Sermons, Uncategorized

A Short Step from Rock to Stumbling Block

“The Protestations of St. Peter” by James Tissot

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But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “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” (Matthew 16:23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It’s a short step from “Rock” to “Stumbling Block,” from “blessed” to “Satan.” Just ask St. Peter. In last week’s reading, Peter spoke for the rest of the disciples by confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus commended this confession, identifying the Father as its source and its truth as the foundation of the Church’s endurance. In other words, Peter got Jesus right. Jesus pronounced Peter blessed and called him Petros, “Rock.” But now, just five verses later Jesus calls him Satan, and says he is a skandalon, a stumbling block to Jesus and His ministry. What changed? To find out, let’s review the narrative.

The time has come for Jesus to reveal His mission to His disciples. The Father has just shown Peter and the others that Jesus is, in fact, the unique Son of God and the Anointed One Jesus has promised to them a future in which He will build His Church and use them to unlock access to the reign of heaven (Matthew 16:17-19). Now it is time to show them what that will require of Him and them.

Jesus speaks frankly to the disciples about His imminent suffering and death. He has surely spoken of these things before, but the disciples have not really understood. They do not understand what Jesus tells them here either, but in due time they will understand. Nevertheless, at this time, it is necessary for Jesus to go on record as being fully aware of the suffering and death He will soon endure, and also to speak of His resurrection on the third day. It must be clear that Jesus knows what He faces and that He willingly endures it all. He is a willing sacrifice for all our sins, not a helpless victim of the schemes of evil men.

Jesus’ ministry evokes many reactions, including the hatred and opposition of influential people in Israel. Arrayed against Him are the likes of Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1-2), Galilean Pharisees (Matthew 12:2, 14, 26), Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 15:1), and Sadducees as well (Matthew 16:1). Always before, when the opposition has arisen, Jesus has chosen to withdraw to avoid conflict. Now, however, He declares that He must confront His enemies in Jerusalem, the city where the Messiah of Israel, should be rightly received with faith and acclaimed with joy, but where He must die. The powerful men in the holy city will inflict many pains on Him, and He will be killed. Sin and rebellion will have its way. Jesus will die and He gives His life as the ransom payment for many (Matthew 20:28).

This is all too much for Jesus’ disciples to comprehend. Peter takes Jesus aside, and begins to rebuke Him: “Far be it from You, Lord!” Peter says. “This shall never happen to You!” Peter’s intentions are good. But His denial confirms the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Peter cannot bear to think of such terrible things happening to his Lord. But he speaks without considering the ramifications. The man who just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, now presumes to contradict Jesus’ very plain words.

A moment earlier, Jesus commended Peter’s confession of faith. He called him Petros, “Rock,” and pronounced him blessed. Now, Jesus rebukes him sternly, even addressing him as Satan. This is appropriate because Peter is now saying essentially what Satan told Jesus during those forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Forget the obedience and suffering, seize the glory now. This is no ordinary but well-meaning confusion on Peter’s part. His words show that he is taking his stand against the Lord and against His Anointed. There are two ways to think about God’s activity in the world, and Peter has chosen to think and articulate the satanic way, that is to say, “the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

When Jesus calls the apostle a skandalon, or “stumbling block,” that term refers to a crooked stick in a trap to which bait would be attached. An animal going for the bait would spring the trap and be captured or killed. In the same way, Peter is setting a trap for Jesus. If Jesus steps into that trap, His whole mission of redeeming the world will be aborted. The rebuke Jesus speaks to Peter is in order, and it is important for the other disciples to hear it, too. They have not said what Peter said but have thought what Peter thinks.

In mere moments, Peter goes from “Rock” to “Stumbling Block”, from “blessed” to “Satan.” What changed? The promise of suffering. Peter’s resistance to suffering is so strong, and so natural to his fallen nature, that he is willing to rebuke the very Son of God he just confessed. In addition to contradicting Jesus (which is never a good idea), Peter’s opposition prevents him from considering the resurrection. Jesus is clear. Not only will He suffer and be killed, but He will “on the third day be raised.” But Peter finds no comfort in the promise of the resurrection. He is too disturbed by the suffering.

Isn’t that how it works for us, too? It’s hard to get past the suffering. Most of us have learned that life—even Christian life—involves a certain amount of anguish and affliction. But this knowledge does not make the experience of suffering any easier, and it does not make the desire to avoid suffering any less intense. For this reason, Peter stands again this week as a model Christian. Unfortunately, he is not the type of model to emulate. Peter puts on display our shared determination to avoid suffering at all costs—both for ourselves and those we love. This does not sit well with Jesus.

Jesus reminds His disciples what they must expect as they follow Him. They have long since committed themselves to following Jesus, but they seem to forget what that involves. So He tells them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

This verse is the heart and summary of Jesus’ teaching. He speaks these  words because His disciples have badly misconstrued the character of God’s work in the world. They still do not know what it will mean for God to reign through His Anointed One and what it will mean for Christ to accomplish the work that He has been sent to do. God’s work will entail the seeming defeat of the Christ. He will not go to Jerusalem in triumph, but rather, He will suffer there and be killed.

This speaks volumes about the nature of the world as well as the plan of God in Christ to reclaim the world and reign over it in grace. The world is filled with violent men. All, by  nature, are such, and all such would seek to snatch away the kingdom of God and destroy it. To be sure, God is King, and in Jesus, His reign has broken into the creation. The mighty deeds and authoritative Word of Jesus have demonstrated that full well. In the unexpected way of God, however, this same Jesus must yield to those who oppose Him and suffer the unjust fate of vicarious suffering and death. Only in so doing, by God’s design, can God’s people, all people, and all creation be saved from sin and its henchman, death.

After dying, Christ will rise to eternal life, and this sequence can neither be changed nor interrupted. Those who belong to Jesus will follow in this world the same sequence and path—first the cross, then glory. Death first, then resurrection.

The first and primary obstacle to such following, however, comes not from the world around, but from within. The enemy lies within the heart of every disciple. So Jesus’ call begins: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Even as the “things of men” are allied against God’s plan in Jesus, within each person who would be a disciple is the “world” in microcosm, which must be rejected. This reality is so prevalent and deeply rooted in the corrupt human nature that Jesus says a person must “deny himself.” This is the opposite of what Peter has just done. Instead of saying no to himself, Peter has just said no to Jesus.

There probably is no limit to the specific applications of what it means to deny oneself as Jesus commands. There are so many sinful desires in our hearts! The context of Matthew 16, however, emphasizes two related tendencies that are alive and well in every fallen human creature, who, by God’s gracious invitation, wants to be Jesus’ disciple.

The first tendency is to think—and insist—that God’s way of dealing with the world and its evil should conform to our way, that is, a way of power and success. We reason: If evil really is evil, should not God, the omnipotent Creator of all things, simply come forth in might and overcome it? Moreover, shouldn’t Jesus’ disciples be allowed to be participants in such work, separating wheat from chaff and uprooting the sons of the evil one (Matthew 13:28)?

God’s mysterious answer is, simply, no. The Christ Himself will not deal with the world in that way—at least not yet. To deny ourselves means that we will not assume or believe that God’s way of working in the world will conform to our expectations or definitions of success or efficiency or glory.

The second tendency, related to the first, is for a disciple to insist that God work in humanly powerful ways, so that the disciple desires to exercise power over others, especially over fellow disciples, so that he can accomplish what he believes should be done. Living in each disciple is that dark conviction that can destroy unity and do untold damage to the cause and name of Christ: “Put me in charge, and I’ll set things right.” This conviction can take the forms of ambition, a disguise considered good, even in the Church. It readily sprouts forth as criticism, competition, and one-upmanship. More introverted sinners might choose to worship Lord Self wit quiet, prideful comparison in which one doesn’t actually do anything, but merely demeans a brother or sister. Ambition, comparison, and criticism are all ways of embracing and exalting oneself, rather than denying oneself.

The way of Jesus, however, is the way of humble obedience and submission to the will of Another. When first confronted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), Jesus set aside His own power (Matthew 4:3-4) as well as the presumption that His Father’s powerful provision would rescue Him from reckless independence (Matthew 4:5-7). Instead, Jesus chose the way of service and obedience and suffering for the sake of Israel and the world. Now He calls every Christian to look at the darkness within, at the desire for power over others, and to deny that desire whenever and wherever it shows itself. Let us deny ourselves and take up our cross.

This is not some terrible task; this is the life of the Christian. By the Law of God, we know what our old sinful nature is like, with all of its selfish tendencies. By the grace of God, we deny ourselves—we deny our sinful selves the authority and respect the Old Adam desires. We declare to the Lord that we naturally follow our own will, not His, and we pray that He would forgive us for the sake of His crucified Son.

We say this, though often in different words. Words like, “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You.” We sing, “Lord have mercy upon us,” and “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us,” praying that He—who died for our sins—would forgive us.

He does! You hear the truth proclaimed in words like these: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” The pastor announces that Jesus forgives you! Furthermore, he traces a cross toward you as he says them, to convey this awesome truth: You are forgiven because Christ has died your death on the cross, and He has shared His death with you in Holy Baptism. His cross is your cross! This is the cross that you bear! St. Paul makes that clear in Galatians 2: “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (v. 20). He also says in Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus had placed His cross and His victory over sin upon you, and that is the cross you bear.

And that is why Luther advises us to draw that cross upon ourselves each morning and evening, as we rise and go to sleep with prayer, that we might constantly remember that we bear His cross—that we have died with Him to sin. And because He pours out His grace and gives us faith, we daily confess our selfish sinfulness, put it to death once again, and live as His forgiven people.

So, like St. Peter, we cling to the Word of our Lord—the Word of Christ, the Son of the living God who suffered many things, died, and rose again. Oh, rejoice to deny yourselves and confess your sins, for you do so knowing that the Lord has died to set you free from your selfish, sinful nature that seeks to kill you forever. And you rejoice, all the more, knowing that the Lord has died your death and made His cross your cross; and that He gives His cross and life to you in His Word and His Sacraments. You will battle your sinful self each day, but the Lord is present with His grace; and you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Comes into His Kingdom

“Crucifixion” by Andrea del Castagno

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And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The road to the cross has been christened by Christian tradition as the Via Dolorosa, the way of pain and grief. The road begins at the fortress of Antonia and winds its way through Jerusalem about one-half mile to just outside the northwest wall of the city. It is this path that He treads in His final steps before Jesus comes into His kingdom.

But His is no ordinary coronation procession. He is not astride a proud war horse, nor carried on a palanquin by four strong men, but He stumbles beneath the burden as He carries His own cross. He is not accompanied by a band of loyal and chivalrous knights, but a couple of convicted criminals, rebels. The soldiers are not there to protect Him, but to see that He is put to a horrible death. The crowd does not greet Him with cheers but tears as He is led out of the city. Jesus had Himself wept over the city of Jerusalem. Now, He tells these daughters of Jerusalem that their tears would be better shed for themselves than for Him.

The reason for the tears is the impending destruction of Jerusalem. That will be a time when children are no blessing from the Lord; rather, the barren woman will regard herself as blessed because she won’t have to witness the suffering of her child. That will be a time when people again cry to the mountains and hills for protection from violent destruction as they did in the days of Hosea the prophet. Jesus’ concluding question is based on proverbial wisdom: if green wood burns, just think what blaze will result from setting fire to dry wood. If Jesus, who is innocent, suffers so terribly, what kind of suffering will befall guilty Jerusalem?

Jesus is crucified at the place called “the Skull” between two criminals. The Jewish historian, Josephus, speaks of crucifixion as “the most pitiable of deaths.” The Roman statesman and author, Cicero, describes it as “the worst extreme of torture inflicted on slaves.” Jesus endures the pain of having nails driven through His hands and feet before being hoisted into the air to die a slow death, usually from suffocation when the victim becomes so weak and filled with pain that he can no longer lift his torso up to take another breath.   

It is customary to say that Jesus spoke “seven words” from the cross. This is based on compiling His statements from the four Gospels. No Gospel contains all seven of these words. In Luke, we find the first, second, and seventh. The first is Jesus’ prayer for those who are inflicting death upon Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They truly do not know what they are doing: killing the Son of God, by whose death the world is ransomed from sin.

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is striking because it contains one small moment of intimacy. It is a moment which is good for us to see and remember.

Crucifixions were not known for their intimacy, but rather for their cruelty. One of the purposes of public crucifixions was dehumanize the person being crucified, to strip them of any honor and make them an object of scorn. Literally stripped of all His clothing, Jesus—the sinless Son of God—hangs naked on the cross accused and condemned as a criminal and an enemy of God—the grossest kind of humiliation possible.

In Luke’s account, this is certainly true. Jesus is an object of scorn. The religious leaders mock Him as a Messiah unable to save Himself much less His people. The soldiers mock Him as a king, not receiving rich wine from a steward, but being given sour wine—the poor man’s cheap drunk—instead. Even one of the criminals joins in the act. When someone being crucified looks down his nose upon you, you can’t get much lower than that.

But Luke records one more interaction. A strange moment of intimacy between Jesus and the repentant criminal.

First, the criminal makes a confession of sin as he rebukes the impenitent evildoer. He admits he is being crucified justly. His death is deserved because of his misdeeds. Then, he makes a confession of faith. Jesus has done nothing wrong. His death is not deserved, and He will be vindicated. The criminal foresees a day when Jesus comes into His kingdom.

Having heard Jesus pray for God to forgive those who know not what they do, this criminal prays Jesus will forgive someone who now knows what he did. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The man’s request reveals a remarkable now/not yet tension in God’s kingdom. Now, on the cross, Jesus is King, and now His Word bestows forgiveness. Not yet has Jesus entered into His kingdom—of glory—yet Jesus’ word of forgiveness now opens the door for this dying evildoer to enter the not yet kingdom when it comes. And it will come that same day!

The catechesis of the penitent evildoer is brief, and his initiation into the life of Christ comes quickly. The dying “King of the Jews” who “saved others” says to this dying man, “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in paradise.” Jesus, crucified, is the source of forgiveness for all—even the worst, the least, and the last. With these words, Jesus invites the man to participate in this forgiveness forever.

Such intimacy stands out at a public execution. It is extraordinary because it is strange. But it also stands out because it is true. In this one small moment of intimacy, we see truth in the midst of the mockery. Here, we see a true sinner meeting His true Savior.

This should not surprise us, of course, because this is what we have seen through the Gospel of Luke. Jesus loves those who are lost, the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus seeks out and saves.

When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a little baby, Simeon sang of God’s salvation for all peoples, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Thy people Israel.” When Jesus preached His first sermon, He offended His hearers by reminding them of Elijah’s mission of mercy to a Gentile widow and Elisha’s cleansing a Syrian of leprosy. In Jesus, God’s merciful mission extends beyond the bounds of Israel. A Samaritan leper falls down in thanksgiving before Him. A Roman centurion stands as an example of faith for Israel. Luke reveals the faith of those on the margins, the place at the table for the outcast, the love of God for the lost. In Luke, Jesus summarizes His mission with the words, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10).

And so, at the very end, as Jesus speaks His last words, He reserves one word of promise for someone most unlikely—a criminal who repents. In mockery, people cry out for Jesus to save Himself. In truth, Jesus came not to save Himself but to save others. He came to save you.

On this, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, our Collect reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, you reign among us by the preaching of your cross.” Today, our Savior rules not in spite of the cross, but through it. He would not free Himself from the cross because by the cross He frees others; then and now.

Our world has changed. The Church has lost privileged status in our culture; it is viewed by many as restricting, bigoted, and discriminatory. And so, the culture no longer does the heavy lifting for Christin mores. Christians are no longer tempted to see themselves as powerful. They no longer set the cultural agenda. Instead, they have been set aside. They are not serious partners in cultural conversations. If they appear at all, it is as jokes on late night television or as dangerous figures fostering hate speech.

Yet, it is among the despised that Jesus comes into His kingdom and reigns. One by one, He gathers the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus saves.

And so, today, God calls us to be servants of Jesus, a king who reigns by a personal word of welcome to the least. God invites us to have intimate conversations in a world filled with mockery and hate. To trust Jesus reigns whenever and wherever He extends a word of promise to the displaced and the disfavored, welcoming them home.

The world has changed, but God has not, and neither has His Word changed. In a broken chaotic world, there are plenty of broken people who need the healing message of Jesus Christ. The Church must see itself as “a company of recovering sinners.” The fields are white for the harvest. So, pay attention to the invisible people. Befriend your community. See people not as evangelism projects, but as neighbors to love and to show mercy. Each one is a precious soul for whom Jesus has shed His holy and precious blood. Remember: In Christ, we always work from a position of strength and plenty, not lack and weakness!

Jesus comes into His kingdom on the cross. He was crucified that we sinners might enter into that kingdom with Him. Because Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all, we have His word of absolution and the promise of being with Him in paradise. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Uncategorized

Count the Cost

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[Jesus said:] “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus is at the height of His success as we measure it. People are flocking to Him—the numbers growing as He gets closer to Jerusalem. Yet, Jesus has to ruin it by telling the people a bunch of hard truths they can’t handle. He can’t help it. Jesus never compromises the truth, for that would be compromising Himself.

The Lord’s criteria for discipleship are as simple as they sound horrifying: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” You can almost hear the church growth gurus gasp. “That’s not the way to win a following. You have to give the people something they want. Jesus, we know following You involves sacrifice, but if You can, please keep those demands to a minimum. Otherwise, they’ll go and listen to the preacher down the street.”

But that’s not Jesus. He doesn’t want anyone to be His disciple who hasn’t “counted the cost,” for such will not be disciples for long. And let me tell you: The cost of discipleship is high! Remember, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits Him there. He knows that this crowd will reach its peak on Palm Sunday as He rides triumphantly into the city. He knows that as the week wears on, the crowds will thin. By Friday, they will not cry “Hosanna!” but “Crucify Him!” He knows, in the end, He will be alone. His many followers will abandon Him. Even His Twelve closest friends will scatter. One will betray Him for the price of thirty pieces of silver. Another will deny even knowing Him.

Jesus knows all that, and so He sets forth the conditions for following Him. First, there must be a willingness to leave family ties. The word “hate” sounds harsh to our ears. Jesus means to shock you, to make you realize that nothing dares come before Him in your life as a disciple.         

No, Jesus Christ—Love Incarnate—isn’t commanding you to “hate” as we use and understand the word in English today. For Jesus, “hate” is not so much a feeling, but a choice of the will, a matter of priorities. To “love” one thing and to “hate” another gives preference to the former. Jesus is not calling for you to despise your family members; He is calling upon you to love Him more than them. He is telling you to keep the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” That’s what Jesus means!

But before you breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Oh! That’s all He meant!” you must realize that even this level of commitment is far beyond you. Quite naturally, you place family above the Lord. Stalwart supporters of sound doctrine and church discipline may find fault with a pastor or congregation when that doctrine and discipline is applied to their own wayward children. Spouses and children give in to the temptation to skip worship at the request of an unbelieving family member. And who is courageous enough to correct a false teaching when the family is gathered around the table for Christmas dinner? Nobody. You believe that keeping the peace is more important. The cost of discipleship is high, way more than you are willing to pay.

And just so you understand this clearly, Jesus gives it a second go-around: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

What’s Jesus doing? Not only does He not understand all the latest marketing techniques, He seems to have some crazy death wish. Crucifixion is a cruel and agonizing way to die, a form of punishment reserved for the vilest offenders and sub-human slaves. For the Jews, it was the death of the damned. But here, it looks like Jesus is telling you that you have to embrace this terrifying, shame-filled way of dying, this cross and its curse, in order to be His disciple.

That’s right! That’s exactly what’s He’s saying. If you don’t bear your own cross, you’re incapable of being His disciple. Following Jesus means self-denial. It means the sacrifice of your own will for the sake of Christ.

“Cross” here, does not refer to the troubles that commonly come in life to all people. Many of those come as a consequence of our own foolishness or the sins of others or of just living in a fallen world. Rather, for a believer, “bearing a cross” means to accept whatever suffering might result from a sincere commitment to Christ and His kingdom. Sometimes it means standing toe-to-toe with those who are speaking lies or teaching falsely. Other times it means not speaking up for yourself when you are personally attacked, but rather taking the blows for the sake of the greater good of the Church. For most of the disciples present on that day Jesus spoke these words, bearing the cross was more than just a figurative expression. Their confession of Christ meant their own martyr’s death—often on an actual wooden cross. But even if it does not mean literal death for you, the cost of discipleship is high. It is way more than you can pay. And you better realize that before you begin.

Jesus gives two examples to emphasize this point. The first involves counting the costs of constructing a tower. If you were to launch a major building project, wouldn’t you first sit down to find out how much money you need and how much you have before you begin? Otherwise, you may be mocked for starting something you couldn’t finish. Think also of a king. He’s planning for war, but then finds out he’s outnumbered two-to-one. Knowing he will face certain defeat, wouldn’t his best course be to seek terms of peace before he engages in battle?

Count the cost. You simply can’t afford what it costs to be Jesus’ disciple. You don’t have the necessary level of commitment. You don’t have enough to defeat your enemy. You simply can’t do it. No one can meet such impossible demands. The cost of discipleship is just too high.

So what are you to do? Do you throw in the towel, give up, and say, “Why even bother?” Are you like the rich young ruler who wanted to be a disciple? When he heard what Jesus told him to do—to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor—he simply gave up his desire to be a disciple. Jesus says: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

This news should leave you disturbed, troubled, anxious. But before we go on for relief, let me point out two other things.

First, this text well illustrates why I waste no time telling you that you are saved by your commitment to Jesus or by how much you love Him or how hard you are trying—because no one can do it. No one can achieve the level of commitment to hate his family, hate himself, prepare to die, and renounce all things. I certainly include myself in that list!

Second, and far more importantly, I must point out that I have only spoken in terms of the Law so far. Remember, the purpose of God’s Law: It tells you what God demands of you if you are to be perfectly holy and righteous before Him. It is also to show you your sin, to show you that you cannot do it. When Jesus says this, He is preaching the Law. He is declaring to all who hear that the cost of discipleship is extraordinarily high, and it is one that you in your sinfulness are incapable of paying.

Being Jesus’ disciple is impossible! Believe it; get used to it. You don’t have enough “hate” for the things of this world to love God enough. You certainly don’t have the commitment to bear the cross for your own sins. You don’t have the money, the ability, or the strength to build a bridge across that chasm or a stairway to heaven. That’s what Jesus wants you to learn today. When you count the cost, you’ll discover that the cost of discipleship is just too high!

I said earlier no one can meet such impossible demands; but that’s not completely true. There is one exception! The God-man Jesus Christ. Jesus loved His heavenly Father more than His family and His own life. We read in the Gospels that Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him to plead with Him to stop teaching, maybe even to haul Him away. Rather than give in for the sake of family peace, Jesus continued to do the Father’s will that He might go to the cross for us.

Jesus put His heavenly Father’s will over His own. We hear His prayer in Gethsemane: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Though He did not wish to suffer, Jesus gave up His own life to complete His Father’s plan for your salvation.

Jesus kept the Law for you and He gives you the credit for His obedience. By His grace, He covers you with His righteousness. Therefore, the Father looks upon you and does not see your sin; He sees Christ’s perfect obedience. Jesus does not demand that you die for your sin, because He has already died for it. Instead, He calls you to confess your sin, to acknowledge that His death is the one you deserve. And then He declares that He shares His death with you. He joins you into His death so that you do not have to die for your sin yourself.

What you cannot do, Jesus does for you. From the cross, He builds His Church. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. No one can pay what it costs, except Jesus. Only He frees you, a lost and condemned creature. Only He has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

For you, it’s impossible. The cost of discipleship is too high, way more than you can pay. You just can’t do it by your own reason and strength. But the Holy Spirit has called you through the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and sanctified, and kept you in the true faith. He does what is impossible—to make you Christ’s disciple, to make you God’s own dear child.

And surprisingly, you will find that you have taken up your cross and followed Jesus. How did this happen? The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, that, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in  a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (vv 3-6).

In baptism, you were crucified into the death of Christ and raised to life in His resurrection. You have eternal life. And you have the promise that though you die, the Lord will raise the bodies of you and all believers on the Last Day.

The baptismal life is one of dying and rising. The Old Adam must be put to death daily. The Old Adam in you should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

That makes bearing your cross an entirely different matter. To bear your cross is to bear Christ’s cross, and it is not nearly as heavy as when He carried it to Calvary. In fact, your burden is as light as a feather—even lighter! You bear His cross when it is traced upon you in Baptism. This is the cross that you might outwardly sketch upon yourself as you hear the Invocation and receive the Absolution—you will feel no greater a weight or pain of Christ’s cross than that, for He has suffered all the weight and all the pain for you.

Rather than demanding your body and blood as a sacrifice for your sin, Jesus gives you His body and blood into death for the forgiveness of your sins. In His Supper, He now gives you His risen body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. That is what it means to bear your cross—it means to be forgiven, for in forgiveness Jesus shares His cross with you, taking away your death and giving you His resurrection.

Therefore, set aside all pretenses of your commitment to Christ, for the Lord exposes how weak and unsatisfactory that commitment is. Instead, boast in the Lord. Confess your sins—including your pride in your dedication to Him, and trust solely in His grace and mercy. Give thanks that He has made you His disciple by His commitment, by His sacrifice, His once-for all ultimate sacrifice.

This is the Good News we proclaim to the world: Yes, the cost of discipleship is high, but it has been paid by Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Glory That Comes from Man… Or God?

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot
Jesus’ Triumphal Procession into Jerusalem” by James Tissot

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“Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:41-43).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The news spread quickly that Jesus was in Bethany, and large numbers of people headed there to see Him. With the influx of pilgrims in Jerusalem getting ready for the Passover, it wasn’t long before a great crowd had gathered. No doubt, their curiosity was doubly piqued, since they would also be able to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. Realizing they were losing the battle for public opinion, the chief priests decided to kill Jesus. They would do whatever was necessary to end Jesus’ popularity. They added Lazarus to their hit list, for many Jews believed in Jesus because He had raised Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus had arrived in Bethany on Friday. The dinner at Mary and Martha’s, the anointing by Mary, and the gathering of the crowd took place after His arrival, with the Sabbath intervening. On the next day—Palm Sunday—the ever-growing crowd learned that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They cut palm branches and went out to the road to meet Him, receiving Him with all the pomp and circumstance of a king as the Jewish leaders feared they might.

The people hailed Jesus with words from Psalm 118:25-26: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” This was from the Hallel, sung as part of the Passover feast. For centuries, Jews had sung it in anticipation of the Lamb of God on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice that day; they received Jesus as Israel’s King.

It happened spontaneously, but it was foretold years earlier. Jesus rode a young donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The messianic King from David’s line entered Jerusalem amid the praise and glory of the crowd.

The Pharisees cursed their bad fortune. Every threat they had made, every trap they had set, every accusation they had leveled, hadn’t accomplished a thing. Jesus was, on that day, more popular than ever. The Jewish leaders reacted as we often do when we realize we are no longer in control—frustrated and fearful. “Look, the world has gone after Him,” they exclaimed in classic hyperbole.

To the Pharisees, “the world” meant primarily the Jewish people. But Christ came for the whole world. Even then and there some Greeks were among the crowd. They singled out Philip from Jesus’ disciples and made their intentions known: “We wish to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Up to this time, Jesus had insisted repeatedly that His hour had not yet come. But now, He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

What Jesus came to do He likened to a seed of grain. That seed remains nothing but a lonely seed unless it is planted. But when it is buried in the ground and dies there, a plant grows from it and bears fruit. Similarly, Jesus would not bear the fruit of His mission until He first died. All His miraculous signs had no eternal benefit without the miracle of the cross and the empty tomb. The Son of Man had to die for the spiritual harvest to come, the harvest of souls for eternity.

When Jesus warns against loving our lives, He means putting this earthly life first. When we believe in Jesus and have eternal life in Him, worldly living loses its attraction. Everything worldly carries sin’s taint. Only in Jesus does the good life, eternal life, become ours. It would be better to lose this earthly life than to lose Jesus. Our faith in Jesus, however, carries a price. We must follow where He leads. We face sacrifices. We risk the scorn of others. But we do so with the promise of the heavenly Father’s honor and with praise and thanksgiving for His Son.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die. As true man, He was troubled by what He faced. The triumphant procession did not change the reality He knew was coming. He already felt the burden we associate with Gethsemane. He opened His soul for us to look in. Jesus was not a robot, heading for the scrap heap without feeling. As true God, He did not simply switch off all sorrow and suffering. His sufferings would be intense beyond measure because of our sin. Still the God-man never wavered from His assigned path. He had come from heaven for this very purpose, prepared for this time. He was there to bring glory to God.

Jesus turned attention from Himself to His Father, praying, “Father, glorify Your name.” The Father answered Jesus’ prayer aloud from heaven. His name had been glorified and would continue to be glorified. By sending His Son in the flesh and through His Son’s miraculous signs, the Father received glory (John 1:14). In the events to come, Christ’s work of salvation—His death, resurrection, and ascension—would most assuredly glorify God’s name further.

The crowd needed to hear the voice as a sign that a truly cosmic event was being set in motion—the confrontation God had predicted in Eden (Genesis 3:15). The judgment of this world would be based on the outcome. The judgment is an ongoing process, as people either in faith accept, or in unbelief, reject Jesus as their Savior. The ruler of this world, Satan, would be driven out as the Seed of the woman emerged as the risen victor. Jesus would break the devil’s power over us.

For all this to happen, Jesus was headed for death by crucifixion. He told the people as much, using an image most of them would have understood, at least in principle. He would be lifted up from the earth on a cross. That lifting up would affect all human beings. Through it and His subsequent exaltation, Jesus would draw all people to Himself. At the cross, all people must invariably accept or reject Jesus as Savior. There are no other paths.

This crowd had just hailed Jesus as the Christ in the line of King David, and now they heard Him talk about Himself as the Son of Man, saying that He must be crucified. They searched for understanding. They believed from Scripture that the Christ would be eternal but assumed that meant He would set up an eternal kingdom on earth. It didn’t make sense to them that the Christ would die. Rather than try to explain away their doubts; He called for them to trust in Him. They didn’t need all their questions answered just then. They needed only to believe.

Still, not all who were gathered that Palm Sunday believed in Jesus even though He had done so many signs in their presence, including the raising of Lazarus. This too, fulfilled messianic prophecy. Isaiah had prophesied this unbelief, and Jesus had quoted him elsewhere to show why many Jews didn’t recognize His messianic claims. They were locked away in their own unbelief.

Isaiah prophesied these things because He had seen the glory that comes from God. In his vision, Isaiah saw the Messiah’s great suffering to achieve our salvation and the Messiah’s glory, restored in the resurrection and ascension.

Many rejected Jesus, but some, even some of the leaders, believed in Jesus. Sad to say, the Pharisees succeeded in intimidating them, so they hid their real views for fear of being put out of the synagogue. They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God in Christ.

We should not be surprised at this faintheartedness. Our own lives display it today. How often do we Christians fail to confess our faith because we fear the reaction of those around us? How often do you and I love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God?

The fact is, we really have a hard time understanding glory as God defines it. We’re used to glory in human terms. A person finds glory when he is surrounded by power, strength, and prestige. When someone is glorious, he seems invincible. That’s hardly the appearance of the beaten, bloody Man hanging on the cross.

But God measures glory in a different way. In God’s terms, glory is achieved by doing His will. Something none of us is capable of doing ourselves. Not perfectly. Not all the time. But Jesus does, and He does it in our place.

Against all appearances, God is glorifying His name at the cross because Jesus is fulfilling His Father’s plan of salvation, dying the death of sinners so that sinners can be raised to eternal life. That hill outside Jerusalem is a more glorious mountain than Sinai; on Mt. Calvary, Christ defeats sin, death, and the devil.

When the Greeks wished to see Jesus, Jesus pointed them to the cross. That is where the Son of Man is glorified. As a pastor, it is given me (and all pastors) to point you to the cross, time and time again. We do so with reason, because there is your salvation. There you will see the glory that comes from God.

In Christ, you have much more than what the world appears to offer. The world’s glory consists in displays of power, popularity, wealth. All of them are so fleeting. Look how long it takes for the cheering crowds of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to turn to chants of “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. How quickly a celebrity can go to persona non grata with one rumor of scandal. How quickly wealth can disappear with a bad investment or shaky economy.

Jesus’ glory is to do His Father’s will. His death is glorious, because by His death He saves you from the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. Furthermore, He continues to accomplish His Father’s will, visiting you by His Word and Sacraments, working in you forgiveness, life, and salvation.

This is a world of trouble and anxiety because this is a world of sin. You’ll be tempted to love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. In the midst of trouble, trial, and temptation, Jesus visits you with that glorious forgiveness. Where you might be frustrated at your station in life, He calls you His child and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. He reassures you that this time of tribulation will pass and that He will use it for your good and for His glory.

Remember that glory in times of grief. There is little in life that is more heart-breaking than the death of a loved one. Like all people, Christians must also endure grief. But with the grief, they also have the hope of the grain. In the midst of mourning, you know that Christ was put to death and buried in a tomb. You also know that He rose from the dead three days later. You also have the confidence that He is the firstfruits of those fallen asleep, and He will raise His people to everlasting life. Those who have died in the Lord are delivered from suffering; and because they have died in the Lord, they will be raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day.

Remember that glory when troubled by guilt. The devil still accuses; but since he has no access to the throne of God anymore, he whispers the accusations into your ear instead. He would abuse your conscience and try to convince you that, despite Jesus’ death, you still stand guilty before God. He seeks to make your guilt appear far more real than the cross. But the devil has been lying since he first slithered into Eden, and his accusations are falsehood at the foundation. Have you sinned? Yes, that much is true. Do you still stand guilty before God? No, because Christ has died to take away your sins. The true blood of Christ has covered and removed evidence of your sin before God. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The glory that comes from God is found in the cross, because that is where the Savior saves you. By gloriously fulfilling His Father’s plan for your salvation, Jesus takes your sins away and give you eternal life. He rescues you from tribulation, from guilt, and from death. He declares you His holy, innocent child, and makes you an heir of eternal life. Because of His death, the risen Lord now utters these glorious words to you: You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.