The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2023
The Church God Wants:
A Church that Takes Up Its Crosses!
21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Do you ever feel as though you have been “short-changed” in your faith? Have you ever reached a point in your walk with your God that you felt like Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson for today who asked God, “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (See Jeremiah 15:15-21) Perhaps you were baptized as an infant, went to Sunday school as a child, were confirmed as a young adult, attended church on a regular basis— only to wake up one morning feeling disappointed, disillusioned and discouraged. Have you ever gotten to a point where you ask yourself, “Is this really what it is like to be a disciple, a follower, of Jesus Christ?” If so, our text for today reveals that you are in very good company!
Last week we rejoiced as the apostle Peter made that wonderful confession of faith concerning Jesus, the confession that still rings loud and clear in our hearts and in our lives today: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Since Peter’s confession is also our confession we were strengthened by Jesus’ words, “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” And this week? This week we watch in stunned silence as Peter takes Jesus aside to “rebuke” Him. This week our hearts hurt as we hear Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” How do we reconcile what we heard last week with what we hear this week? That is the question we will address as we see that: The Church God Wants is the Church that Takes Up Its Crosses!
The Holy Spirit has Matthew tie last Sunday’s sermon text to this week’s sermon text by having him write, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Peter’s confession of faith revealed that he and the other disciples knew Who Jesus is. He is “the Christ.” He is “the Son of the living God.” What Peter and the other disciples did not understand was what that meant for Jesus! While the disciples were expecting bigger and grander things for Jesus— like establishing His Kingdom right here on this earth!— Jesus began to “explain” to His disciples what the heavenly Father had planned for His Son. What did the heavenly Father’s plan mean for Jesus? It meant that it was necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. It was necessary for Jesus to “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest and teachers of the law.” It was necessary for Jesus to be “killed.” And it was necessary for Jesus “to be raised to life” on the third day. While Jesus had already spoken to His disciples about all of this, now He makes it unmistakably clear. All of this was “necessary.” All of this was a part of the heavenly Father’s plan. No matter what the people may have expected the Messiah to do, no matter what the disciples may have expected the Messiah to do, this is what the Father expected the Messiah to do. There were no other options!
The disciples were undoubtedly shocked by what Jesus was telling them. Matthew tells us that Peter was so shocked that, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” It’s difficult to translate this “rebuke” in a way that captures how powerful it was. More literally Peter said to Jesus, “May God have mercy on you, Lord!” Peter was calling upon the heavenly Father to shield Jesus from such an awful fate! And then in the strongest way possible, Peter emphasized that such a horrible prediction could not be allowed to happen to Jesus! As we brought out last Sunday, Peter and the other disciples were caught up in the popular misunderstanding of the work of the Lord’s Christ. As “the Christ” Jesus was supposed to be exalted and honored— not persecuted and killed! (Apparently they stopped listening before Jesus said that He would be “raised to life on the third day.”) It was inconceivable to Peter and the other disciples that the Messiah’s ministry would end with His death. Certainly this could not be what the heavenly Father wanted for His Son!
Peter’s concern for Jesus’ physical well-being, Peter’s concern for the “success” of Jesus’ ministry was undoubtedly motivated by Peter’s love for Jesus. Peter’s thinking was along the lines of: “Surely the heavenly Father does not want you to sacrifice your life! What good are you to Him if you are dead? Follow the Lord, yes, but at all costs save your own life!” While Peter’s thinking, Peter’s theology, was understandable it was completely unacceptable.
Peter’s understanding of the life and the ministry of the Lord’s Christ is what Martin Luther referred to as the “Theology of Glory.” The Theology of Glory— which many people live by right down to this very day— says that if you are “right” with God, if He is “happy” with you and how you are living your life then God will bless you! He will bless your efforts in school. He will bless your career with promotions. He will bless your finances, bless your relationships, bless you with happiness and joy, peace and contentment.
On the flip side of that very same coin the Theology of Glory says that if you are having difficulties in school, if things are not going well at work, if you are struggling with your finances, struggling in your relationships, struggling to find things that make both your face and your heart smile— that means that God is not pleased with you.
If you have ever flirted with the Theology of Glory, listen very closely to how Jesus responds to Peter. He says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
While Peter’s “rebuke” of Jesus may have appeared to be the result of Peter’s love for Jesus, Jesus instantly recognized it for what it truly was: a temptation that came directly from Satan himself! Ever since Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem Satan’s goal was to destroy both Jesus and His mission as the Messiah. Satan used Herod and his soldiers to try and achieve his goal. Satan used the temptations in the wilderness to try and achieve his goal. And now Satan tried to use one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples to try and achieve his goal. If Satan could have gotten Jesus to even consider possibly avoiding the cross (Pointing to the cross) Satan would have won, Jesus would have lost, and we would have been condemned to an eternity of suffering in hell.
Thankfully, Jesus instantly defeats this temptation in a very decisive way. First, He rebukes Peter for inadvertently being a pawn of Satan. Then Jesus clarifies for Peter— and for us!— that there is a stark difference between the “things of God” and the “things of men.” The “things of men” encompass all the ideas and all the goals that originate in the hearts and minds of mortal sinful human beings. They may look innocent to us, they may even appear to be good, but in reality they are diametrically opposed to God’s will. Conversely, the “things of God” encompass everything that is included in the Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world, a Plan that was centered on the innocent suffering and death of His one and only Son! (Pointing to the cross)
The fact that it was Peter who “rebuked” Jesus, the fact that Peter unknowingly became a pawn of Satan reminds us that sometimes the toughest temptations that we face in our life come from our friends and not our enemies. Because our friends love us they may try to get us to avoid the trials and the tribulations that we encounter on our journey through this world. Since our friends don’t want to see us suffer they may suggest that we follow the “easy” road in life, the road that is relatively free of pain and hardship, the road that is usually filled with happiness and pleasure. We need to be very careful, my friends. Whenever someone is encouraging us to do this and not do that we would do well to ask ourselves, “Do they have in mind the ‘things of God,’ or the “things of men”?
Once Jesus had rebuked Peter, once Jesus had refocused Peter on “the things of God,” Jesus then addressed all of the disciples with words that apply to each and every one of us! He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
With these words Jesus explains to us what is known as the “Theology of the Cross”— a theology which reminds us of the “cost” that comes with being His disciples. I see that “cost” described in three ways. First, Jesus says that the “cost” of being His disciples means that we must “deny” ourselves, take up our “cross” and “follow” Him. “Denying” ourselves means that we say “No!” to the desires of our old sinful nature— whether it’s the desire to sleep in on Sunday morning or the desire to use our money to do all the things we enjoy and if there is any money left over then we’ll consider giving some of it to support God’s Kingdom work. The Theology of the Cross motivates us to always put God first because of what He willingly did for us!
Closely connected to “denying” ourselves is take up our “cross” to “follow” Jesus. What is Jesus referring to here? He can’t be talking about the sicknesses and the difficulties, the failures and the disappointments that are all too common in this world. Everyone experiences those things— both Christians as well as unbelievers! No, my friends, what Jesus is talking about here are the hardships and the sufferings, the ridicule and the rejection that are heaped upon us because we are a disciple, a follower, of Jesus! While these “crosses” may differ from one Christian to the next, while these “crosses” may change over the course of our life— every disciple of Jesus can expect to bear “crosses” as we journey through this world. If we are not bearing any “crosses” then perhaps we need to evaluate how openly we are living for Him! (Pointing to the cross)
Second, Jesus says that the “cost” of being His disciples means that we recognize this truth: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” The picture that Jesus uses here is one that many of His first disciples faced: a courtroom. Many of Jesus’ first disciples were brought into a courtroom or into an arena where they had to make a decision about Jesus. Were they going to deny Jesus that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” in order to save their physical life, or, would they hold fast to Jesus as their only Lord and Savior even though that meant being stoned to death or being killed with a sword or being torn apart by lions? The disciples who were willing to deny Jesus in order to save their physical life forfeited their eternal life. The disciples who were willing to die rather than deny the One who willingly died for them instantly found themselves enjoying a glorious perfect life in their heavenly Father’s Home!
Today the decision is not nearly as drastic, but just as serious. If our main goal is to “save” this life, if our main goal is to “savor” all the pleasures and all the enjoyment that life here in this world has to offer, we run the risk of “losing” the life that the Son of God died to secure for us. When we are willing to “lose” the things this world has to offer, when we are willing to dedicate ourselves to Jesus, to humbly follow Him, to strive to live by what He reveals to us here in His Word then we have the unshakable confidence of knowing that one day we will “find” ourselves enjoying a glorious perfect life in our heavenly Father’s Home!
Finally, Jesus says that the “cost” of being His disciples includes comparing the “value” of our life here on this earth to the “value” of the eternal life that only Jesus can give to us. He says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
There are people who dedicate their life to accumulating vast amounts of wealth, extensive real estate holdings, phenomenal investment portfolios along with the tremendous power and prestige that comes with all of this. After gaining all this material wealth— they die. Then what happens? Every single last bit of it is given away and sometimes their family and friends fight for what they consider to be their “fair share.” While all that wealth is being divided up, that person’s soul stands before the judgment throne of God to hear where they will spend eternity! Can that earthly wealth help them gain entrance into heaven? Absolutely not!
That reality is made even more powerful when Jesus says, “Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? These words reminded me that in Psalm 49 we are told, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough— that he should live on forever and not see decay” (Psalm 49:7-9). And yet many people still try to buy or earn their way into heaven by performing good works. Many people think that the pain and the suffering they endure in this world should be sufficient to gain them entrance into God’s heavenly Kingdom. There is only one payment “big enough” to ransom or redeem our soul. It is the holy, precious, innocent blood that Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God” offered up in our place— on the cross of Calvary’s hill!
Every time we lift up our eyes to this cross and see what the Son of God was willing to endure so that we could freely inherit eternal life in heaven then we understand why the church that God wants is the church that willingly takes up its cross and follows Him! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!