The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

The Second Sunday in Lent March 1, 2015

 

Mark 8:31-38 The Stigma of the Cross

 

Dear fellow redeemed,

Some deaths are simply too awful to talk about.

* That's how some Christians feel who lose a loved one to suicide.

They don't want to talk about the death of their mother or son or sister because of the

stigma that's associated with a suicide.

* It's a stigma that's created largely out of fear. People hear that a given acquaintance has

taken his life and they conclude, "No way could this happen in my family!"

* They determine they're safe if they can judge that something was very off about this

person. "He must have been crazy!" "He came from a dysfunctional family!"

"He was a bad person!"

* Suicide's stigma is also created out of ignorance.

People lack an understanding of depression and mental illness and object, "So, he was

suffering from a bad case of the blues! That's no excuse for killing yourself!"

* Some even accuse the suicide committing an unforgivable sin, suggesting, "he wasn't

trusting God to get him through his difficulties. He can only be in hell!"

* Suicide's stigma is so strong that people would rather not hear the truth.

The truth is, suicide has nothing to do with "The blues".

* This loved wasn't crazy. He was ill.

He wasn't merely weak. He was suffering from a chronic case of hopelessness.

Yes, he was a sinner. But he's also forgiven!

 

When death seems awful, it develops a stigma that prevents people from hearing the truth.

* That's what happened in the case of Peter. Imagine what was going through his mind.

The disciple's best friend and master had just told them he was going to suffer many things,

be rejected and finally die a shameful death.

* A few days later Jesus would spell it out for them. He'd die by crucifixion.

Well, there was no other death branded with a greater stigma. According to Jewish civil

law, a hanged man was cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23)

He was going to hell!

* No wonder Peter "took (the Lord) aside and began to rebuke him."

"You're the Christ! How could you even imagine such shame coming upon you?!"

* But Peter should have known better than to scold his Lord! Right?

 

Then again we don't like being stigmatized any more than the twelve.

* "What is it about the Christian faith" we complain, "that gets under people's skin?"

"Christ paid for my sins. He's taken all my guilt away! It's a wonderful belief!"

"So why are people judging me as though I'm the most despicable creature on earth?"

1 I've been informed if I confess my faith at work I could be disciplined.

2 If I want an A in this course I must endorse what's politically correct.

3 If I don't keep their company, laugh at their jokes, and brag about the same depraved

pastimes I'll be suspect.

4 I can't even admit I love going to church every Sunday; I'm not ashamed of the Gospel!

* "Jesus has told me he's my Savior. So why is it that the only way I can avoid being

disgraced is if I pretend he doesn't exist?"

* And you see what we've done? We've set up Christianity as a religion that would spare

us of shame; of being stigmatized.

* We're like Peter. One moment our faith is out there for everyone to see. You're the Christ!

And the next moment, we're holding Christ accountable for the fact that we're nothing to

the world and neither is he.

 

So how does Christ respond to our objections?

Peter is definitely not standing alone when he receives the Lord's rebuke.

* "Get behind Me, Satan!" Jesus exclaims . . .

"You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man."

* Setting our minds on the things of man is to expect Christ to make this life more

comfortable. To think as man is to have but one goal: leave this world a better place,

leave this world having made a mark.

 

Setting our mind on the things of God, however, is to promote not ourselves but Christ crucified.

* It's very easy to forget this.

As we like to take the shame out of life, we like to take the shame out of death.

* I'm pretty sure that's what the disciples had in mind when Christ gave this dismal forecast

about his future. They didn't mind Jesus talking about the future, as long as they

had a say in it.

* When Christ spilled it to them that he'd suffer death by crucifixion their reaction was one.

We speak of something so awful!

The one nailed to a cross, as we said, was considered to be cursed, damned by God!"

* There was no greater humiliation! The Lord didn't deserve that!

 

The disciples remind us of some in the Church today who are embarrassed by the doctrine of the

atonement; that Christ paid for our sin by shedding his blood on the cross.

* You and I may be convinced this was necessary, because God demands that a penalty be

given for every sin. But some are very uncomfortable with this doctrine.

* In fact, according to some pastors and theologians, emphasizing that Jesus must die for

us, is to bring shame and disgrace upon the Christian faith.

* You see, we're making God out to be a sort of cold-hearted executioner who receives

pleasure at the expense of someone else's pain and suffering.

And he won't be satisfied unless it's the most inhumane form of torment imaginable.

* So they're trying to take the shame out of Christ's death.

They're trying to remove the stigma from his cross.

* But what they've shown us is they're ashamed of the central teaching of the Bible.

 

Maybe they need to reexamine those words, "Get behind me, Satan!"

* Why would Jesus say this? It's because of what Peter was suggesting: that Jesus didn't

need to offer his life as a payment for man's sins.

* Peter was sounding like some of today's theologians who want to rid their religion of its

stigma. And he needed to take to heart the words of Christ.

"For whoever is ashamed of me and my words . . . of him will the Son of Man also be

ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

 

Certainly, there are times we want to spare people of unjust stigma and shame.

1 Someone is mocked because he's handicapped.

2 A parishioner is shunned because of his divorce, despite the nature of the divorce.

3 A family member is avoided, because he's suffering from dementia.

4 An acquaintance is pitied because he's depressed or has P.T.S.D.

* This last week we learned of the guilty verdict in the Chris Kyle murder trial.

The prosecution declared Eddie Routh to be a troubled drug dealer who knew right from

wrong, whereas the defense said he should be found "not guilty" by reason of insanity.

* Without expressing any personal view of the verdict, what occurs to me is this:

This trial isn't presenting any favors to those stigmatized by P.T.S.D.

* You see, just because you know the difference between right and wrong doesn't mean you

are rational and incapable of doing something you'll later regret.

 

No one appreciates being stigmatized when there's no cause.

* So we're surprised that Christ accepts this stigma.

He's certainly not doing himself any favors.

* People are offended at the idea he should die on the cross to deliver us from our sin.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor. 1:18).

* Then again, "to us who are being saved" St. Paul continues, "it is the power of God."

By the shameful stigma Christ endured for us, we are saved.

* That's why we can accept the cross's stigma when people hate us because of Christ.

You see the cross still saves, as surely as its message is heard and seen in our lives.

 

Now, maybe you're thinking the liberal views of a few far out theologians is not going to effect

how we view the death of our Savior.

* That may be.

But we see a very similar attitude in our culture today having to do with death in general.

* Of growing popularity is the belief that people have the right to die when their pain and

suffering reach a certain level. They'll call it death with dignity or a "beautiful death."

* There are now five states in our country which allow assisted suicide.

Brittany Maynard, if you recall that name, is just one of more than 750 people in Oregon

who's died by lethal dose since 1997.

* The claim is that they're simply trying express some compassion for the suffering.

The truth is, in a culture where people want to remain in charge at all costs; where God has

no role in life and death matters, people can't accept their own cross any more than they

accept Christ's.

And that has some very real implications for Christians.

* Jesus declares, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his

cross and follow me."

* To deny ourselves is to let our Lord be in charge.

It's to set our mind on the things of God rather than the things of man.

* This we may easily predict therefore. If the right to death movement gains momentum, as

I'm sure it will, this will surely be our cross to bear: watching Christian loved ones suffer for

perhaps long periods of time, as others are given the easy way out; being put to sleep

painlessly and with barely any effort.

* This will be our cross: to let God and not man determine the when and how of our death.

 

So how do we answer those who claim that our view, the Christian view, lacks compassion for

the suffering? Can we Christians speak of a "beautiful death"?

* What about when simply stepping into that hospital room causes us to cringe?

We barely recognize our loved one because of their weight loss or the terrible pain

written all over their face. It's so intense, they're not even aware of who's holding their

hand. They have but one focus; they're just waiting to die.

* How can we speak of death, in such cases, as being beautiful?

 

Well, let me answer that by asking a different question.

* Have we been shamed by the death of twenty-one Egyptian Christians by Isis terrorists?

I don't mean to ask whether these murders were shameful. Most certainly they were!

* But were the deaths of these men shameful, having been martyred for their Christian

faith? No they were not. In fact, a more apt description would be to call them beautiful.

* Those who'd call them shameful and then describe the assisted suicide as beautiful have it

backwards. Shameful is every death of those without faith in Christ, those ashamed of

the Gospel. However, beautiful is the death of everyone professing faith in Christ and his

cross.

 

Let me get a little more specific.

* What's beautiful is the Christian who senses his time in this world is drawing to a close,

and he's ready. In fact he's eager, for he's not simply waiting to die; he waiting to live.

1 This is beautiful, that even in his pain and helplessness, he can focus on the Gospel.

He can bring to mind his Savior who "for the joy set before him endured the cross,

scorning its shame" (Hebrews 12:2).

2 This is beautiful to be thinking these thoughts as he's called home:

God was not ashamed to become one of us.

He was not ashamed to endure the sigma of the cross to deliver us from eternal suffering.

3 This is beautiful that when people witness our discomfort, the Lord can work through our

faith, directing them to the saving Gospel of our Lord.

4 And this is beautiful; to consider the final result.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes" John writes.

(And) there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain"(Revelation 21:4).

 

Do you know where the word "stigma" comes from?

* It's derived from the Greek word for "mark", as when St. Paul writes the Galatians,

"from now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."

* St. Paul saw his stigma of the cross differently than some.

He'd been through it all. He had been beat, stoned, persecuted for Christ.

And he bore the marks, the stigma, to prove it.

 

It's something can all expect.

* Some of us have been stigmatized by divorce, a handicap of sorts, by our race or by

mental illness or a family suicide. But virtually all of us have been stigmatized because

of our love for Christ and his cross.

* We may also expect we'll never completely remove these stigmas from our life.

But we overcome them when we let Scripture remind us that shame brings honor.

* And so it will be when we endure that final cross.

When death seems like a crying shame because it comes this slow or that fast, or with

this or that much misery or pain, we simply remember the shame Christ received for us.

* The Stigma of the Cross is our sin which sentenced Jesus to the cross.

Christ was stigmatized by sin so that we might be delivered of sin.

* Yes. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

And that's definitely not too awful to talk about. Amen.

 

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

and the life he promises us. Amen.