Archive for the ‘Matthew 16:21-28’ Category

Don’t Cross-out the Cross!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A), (Worship in the Park) August 28, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 “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!

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.