Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A), (Worship in the Park) August 28, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Sorry no audio for this message

 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]

INTRODUCTION: One of my favorite shows on TV is the “Myth Busters”.  So following that shows premesis that some things that we accept as true are simply false, We are going to debunk a couple of myths is Christianity.  What is a myth?  Well, it’s a little bit like an Old Wives’ Tale.  A wives’ tale is s traditional belief or a societal myth that’s often founded in superstition.  Here are few to try on for size:  If you swallow your gum it will sit in your stomach and turn into a hair ball!  No not true.  Gum passes out the digestive track like everything else!   How about this one: If you eat water melon and drink milk you will get a poison in your system and it could kill you!  Sorry, you might get a belly ache but it won’t kill you!  Here’s one more myth that you mothers won’t like me debunking: If you go outside in the cold with a wet head, you will catch a terrible cold!  Sorry Moms, that isn’t true either.  No matter how much you protest, science has known for some time that colds are caused by germs that enter our bodies through our mouths!

This morning we are going to debunk a couple more myths about our Christian faith.  These are myths that were created in a sinful world by sinful people.  The first myth says that your Christian faith will protect you from harm, misfortune, poverty, and even sickness!  Now this sounds good; we might even get in line to learn about this kind of Christianity, but if we did, we’d be falling into a trap! 

Now the second myth about our faith says that what Christ did on the cross was a good start for us, but we have to reinforce that work of His with our own suffering and sacrifice; No pain, no gain!  The folks that follow this myth really set aside Jesus suffering as perfect, and they believe they’ve got to add to it in order to please and angry God!  But now Jesus takes this “no pain, no gain” mentality and He turns it on its head!  Jesus says, without my pain you can have no gain.  Follow me to have eternal life, but as you follow me, you too will know pain!

 I. So where did we receive our call to follow Jesus and live under His cross?  Well through His Word of course!  It was His Word that spoke to many of our parents long ago, teaching them the need to bring us to the life giving waters of baptism.  And it was that same Word that latter grabbed ahold of each of us and convicted us of our sin and our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is the Word of God that mysteriously and lovingly speaks to our hearts after we confess our sins and convinces us that we are forgiven.  And it is the same Word that somehow creates the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood along with the bread and wine at our Lord’s Table, all so that we can know and experience forgiveness of sins!

It is this same Word that speaks to us now and says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Matthew 16:24]  Now why did Jesus speak this word about following Him and the need to pick up our cross?  Because He knows that we like Peter want to follow the easy way; the myths of this world.  But these myths were created first by the prince of this world the devil and they’re spread by the sinful people who have been trapped by his lies and myths.

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus began to teach his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die for each of them, even for you and me!  And what was Peter’s reaction to this discovery?  Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him with these words, “Far be it from you Lord!”  That’s just not going to happen (and I’ll make sure of it)!  And how did the Son of God, the Savior of the world respond?  He rebuked Peter, or maybe a better way to put this is that He rebuked the sin in Peter and the cause of that sin; He rebuked the father of all lies, Satan Himself! [Matthew 16:21-23]

Jesus knew that voice and the temptations that it brings; He recognized the devil and his ministry of lies which promises glory without sacrifice!  He encountered that same voice out in the wilderness on a forty day fast.  That voice tempted Jesus with food, power, and glory!  And how did Jesus defeat the devil?  With the same Word he now speaks to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”  And after Jesus rebukes the devil, He speaks and teaches both Peter and us with these Words of life, He says: “You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Now what did Jesus mean by that?  He meant that Peter wanted to follow the way of the devil and not the way of God!

II. Friends, the truth is that each of us are a lot more like Peter than we care to admit.  Let me show you what I mean.  The word that Jesus used, which our Bible translates as hindrance is really the Greek word skandalon.  It’s where we get our English word scandal.  A skandalon is the little stick that holds the mouth of a trap open.  Trappers will use some kind of bait that is irresistible to the prey they’re hunting and place it at the skandalon.  And when the prey goes for the bait, they trip the skandalon and… SMACK!  The trap springs shut trapping and killing the bait.  So Jesus is telling Peter that his plan and idea to cross out the cross is actually that kind of trap!  First it was a trap for Jesus; but Jesus is God, and far too wise to be tempted away from the cross.  But it is also a trap for Peter and it is a trap for us.

Peter like us, wanted things the easy way.  He wanted a life of ease and a cushy ministry.  He wanted a Savior that would be a champion who would defeat the devil and create a Christian government here on earth!  He wanted fame, fortune, and glory now, not latter!  How would he follow a dead Savior?

So what are some of the scandalons in our lives?  Well let’s be honest, each of us wants the same thing!  We want a great high paying job, a beautiful or handsome spouse, obedient children, a nice home and car, lots of bling, and we want it now!  We might even reason that because we are children of the Living God, called out of darkness into light, forgiven of all of our sins, we should have a prosperous life, free of pain, suffering, sorrow and poverty!  So when God’s Word talks about suffering, we might not say it out loud but we think it, “Far be it Lord!”  So what are we tempted to do?  We’re tempted to go off in search for a different message; a message about prosperity and glory!  We look for a message with less cross and suffering and more prosperity and glory; a message that tells us that we can have heaven here on earth!  But if we follow this way of thinking, we are following the way of the devil.  If we follow this way of thinking we are crossing out the cross and Jesus saving work upon it; we are following the way of glory or the scandalon of the devil!

So what does Jesus want for us?  Well, He wants the same things for us that we want, He just wants them in a different way; He wants them through the way of the cross!  You see, Jesus was committed to the cross, because it was the only way that salvation could be won for Peter and for us.  Jesus committed Himself to the cross because He knew the will of His Father; a Heavenly Father who sent Him to suffer and die as the Savior of the world.  He knew the reason for His gruesome death… “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory;” a glory that was first with us in the beginning.  He knew that the only way that this glory could be recovered for us was if He was willing to pay for our salvation with His very life.  So, He came to do that very thing.  He came to give His live as a ransom for us (Matthew 2:28) and as a sacrifice for our sins!  He was wounded for our transgressions, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6]  This was and is God’s love for us in action!  Jesus didn’t cross out the cross and neither will we when we see our lost sinful condition and by faith turn to that cross for forgiveness!

 II. As we follow Jesus we must take up our own cross!  Again Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!”  Now don’t confuse Jesus cross with our cross.  The truth is that only Jesus’ cross, His suffering and death can and does save sinners like us.  So then what is this cross that Jesus wants us to take up?  Well, it is a pattern for our whole lives!  Our cross is all of the suffering, trouble, and hardships that will come to us because we are His followers.  Whoever would follow Jesus Christ must follow His example.  They must live to please God and give all that they have to bring His kingdom to every sinner.  Whoever follows Jesus must be willing to deny themselves and live to please God.  To deny, simply means to turn away from someone or something.  In this case, God wants us to turn away from our old sinful nature and turn to Him.  Every day He wants us to refuse to be associated in anyway with our old sinful nature that was drowned in our baptisms.  He wants us to live a life that disowns our old sinful desires and live to only please our Savior Jesus! 

The cross meant suffering for Jesus and it means suffering for us, but it is suffering for a purpose; suffering for a hope!  We lose our lives so that we can gain them.  If we refuse to die to our old sinful desires and embrace the ways of glory we are turning away from our only source of help and hope, the cross of Jesus!  But if we receive and live out our new nature of sacrifice for God and our neighbor we are gaining not just the promise of a new and glorious eternal life, but the ability, the faith to live out this temporary life of suffering. 

Young people, if you are ridiculed and unpopular because of your Christian faith you have God’s promise that you are blessed in God’s heavenly kingdom.  Older people, if your Christian convictions cost you money and promotion at work, your cross is to keep on following Jesus, keep on fighting until you get the victory… eternal rest and joy in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.  Parents and grandparents, God knows your pain for a child that seems to have walked away from their faith in Jesus and His cross!  Through His Word He gives you faith to hold on and know that a change is coming; He gives you faith to keep praying for them.  The truth is for all of us, whatever crosses we have, we have them only because we are followers of Jesus and His cross!  And as we follow Jesus and live out our cross, we are also exalting His name with the sweet song of alleluia!  

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, as we fight the temptation to cross-out the cross of Jesus, God is strengthening our faith.  We fight the temptation to cross out the cross by looking to Jesus alone who suffered and died for us in order to show God’s deep love for us!  As we follow Him He is always urging us to continue taking up our cross and follow Him until the day He calls us home to a place that He has prepared for us in heaven! 

I would like to close our message with a story: There was once a monastery that raised monarch butterflies. One day a young monk watched a butterfly struggle for hours to free its self from its cocoon.  Finally, the sympathetic monk could take no more.  He began to help the butterfly be free by peeling away the cocoon.  Once the butterfly was free, the monk expected it to spread its wings and fly away; instead it only clung to the stick that it was perched on and finally toppled over and died.  An older monk watched with great interest, and approached the sad young monk and offered this wisdom.  “Brother you tried to help the butterfly by removing its burden, but what you didn’t realize was that it is the struggle under the burden that brings strength and vitality to not just its wings, but to its entire existence.  So by providing and easy way out you removed the very thing that would bring it life!”

Brothers and sisters, we have been given the gift of eternal life with God.  It is ours now, but not yet.  Until our time in this sinful world is through, God calls us to struggle in our faith.  He asks us to follow the way of Jesus’ cross.  Not to save us but to strengthen us for an eternity of living in God’s glory.  He asks you to struggle, putting to death your sinful nature with the sure and certain hope that one day you will enter heaven! This is faith in action; it’s a faith that doesn’t cross out Jesus’s cross or our own.  It’s a faith that comes along side of others who are struggling with their own cross and helps them shoulder the burden.  It’s a faith that knows and declares that we are not alone in our struggle; we are in this struggle together, and Jesus is here with us promising that soon and very soon we will be going to see our King; our King who comes in glory to pour out the fullness of His gift of eternal life.  It is a Kingdom that will richly compensate each of us for all of our own suffering and loss for His sake.  May God help each of us to continue having faith in this promise… in Jesus name… AMEN!

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