We Americans love to have choices, and if free-market capitalism is good at anything – it’s offering choices. Choices everywhere. Say you’re shopping for something as mundane as a loaf of bread. You could get the standard white or wheat, you could choose pumpernickel or rye, frozen dough you bake yourself or a loaf of French or Italian or Sourdough someone else baked for you. You can find bread made without yeast and bread made without gluten. When you get to the checkout you get to choose whether you want to pay with cash, check, credit or debit. And then, the most important decision of all: paper or plastic. And that’s just for a loaf of bread! Then you have to decide what to put on the bread, what kind of vehicle to transport it in and what style of home you will eat it in. In America, we certainly have freedom of choice. So why should Christianity be any different? Well, it’s not. You have choices. But today we’re not talking about Roman Catholic or United Church of Christ or Reformed or Lutheran. This morning we’re not discussing denominations, we’re asking a far more basic question: what kind of Christianity do you want: a Christianity of glory or a Christianity of the cross?
Americans tend to judge church (and everything else for that matter) by their personal experience. When you come to church what do you expect to experience? Do you expect the service to be all about you, your individual wants and needs – a religion that comforts and coddles your human nature? Or a religion that confronts your human nature by placing Christ and his cross at the center of attention? You have choices. If you visit or watch a service at one of the many mega-churches in our country, chances are you will hear some form of prosperity gospel: that Jesus died to make you rich, happy or healthy. It’s capitalism cloaked in Christianity. It’s a Christianity of glory. I’ve taught a few adult information classes to those who come from a non-denominational background, they have said that in their experience the sacraments – and especially Holy Communion – take a backseat to moving music and inspirational leaders. Why? Because the most important thing is “what you feel on the inside.” When what Jesus commands takes a backseat to what I feel – that’s a Christianity of glory. The trendy thing these days is to get rid of the altar, pulpit, and baptismal font, remove any crosses, and forget any sort of confession of sins or absolution – to make way for a stage, a band, and a 40 minute inspirational speech. The purpose of going to those churches is not to confess or learn or worship, but to celebrate. Now that sells…because who doesn’t like to celebrate? Celebration is easy. But you have to wonder: without Christ, his cross, and the forgiveness of sins – what is there to celebrate?
So what will it be for us? This morning Jesus demonstrates that he has nothing to do with the Christianity of glory. Jesus will have nothing of the warm, fuzzy religion that appeals to human wants and desires. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Jesus presents his disciples and us with the Christianity of the cross – because it’s only at the cross that Jesus meets our deepest needs: our need for mercy, forgiveness, and life.
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life. That summary is so familiar that it can easily go in one ear and out the other. He would go to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned, turned over, mocked, flogged, crucified, raised. We confess it every week in the creed, right? Yawn. (Can’t we come up with some new material?) But don’t ignore this fact: Jesus knew ahead of time exactly what he would face in Jerusalem. He knew about every drop of spit that would run down his face, every slap that would sting his cheek, every lash that would tear his flesh. He knew that at the end of it all stood a cross and a grave with his name on them. He knew every ugly detail of Holy Week. And he was willing to do it anyway – because his Father’s will was not for him to find glory in a palace in Jerusalem but suffering and dying on a cross outside the city limits.
This wasn’t, or at least, shouldn’t have been news to the disciples. This was the third time Jesus told them that he would suffer and die. But when we look back at each prediction, we see that the disciples never really got it. The first time Jesus predicted his suffering, death, and resurrection: Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” He said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:22-23) “You know Jesus, if you want to be popular, if you want people to follow you, you shouldn’t bring up things like suffering and dying – people don’t like that, it’s bad for your image.” Peter was willing to follow Jesus wherever he led, as long as it was a painless path that ended in glory. Sound familiar?
The second time, Matthew tells us that the disciples were filled with grief. (Matthew 17:23) They weren’t just sad that Jesus was going to die. They were sad that all of their dreams of power and riches and glory would be dashed on that rock with the ugly name: Golgotha – the place of the skull. (Matthew 27:33) Instead of thanking Jesus for his willingness to go to the cross for them, they curled up in a safe space of self-pity because Jesus wouldn’t give them the glory they wanted.
Finally, the third time Matthew records this fascinating reaction: then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” Can you imagine having the guts to ask Jesus what James and John did? Neither could they. That’s why they had mom do it. (Who, by the way, we believe was Jesus’ aunt. see Matthew 27:56 & John 19:25) Who can say no to their aunt? They completely ignored what Jesus had just said about his arrest, torture, and death. They were after the easy life – the life where they could recline in La-Z-Boy’s next to the guy calling the shots with all of the power, honor, and glory that would bring.
Shame on them…shame on James and John for being so brash and bold and stupid and foolish! But…do we ever do the same thing? Do we ever ask for or expect special treatment from Jesus? Have we ever been stingy with our offerings, and yet expect Jesus to keep his spigot of blessing flowing full stream? Have we ever gone days or weeks without praying, but expect Jesus to keep his ears open just in case we decide to? Have we ever intentionally disobeyed God’s commands, and then expected him to swoop in to save us from the consequences of our actions? Do we ignore what God clearly says in his Word, but expect him to guide us to the right decision anyway? Do we shamelessly skip opportunities to be in God’s presence in His House – but still expect his presence in our homes and lives? Shame on James and John? No, shame on us! They certainly aren’t the only ones who expect glory without the cross.
But there was a deeper problem. By volunteering to share Jesus’ cup, James and John thought they were asking for a cushy job as Jesus’ closest advisors. But they didn’t know what they were asking for. They were like two little children who wished they were grown-ups. A child thinks that being an adult is all about calling the shots and going to bed when you want to and never having to follow anyone else’s rules. In reality, that child doesn’t know what he’s asking for. The aches and pains, the frustrations at work, the burdens of mortgages and bills and making ends meet, the wishing you could go to bed when you want to, and when you’re in bed not being able to sleep. That’s the reality of adulthood. James and John wanted to bask in glory at Jesus’ side, but the grown-up reality was that Jesus’ reign was not going to be on a glorious throne in Jerusalem.
No, Jesus’ reign consisted of drinking the cup the Father placed into his hands. What’s in that cup? Adam and Eve’s rebellion. Noah’s drunkenness. Abraham’s lies. Jacob’s deceit. David’s adultery. Matthew’s greed. Peter’s denial. Judas’ despair. Paul’s murder. All of it was in that cup – and more…The sins of the past we are desperate to keep hidden – in that cup. The thoughts in our heads that would make Hollywood directors blush – they’re in the cup. The words we’ve spoken to intentionally hurt others – in the cup. The things we’ve done to please ourselves or screw others over – in the cup. What have you thought or said or done this week that’s in the cup? And yet, the One who had no sin drank that cup and made our sins his very own.
But there is more in this cup. The final, bitter ingredient was justice. God’s justice demanded that sin be punished – that your sins and mine be punished – but instead of raining down his wrath on our heads, he rained it down on Jesus. As God raised his hammer of justice over Jesus, he cried out: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) He drained the cup of God’s wrath over our sin. That’s how Jesus rules. As he said: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Or, as Peter, one of the ten who resented James and John’s audacity, later wrote: he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24) Because of Jesus, we don’t just have to pretend to be happy; we can really rejoice – because God’s not angry at us anymore. Jesus has satisfied God’s wrath and delivered to us mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life. If you come to Christ and his cross, that’s what you should expect to receive – and that’s a good thing, because that’s what you and I need most of all.
But Christ and his cross offer so much more. The Christianity of glory may promise you whatever wealth, health or happiness you believe will complete your life; but the cross assures us that the same God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32) The Christianity of glory will offer you free childcare while you enjoy a concert; but only Christ’s Word connected to the water of Baptism assures you that your child is in the care of their Father in heaven. The Christianity of glory tries to convince you with music and manipulation that you are “close to God”; in Holy Communion, Jesus offers you his very body and blood – you can’t get closer than that. (Matthew 26:26-29) The Christianity of glory prefers to pretend that disease and hardship and disappointment and suffering don’t happen to believers (at least, not the good ones); the Christianity of the cross confronts those realities with the promise that [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate [you] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) The ultimate goal of the Christianity of glory is to give you your best life now; Christ, who took up his cross for you, made this promise to all who take up their crosses and follow him: to him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
All those things – and countless other blessings – Christ has won for you and for me; and he did it on the cross. So what will it be? Let the world have their easy religion, their best life and their glory now; we’ll take the cross and the mercy, forgiveness and never-ending glory Jesus won for us there. Amen.
*Outline written by Pastor Aaron Christie - http://www.trinitywels.com/site/outlines.asp?sec_id=2161&secure=&dlyear=0&dlcat=Sermons