12 Pentecost Proper A17
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 16:21-28 Sermon
August 31, 2014

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
(Note:  since this is a 5th Sunday in a month, today's service is a hymn sing service, with all of the hymns being selected by the congregation.)

TLH 127 "As With Gladness Men Of Old"

TLH 658 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
WOV 670 "When Israel Was In Egypt's Land"
TLH  15 "From All That Dwell Below The Skies"
TLH 200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
TLH 463 "For All The Saints Who From Their Labors Rest"
TLH 370 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
TLH 651 "Be Still My Soul"
---------- "Lift High The Cross" 


TEXT (vs. 24 & 27):  24Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

            I don't believe that anybody here ever knew my Grandfather, most likely because he passed away in 1993 at the age of 97.  He was a college professor at Midland in Fremont for about 35 years before he retired, teaching modern languages.  And he was a very precise and accurate person too; someone we would call "left brain dominant."  He always had his facts straight, and he was always careful to say what he meant.

            I don't know the exact year this happened, but it had to be sometime before 1965, so it would probably have been 50 years ago or thereabouts.  He was walking down the hallway when he saw one of his female students.  She had been absent for a few days because she was sick.  So when my Grandfather passed by her, he smiled and said, "It's nice to see you're back."   That's all well and good, a polite comment that nobody would think twice about.  But that's not what happened.

            It just so happened that she was wearing a dress that was cut low in the back, and so she right away thought that my Grandfather had made an inappropriate remark about the way she was dressed.  She immediately took offense at it and reported him to the dean of students.  This little bit of miscommunication caused a lot of problems, even way back then.  You can almost imagine what would happen if this situation were to take place today.  That girl could have very well cost him his job!

            Communication problems.  It seems like our lives are filled with communication problems!  Even making an error when keying in a text message can cause some big issues. 

            In our Gospel lesson for today, looking specifically at verse 24, I believe that this has to rank very high as one of the more misunderstood passages of Scripture.  Listen to it again:  "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'"

            You can just about hear the groans that come from people when they read that passage.  They'll say things like, "Well, there's God, taking all the fun out of life again.  I've got to deny myself all those things I like to be a Christian.  I can't have a beer with my friends at the bar anymore.  No more parties.  Time to throw out those expensive Cuban cigars.  No more nice steak and lobster dinners at a restaurant.  And I'd better cancel that Caribbean Cruise I have booked and give the money to the church.  Yeah, thanks God for being such a kill joy!"   

            And then there's the "take up your cross" part of the deal.  What a bummer that is.  Just because I'm a Christian, now I have to drag this huge heavy cross around with me all of the time.  And we get this picture of Jesus trying to drag his cross toGolgotha, and even he collapses under its weight.  And this is the kind of burden Jesus wants me to carry around with me all the time, just because I am one of his followers.

            This is honestly the way some people think!  And the reason is because they look at these few words and ignore the context, or they don't read them in light of the rest of the Bible.  They operate under a type of miscommunication that is their own fault!  They've heard just a few words and jump to the wrong conclusion.  And then everything gets fouled up.

            So exactly what does it mean to "deny yourself?"  Well for starters, it doesn't mean we have to give up all of the fun things in life.  If Jesus had meant that, that's exactly what he would have said. 

            The word "yourself" means exactly what it says.  It means we have to look at ourselves, and deep inside ourselves.  What do we see there?

            If we take a brief look at our Epistle lesson, we find a huge laundry list of Christian attributes.  Love one another, show honor, rejoice, be patient, be hospitable, contribute, be fervent in serving the Lord, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who weep, live in harmony with each other, don't be proud, don't be a know-it-all smart aleck, live peacefully with all people, don't argue, don't complain, don't take revenge, love your enemy, and repay evil with good.

            Holy moley!  What a list that is!  And yes, we all need to look at ourselves.  That's the "yourself" Jesus is talking about!  And we each need to honestly assess what we see.

            And oh boy, have we ever fouled things up.  Each and every one of those things we see as a black mark on our record.  As good of a person as we think we might be, we've royally fouled things up in so many ways.  Love, honor, hospitality, patience, pride, complaining, arguing...it's almost like that old song by Queen:  "And another one's gone, and another one's gone, another one bites the dust."  That describes our lives, doesn't it?

            So just think of it.  We come to God and open our souls to him.  "Hey God!  I'm a pretty good person, aren't I?  Just have a look at all of this stuff that's...well, I guess it isn't so great after all."   And so we feel like we want to shut our souls and go retreat in a corner someplace, and hope that nobody takes much notice of us.

            But today, Jesus tells us to "deny yourself."  The stuff that's banging around inside our souls is the stuff we have to deny.  As good of a person as we think we are, we can't compare to God's holiness and righteousness.  We have to deny that there is anything in our sinful selves that would make us righteous in God's sight.

            And now, on top of everything else, Jesus comes up with this "take up your cross" thing.  And we think to ourselves, "Is this going to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back?  Oh come on God, how about giving me a break!  There's only so much burden I can take!"

            This is where people get this line consistently wrong.  We frequently talk about "bearing a cross" in our lives to refer to one of life's burdens we have to tolerate.  It might be a malady of some sort, or it might refer to the chiding remark or inconvenience we accept as part of being a Christian.  That's all well and good; but that's NOT what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson for today.

            When Jesus tells us to "take up your cross and follow him," he's not asking us to assume yet another toilsome burden in our lives.  Taking up your cross is something we do through faith alone.  The cross is what Jesus bore for us.  The cross is what we see when we have denied ourselves and our own self-righteousness.  Jesus' short sentence, "follow me" is something we do through faith alone.  When we deny ourselves, we accept Jesus as our Saviour through God's free gift of faith.  That's the difference between bearing a cross, and taking up your cross.  And that's where people seem to get fouled up; they reckon that taking up your cross is the same as bearing a cross, and that's just not right at all. 

            The cross is indeed yours, because Jesus paid the price for your sin when he was crucified on it.  His cross is your key to heaven.  Contrary to many people's ideas, there's no burden at all connected with it.  When we take it up, there's only the forgiveness of sins and the hope of an eternity in heaven.

            If we look now at verse 27 of our Gospel lesson for today, we read:  "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."  And this is another one of those verses that people tend to misunderstand. 

            Let's look at this verse in light of 2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them..." So if God isn't counting our sins against us, why then does Jesus say that when he comes again in glory, "he will repay each person according to what he has done?"  Isn't the Bible contradicting itself here?

            That's not it at all.  When we deny ourselves, then we are getting rid of all that sin that is rattling around inside of us.  We get rid of that sin when we take up the cross of Jesus through faith.  When we are reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ, then the only thing we have is his righteousness, and not our sinfulness.  So when we are repaid according to what we have done, there's no sin at all to be reckoned with.  All that is there is what Christ Jesus has done through his sinless life and his sacrificial death.  And this is ours through nothing more than faith alone.

            You can see how wrong we can be when miscommunication happens.  When we take words and phrases out of context, and apply worldly logic and place earthly meanings on things, then we're sure to completely foul things up.

            Just step back and think of it for a moment.  When Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me," worldly logic misinterprets this as meaning "give up all the fun stuff and the things you like, pick up this heavy burden, and drag it around with you for the rest of your life."

            But Jesus reminds us in Matthew chapter 11, verses 28-30:  "28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Now doesn't that sound a whole lot better than the way the world misinterprets what Jesus says in our Gospel for today?

            And when Jesus says in our Gospel lesson for today that "...he will repay each person according to what he has done," we need to remember that as Christians, we will be judged according to Christ's righteousness, and not our sinfulness.  We got rid of that sinfulness when we denied ourselves and followed Jesus.

            At the beginning of our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is explaining to the disciples what he had to do to pay for the world's sins and redeem them.  He would go toJerusalem, be subjected to the Jewish Sanhedrin, be put to death, and be raised on the third day.  It's almost like Simon Peter didn't even hear Jesus talk about the fact that he would be raised from the dead.  He just couldn't get past the suffering and death part of it.  And he got it completely wrong.  He royally fouled the whole thing up.

            So he goes to Jesus, his worldly logic in hand, pulls Jesus aside, and says in verse 22, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." 

            So how does Jesus answer him?  Verse 23 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." 

            Worldly logic is Satan's logic.  Satan was always trying to derail Jesus in his ministry.  Satan didn't want the cross to happen.  Satan didn't want Jesus to pay for the world's sin.  So Jesus very appropriately points out that Simon Peter was using Satan's logic, and he basically had it all wrong. 

            Miscommunications happen all the time.  Sometimes it can be easily fixed, and sometimes it is a lot more complicated.  We have this tendency to pay attention and to hear only what we want to, often at the expense of the truth.  When that happens, things can get really messed up and we have to bear the consequences for our stubbornness and ignorance.  Our Gospel reading for today teaches us a good lesson about listening, understanding, and getting all the facts straight.

            At the beginning, I told you what happened to my Grandfather, and how that young student completely misunderstood what he said.  The situation was put to rest rather easily.  My Grandfather and the young girl student met in the office of the Dean of Students, and it was all straightened out.  He apologized to her, and explained what he meant, and that was that.  I think she must have felt rather sheepish about it too.     

            When I think of all the misunderstandings associated with our Gospel lesson for today, both with Simon Peter and with us using our worldly logic and reasoning, things can really go awry very quickly.  The bottom line however, is that Jesus Christ came to this earth and died to pay for our sins.  He rose again so that we might have eternal life.  So we turn our sinful lives over to him for cleansing and forgiveness when we accept him through faith alone.  And we can be assured that we will be judged according to his righteousness on that last day, when we shall inherit our heavenly mansion forever.  And that's as clear as it can be.