Divine Job Descriptions
Labor Day Weekend, what a fitting time to grow in our understanding of what our job as Christians is. You're familiar with job descriptions. Most companies use them to lay out what they expect from employees at various positions. The text today is a divine job description for our "job" as Christians. Actually, there are 2 different jobs being described in our text. One is our's; one is Christ's. One is for the saved, one is for the Savior. The divine job description for the Christ and the Christian are simple and short. For Christ: it's to die while on a cross. For the Christian: it's to die while carrying a cross. We'll look at the second first.
God's job description for you is that you die while carrying a cross. In a worldly job, the company wants the best from you. It wants you to use your time and talents to the utmost to benefit the company. Qualities like initiative, being proactive and productive are important to companies when they hire. Many think that's how it is with the Church. God "hires" you to produce for His Church, but do you see that in the text anywhere? God's job description says deny self not assert self. It says take up a cross, not pick up a tool, and crosses were only used to kill people back then. You only picked one up to die on it.
Furthermore the divine job description says our job is to follow Jesus, not go ahead of Him to build a kingdom, not take care of His Church for Him, not even to bring in the sheaves. And where does Jesus say He's going? To Jerusalem, not Disney World. To suffer, not party. To be killed, not praised. To be raised alright but only from the dead!
This compulsion you and I have to save our lives, even to save it for Jesus, is just not in the job description. On the contrary, Jesus says, "Whoever wants to save His life loses, that is ruins or destroys it." And doesn't the rest of The Bible teach us this as well? "Blessed are the DEAD who die in The Lord." "Precious in the sight of The Lord is The DEATH of His saints." "For me to live is Christ, to DIE is to gain." And what about our hymns? How many of them point to our death? How many revel in our death? Our hymns call this life "our conflict;" "this vale of tears," "Brief life is here our portion;/ Brief sorrow, short-lived care." Need I go on? You can't get very far in our hymnal without bumping up against the fact that dying is the Christian's life.
But I know what's got you confused. It's the common expression, "We must all bear our crosses." In this expression, the cross is thought of as something we actively do rather than suffer being done to us. The cross is something IN our lives, not our life. One of you gave me a story that illustrates the common way people understand the cross which Christ calls us to pick up. A man goes to God complaining of the cross he must bear. So God takes him into a big room filled with crosses of all shapes and sizes, and says, "Pick whichever one you would like." The man picks up first small ones but they pinch here or there, then big ones that are too heavy. Finally, he comes out of the room rather pleased saying to God, "I'll take this one." "My Son," God replies, "That's the very one you started with."
What a delightful story! It fits well with the conventional wisdom that says, "I complained to God because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet." Or, "I thought I had troubles till I looked at the troubles of others." There is common sense wisdom in such statements. But we must realize that saying what wise men say is NOT necessarily saying what the Scriptures do. Just because you've said what common sense and reason can say, doesn't mean you've said enough. This is particularly true in this passage about taking up our cross.
Crosses, as I said, were used only for one thing: Dying. Picking up the cross does not refer to bearing with a burden, an illness, a problem. It refers to crucifying the self. You can bear a burden, an illness, a problem, and keep the self very much intact. In fact, the self will gladly bear a burden rather than die. The self will gladly suffer rather than die. As long as the self can retain it's viewpoint, its thinking, its breathing, it can tolerate lots of things. But the job description of a Christian is not bearing a burden; it's dying. It's not living a life of suffering, but dying.
For example, say I have a problem. One that devours my stomach, chills my bones, and quakes my heart. The self will try to manage it, control it, endure it. But our job description is to die. To die, not to try to manage our problem with our best thoughts. To die, not to try to control our problem with out best efforts. To die, to count ourselves out of the picture, rather then to think of ourselves as in the picture enduring it.
In case it hasn't dawned on you yet, this is impossible for sinners, at least ones as bad as me. I can endure anything except not having control over what happens to me as if I were some sort of dead man. I don't mind tackling any problem; what I do mind is having a problem tackle me as if I were some sort of lifeless tackling dummy. My self doesn't mind hurting, aching, fearing, worrying, or sweating; it only minds dying. So, if my getting into heaven depends on how well I die or how completely I die, then I'm telling you right now I won't get in. I can no more pick up the cross that I'm to die on than I can hold by breath till I pass out.
Thanks be to God then that our salvation doesn't depend on our dying on the cross. O this IS the job description of a Christian; this IS what is to happen daily; Christ is to increase and I'm to decrease, to die daily. But when we're talking about this we're talking about sanctification, living a holy life; we're not talking about justification, being saved. Justification is not our job that is Christ's job, and His job description reads accordingly: To die while on a cross for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus wasn't sent into the world to build an impressive kingdom. He wasn't sent into the world to be a success. He was sent into the world to suffer and die. He MUST go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed. There is divine necessity in that word "must." Jesus didn't fall into a trap made by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. He walked into it. It wasn't unfortunate that Jesus happened to meet them on Maundy Thursday. It was planned by God the Father from all eternity.
All of this Jesus had to go through in order to save you and I, to save our soul. That was His mission. His mission wasn't to save us from ever getting sick. His mission wasn't to save us from never having family troubles. His mission wasn't to save us from ever going through financial problems, emotional problems, or life problems. His mission was to save us body and soul for all eternity. He did this by going to Jerusalem as innocent as a Lamb but bearing the guilt of us all. He did this by "suffering many things" in our place. Yes, every time the lash bit into His back, some sins were removed from our backs. Every drop of His blood that fell to the ground rang in the scales of God's divine justice till His blood outweighed the sins of the entire world. Every time the innocent Jesus cried in agony, a little bit more of God's wrath turned away from us.
God's whole goal in whipping, beating, and bleeding His only beloved Son was so that He might die. He had to if you and I were going to live. Nothing but the death of God could satisfy God's wrath against our sin or pay our debt. As we sing in one of our hymns, ten thousand deaths like ours would have been all too few.
A glimmer of the Gospel ought to have shot across the minds of some of you. It's true; ten thousand times ten thousand times ten thousand deaths of sinners could never satisfy the wrath of God. Our suffering bodies could never pay for our souls. What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Absolutely nothing. Then don't you see? The illnesses our bodies undergo, the problems our bodies face, the sufferings they endure, even their deaths, can't go towards paying for our sins. All of these things cannot be about paying for our sins for two reasons a) Christ paid our debt by His dying. b) No number of human deaths, no amount of human suffering could pay it. If men don't go looking for what won't pay a bill, surely God doesn't either.
So Jesus' job was dying on a cross to pay for our sins. Our job is dying while following Jesus because He has paid for our sin, saved our souls, and wishes us to gain much more than the whole world. But please note: our dying is not a CONDITION of being saved but a RESULT of being saved. The result of being saved by Jesus is that we die more each day as we focus on Jesus' dying on the cross. Peter didn't wish to focus there. He thought it was barbarous, negative thinking. He thought it was unnecessary. Peter wished to have an open tomb on the altar not a crucifix. He wished Holy Communion proclaimed the life of Christ, not the death. He wished Holy Baptism only joined us to Christ's life and not also to His death.
Satan thinks that way. Satan doesn't mind talk about a living Christ or even a ruling Christ. What he can't stand is talk of a suffering and dying Christ because that is how sins were paid for and he was defeated. We can get caught up in such Satanic thinking. We can get caught up in thinking we serve Jesus by doing this or that work for Him; serving Him means bravely suffering this or enduring that. That makes sense, but dying to self, withering away till all we can say is "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy," that doesn't sound very God pleasing, very Christian, very important. Ah, but God judges very differently than men do. God is glorified when He does everything and we do nothing. God is glorified by us wasting away to nothing and Him rasing us from the ashes and dust of death.
God is glorified when Jacob finally realizes all of his scheming and conniving accomplish nothing; he must have the blessing of God. God is glorified when Abraham comes to the faith that God doesn't need or want his living body or Sarah's healthy womb to produce the promised son. God is glorified when Solomon is brought to his knees to ask God for everything he needs to rule God's people because he himself has nothing. God is glorified when Peter realizes he too is a betrayer of God who can only live by the forgiveness of Christ. God is glorified when the apostles have no more life in them and must have Jesus breathe into them the Holy Spirit.
Yes, dear friends, God is glorified, God is served when people come to terms with the fact that Christ's job description is dying to save them and their job description is serving Him by dying. Any king at all can make use of a servant's serving; only the King of kings can make use of a servant's dying. Most anyone can do something with light, health, and life. God alone can do wonders with ashes, dust and death. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, TX
Pentecost XV, (9-1-02) Mt. 16: 21-26