Several years ago I was blessed to receive a laptop as a Christmas present. My parents and siblings pitched in so that I could have a nice laptop for work. As with all electronics when I first switched it on it felt blindingly fast. I could do so many cool things with it really seemed to make my life easier. Over the years, however, I have my relationship with my laptop has suffered. It’s had run-ins with a few viruses which have slowed down its functions. The cooling fan doesn’t work as well as it used to so I have to take extra precautions to make sure it doesn’t overhear. The battery no longer works so I have to keep it plugged in to use it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very useful machine, I just have to keep on my toes when I’m using it, especially if I’m working on something important. For example I wrote this sermon as an assignment for my preaching class at the seminary. I was approaching the deadline for turning it in and I was working as quickly as I could to get it in on time. Everything was going well. I was typing in Microsoft word, checking sources on the internet, and referring to my bible translation software, really feeling like a seminarian of the 21st century when suddenly everything freezes. The programs all show a Not Responding indicator and my mouse won’t let me click on anything. Trying not to panic I attempt to open the task manager to try and shut down the non-responsive programs that way, but control-alt-delete doesn’t work its magic this time. Now, I know little to nothing about computers, but when I heard the cooling fan kick into high gear I begin to get nervous. If the fan continues at this speed, it could be damaged and if the fan stops working the whole machine will overheat and I will lose access to what I’ve typed so far. This is a nightmarish possibility so I decide to go with the nuclear option. I grab the power cord where it plugs into the machine and I disconnect it. Thanks to my dead battery the screen instantly goes blank. I wait a few seconds and pray. After plugging the machine back in I press the start button and slowly the computer reboots. With all the programs that I had been using now closed, I was able to re-open my sermon document and, thanks to auto-save, I could pick up typing right where I left off. The most commonly tried solution to any computer problem is to switch it off and then on again. This works because if there’s a problem with a program, turning off the machine will end the troubling program. If only all of life’s problems were so easy to fix. Your car is making a strange noise? Try killing the engine and then starting her up again. Trouble with your co-workers? Flip all the breakers off and back on and see if that doesn’t change anything. Disagreement with your husband? Just clock him over the head with a frying pan and see what he says when he comes to. As amusing a concept as this reboot for life is, in today’s Gospel lesson Jesus gives a graphic description of the Christian life that sounds an awful lot like this. He makes it sound as though the life of a believer is full of reboots and resets as we follow the path of Christ.
Our reading begins at verse 21 by saying “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This verse is a major turning point in the book of Matthew. Before this Jesus had been controversial to say the least. Up until this point He had been preaching and teaching and calling disciples. Standard rabbi stuff. He had also been healing the sick and casting out demons and preaching with a sense of authority that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Not-so-standard rabbi stuff. All of this added up to Jesus being both famous and infamous. Everybody had an opinion about Him. Many had begun to hope that He was the promised messiah. The religious writings of the Hebrews had spoken of a deliverer who would come to raise up the nation of Israel. He would preach good news and perform miracles. He would heal illnesses and fill empty bellies. This fit Jesus to a T. He had done all of these things. Jesus had been ministering for more than two years by this point and His followers were convinced that He was the one they were waiting for. That He was the Messiah who would save the Children of Israel from oppression. The Messiah who would exalt Jerusalem as the grandest city in the world. The messiah who would unite all the people on the planet by showing everyone who the one true God was. The messiah who would fulfill everything God had promised.
And then He says this and throws all of His followers for a loop. He says that He will be executed. He says it quite explicitly. No ifs, ands, or buts. It was necessary that He be tortured by the Jewish leaders and then executed. How could He be the messiah if He was going to be executed? The Messiah was supposed to reign as the King of the world, not die the death of a criminal. And this wasn’t even the first time that He had hinted about His execution, but those hints must have been rather subtle because this announcement comes as a huge shock to all of His disciples.
So why does He say it? What does He mean that it is necessary to be humiliated and die in Jerusalem? Well just as the Old Testament prophecies that a son of David will rule forever, it also describes a man who will suffer greatly for the people. The sacrifices in ancient Israel had covered the sins of the nation. But those were temporary fixes. Regular sacrifices had to be offered to hold back the wrath of God. However, there were hints of another lamb who would come. A sinless man who would be a sacrifice for all men, finally brining peace with God. God the Father had laid the foundations of this plan all the way back at the Garden of Eden and He had sprinkled reminders of this fact all throughout His messages to His people. And Jesus was following the plan of His father. But those Old Testament reminders were subtle. So subtle that most ancient Jews never quite figured them out. So we should probably cut Peter some slack for his misunderstanding. We would have been just as confused as he was. But Jesus has no patience for Peter’s missing of the point. Peter must have understood how confusing this teaching was to everyone around, to say that the messiah had to die. He must have felt that Jesus was speaking in a vailed parable again, but that this mysterious teaching was just too much. This would have also been around the same time as Jesus saying that everyone had to “eat His flesh and drink His blood” and followers abandoned Him after that episode so Peter only wanted to keep jesus from damaging His own reputation. So he takes Jesus aside as a friend and a brother to calm Him down, make Him rethink His words. But Peter does not get the response that he was probably expecting. “Get behind me, Satan!” cries Jesus. The words of Jesus may seem harsh to our ears but they are apt. The word Satan means Adversary, and that is what Peter was being. Jesus had just firmly declared the path that He will be taking in the coming months and here comes Peter telling Him to hush up. Trying to convince the messiah to change His course. Who else have we seen trying to distract the Son of the Living God from following the path laid out for Him? Satan, the Prince of Lies, himself tried to tempt Jesus to break the will of the Father and take power for Himself. The will of God was for one man to die for all the people. That was why Jesus said what He said because it was His Father’s will. And He wanted His disciples to be prepared for it because this would be the most important event since the creation of man. The sacrifice of this perfect lamb would cover all the sins of every man woman and child who had ever, or would ever, live. A reboot for the ages.
So, after He deals with Peter, Jesus decides He needs to take things a step further with His disciples. He says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. Take up their crosses? That’s what criminals did when they were being marched out for execution. And they only did it because someone was whipping them. Lose their lives for the sake of the Lord? I’m sure they all felt willing to die to protect Jesus, but if He was going to die anyway, then they wouldn’t be protecting Him from anything. And, like so many of Christ’s teaching, this would remain a puzzlement to His followers until after His resurrection. In the end, 4 of the apostles were eventually crucified, but we’re not told that the method of their execution made them real Disciples of Christ. No, the fact is that they were already bearing their crosses. This wasn’t something Jesus was predicting would happen to them. It was something that had already been done to them. Like a diagnosis, Jesus declares that anyone following His teachings is someone who has taken up a spiritual cross. This was true for those disciples hearing the words of Jesus and it is true for us as followers of Christ today. We have been called to lay down our lives for Christ and to take up our crosses and follow Him unto death. But our deaths are not atoning sacrifices like His was. In verse 26 Jesus makes it clear that we cannot buy our own souls, so being nailed ourselves to a cross could never save us. No a disciple of Christ is someone who has died a spiritual death and this happens to us in several ways.
The first spiritual death that most of us experience is Baptism. In Paul says that when we are baptized into Christ we are baptized into His death. We are buried with Christ in our baptism. In the book of Exodus, on the night of the Passover, the Israelites spread lambs blood on the door frames of their houses. And instead of killing the first born in those houses, the Lord passed by because death had already come to those homes. The waters of our baptism work in a similar way, tying us to the death of the True Lamb, Jesus Christ. And since Christ sacrificed himself, the saving power of baptism is His work, not ours.
While our sin is totally covered in our baptism, so much so that one baptism is enough for a lifetime, we do continue to act sinfully. We still lie, we still cheat, and we still look to the wrong things to bring us hope and comfort. Martin Luther explains in his small catechism that because of the faith that is ours by the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ in baptism, the Spirit now guides us to see our failures. And so instead of chasing after sin, as an unbeliever would, we feel our brokenness. We feel guilt and the weight of our crosses push down on us and we are confronted with the word of God in our lives and we remember that we cannot save ourselves from the reality of physical death. And so we lay down our own lives by confessing our sin and we pray for forgiveness and the strength to carry on.
There is another form of spiritual death that is not brought on directly by our sinfulness, and this one can be really confusing to us. The pain and hurt of this world, the bad things, the disasters, the shame, the acidents all remind us of how not-in-control we are. We are tempted in these dark times to question God and ask why? Why this? Why me? Why the people I love? And in these moments the Spirit leads us to pray for strength, and we remember that Jesus Himself suffered real human agony when He was crucified and that Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus.
Both our Sin and the fallen state of this world remind us of our weakness. They break us down and stop us in our tracks. Like pulling the power cord and making the screen go blank.
A laptop with no power cannot plug itself back in. A corpse without life cannot restart its own heart. So it’s a good thing that Christ does not leave us dead. Our gospel reading for today continues with Christ saying “27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Earlier on Christ told His disciples that He would die, but they missed an important part. He said that He would die and on the third day be raised up. Jesus wouldn’t be staying dead. And what does that mean for those following Him? It means there is hope for them as well. They had already seen Jesus raise someone else from the dead. If He was going to be raised up, then He could make sure that they were raised up too. The disciples weren’t able to appreciate this promise yet, but it would begin to become clear to them after that first Easter Sunday. And we share in this same promise of the resurrection of our bodies that is to come, but in the mean time we have the Words of the Gospel Promises of Christ to raise us from our spiritual death. Our baptism buries us with Christ and then rebirths us into new life. The water buries us, and we are then resurrected in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As baptized followers of Christ, when we confess our sins we are crucified with Christ. But confession in the church is always followed by absolution. When pastor announces forgiveness to you, you are resurrected from spiritual death in to spiritual life. When the troubles of this world feel like they are going to crush us, the Word of God reminds us that these things will pass and that in the life to come none of it will matter. Christ weeps with us when we taste the bitterness of death and He rejoices with us in His life giving word. In the final verse of our Gospel reading, Jesus says that some of the disciples listening to Him would not taste death prior to His return. You see, through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, He declared victory over death. But as fallen humans, are bodies still feel the effects of death in pain and sickness. Some of us are fortunate enough to avoid major pain and injury in this life while others are not as lucky. But for a Christian, all earthly pain is simply a taste of death. Like finding a carton of spoiled milk, some of us only get a whiff and that’s it, while others get a full blown taste, but that’s all it is: a taste. We then spit it out and go about our lives. For the unbeliever, death is not just a taste. It is permanent torment and isolation from God. For an unbeliever Death is the ultimate enemy. For Christians pain and suffering is an inconvenient aspect of life in this world. A speed bump, which will be done away with on the last day. The last day, when Christ returns to raise our bodies, to raise us from death one last time. The final reboot to end all reboots. After which there will no longer be a trace of death and pain.
I am very grateful for my laptop, despite its flaws. It serves me well and I will continue to use it for as long as I can. But, it will undoubtedly struggle. It will get bogged down by the programs it runs. It may catch a virus or overheat. I will need to regularly shut it down to let it rest and restart it to download updates. It’s a part of the life of my laptop. Reboots are a part of the Christian life as well. We should expect to be rebooted. We should expect to be shown our flaws and to feel the struggle of life in this world, because that is when God reminds us of His love for us. When we feel near death in this life, word of Christ comes to us to remind us that while death tastes awful, we will never swallow death. Jesus has gone to prepare a place in His Father’s kingdom for us, and He will take us there where we will partake in the delicious feast of life for all eternity.