone of Gospel, holding together the miracles and teaching of Jesus in the first half of the gospel to the suffer and death of Jesus in the second half of the gospel.
It might be helpful if you were to take out your bible and turn to Mark 8:31 (page 844 in the pew bible.) This was our gospel reading way back on the 2nd Sunday in Lent.
We read: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes an be killed, and after three days rise again.”
“Immediately,” to use a Markism, Peter corrects Jesus, telling Him that the idea that the Christ should suffer and die is inconceivable. And Jesus corrects him.
Now lets turn over to Mark 9:30-32. (next page). “Then from there they passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know for he was teaching his disciples saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” This is the 2nd “Passion Prediction” of our Lord. Basically the same as the 1st.
And once again, the disciples are utterly confused. “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” They “immediately” begin arguing about which one of the them is the greatest disciple. And Jesus corrects them.
Now to our gospel reading for this morning, Mark 10:32-34. (page 846). And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
This is the 3rd Passion Prediction, which contains all of the same information as the previous two with the additional detail that the Gentiles will also be involved in His death.
And once again, the disciples just don’t get it. It’s like they don’t want to hear about His suffering and death. James and John request positions of honor when He comes into His kingdom. And Jesus corrects them.
So, if Jesus’ disciples can be confused about why the Christ must suffer and die, then so can we. So lets take this opportunity to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead by considering the meaning and the purpose of Christ’s suffering and death.
We all know what suffering is because we have experienced it to one degree or another. The author Nicolas Woltersdorff, in his book “Lament For A Son,” in which he describes his experience with suffering at the death of his son, say, “suffering is the shout of NO by nerves and gut and gland and heart, to pain, to death, to injustice, and abandonment.”
Countless books have been written on the “meaning of human suffering.” Some say that suffering serves an important purpose in life and that without suffering, life would be so shallow and dull that it would be practically meaningless. Others say that all suffering is meaningless and that we should do all that we can to avoid it ourselves and eliminate it for others.
Entire religions have been founded on the idea that suffering not only should be avoided but that it can be avoided. Buddhism claims that ‘human desire’ is the reason and cause for all suffering and therefore the goal of the eightfold path is the elimination of suffering through the elimination of all ‘desire.’ Even the desire to live and the desire to do good and to love and be loved causes suffering and therefore must be eliminated if you want to experience Nirvana.
Christianity on the other hand says that love is the ultimate goal of life. Love of God and love of neighbor. And love and suffering are joined at the hip. To love God sometimes requires personal suffering and rejection, suffering and rejection that we could avoid if we did not love God. Let’s call it ‘suffering for love.’
To love your neighbor, which may be as close as our own spouse or children can very often require personal suffering and pain. We could avoid the suffering by not loving them. But that would not be a better life would it?
So, when we willingly enter into this ‘suffering for love; for the love of God and the love of our neighbor, we are, like the disciples, following Jesus who willingly entered into suffering because of His love for His Father and His love for us. This ‘suffering for love’ pleases God because God is love and in Christ crucified, we see how He was willing to suffer for the sake of love. So we, by our ‘suffering for love,’ glorify God.
But love is not the only reason we experience suffering. We also suffer because we are sinful, fallen people who live in a sinful and fallen world. This is suffering for sin. Our sin causes us to suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, both because of what we do to ourselves and because of what others who are sinful do to us.
None of this kind of suffering comes to us because we love or because we are Christians. Grant it, there are some who would have us believe that if you were really a real Christian, you wouldn’t suffer with these things. But we know that’s nonsense. This kind of suffering comes to everyone, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, atheist because we are sinners in a sinful world.
Yet as Christians we are to deal even with this kind of ‘suffering for sin’ in a way that gives glory to God. Rather than shaking our fist at God for letting this happen to us or to our loved ones, we pray to God that He would somehow bring something good our of this suffering. St. Paul goes so far as to say, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
When, in the middle of our suffering, we say with St. Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” we glorify God in our ‘suffering for sin’ just as much as we do in our ‘suffering for love.’ (Romans 8:18) And that is the chief purpose for our suffering – that we may glorify God.
And it is right here were we need to make an important distinction between our suffering and the Jesus’ suffering. Jesus also ‘suffers for love’ and He certainly ‘suffers for sin,’ not His own but the sin of the world into which He has come. But there is a reason and purpose for His suffering that is entirely separate than ours. He suffers and dies for our salvation.
· None of our suffering accomplishes anything for our salvation. But His does.
· My suffering does nothing to win me favor with God. But His does.
· No one else’s suffering, no matter how holy and saintly they may be, can earn God’s forgiveness for my sins. But His
· The blood of the martyrs glorifies God and makes a bold witness to the world, but none of it cleanses me of my sin. But His does.
· If I should be persecuted and even die for my witness and testimony to Jesus, I glorify God with my body, but that does not save me or anyone else. But His suffering and death does.
We suffer because we are sinners from head to toe. To say that we should not suffer is to deny that we are sinful, which John says, is pure self-deception and lacking in all truth. To say that we have experienced more suffering that we deserve is to deeply misunderstand the severity of our sinful nature.
But Jesus is without sin. There is no reason in Him that He should suffer. He suffers because of our sin. HE SUFFERS BECAUSE OF US.
No other suffering has ever been like His suffering. By His suffering, He enters into our suffering and bears it along side of us. But no matter how brave and bold we may think we are, we cannot bear His suffering along with Him. Our suffering does nothing to help Him in His suffering, but His suffering supports and carries us in ours. HE SUFFERS WITH US.
Jesus tells His disciples, “The Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many.” His holy bride has been taken hostage by her own sinful nature and the devil guards the door. He has come to set us free. God, His Father has sent Him into the world “be the ransom for many.” And that is what He does. And it cost Him great suffering and a terrible death. HE SUFFERS FOR US.
The Old Testament is filled with “passion predictions” that the Christ, when He comes into the world, comes to suffer and die for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
If Christ does not suffer then the Scriptures are not fulfilled and you and I are still in our sins, and suffering and death is all that we will ever know.
So, we follow our Lord into Jerusalem, neither amazed nor afraid, nor confused like the disciples. We understand why He suffers and the reason that He must die. When He suffers “by nerves and gut and gland and heart to pain, to death, and to injustice and abandonment,” it is His YES to His heavenly Father and to you. By His suffering, “the whole world is redeemed, the captives are set free, heaven is opened, hell is closed, and eternal life is won.” (Luther. House Postils 5:375)