Quinquagesima Sunday February 25, 2001


There Is No Jerusalem Bypass

Matthew 16:21-23


140, 143, 409, 532

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. These are the words.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

For those of you who have done a lot of traveling by car, you probably know what a “beltway” is. Almost every major population center in America has one. It’s a multi-lane freeway that encircles a metropolitan area. On a map, it often looks like a giant belt around the city; hence the name. And it’s a pretty hand thing to have, especially if you’re like me and you hate the thought of getting stuck downtown in a strange city. Minneapolis/St. Paul is a perfect example: if you don’t want to follow route 94 through downtown, you can take 694 around the north, or 494 around the south. No stop signs, no traffic lights—you don’t even have to slow down. America’s beltways provide an easy bypass for most big cities. They guarantee that if you don’t want to go there, you don’t have to.

Well, beginning this Wednesday we will be starting down the road of Lent. It’s the season when we consider our Savior’s Passion, and the redemption that resulted from it. As we prepare, once again, to journey down that road, we should know that a certain city lies along it: the city of Jerusalem. It is dark and forbidding; suffering waits there, and a cross. It would seem so much easier for us to go around, to bypass Jerusalem if at all possible. At least, that’s the way Simon Peter saw it. But in this case, going around is not an option. In today’s text, our Lord reveals that, on the road to Redemption,


  1. —Not for Jesus.
  2. —Not for Peter.
  3. —And not for us.

Do you know what today is? Invocavit—the first Sunday of Lent. That means we’re now only five short weeks from Good Friday, and the cross. Time was growing short for Jesus, too, when the events of our text took place. He knew, just as He had always known, what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem. Several times in the past, He’d tried to warn His disciples about what was going to happen to Him. Once, while He was standing in the Jerusalem Temple, He had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.—John 2:19. On another occasion, He gave them a hint by referring to the story of Jonah; He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.—Mat 12:40.

But now was no time for hints. There was little time left. Now Jesus decided to tell them plainly what was going to happen. Our text says, From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Yes, He had escaped the Jews before; He had foiled their plots and countered their death threats. But this time He wouldn’t escape. He would give Himself willingly into their hands. Jesus could see clearly down that road, and He knew that, for Him, there was no getting around Jerusalem. He had to go there. He asked His bewildered disciples, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.—John 12:27. This was God’s plan: that Jesus would bear all the sins of the world on His shoulders as He made His way down that road to Jerusalem. When the innocent Son of God had been lifted up on the cross, the wrath of God over sin would descend like a lightening bolt, and expend itself on the body of Jesus. That was the whole reason He was there—to redeem the world from sin. Jesus couldn’t avoid Jerusalem, not this time. If He did, He would be abandoning all mankind to the punishment of hell. And that He was not willing to do.

So Jesus told his disciples plainly how it had to be. He explained in a kindly way, just as you might break bad news to a little child. He also tried to show them, though, that there was light at the end of the tunnel—that death would not hold Him, but that He would rise triumphant on the third day. But the disciples must have missed that in their shock and confusion; after His death, they would forget all about His promise of a resurrection. For right now, all they could think about was the terrible news that Jesus was about to hand Himself over to the Jews.

They were stunned. As usual, Peter spoke up first. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

Most of us have done this at one time or another. I mean, someone you love gives you a piece of bad news, and your first reaction is, “Heaven forbid! No way! I’m sure that could never happen!” The natural response is denial—whether or not the denial makes any sense. Peter heard the bad news, and immediately denied it. It was unthinkable that Jesus should go to Jerusalem and die. There had to be some way around it. Couldn’t they hide out for a while? Couldn’t they just bypass Jerusalem, and go back up north to Galilee? Surely Jesus, with all His powers, could find some way to avoid this terrible danger!

This was a low point in Peter’s faith, and it’s interesting that it came so soon after one of his highest points. Back up a few verses from our text, and you’ll hear Jesus asking the disciples, “‘Who do you say that I am?’ And it was Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” A beautiful confession!—But Peter’s knowledge was incomplete. He knew who Jesus was, but he was still in the dark about what Jesus came to do. The disciples were still hoping that He would be an earthly King; that Jesus would kick the Romans out of the country and set up a glorious kingdom in Israel. And now, with these gloomy prophesies about His death, Jesus was shattering all their hopes of glory. They had painted themselves rosy picture of how it was going to be, and there was no room in that picture for a cross. NO, said Peter. Don’t go to Jerusalem. There must be some way around it.

But for Simon Peter, as for Jesus, there was no getting around Jerusalem. Jesus turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. There’s a fascinating Greek word in there—the word for “offense”. It literally means, “a trap”. Jesus recognized Peter’s plea as a trap that Satan had cleverly laid for Him. How easy it would have been to take the bait and to agree with Peter. Yes, Peter, you’re right—we’d have to be crazy to go up to Jerusalem. Let’s tackle Jerusalem another time. But what terrible consequences there would have been to that decision—to leave the work of redemption undone, to let a world of sinners languish with no hope of heaven! Jesus confronted the temptation, and rejected it. He would go on, straight into Jerusalem—straight to the cross.

What about you? Are you willing to go to Jerusalem? Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus there?—Not many people are. Oh, a lot of folks are perfectly willing to follow Christ—as long as they can skip Jerusalem. Recently, one woman remarked indignantly about a worship service she’d attended, “I didn’t go to that church to be told I was a sinner!” There are many who say the same thing. People want to feel good about themselves and accepted by God; they want to be considered religious by their neighbors—but they’d rather not confront the subject of their own sinfulness. What they’re really trying to do is get around Jerusalem. For it is at Jerusalem that we come face to face with the fact of our own sinfulness. It is there, at the cross, that we see the consequences of our own disobedience. It is there on Mt. Calvary, in the tortured, suffering face of the Son of God, that we see the real punishment our sins deserve.

Yes, many people are willing to follow Christ—as long as they can skip Jerusalem. They’re willing to see Jesus as a great moralizer, and His life as a shining example of how we all should live: do this, don’t do that, keep your nose clean and try your best—after all, that’s a plan of salvation that people can understand. But the cross? That God would sacrifice His Son for sinners with nothing expected in return? No, thank you, that’s a little too much too swallow. If that’s what Jerusalem stands for, then forget Jerusalem. They’d rather go around. The shame and suffering of the cross makes no sense to them. Paul said, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.—1 Cor 1:23-24.

My fellow Christians, there is Jerusalem bypass. We know the reason for the cross. It was our sins—yours and mine—that made the cross necessary.

Jesus could have bypassed Jerusalem. The glory of this Lenten season is that He didn’t! Out of love for you and me, He did the unthinkable—He sacrificed Himself for us. The Sinless for the sinful. Jerusalem, and Calvary, was the place where Jesus in His great love for us, became our Substitute. The hymnist puts it so poignantly when he asks, in the hymn we just sang:

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder?
The Shepherd dies for sheep who loved to wander!
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him!

Jesus knew that only His blood could pay our ransom price, so He shed that blood willingly. “[Jesus is] the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.—Heb 12:2. Through His blood, we are now redeemed, restored, forgiven! He walked straight down that dark road into Jerusalem, and because He did, the bright and joyous road to heaven is now wide open to us!

St. Paul/Minneapolis, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago—all cities you can bypass if you want to. Just get on the beltway and drive around, and avoid all the hassle. But as we Christians look down the dark road of Lent, we know—there is no getting around Jerusalem. Not for Jesus, not for Peter, and not for us. Let us follow our Savior there once again this year, because we know that Jerusalem isn’t the end of the road. It is beyond Jerusalem where our true destination lies—in eternal glory! For Jesus’ sake, AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached March 12, 2000
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA

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