The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2019
Cherish the Cross!
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What do you cherish? I know people who cherish a stuffed animal that they have had their entire life. When they were young they cherished that stuffed animal so much that they took it with them wherever they went. As they grew older they cherished that stuffed animal by taking very special care of it. Why do they cherish a stuffed animal? Because of the sense of peace and calmness it brings to them! There are people who cherish the house that they live in. Why do they cherish a house? Because of the sense of safety and security it gives to them. There are people who cherish something that they inherited from their parents or their grandparents because of all the memoires it inherently holds. And then there are the people who cherish someone else— a spouse, a child, a grandchild— because of the overwhelming love they have for that person.
The Scripture text that we have before us this morning, my friends, is very familiar. It is very easy to understand. It is very relevant to our world and to our lives today. It is a portion of Scripture that centers around two critically important questions that Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do the crowds say I am?” and, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” My goal this morning is to help you see how both of those critically important questions lead us to this encouragement: Cherish the Cross! (Pointing to the cross) Cherish the cross that Jesus willingly endured for you! Cherish the cross that you now willingly endure for Jesus!
Luke chapter nine begins with Jesus sending out the twelve apostles in His name. Luke says that Jesus “gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases” (9:1). Luke also says that the Lord instructed His apostles to “preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (9:23). After the twelve apostles returned and reported to Jesus what they had accomplished, Jesus took the Twelve and “withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida” (9:10). But, when the crowds learned where Jesus was they followed Him. Jesus, of course, welcomed the crowds, “spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (9:11). This is when Jesus miraculously fed this crowd of over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This is also when Jesus experienced a turning point in His ministry. John tells us that after the feeding of the 5,000 many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed Him because His teachings were too hard and too difficult to accept. (See John 6:60ff) This all helps us to understand why Luke says in the opening portion of our text, “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’”
Jesus did not ask this question because He did not know what the crowds were saying about Him. As the true Son of God Jesus not only knew what the crowds were saying about Him, but He even knew what the crowds were thinking about Him. No, my friends, Jesus asked this critically important question so that His disciples— including us! — could openly talk about what other people were saying about Jesus!
Luke records for us exactly how Jesus’ apostles answered that question. But what about you? How would you answer that question? As you listen to people today— your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, as you listen to what you hear on the news or read on the Internet, how would you answer the Lord’s question: “Who do the crowds say I am?” It’s not hard to see and to hear that many people today see Jesus as a great spiritual leader, someone who can help them fine tune their life, someone who can show them what they can do to be a better person and earn their own way into heaven. There are many people today who see Jesus as a great prophet— but certainly not the prophet. And then there are all the people who say that Jesus is the One who shows us how to love other people and to accept other people and to be tolerant of other people no matter what they believe and no matter how they are living their life.
Just as it must have been difficult for Jesus to hear the apostles’ answers to the question, “Who do the crowds say I am?” so also, it must be difficult for Jesus to hear what people are saying about Him right down to this very day. That’s why Jesus asked His apostles that second and even more important question, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter boldly gave that beautiful answer— the answer that you and I confidently confess today— “The Christ of God.”
By the grace and power of God Peter believed exactly what you and I believe, exactly what the Bible proclaims: Jesus of Nazareth is “the Christ,” “the Messiah,” “the Anointed One of God” who came into this world with just one goal: “to save his people from their sins,” (Matthew 1:21); to “destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). But How? How would Jesus achieve His goal of saving us from our sins? How would Jesus “destroy” the death and the damnation that the devil has brought upon all of humanity? Look at it this way, my friends. If you want your car fixed, you don’t take it to a company that specializes in painting houses. If your teeth hurt you don’t make an appointment with a mechanic. If you want food to keep your body alive and healthy, you don’t go shopping at the hardware store. Likewise, in order for Jesus to save us from our sins, in order for Jesus to destroy the devil’s work, He needed to fulfill the Plan that His heavenly Father first announced to Satan in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Jesus’ determination to fulfill His Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world is brought out very clearly here in our text when we hear our Savior say, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
This (Pointing to the cross) was the only way for Jesus to save us from our sins. This (Pointing to the cross) was the only way for Jesus to destroy the death and damnation that the devil had brought upon all of humanity— including you and me! So cherish the cross! Whenever someone tells you that Jesus is a great spiritual leader who can help you fine tune yourself to that you can become a better person, tell them, “No! Jesus is “the Christ of God” who willingly suffered and died on the cross to completely pay for all of my sins!” If someone tells you that Jesus is just one of a long list of prophets, tell them, “No! Jesus is “the Christ of God” — the One concerning whom the heavenly Father Himself has proclaimed, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased…Listen to him!’ (Matthew 3:17; 17:5)” If someone tells you that Jesus wants us to love everyone and to accept everyone and to tolerate everyone no matter what they believe or how they are living their life, tell them, “No! Jesus is “the Christ of God,” the One who because of our sins and because of our rebellious ways cried out from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).” Confessing that Jesus is the Christ automatically focuses our attention on this cross (Pointing) and what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. That’s why we cherish the cross with all of our heart!
But our text does not end there, does it. Luke goes on to record these words of our Lord, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Because we believe and openly confess that Jesus is “the Christ of God” who willingly went to the cross to pay for the sins of all mankind, we can expect to face difficulties, challenges and yes, persecution in our life. In other words, just as Jesus willingly bore His cross for us, so also we now willingly bear whatever crosses we are called upon to bear for Him. And note, my friends, that Jesus did not say that we should be willing to take up our cross once in a while and follow Him. He said that we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him as His disciples.
What does this mean? It certainly does not mean that we make a cross out of wood and every morning before we go to school or work we drag the cross around our neighborhood for everyone to see. It doesn’t simply mean that we wear a cross around our neck. Jesus Himself explains what this means when He says that we are to “deny” ourselves and be willing to “lose” our life for Him. It means that we “put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its sinful desires” (Ephesians 3:22). It means clearly saying “No!” to any thought that we can somehow add something to what Jesus has done to save us. It means adamantly saying “No!” to the sin that wants to come back into our heart and take over some part of our life. It means walking away from anyone who tries to get us to believe something that contradicts God’s holy Word. None of this is easy, my friends. We all have that old sinful nature that constantly tries to convince us to set down our cross and follow the easy path through life. But when we lift up our eyes to His cross (Pointing) and see what He was willing to endure for us, then by His power and with His grace we can indeed cherish whatever cross we are called upon to endure for Jesus.
So what do you cherish, my friends? Do you have a stuffed animal that you either openly or secretly hold close for a sense of peace and calmness? Do you cherish your home and breathe a sigh of relief whenever you walk through the door? Is there something that floods your mind with memories every time you see it or hold it in your hands? Is there someone who makes the rest of the world fade away every time you see them? While each of us may have our own particular thing that we cherish, my prayer is that all of us will always cherish the cross. (Pointing) Cherish the cross that Jesus willingly endured for you. Cherish the cross that you now willingly endure for Jesus.
To God be the glory!