To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow Him and learn from Him. To listen to and learn from the preaching and teaching of His Word, and to follow His example. To live and to love as He does. To be a disciple of Christ Jesus is to receive your life from Him, and so to live your life with Him.
But, given where He goes, and considering what He does and suffers, why would you want to be His disciple? Why would you want to follow Him to death on the Cross? For where is the profit in being a disciple at the cost of your own life? And what do you gain in exchange for your life?
Here is the paradox at the heart of the Christian faith. If you wish to save your life as you have known it, you will lose it altogether. But if you lose your life for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His Gospel, then you will have saved it for eternity with Him. Because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, and everything hinges on Him. He is the only Savior of the world, apart from whom there is no salvation. He is the Bestower of the Holy Spirit, by whom alone you live.
It is the Spirit who gives life. It is by the Spirit that Adam is not just a clod of dirt but a living being, a man, created in the Image and Likeness of God. And it is by the Spirit of God that old Abraham, his body as good as dead, his wife barren, yet becomes the father of many nations. And so it is by the Holy Spirit that you also have life with God in Christ, both now and forever.
It is the Spirit who gives life, and it is Christ Jesus who gives the Spirit. For Jesus is anointed by the Spirit in His own Body of human flesh and blood, in order to anoint you, in body and soul, with the same Holy Spirit. He is anointed by the Spirit in order to breathe and bestow the Spirit upon you through the forgiveness of your sins, so that you might live with God and not die forever.
So has the Son of God become true Man, and taken the place of all men under the Law, under the curse of sin and death, in order to become the Savior and Redeemer of all the children of men.
He has become the Seed of Abraham, the promised Seed by whom old Abraham has become the father of many nations, as disciples of Jesus are called and made from all the nations of the world by the preaching and teaching of His Word, and by way of Holy Baptism in His Name.
This Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, the very Son of God from all eternity, and the Son of St. Mary in the fullness of time, He has accomplished and obtained the salvation of the world for you and for all people. And He has done it by the way and the means of His Cross.
This is the Love of God, which is the Glory of God, that the Father hands over His Son to death on the Cross, and the Son willingly submits to that Cross, in order to redeem and rescue fallen, sinful, mortal man. For such a sinner as you, and for your children, He lays down His life in love.
He makes His bed in the dust of the earth, He returns to the ground from which Adam was taken, to which you also shall return, so that, in His bodily Resurrection, in His rising from death and the grave, He thus also raises the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to newness of life with God.
He blazes a trail through the valley of the shadow of death into the life everlasting. Having come down from the Father in heaven into the depths of Sheol, passing through the gates of Hades into death, He rises and returns to His Father in peace. And because He does all of this for you, in your place, bearing your sins as your Substitute, and as your Champion, His Cross and Resurrection are your forgiveness, your reconciliation with God, your justification, your life, and your salvation.
So, then, if you want that life to be yours; if you want to have that life and live that life forever, it will be by the way and the means of the Cross of Christ.
That is, in fact, the way of life that you have received and taken up by the washing of water with the Word in your Holy Baptism. And that is what your Baptism means and signifies, not only for that red letter day on the calendar of your past, but for every day of your life. It calls you to bear and to carry the Cross and to follow after Jesus through death and the grave into life everlasting.
That is the way of life that you also receive and take up here in the Holy Communion, as you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, which are the Fruits of His Cross and Passion. Here is the atoning Sacrifice that has been offered to God, which in turn is given for you to eat and drink, that you might have communion with God in Christ the Crucified. Thus are you bound to Him by the very Body and Blood that He has given into death upon the Cross for you and your salvation.
It is by and from the Cross that you are given life with God in Christ. And it is by and with the Cross that you now live with God in Christ. For you bear the sign of His Cross upon your forehead and your heart, upon your body and soul. You are His own. You belong to the Crucified One.
Nevertheless, as a child of Adam, in the face of the Cross you are tempted, just as Peter was, to rebuke the Lord and contradict His Word. To do it nicely, politely, with the very best of intentions, no doubt, but even so: To rebuke the Lord. To become Satanic in your thinking, like that of fallen man, instead of thinking and speaking with the mind and Spirit of God in Christ Jesus. Your feet are still too much stuck in the dirt to which you will return, and the Cross seems foolish to you.
It is, after all, counter intuitive to invest yourself, your body, and your life, in the Cross. To spend yourself in that way seems absurd. There appears to be far more profit in the pursuits of the world, in this adulterous and sinful generation, as Jesus calls it. That is not only to speak of what is illegal and immoral, but of all those passions that consume your heart, mind, body, and soul in this life.
Whatever it is that you pursue as though your life depended on it. Whatever it is that you cling to as though it were your life and your salvation. That is your god, and that is what you worship. But if it is not Christ the Crucified, and if it is not by faith in His Word, then it is idolatrous and deadly.
In order to recognize and trust that your life and salvation are in the Cross of Christ, and to behold and recognize the Glory of God in the Cross, you must have an altogether different view of Life itself. Indeed, you must die to yourself and to your instincts, to your natural reason and worldly wisdom, and to your own way of thinking. You must become altogether other than you have been. You must learn to live, no longer for yourself, but with God in Christ by the way of His Cross.
That is simply to speak of repentance, the daily dying and rising of repentance and faith that your Baptism signifies and indicates. But such repentance is not something you can do for yourself. That instinct must also be crucified and put to death in you. For repentance and faith are the work of the Lord, which He works in you by His grace, precisely by the Word and Spirit of the Cross.
The Cross puts you to death. It crucifies and buries your old Adam. It returns you to the dust of the earth from which you were taken, in order to raise you up with Christ to a new and real life. To raise you up from the dust of the earth to the right hand of His God and Father. To raise you up by His Spirit through the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins. Forgiveness that comes from the Cross. Forgiveness that flows with the Blood of Christ, in which there is life.
And because the Cross does this, because it puts you to death in order to raise you up to life — because, by putting you to death, it unites you with Christ who has saved you — so does the Cross also bestow the life of God upon you. It is by and from the Cross that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you and into your heart, so that the Love of God now fills your heart and life.
The Love of God. That also is the work of the Cross in you. As the Lord your God loves you by and with His Cross, so do you bear the Cross in love for your neighbor within your own calling and station in life. In that way, also, you take up the Cross and follow after Jesus, right there in the place where God has positioned you, in relation to the people that He has positioned around you. Thus do you bear the Cross of Christ by loving your neighbor, putting up with your neighbor, taking care of your neighbor, and forgiving your neighbor as the Lord your God forgives you.
That is where and how you bear and carry the Cross, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a Christian, anointed by Christ with the Holy Spirit from His God and Father. And sometimes it is very satisfying. Sometimes it is for such joy set before you that you bear the Cross, as Jesus found His satisfaction and His joy in bearing the Cross for you, though it was painful and hard to do.
But often as not, bearing the Cross for your neighbor is painfully difficult and not at all satisfying. After all, both you and your neighbor are sinful, and yet, God calls you to bear and carry the Cross for your neighbor. To endure the stress and the trouble, within and without. If not persecution, then the burden of nit-picking complaints and criticisms. Or the toilsome and thankless jobs that you have to do over and over again. Or the bad attitudes of those you are trying to love and serve.
There are difficulties, hurts, and disappointments under the Cross. And yet, by the Spirit of God, your tribulation does not destroy you. Instead, it forms and strengthens your patient perseverance, because you do not bear the Cross alone, but Christ, who bore it for you, now bears it with you.
So, then, in patient perseverance — which is really to say, in walking by faith, in living by faith — as you fulfill your vocations in this way, as you do your job, as you care for your neighbor, as you bear the Cross of Christ Jesus, your character is developed and proven in conformity with the Image and Likeness of God. It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you. By repentance and faith in His Gospel, you think and speak and live with the mind and Spirit of the Lord.
Here, again, is the great paradox of the Christian faith and life, which is now also your paradox, namely, that you have hope in, with, and under the Cross of Christ. Your life is not hopeless. Your situation is not hopeless. Your future is not hopeless. You are full of hope in Christ Jesus, who has been crucified for your transgressions and raised from the dead for your justification.
Therefore, because God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, the hope that is yours in Christ shall not be disappointed. For your hope as a Christian is the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection, by which you are righteous and holy and at peace in the presence of His God and Father, already now by faith; and so shall it be hereafter, in and with your own glorified body and soul, forever.
Along with the Cross that you are given to bear and carry after Christ, this new and real life with God is what your Holy Baptism has given to you, and what it means and signifies. And this, too, along with the Cross, is what the Holy Communion means and signifies and gives to you. Not only the Cross, but the Resurrection and the Life of Jesus, by way of His forgiveness of all your sins.
So, as often as you sin, in love He says to you, “Get back in line and follow Me. Listen to Me, and learn from Me. I love you and forgive you. So, come on, My Cross will bring you through death into the Resurrection.” Though you lie in dust and ashes, you shall not be forgotten, nor shall your body be forgotten, but just as you have prayed, so God will do. He will send His angels to gather you up in their arms, to bring you to the bosom of father Abraham, to the bosom of your God and Father in heaven, the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ. As you are His own dear child, all that you need is already yours, the Spirit of God and Life everlasting in and with Christ Jesus.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.