Self-preservation makes sense. It is reasonable and understandable. It’s even legal.
But it is not the way of Christ the Crucified. He is not masochistic or suicidal, but He does go knowingly and willingly to His death. He not only puts Himself in harm’s way, as a risk, but He offers Himself in voluntary sacrifice for sinners.
The Lord Jesus does not defend Himself. He neither fights nor flees. When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but continues to entrust Himself to God the Father. He turns the other cheek to those who strike Him, to the point of handing Himself over to the Cross. Even then, He forgives those who sin against Him.
It is for this that He pours out His innocent blood — for you, and for all; for this city and all its inhabitants: To atone for the sins of the world, and to reconcile the world to God.
This way of the Cross is the pattern and example of Christ and His Gospel, of His Ministers and His disciples, that is to say, His Christians. It is the way that you are called to live.
You receive and bear the Cross, which kills you, and you follow in the way of the Cross, because it is the way of life in Christ. Not self-preservation, but self-sacrifice. Not selfishness, but selfless loving service. You lose yourself in love for others, friend and foe, because your life is found in Christ the Crucified. If you perish, you perish; so be it, but no matter. For as Christ has died, and Christ is risen, so shall you. Though you die, yet shall you live.
You live, because you are forgiven all your sin by the atoning death and sacrificial blood of Christ. Your neighbor also is forgiven by Christ’s bloody death.
Therefore, this also is the Cross you bear: To forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you. To bear his burdens gladly and patiently, in love. To suffer his insults and persecutions without becoming defensive, and without striking back. To love him who hurts you, to pray for him, and even to lay down your life for him.
What have you lost, even if you die in the process of loving?
Your citizenship, your house and home and city, are in heaven, where your life is hidden with Christ in God. You live here on earth as a sojourner, as a pilgrim. You journey today and tomorrow, and maybe another (maybe not), but you are perfected by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. By your death with Him, you live with Him.
It is by His Cross that He has not only atoned for your sin, and redeemed you from death forever, and reconciled you to His God and Father, but He has also accomplished the Exodus for you, so that the death of His Cross is the way through death into life. It is the way of repentance, of faith and new life in Christ.
If you would live, therefore, take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him to Jerusalem in faith and love. Serve your neighbor, even to the point of perishing, in the vocation to which the Lord has called you in your life on earth.
There are those who do not follow this pattern and example, but who walk as enemies of the Cross. And be warned, that is your sinful inclination, too: To fight or flee, to preserve yourself.
There are those, of course, who sneer at Christ Jesus, who despise and ridicule His Church and religion; who mock and blaspheme His Cross and His Gospel and all the signs and symbols of Christianity; who laugh and make fun of the rites and ceremonies of the Word and Sacraments.
But the worst enemies of the Cross of Christ are those driven by selfish self-preservation; who preserve their own lives in this world at the expense of others; who shed innocent blood for their own benefit; who hold bitter grudges and seek revenge, refusing to forgive; who commit murder in countless ways against the neighbor for whom the Son of God has given Himself; and who use even the means of grace, the Church and Ministry, the Temple and Priesthood, as means of self-preservation, self-promotion, and self-righteousness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I warn you in the name and stead of that same Lord, Jesus Christ, that you not walk according to such selfishness. It is the very opposite of faith and love. It is not only sinful, but self-destructive.
That is the great irony and paradox: The one who seeks to save his life, loses it. The one who sets himself against the Cross, in order to protect and preserve his own skin, perishes not only here in time, but hereafter in eternity.
To make a god out of this world, is to perish, finally and forever, with your god. To be driven about, to and fro, by your belly and its rumbling appetite, is to perish like the very food you eat. That is reason enough to consider fasting, which is a fine outward discipline. To glory in this earthly life and earthly things, is finally to be put to shame.
Remember Shiloh, where Eli and his sons once abused their priestly office and the Lord’s House. They stole the sacrificial meat for their own gluttony. And they attempted to use the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth as a weapon of war. But they were put to shame and death, and their family was removed from office.
Remember Jerusalem, the city of the great King, where the Lord caused His Name and His Glory to dwell; yet the people hid behind the sacrifices and in the Temple like a den of thieves, daring God to discipline them, even stoning His Prophets and killing those He sent to them.
There were some notable exceptions, but most of the people of Jerusalem failed to recognize the Lord’s visitation in Christ Jesus. Whatever good they thought of Him, they did not receive Him as God, their Lord and Savior. And while some of them plotted to trap Him, to destroy Him, and at the last to crucify Him, none of them understood His Cross. No, not even His disciples, until afterwards. No, not even you, except by His grace, by the catechesis of His Word and Spirit.
He comes to you with but one purpose, one goal, one holy desire: that is, to love you, to save you, to gather you to Himself. He would make you His own dear child. He would nestle you close to Himself, to His heart, under His wings of mercy. He would shelter you, protect you, feed and comfort you.
He comes to do all this by the way of the Cross; and you would not have it.
But He comes to you anyway, for the sake of His love. He bears your reproach — not only that which you suffer, but that which you inflict (even against Him). He bears your reviling in peace. He bears your sin and death, and thus removes them from you forever.
And by loving you, forgiving you, saving you, and coming to you in His selfless loving service, He reveals Himself to you by the Cross:
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
He is the true Passover Lamb, whose blood now marks the door of His House. You look at this House, cornerstoned upon the Cross of Christ, and it is desolate, a desert wasteland. But it has been left for you in mercy, and in this House you live; not by self-preservation, but by grace.
Here is where, at last, you see Him as He is: In the Gospel of His Cross, which forgives you. In His self-sacrificing love for you, even unto death. In His holy body given for you, and in His holy, precious blood poured out for you.
Behold the Lamb of God, who has taken upon Himself the sins of the world, and who takes away all of your sins.
See His strong arms stretched out in love, to gather you to Himself and to shelter you in peace.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, here at His Altar, by hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord:
"Take, eat; Drink of it, all of you."
This is where you, little bird, little raven or sparrow, find your nesting place, under the Lord’s wings. For this is the pattern of Christ, the Image of God. This is the way of His Cross, which is the way of life. This is your Savior from heaven, who is given for you here on earth, that you might share His Glory.
This is the House of the Lord in the City of God, and here, by His grace, shall you abide forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.