The Cross!


Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Pentecost 3A, June 29, 2014

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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

What does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?  This morning we will explore that very question by looking at both our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 28:5-9) and our Gospel lesson (Matthew 10:34-42).  But before we get started let me share a more contemporary example of a man that both identified his cross and even bore it with great strength and dignity.

On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. Hitler’s troops had already invaded Poland, and they had just begun their Blitzkrieg advance into France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership. And unlike so many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament and unified his country with these famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” No politician today would campaign on a slogan like that.  But Churchill was a truth teller.  He called a thing what it was.

In our Old Testament lesson, we see that very same honesty and sincerity from the prophet Jeremiah.  If you remember last weeks lesson, Jeremiah had confronted the leaders of Israel with a very sobering message: God was angry with the sin of the nation; they had embraced false worship practices and even foreign gods, and as a result God would soon punish the entire nation, by allowing it to be defeated in war and exiled into Babylon.

This was a hard message for Jeremiah to declare, and yet it was the very message of God.  What else can a true prophet of God do but declare the very Word that God has given?  So a true prophet, like a true Christian always speaks only as God has spoken; he calls out something for what it is; he calls a thing what it is, just as God does.

This truth telling was an unthinkable dilemma for the Israelites; could it be true?  Is God really against His own people?  Was He now taking the side of the godless Babylonians?  “Yes” declared the prophet Jeremiah, “on account of your unrepentant sin, you will pay the consequence of that sin.  But God will not abandon you; you will never be alone.  God desired that the leaders and all of the people repent, and turn to his mercy, and His forgiving love.”

But, hard messages from true men of God always leave room for false messages from false prophets.  In essence, it pays to tell the leaders and people of a nation what they want to hear.  The people name their desire and the prophet claims it.  And not only that, he assures the people that they too, may claim the promise of glory and comfort for themselves, all in the name of God!  And that is exactly what the false prophet Hananiah did.

When Jeremiah smashed the clay jar demonstrating how God would destroy the nation of Israel, Hananiah, the leaders of the nation, and the people were incensed.  But when Jeremiah next came among the people and the leaders wearing a wooden yoke, and declaring that just as the yoke was upon him, God would allow the Babylonians to place the yoke of slavery upon His people, Hananiah sensed his opportunity to ingratiate himself to the populace, and he sprung into action.  He snatched the yoke off of Jeremiah’s shoulders, smashing it to pieces, and declared, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon.” [Jeremiah 28:2, 3]

So Jeremiah prophesied times of pain and suffering, but God promised that in the midst of it, the people of faith still could find joy and assurance, because God was still with them; He promised current comfort and future blessing, in the midst of hard times.  But the false prophet Hananiah promised that not only was God with them now, but He would also give them blessing and glory in the near future, by defeating their enemies.

So which prophet do you think the people chose to follow?  Now, I know myself, and you know yourselves and the way all of our sinful neighbors are as well, right?  Had we been there, we would also have chosen the message of Hananiah.  We would have turned away from the path of pain and embraced the promised path of peace and glory.  To borrow the tone and expression of a certain law firm’s television commercial regarding structured settlements, “It’s our glory and we want it now!”

And to all of this confusion, Jesus speaks very clearly to us with these words from our gospel reading: ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  A sword?  Isn’t that a bit violent coming from Jesus?  Isn’t He the Son of God, the Prince of Peace who brings peace to all He greets?

Yes, all of that is true, indeed. But “upon the earth” takes in the world of sinful men, and the effect of Christ’s coming. That is to say that His mission among sinful men and women, is the opposite of “peace,” namely, He comes to make war; spiritual war against sinful flesh, which is exactly what the “sword” symbolizes.  So in this great contrast Jesus is saying that peace in the sense of harmony, which we hunger for is not what His presence brings to this sinful world, rather it brings a sword, or division among sinful men and women and those who repent by turning to Christ and those who refuse.  In other words, if Christ didn’t come to save the world from its sins, the earth would remain undisturbed and ignorant of its sins and guilt, until that is, the day of its doom; the day of judgment. But Christ did come to take away the immense sin and that guilt; He came to die upon a cross and make atonement, payment in full for all sin.

So, at once a real war results with the coming of this Prince of Peace, because perverted men and women still want to cling to their sins, that is they want peace and comfort, wealth and blessings now, without the cross, and without the pain and suffering.  So they fight Christ and His gospel.  They desire the resurrection without the cross.  They desire commitment and personal decision instead of the blessed promises and work of God that is given at the font in our individual baptisms.  And hear now a great truth, Christ foresaw this effect, even in us today, and He even willed it to be so.

This morning, Jesus says to us, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is your cross that you must bear?  It is the same cross that Jeremiah bore; it is confessing the very Word of God just as He gives it to us in Holy Scripture, without change.  It is calling a thing what it is; knowing and speaking to those things that are sinful and those things that are God pleasing and glorifying.  It is living for God’s glory and not for your own peace and comfort in this world, because you know that while the physical world of pain and sorrow is but for a moment, the joy and wealth of heaven that you will one day receive is eternal.

Jesus once said that “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then He also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  The tribulation that we face in this world when we cling to Christ alone will be conflict.  Conflict with our own sinful flesh, conflict with our neighbor, and even conflict with our own families.  When we stand for Christ we also stand against sin, and when we stand against sin we are by nature standing against those who cling to it rather than Christ.  If we shrink from our stand in Christ, that is if we reject the cross of confessing Him alone as Lord, we have then conversely taken the side of the false prophets and their theology that says we can have the glory that is reserved only for God and the saints in heaven, right now!  And if we do this, Jesus clearly says that we are not worthy of Him.

Dear friends, Christ is to be so precious to us that not even those we love will be able to draw us away from Him and His church.  No suffering or shame should ever be able to repel us from Him.

If this message has made you uncomfortable then allow it also to bring you peace and comfort with the promise of future and eternal glory.  This morning, Jesus says, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Jesus has paid for your sins upon the cross with His own life-blood.  He has defeated the devil, undone his deceptions, by unveiling his lies of promised glory in this world.  He has shown you the truth, and more than that He has given you His peace.  He has turned your eyes off of the promises of the world and demonstrated to you the certainty of the promises of your baptism; complete forgiveness of sins is yours forever, if you will but trust in Him alone.

Now while it is true that you receive all of this with a degree of tension, it is not so great a tension that God’s peace cannot overcome it.  The kingdom of God, the promises of His gospel, and the promise of his glory are yours right now, but they have not yet been revealed.  For now, for a little while you must hold on by faith, and trust that all things, even divisions between those closest to you will in the end, work together for your good.  And as we wait, we humbly follow our Lord and His wonderful cross, as we carry our own.  Like the people who Jeremiah preached to, we too must wait in exile, in a foreign land of sin, but we can take heart, because our Savior and His cross have overcome the world, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us as we carry our own.  AMEN!

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