Lent 2016: Midweek 2 (2/17/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 16:24: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… There is no question that Jesus was and still is determined to be our Savior. The question is, how determined are you to continue to be His disciple? What is the cost of being His disciple?
Well, the cost has not changed at all since New Testament times. In spite of that fact, many people have no idea what that cost is. When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, when He calls us to bear a cross, His Word is either grossly misunderstood or it is ignored altogether. Our culture is so immersed in seeking comfort and ease that any religion that demands real sacrifice is never seriously considered anymore – at least not by the masses.
People respond to the life of discipleship with, “Doesn’t Jesus understand that we have commitments? Doesn’t He know we have obligations? Doesn’t Jesus know that times have changed? Surely we cannot forsake everything and follow Him? Why, we cannot afford to leave our jobs, our pension benefits, and our group insurance plans!”
So go our objections. We simply do the best we can – by our way of figuring it – with the word of discipleship, and we modify it for our 21st century lifestyles. And so being Jesus’ disciple doesn’t have to be a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week affair. A few occasional services will have to suffice. Self-denial doesn’t have to be total, does it? Maybe, just maybe we can make it on the easy-payment plan.
Well, it doesn’t matter that our own perceptions of discipleship have changed. It is of utmost importance to understand anew that Jesus’ words do not change: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.” If you want to be a follower of Christ, those are the credentials; those are the requirements. No negotiations, no deals, no short cuts.
So what does this mean? It means, first of all, that at the very heart of our discipleship there is a cross – the cross of Christ. In these Lenten services we are focusing on the Lord and His disciples; we are moving with them and we are going with them to the cross, to His cross. And so tonight we pick up a few thoughts from the same text we heard last Wednesday.
In our text Peter claims to walk with Jesus, as he says in plain and simple terms, “You are the Christ!” And we also hear in plain and simple terms how determined Jesus really is about His own agenda: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go up to Jerusalem…and suffer many things…and be killed…and on the third day be raised again.” Those are the well-known elements of the cross. We know them so well today, but they were not so well-known to these first-century followers.
These are the necessary elements of His cross – known so well to the prophets but not to these twelve; known so well to the Father, for these are necessary to the salvation He planned for all mankind. For Jesus says, “The Son of man goes as it has been determined…” This was no mere afterthought. This was not a prediction based on public opinion polls or trends in popularity. The cup of suffering, the rejection by His own people, the fleeing of His disciples, the God-forsakenness of Calvary – all of it had been determined long before. This cross of His, this death of Jesus was not ultimately the tragedy it appeared to be, but ultimately a victory!
And so we grant to the Divine Majesty the things we simply cannot explain. Peter was trying to be rational, even if his rationality was not on the side of God but on the side of Satan. Peter said, “No, Jesus, You shall not die. It simply is not fair that the innocent would die while the guilty are absolved! What kind of justice is this? What kind of God is this?” Those are the types of questions without a satisfactory human answer that caused Peter to try to stop Jesus from going forward with His plan of salvation.
And Satan, too, tried his hardest; he tried his worst to interfere with and stop the plan. Throughout the Gospels there are numerous accounts of attempts on Jesus’ life: the temptation in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, turn these stones into bread, worship me and I will give you the world;” (Matthew 4); the plots by the religious leaders to kill Jesus and have Him taken out of the picture; the final taunt of the devil spoken through those at the cross, “If you are the Son of God, save Yourself; come down from the cross” (Mark 15:30). These all were attempts by the devil to derail the mission of our Lord. And the devil knows that if he does not succeed – he knows that if Jesus dies on the cross and rises again – the plan of God succeeds and evil utterly fails.
But hear again the Word from the Spirit-inspired pen of St. Matthew: “From that time on, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed…” (Mt. 16:21)
The determination of God to carry out His plan to save mankind, as well as that same resolute determination of His Son to obey, is at the very heart of what it means to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow. For now you see clearly that Christ did those things for you. Christ denied Himself. Even though He had all the glory of heaven at His beck and call, He chose willingly to lay it aside and become incarnate – God-in-the-flesh – and be born of a virgin, born as one of us.
Christ is the One who took up His cross. He was nailed to that horrid instrument of torture – without anesthesia, without surgical precision, without antibiotics – in order to suffer fully for all of your sins and to die for them.
Christ is the One who followed His Father’s will perfectly for you in order that you may be saved from the ravages of hell and an eternity without the presence of God.
By God-given faith and trust in Jesus alone for salvation we indeed deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him, for He has done all those things for us; they are fulfilled in Him. For it is faith that takes hold of God’s love in Christ; it is faith that believes it all, even the awful, ugly, gruesomely unjust death. For faith is that which follows where reason – just like Peter – objects, simply because it is part and parcel of God’s determined “must.”
The cross is necessary. The cross is required. And the cross is absolutely unavoidable.
Mark this well, dear Christian. Our cross does not save us; the Christ who died on the cross does. Our obedience does not save us; Christ’s does. And as we sing on the Lenten hymn “Go To Dark Gethsemane,” “Follow to the judgment hall, view the Lord of life arraigned; Oh, the wormwood and the gall! Oh, the pangs His soul sustained! Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn of Him to bear the cross.”
His cross IS our cross. His suffering IS our suffering. His death IS our death. And His resurrection IS our resurrection. His cross, our cross. His salvation, our eternal life.
In the name of the father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.