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“On the Way to Jerusalem”
Mark 10:32-45


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday in Lent—March 29, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, which begins: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”

The events of today’s Gospel Reading are not a parable, but actually took place historically as they are recorded.  However, they also have a symbolic, parable-like significance for us.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem.”  If you ever visit Jerusalem, you will understand immediately why the Bible usually describes the journey there as going “up.”  Because Jerusalem is located literally “up,” in a range of hills, on top of a high, steep peak called Mt. Zion.  For the people in Bible times, who traveled mostly by foot, it was indeed a long, strenuous journey “UP to Jerusalem.”

In the Bible, Jerusalem is often a symbol for heaven.  In Galatians, Paul describes heaven as “the Jerusalem that is above,” Hebrews says that heaven is “the city of the living God . . . the heavenly Jerusalem,” and Revelation depicts heaven as, “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem.”

So, just as in today’s Gospel Reading the disciples and other followers of Jesus were journeying with him through the countryside, literally “on their way up to Jerusalem,” you and I are also on a journey “up” with Jesus, a journey through this life, up to the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way.”  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus says.  Jesus leads the way to heaven because he IS the only way to heaven. “I am the Door,” he says, “whoever enters through me will be saved.”

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished.”  One of the most interesting documents outside the New Testament relating to our Lord’s earthly life is the actual arrest warrant issued by the Hebrew authorities, which is contained in an ancient Hebrew work called the Talmud.  It refers to Yeshua Hannozori, Jesus of Nazareth, and says, “He shall be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel to apostasy, and if anyone knows of his whereabouts let him tell it to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.”

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished.”  The disciples were astonished because Jesus is a wanted man, threatened with death by the authorities at Jerusalem, and now he is leading not only himself but also them right into their murderous clutches. 

In the Gospel of John, the disciples plead with Jesus, “But Rabbi, a short while ago they tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” They are not only concerned for Jesus, but also fearful for their own safety.  For, if this famous rabbi is to be killed, his disciples may well be killed too. When Jesus cannot be dissuaded, Thomas says to the other disciples, with grim resignation, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished.”  The word translated “astonished” has many different nuances of meaning.  Jesus’ disciples were distressed, bewildered, confused, about what Jesus was doing, where was leading them.  They didn’t understand why this happening.  What was his plan?

And so it is with us, as we journey with Jesus along life’s way to the heavenly Jerusalem.  We also are often distressed, bewildered, confused, about why things are happening, and wonder, “What is God’s plan?”

“The disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”  The Gospels tell us that in addition to the disciples there were others who followed Jesus on a more or less permanent basis during the three years of his ministry.  In particular, Luke says, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who . . . were helping to support them out of their own means.”  Matthew says that when Jesus was crucified, “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.”

So, in this verse we probably have represented these two groups of Jesus’ regular followers, the disciples, and the women who also followed with him.  “The disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”

The root of the word which is translated “afraid” means “to flee, to run away.”  That is what both the disciples and the women want to do.  Not go up to Jerusalem, where the authorities are waiting to kill Jesus, and maybe them too, but to flee, to run away, because they are afraid.

We also are often frightened as we journey through life to the heavenly Jerusalem.  Illness, economic uncertainty, personal struggles, many things in this life make us afraid.  And most fearful is the end of life, as we face death.

“Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.”  Jesus can see that they are distressed, bewildered, confused, afraid.  And, so, he takes them aside, to explain, and reassure them. 

That is also what Jesus is doing for you, here, each week.  He knows that you are often distressed, bewildered, confused, frightened by the experiences and events on your journey through this life.  And, so, just as he took aside those journeying with him to Jerusalem, to explain, and reassure them, each week he still takes aside for a time you and his other followers, to explain, and reassure you on your journey.

However, we have to ask WHY Jesus tells the disciples what he does.  For, if he wants to comfort them in their fears, the content of what Jesus actually tells the disciples when he takes them aside does not seem at first to be very comforting.

“Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’” Why would this be comforting for the disciples?  Isn’t this exactly what they fear?

For three years, Jesus has been catechizing them, trying to overcome their misconceptions about him, as a mere earthly king, these misconceptions are even now sadly still lingering in the disciples, as revealed in the dispute in today’s Gospel Reading about who will be first in his kingdom.

For three years, Jesus has been explaining to them his true mission as the Messiah.  It was all clearly prophesied in the Old Testament, as Isaiah writes: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . . .  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus takes the disciples aside to remind them once again of what he has taught them so many times over the past three years.  His imminent suffering and death is all according to God’s plan, as prophesied by Isaiah and other Old Testament Scriptures. His imminent suffering and death is actually Good News, because he is the atoning sacrifice for their sins, and not only for them, but also for the sins of the whole world.

At a time when the disciples need comforting, Jesus comforts them by pointing them to the only true source of real comfort: his cross, his suffering, death, and resurrection.  One of those disciples, Peter, later expressed it this way: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”

That is also the comfort Jesus gives to you here each week, as he takes you aside for a time, on your journey through this life to the heavenly Jerusalem.  He comforts you here with the only true source of real comfort: his cross, his suffering, death, and resurrection, for your salvation.

The Christian Sacraments and Christian worship are really multi-media presentations, focusing us back to that event.  Paul says of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”  Through Baptism you receive the benefits of Christ’s death, as your sins are washed away.  And Paul says of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Likewise, the pronouncement of Absolution in Jesus’ name, the hymns, the readings, the liturgy, the stained-glass windows, the massive wooden cross, the cross atop the belltower, it is all to focus us back, to his cross, his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Because that is the only true source of real comfort.  Jesus puts it this way at the end of today’s Gospel Reading: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“Son of Man” is an Old Testament title for the Messiah, stressing that the Messiah will be God, come down to earth and made man.  As the hymn “Beautiful Savior” says, “Son of God, and Son of Man.”  In the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” much more frequently than any other name or title.  With this title “Son of Man” Jesus was declaring, “I am the promised Messiah, God, come down to earth, and made man.”

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  In the original language “many” actually means “all.”  Jesus Christ came to ransom not just a select few, but all people.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” 

What is it we are ransomed from?  The word translated “ransom” was mostly used in ancient times to refer to the price paid for the release of a slave.  Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  That is what we are ransomed from—our sins. 

Peter says, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ.”  On the cross Jesus paid the ultimate price.  He sacrificed himself to release you from your sins.  He gave up his life to earn you eternal life.  Every time you see the word “redemption” or “redeem” in the New Testament, behind it is a Greek word meaning “ransom.”  That’s what your redemption is: Jesus paid the ransom, the price for your sins. 

When Jesus says he came “to give his life as a ransom for many,” the little word “for” also packs a lot of meaning.  In Greek, that little word means “in the place of,” “as a substitute.”  Your sins are all forgiven, because Jesus gave his life as a ransom “for” you, suffering and dying “in the place of,” “as a substitute.” “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Because of his sacrifice “for” you, your sins are all forgiven.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way.”  Just as in today’s Gospel Reading the disciples and other followers of Jesus were journeying with Jesus through the countryside, literally “on their way up to Jerusalem,” you and I are also on a journey “up” with Jesus, as he leads us through this life, up to the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.

“And the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.”  Like those disciples and followers, we are at times distressed, bewildered, confused, and frightened along the way.  Just as Jesus took them aside to comfort them with the message of the cross, in our worship here each week he is taking you and your fellow followers aside, to point us again to the only true source of real comfort: his cross, his suffering, death, and resurrection, for your salvation.

Amen.

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