Matthew 27:39-42

In the name of Jesus.

Matthew 16:24 If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.

Dear fellow redeemed…  To deny is sacrificial.  To sacrifice is to give up what we want; only then can we serve one another.  That, of course, is what our Lord Jesus Christ did, and that is what He said to His disciples.

By every human standard this is a foolish thing to say when you are trying to recruit followers.  Humanly speaking, this is not the way to build a kingdom.  To win the battle of the voting ballot, you don’t devise demands; rather, you have to pile up promises, you have to tell people what you will give them.  You offer medals for good conduct, not a cross to carry.  You speak about rewards, not self-denial, not self-sacrifice.

In principle, we admire sacrifice.  President John F. Kennedy was admired for those stirring words in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  President Ronald Regan was admired for his honesty, kindness, and dedication to the constitution of this country, and became more famous for declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The heroes of history are those who have lived and labored under difficult demands, those who have been willing to sacrifice themselves, if necessary, for the mission.  Such was the case of the Lutheran Reformers in the 16th century who, for the sake of the clear truths of Holy Scripture and unwillingness to compromise those truths made their stand not only against the church powers of their day but also the leadership of their nation.

Such also was the case of our Saxon German forefathers who came to this country in 1839 in order to exercise their religious freedom.  Many lives were lost in the effort; one of the five ships traveling across the Atlantic ocean was lost at sea.  Many lives were stretched to the limit; many sacrifices were made.  The signers of the Declaration of Independence said, “We pledge our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.”

These people all had amazing courage, and we admire them all.  But as for us, well, we’d rather not be heroes.  All we ask is a small personal empire – a man’s home is his castle – with an adequate supply of pleasure, comfort, friends, acceptance, and a feathered nest secure from any and all disaster.

Perhaps our concern with the word “sacrifice” is that it implies pain, it implies loss, it implies denial of dreams we have worked so hard to accomplish.  However, the lessons we must learn somewhere along the road to the cross are these: 1) Christ must die; 2) as His disciples we also must be crucified to the world and the world to us.  These are the two necessities God lays out.  Let’s examine them one at a time.

Christ must die.  If there is no sacrifice for sins there is no forgiveness of sins.  Holy Scripture speaks of Jesus Christ whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by His blood (Rom. 3:25); He had to become like His brothers in every respect so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17); He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26); Christ has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:12); He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2); In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (I Jn. 4:10).

If anyone wants to come after Jesus Christ, it must start with faith in Him, the Lamb of God, sacrificed on a cross, for our sins.  There is no better way to come to this faith than to walk the way of the cross with Him.  The end of His suffering is a cross of suffering, a cross on which He is stripped of all His claims as well as His clothing, a cross meant for thieves and thugs, a cross that earns for Him the scorn of those schooled in the Scriptures to know better.

You can almost hear the echo of all the questions mankind raises against this broken, bloodied Savior.  Both friend and foe hurl insults at him.  “Are you the One who was to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3)  “How long will You keep us in suspense?  If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (Jn. 10:24)   “I adjure You by the living God, tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt. 26:63)  “Are You the king of the Jews?” (Mt. 27:11)  “And to think that we had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel.” (Lk. 24:21)

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who sacrificed himself for us, had to endure such outrageous insults for our sake on the way to the cross.  He was to stay on that accursed cross because, as Caiaphas the high priests had unwittingly said, “It is better that one Man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn. 11:50).

The issue, then, is settled, once and for all.  There is no doubt about the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice.  There is nothing left now except the taunts and the jeers: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.”  “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  “He is the king of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”

Of course, the devil had already tried to steer Jesus away from the necessary sacrifice, but that effort failed.  Peter and the other disciples tried to dissuade Jesus from sacrificing Himself, but He paid them no heed.  Even Pilate tried to dismiss the case and set Jesus free, but the crowds were stirred up in order to force the necessary sacrifice.

In the midst of this sacrifice Christ pointed with clear words to the ultimate goal of His sacrifice: “Father, forgive them.”  Instead of pulling the nails from His hands and His feet, he lavished His love upon them and upon us.  He sprinkled His own blood upon the mercy seat as the ransom price for all our sin and guilt.

The power of that sacrificial love is the power that draws us to Him.  That denial of self is both motive and pattern for all who would follow Him.  Yes, something has to give – what has to give is your hold on yourself, your double-fisted grip on your personal pride, prestige, possessions, power and pleasure.

No; for the sake of Jesus we find ourselves spending ourselves for others.  We show mercy to others because Christ has shown mercy to us.  Because Christ carried His cross to His death for us, we can carry our cross without complaint.  Because Christ sacrificed Himself for us all, we by faith follow Him because there is no one else to follow.

St. Paul says it for us: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. 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.”(Gal. 2:20)  We now see the world through the crucified and risen eyes of Jesus – eyes full of compassion, eyes full of concern, eyes full of love for others because of the love shown us by our Lord on the cross.

His sacrifice to sin is ours.  His death to sin is ours.  His resurrection to life is ours.  His sacrifice, our eternal blessing.

In the name of Jesus.