February 28, 2021

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Genesis 28:10-17

Epistle Lesson; Romans 5:1-11

Psalm of the Day; Psalm 73                              

Sermon Text; Mark 8:31-38


The text we will look at is taken from Mark, chapter 8, verses thirty one through thirty eight.  I want you to notice that in this text Jesus is going to be talking about you and me.  He is going to be talking about the cross, but He is not talking about the cross He suffered on.  He is going to be talking about the cross He asks you to take up, and bear for Him.

This is in Jesus' name.


Jesus began to teach that the Son of Man must suffer many things; (here is His cross) be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the experts in the law; be killed; and after three days rise again.  He was speaking plainly to them.  Then Peter took Him aside, and began to rebuke Him.  But after turning around and looking at His disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter, and said “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have your mind set on the things of God, but the things of men.”

He called the crowd and His disciples together, and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.  But whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.  After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his soul?  Or, what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  In fact, whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



I am going to try to put this in to perspective a little bit.  There was an Australian pastor.  I don't remember his name, but he used this illustration to talk about the cross of Christ that the Lord calls on us to bear.  Let's imagine we are all in an airplane right now.  You don't know it, but the airplane is having engine failure.  The airplane is going down, and it is going to crash. 

You are sitting in first class.  The stewardess walks up to you, with a backpack, and in it is a parachute.  You don't know what is in it, as she hands it to you.  She says, “You might want to put this on.  It will make your flight a little better.”

You take it, and you think, “Oh man, if I put that on, I am going to be so uncomfortable sitting in my seat, here.  I am probably not going to be able to drink my mixed drink, anymore.”

And so, instead of putting it on, you put it on your lap.  You have it on your lap, and think, “Boy, this is really a problem, because now I cannot use my laptop.  It is bothering me.”  

So, you move the backpack under your seat, in front of you.  But, then you notice it is blocking your feet, and you can't stretch out the way you want to.  You feel really uncomfortable, so you take the backpack, and put it up in the storage rack, up above your head.

The plane is going down.

Now, suppose you are in economy class.  The stewardess walks up to you, and she is a little more blunt.  She looks at you, and says, “The plane is going down.  Strap this on.  It will save your life.”
You take it, and you gladly put your arms in it, and you strap it on.  You are sitting in your seat, and it is pushing you way up against the back of the next seat.  You are really uncomfortable, and it does not feel good, but you are strapped in, and you are ready to use that parachute, when the time comes.  As uncomfortable as it is, you have it on.  It is going to save your life.

It is in that context, that sort of context, that Jesus basically is telling us, “Look, the plane is going down.  The end of the world is coming.  Judgment Day is coming.”  And then, He says, “Here, I want you to strap this on.”  Faith is what we strap on.  It’s what saves us.  But faith in Christ may be very uncomfortable and bring all kinds of trials or crosses into our lives.

He tells us, “I am going to give you a cross.  I am going to put it in this backpack of faith, (so to speak).  I want you to strap it on, and put it on.  It may be uncomfortable, but the plane is going down and this is going to save your life.”

Now, that is counter intuitive, in a way.  I want you to look at what happens, when we think about the cross.  We think about a cross, and we think of suffering.  We think of pain.  We think of trouble.  We think, “That is the last thing I would ever want.”

When Jesus was describing His cross to His disciples, listen to what He said. 

“Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things; be rejected of the elders, the chief priests, and the experts in the law; be killed; and after three days rise again.  He was speaking plainly to them.”

Jesus is telling them, “I am going to bear a cross.  I am going to the cross.”

Then, look at what happens next. It says,

“Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.”

What is our natural reaction to the cross?   Our natural reaction to the cross is, “Who would ever want one of those?  What good could come out of suffering, pain, trial, trouble, torture and death?”

So, Jesus says to Peter,

“But after turning around, and looking at His disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have your mind set on the things of God, but the things of men.'”
Ultimately, what we discover is that Jesus' cross, as difficult, painful, and the fact that it brought death, and surely did not appear anything of benefit to anybody, ended up becoming the most beneficial thing that could have ever happened in the entire universe. 

The greatest benefit came from

the greatest suffering. 

-My sins are paid for. 

-I am redeemed. 

-My sins are washed away by the blood of Christ. 

-Salvation is mine and yours, because of the suffering that happened on the cross. 

It is that context, when we begin to understand that the Lord can take a cross, (the suffering, the pain, the trial, and even the death that goes with it), and He can turn it into the most awesome blessing in the world.  It is given in that context, (and we will see, as we go through here), that Jesus asks you, (in fact, He goes beyond just asking), He tells you to take up your cross for His sake, and for the sake of the Gospel.

One time, Martin Luther was describing what he called, The Seven Marks of The Church.  By 'The Church', He was talking about 'believers'.  There are seven marks, or seven signs, where you can tell there are believers here.  I am going to go through the first six really quick, and then I want to get to the seventh.

Here are the seven signs.  He said, “You look at these seven signs, and you will know there is going to be believers in that place, at that spot.”

Number one, he said, “They have The Word.”  That is sign number one.  They have God's Word, because the Holy Spirit works through The Word to create faith.

Number two.  Sign number two.  “They have holy Baptism.”  Why?  The Holy Spirit works through Baptism, to create saving faith in hearts.

Number three.  He said, “They have The Lord's Supper, or The Sacrament of the Altar.”  Through that, the Holy Spirit takes what Jesus did, and delivers it to you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
Number four.  He said, “They have (what he called) The Office of the Keys (and I am going to call it, Confession and Absolution).  The people come, confess their sins, and hear their sins are forgiven, for Jesus' sake.  Through that announcement of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit strengthens faith in Jesus.

The fifth sign is this.   “They have pastors who use those things, who use those means, to tell people about Jesus, and spread the Gospel.”

The sixth sign.  “There are people who gather in church to actually hear The Word, use Baptism, use The Lord's Supper, and are sure their sins are forgiven.”  The Holy Spirit works through those.

Then comes sign number seven.  He said, “The seventh sign that there are believers is that there is a group of people who have taken up the holy cross.”  By that he is talking about the fact that they have taken up willingness to bear the cross of Christ, and suffer for the sake of Christ.

You see, that is how you can tell there are believers.  Look at why He said that.  It says,

“He called the crowd and His disciples together, and said to them, 'If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.'”

Now, you will notice Jesus treats this as a necessity, if you are follower of Christ.  He doesn't say, “Think about it”.  He says, “...take up his cross”. 

This is a consequence of being a believer in Jesus. 

You will notice it also means it is going to include suffering.  It is going to be hard.  It can be painful.  It can bring shame into your life.  It can even bring death into your life, to be a follower of Jesus. 

But, we also notice this.  It is willingness.  It is willingness to go through that, for the sake of Christ.  Jesus says,

“...let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

So, let's look at that a little bit.  What does it mean, when Jesus says, “If you are a follower of me, deny yourself...”

What does it mean to deny yourself?  To deny yourself, there Jesus is talking about our sinful nature.  Our sinful nature is such that when we are born in to this world, my sinful nature, (and to the day I die), my sinful nature is going to feel this way, and think this way…. my sinful nature thinks I have fulfillment in life, when things go the way I want them to go, when I get what I want, when my will dominates over other people's will.  That is when my life is fulfilled.  That is when my life has meaning.  That is what our sinful nature feels like.  And, our sinful nature is willing to follow whatever it thinks it would take to feel happy, and good.  If it is falling into this temptation, or following this sin, this pleasure, getting this money, getting this person to be my friend, getting my way in whatever is happening in our family, or business, or whatever it may be, that is what our sinful nature feels.  That is what it is all about.

But Jesus says,

“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself...”

That means we look at our sinful nature, and instead, Jesus says, “Take up your cross, and follow me.”
We, as people who have been converted to Christianity, we believe in Christ.  What we say is, “Jesus, Jesus, I would rather follow you.  And, if that means suffering for you, I would rather do that, than have what my sinful nature wants.  So, Jesus, my sinful nature wants to fall in to all kinds of temptation.  But, I am ready to take up my cross.  I am ready, for the sake of what you have done for me, the fact you died for me, and you purchased me at a great price, I am ready to suffer.  I am ready to fight temptation, as hard as it may be, as difficult as it may be, as much as people may laugh at me, because I am trying to just follow Your Will..  I am willing to take up that cross, and follow you.  It is worth more than anything for me to follow you.  Jesus I am willing to follow you.”  

When it comes to loving people, my sinful nature is really more self-centered.  It wants to be loved.  It is like, “If things are going well, if you are giving me what I want, if you are giving me the attention I want, if you are doing the things I want, then things are going pretty well, as far as love.” 

But the Christian says, “No, Jesus, I am willing to deny myself.  I am willing to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow you, because of what you have done for me.  Clinging to you is more important than anything.  Even when things are not going well, and people are not treating me the way I want, (and, maybe they are having difficulties in their life), I am going to deny myself.  Jesus, I am going to follow you.  I am going to be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for their needs, the way you did for me. No matter what.”

When this world (and this world is getting worse, and worse, as time goes on, here in our country), laughs at some of the things that Jesus' Word says, it is just going to make you feel dumb.  It is going to tell you that you are not loving. 

My sinful nature says, “I don't want that.  I don't want to be made fun of.  I don't want people to think I am dumb, for believing in The Bible.” 

Denying myself means taking up my cross, and saying, “Jesus, your Word is more important to me than any of that.  I willingly suffer ridicule, being made fun of, being told I am stupid, because you are so important to me.”

Now, Jesus says there is an alternative.  The alternative is to not deny yourself, to not deny yourself, and say, “My way, my will, that is more important to me.” 

Jesus wants us to understand what the alternative will result in.  Here is what He says. 

“Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it. 

But, whoever loses his life for my sake,

and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. 

After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world

and yet forfeit his own soul? 

Or, what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

There Jesus is saying, “What if everything did go the way you wanted it to go?  You got all of the friends you wanted.  You have all of the money you wanted.  You have all of the fame, all the honor.  Everything went your way, and your will was in charge.” 

But, He says, “What are you going to give in exchange of your soul?  If you don't believe in me, what does it matter in the end?”

Look at what He says. 

“In fact, whoever is ashamed of me and My Words

in this adulterous and sinful generation,

the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him,

when He comes in the glory of His Father,

with the holy angels.”

There is that picture.  If you don't have that 'parachute strapped on', and the end comes, then what?  Then what?  That is the alternative.

And so, as God's people, we gladly want to say, “I believe in Jesus.  I cling to Him.  And, I am willing, for the sake of Jesus, and the Gospel, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.”

There was a pastor who lived shortly after Martin Luther.  He lived in the late 1500's, early 1600's.   His name was Martin Molar.  He wrote a book.  Listen to the title of his book.  Preparing to Die.  The subtitle is:  The Art of Dying. 

I love that!  The Art of Dying.  In this book, amongst other things, he talks about the blessings, or the benefits of bearing a cross for Christ.  I am just going to briefly talk about a few of them. 

-One of the benefits he talks about bearing a cross for Christ, carrying that cross for Christ's sake, and the sake of the Gospel, is this.  Let's imagine you are a child.  Your dad never brings any difficulty, or any discipline, or any hardship in to your life.  Is that a good thing, or is that a bad thing?  Do you know that The Bible tells us that if a father does not disciple his child, that is a sign the father does not really love the child?  In fact, The Bible says,

“Those God loves, He disciplines.” 

That means God brings hardship in to our lives.  And, when He does, it is a sign that He loves you.  So, never think, just because you are bearing a cross, and things are difficult and hard for being a Christian, never think God does not love you.  It actually is a sign that He does care, and He loves you. 

-Then, Martin Molar goes on, and explains how it is a sign that God loves you.  He says bearing that cross is like being in a school house where you are being taught things that are very, very important for your soul.  For example, you are being taught, when you go through hardship, how dependent you really are on God.  The cross that you are bearing is intertwining you with the cross of Christ.  It is causing you to run back to the cross of Jesus, and say, “Jesus, I am going through trials, struggles, and troubles.  I need you.  I have to be so dependent on you.  I have nothing else to cling to.”
-He says that our trials cause us to pray, and run to the Lord in prayer.  Again, that just draws us closer to our Savior.

-He says our trials, ultimately, enable us to witness to others.  He says God comforts us in our sorrows so that we can comfort others in their sorrows, with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

So I am being trained, as I learn to run to God's promises, and cling to them, when I am going through trials.  Promises like “God is going to work this out for my good.  He is not going to leave me.  He is not going to forsake me.  He is using this to strengthen my faith.  He comforts me in my sorrows, so I can witness to others.”  

We see that God is accomplishing these really beautiful things in the life of a Christian, through the cross, and through suffering.  What He is doing is using that cross to bring us to the things that create Christians. 

        -He is bringing us to The Word. 

        -He is bringing us to the promise we have in our Baptism. 

        -He is bringing us to The Lord's Supper. 

        -He is bringing us, eager, to hear that our sins are forgiven. 

        -He is bringing us to fellow Christians, where we build one another up. 

And so, the sufferings, again, are just a great benefit, great benefit in the life of a Christian.  They keep us clinging, and entwined to the cross of Christ.

There are some people who actually do give up their lives.  That is their burden.  That is the cross they bear.  They give up their lives for Christ.  The disciples, when they suffered for Jesus, The Bible says,

“They rejoiced

that they were considered worthy of suffering

for the name of Christ.” 

That is so profound.  They considered it a great honor, because Jesus suffered for us.  Jesus paid for our sins, and He purchased us.  They considered it an honor, an honor to bear the cross for Him, even if it meant dying for Him.

Someday we are going to be in Heaven, as God's people, and we will meet people like Simeon of Cyrene, or Simeon of Cyrene.  He is the man, who when Jesus was carrying His cross, the cross was taken off of Jesus, and it was placed on Simeon of Cyrene.  He followed behind Jesus, and he carried the cross for Jesus.  We will probably look at Simeon, and say, “What an honor.  You got to follow behind Jesus, and carry His cross.”  

He is probably going to look at us, and say, “What an honor for you.  You followed behind Jesus.  He put a cross on your shoulder.  By that cross, and that suffering, He kept you right close by Him, as you followed on safely, until you got here, to Heaven, to be with Him.”

I will close with this thought.  I am on the Board of Regents at Bethany Lutheran College.  There is a bill going through the government right now.  It is a bill that potentially, potentially, (if it gets passed) could make it really hard for Christian colleges to continue to exist.  The reason is, it may take away our freedom to stand clearly on the biblical teaching regarding gender issues.  In fact, it may be that if a college is not willing to sign a piece of paper that says we won't ever discriminate, in any way, in any hiring, that the federal government could take away federal funding. 

Now, for Bethany College, our budget is about fourteen million dollars a year.  We get about five million dollars a year in federal funding, through scholarships, through grants, and through federal loans.  That could all be pulled away.  Could you imagine the cross that would be for a Christian College? 

So anyway, we are emailing about this, back and forth, the members of this Board of Regents.  One of the members of The Board of Regents emailed this back.  Just think about what he says. 

“You know, Jesus.  His Roman government put Him on a cross.  And, He died.  By that, Jesus paid for our sins.  Then, Jesus rose from the dead, and He rules over all things, for the good of His Church.  This world can bluster all they want, but in the end, in the end, Christ will prevail! 

Then, this guy signed his little email, instead of like, 'your friend', or 'in Christ', or 'lovingly', he signed it this way.  'sub cruce', which is Latin for, 'under the cross'. 

You see, we are under the cross.  I love the name of our church, Holy Cross.  Christ saved us on His cross.  And, He gives us a cross to bear.  You can tell you are in, amongst believers, because it is a group of people who have taken up the holy cross, and is following after Christ.



Now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts, and our minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.