The Rest of the Story
Legendary radio announcer Paul Harvey died last week. He taught us the importance of knowing "The Rest of the Story." On that 5 minute radio program Harvey showed how the last line of a story could make the whole story pop into focus. That's certainly true of our text.
Part of the story of this text is the law, and it's low hanging fruit here. It's easy pickin', easy preaching. It's not enough to give up "things" for Lent. Jesus doesn't say, "Deny yourself things." Another radio host, J.T. the Brick, makes a big deal each year over what he as a Catholic is giving up for Lent. This year he's giving up pizza, soda, all forms of bread, Mexican food, and cereal. He admits that if he really wanted to sacrifice he should give up beer and Starbucks, but in his words, "I just can't do that."
Even if he could, that wouldn't satisfy this text. Jesus doesn't say, "You must give up the things you like most for Lent." He says, "You must deny your self." Actually, he doesn't say "deny" but "renounce." Renounce is much sharper and total. The Greek word is a strengthened form for the regular word for deny. In the New Testament it's only used in the context of renouncing the self and to describe what Peter did to Jesus on Maundy Thursday. Remember? Peter swore that he did not know Jesus. That's how Jesus demands we treat not our bad habits or the things we really like but our self. Me, I, number one, what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see. Me, me, me is what Jesus calls us to renounce.
This renouncing isn't just for Lent, for awhile, but for good. St. Chrysostom points this out. This renouncing is unto death and a reproachful death, one on the cross, and isn't something you do once or twice but throughout your life. Renouncing you for Lent isn't enough. If you're going to follow Jesus, you must renounce all of you all the time.
This is where salvation is, says Jesus. "Because whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it." Again this is sharp law, and it's easy to preach, but it's not sharp enough. Jesus doesn't say "lose his life," as in someone getting lost in their work or losing track of time. He says "destroys" his life. You think you can destroy your life when you can't even hold your breath till you pass out? You think you can destroy your life when you're insulted by someone not giving you the respect you think you're due? You are going to destroy your life when you can't even stand to see it slighted? That word translated "life" can be translated "self." Do you really think we who are steeped in a culture of self-esteem are going tolerate our self perishing? Not likely.
Jesus says we are to do this "for Me and for the Gospel." The Me' is emphatic. You people do give your dollars for Jesus and the Gospel. You do give your time for Jesus and the Gospel. But like the hymn says: "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." Or as another hymn says: "But drops of grief [or buckets of money or calendars of time] can ne'er repay/ The debt of love I owe;/ Here, Lord, I give myself away, Tis all that I can do." Maybe this hymn writer can give away himself for Jesus and His gospel but can he destroy himself?
I can't; I haven't; I don't. Therefore, the last line of the text could this be the rest of the story' pricks my heart. Jesus says, "If anyone is ashamed of Me and My Words (This time My words' is emphatic.), the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father's glory with the holy angels." Just how proud are we of words we don't study, use, talk about, live by? Regularly people tell me how passionate they are about things in terms of devotion to words. "I read everything I could get my hands on." "I devoured every book I could find on the subject." "I studied and studied and studied this." Remember that Confirmation Bible Quiz I published in the newsletter about two years ago? The fact that you got less than 60% wouldn't indicate your shame for Jesus' Word; not taking it or not bothering to find the correct answers is another matter.
Be sure to note that being ashamed of Jesus' words is being ashamed of Jesus. Jesus here blows apart the wicked fiction that you can have one attitude toward Jesus' Word and another toward Him. If you're embarrassed by what the Bible says about creation, angels, salvation, marriage, family, other religions, the Person or Work of Jesus, you're ashamed of Jesus and He will be ashamed of you come Judgment Day. If you don't believe me now, you will then.
Part of the story is law and it's low hanging fruit: easy to reach, preach, and teach. You internet people go home and surf LCMS pastors' sermons, see how many of them make this part of the story the whole story. See how their sermons end this way: We are to get better at renouncing ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. But they come by this honestly. I read several church fathers and they all do this. It's the way we people of the law naturally use the law. If it doesn't kills us, we use it as motivation to do better, try harder, or worse still, we use the law to excuse ourselves. We do deny ourselves enough; we do follow Jesus as best we can. Worst of all though is when we try to answer the Law using a truncated Gospel. Go to the internet sermons; many will end this way: Because Jesus renounced Himself and took up His cross for your sake, you have the power to do likewise. Do you see how this makes the Gospel only part of the story?
The Gospel is the rest of the story. On Paul Harvey's show the rest of the story was always the reason for the story. The Gospel is the reason the story is told in the first place. But where is the Gospel in this text? It's here, but only when you read it in context. First, however, let's return to the text. We can all agree that if ever there was a man ashamed of Jesus and His Word, it was Peter, right? Peter hears the Gospel that Jesus must suffer many things, be rejected by the Church and killed by the State. And what does he do? "Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him." For doing this Jesus calls Peter Satan,' not satanic, not like Satan, but Satan.' Surely, Peter has forfeited his soul, his life, his salvation. Surely, Jesus will be as ashamed of Peter come Judgment Day as Peter was of him on that day.
Not so fast. Hear the rest of the story. Our text is the end of chapter 8. Chapter 9 continues our text with Jesus promising that some of them would not taste death till they saw the kingdom of God. Then Jesus takes 3 of them up the Mount of Transfiguration where they meet Moses and Elijah who are in heaven with the angels, and then the glory of the Father descends where they are. Peter is one of the 3 Jesus takes up there.
After being rebuked by Jesus, after being shown that he isn't coming after Jesus, isn't denying himself, isn't taking up his cross or following Jesus; after being shown that he has forfeited his soul and deserves the shame of Jesus come judgment day, Jesus invites Peter up to see the most glorious revelation of Himself this side of heaven. Peter, as Moses and Elijah got to in their lives, gets to hear God speaking to him on a mountain top. Now if after Peter fell so deeply Jesus can exalt him so highly, I think you too can be saved.
But where's the repentance of Peter? Where's Peter saying, "I'm sorry Lord." Where's Peter resolve to once again renounce his self, pick up his cross and follow Jesus? I'm not saying none of this was there; I'm saying none of it is what the Holy Spirit wants you to focus on. Oh, it can be part of the story, but it's not to be the rest of the story.
The change that came over Peter isn't the focus; the exchange is. Jesus asked the rhetorical question: "What can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Once you've lost your soul, forfeited it to sin, death and the Devil, how can you get it back? You can't. God's unbreakable Word declares, "The soul that sins shall die," and the Devil repeats this divine conclusion endlessly. Try to find a loophole, an escape clause, an exception. No, you are a sinner; therefore, you must die and go on dying forever since even the death of a sinner isn't able to pay for sins.
What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing, but God had something to give. He gave Himself. Your salvation demanded nothing less than all of Him. Paul describes it this way, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself by not counting men's sins against them but against Christ." Your sins demanded a death; and God gave them one: the death of His Son. To redeem us the death had be a holy one, otherwise the death would have been for its own sake, so God gave one. The sinless life of His Son was ended.
The great exchange took place. Jesus got the guilt of our inability to renounce ourselves, take up our cross, or follow Him, and we got Jesus' holy, innocent life. Jesus got ushered into the judgment of God; we got ushered into the glory of God with saints and angels. Because Jesus forfeited His soul, we gain not just this world, but the world to come. Because Jesus' cross leads to such unspeakable grace and glory, ours do too. Our cross is part of the story, but His cross is the rest of the story. Jesus cross is what turns a text that is all law into one of grace, glory and gospel. Jesus cross is a hellish, heavy payment for sin; our crosses, says St. Paul, are "light and momentary" and lead to a far more eternal weight of glory.
To be sure we're ever tempted to turn away from Jesus' cross and our own; as sinners this is what we naturally, habitually do even as Peter did. That's why salvation can't be a matter of you embracing Jesus' cross or picking up your own. No, salvation is a matter of Jesus embracing you with His cross where He treats you as He did Peter. Though you've done nothing to deserve heaven's glory and everything to deserve Jesus' shame, He takes you up the mountain anyway giving you the grace and glory He deserves.. And that's really just the beginning of another story. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Second Sunday in Lent (20090308); Mark 8: 31-38