It'll Take Dying to Get That Done
A country music singer says about getting over his girlfriend, "It'll take dying to get that done." I don't know about that, but I do know Jesus plainly says in our text that for us to go to heaven, "It'll take dying to get that done."
In a way the world understands this. In matters that the world considers important, the world believes it takes total commitment. Take so called extreme sports. You've got to be willing to skin some knees, bloody a nose, and maybe even break some bones to participate in mountain biking, skate or snowboarding. No complaining about the danger or the pain. That's what it takes to get it done. The world of business has this same mind set. It's not enough to give 90, 95, or even 100 percent. What's the standard for high powered business? Nothing less than 110%. You dare not complain about working nights, weekends, or holidays. That's what it takes to get it done.
The world knows that important things require total commitment from those involved. Of course there is a crucial difference between the total commitment required by the world in extreme sports or high powered business and the total commitment Jesus calls for. It's the difference between the hen and the pig providing breakfast for the farmer. The pig baulked at the idea, and the hen chided him for not being totally committed to the welfare of the farmer like she was. The pig replied that her being totally committed to breakfast meant giving two eggs. For him, it meant giving his life. You don't get bacon from a living pig. It takes dying to get that done.
So let's stop kidding each other. Let's stop pretending that we're totally committed to Christ and His Church. It doesn't take a percentage of your time, talent, or treasure to get that done. It takes it all. It doesn't take the time, the talent, the treasure that you can spare. That's giving out of your excess. It takes giving your very life as the widow did with her mites. It takes climbing up on the cross to be crucified; it takes dying to be a Christian, to be a member of the Body of Christ.
Not one of the apostles was up to this challenge. Not one of the disciples was committed at this level. O, like the hen they could give and give to Jesus, but they weren't going to be pigs about it. When the cross finally came for Jesus in Gethsemane, not one of the disciples stood by Him; they all ran. On the way out to Calvary, not one of the disciples picked up a cross and followed Him. Every single one of them wanted to save their life rather than lose it.
And do you think you're any different? Don't we in fact balk, turn away from, flee from much, much less things than dying? I don't deny myself for the sake of Christ and His Church. What do I go without so that Christ might have it? What crosses do I bear to follow Christ as a member of His Church? We don't even have an extreme church membership concept, do we? No sweating, no feeling the burn, no leaving it all on the floor when serving the church. In fact, what you're afraid of is being a fanatic; taking this too seriously.
We don't even have the mind set of high powered business. No church anywhere at anytime has ever suggested giving 110%. In fact, even the slightest suggestion that a member ought to give anything is regarded by some as out of line. Yet, if the truth be told, even if I were to say you should be giving 110%, even then, I haven't said what Jesus says here. You ought to be giving your soul, your life, your all. But of course, it will take dying to get that done.
At this point, you should conclude you're toast. I know I am. It if takes my dying to get it done, it's not going to get done. No matter how much you motivate me, enthuse me, inspire me to give up my life for Christ, for His Church, I won't be able to do it. O you can make me long to do it, thirst to do it, ache to do it, be afraid of not doing it, but I won't be able to do it. I am no more able to give my soul, my life, my all than I'm able to hold my breath till I die. Some people can hold their breath till they turn blue; some can even hold their breath till they pass out, but no one can hold their breath till they die. As soon as they pass out, they automatically take a breath to live. So it is with me. I can't give up me, myself, and I in order to serve Christ and His Church. I automatically protect me, love me, provide for me.
It takes dying to follow and serve Christ, but it can't be my dying that gets it done. It is that of Christ. This text does speak of our giving up our life to follow Christ, but what comes first? Christ dying for us.
Christ is the One who lost Himself in order to find us. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." In order to get to where we were, trapped under God's law that relentlessly commands us do this and do that, Jesus took on our flesh and blood. He subjected Himself to the same commandments that we are. Although true God, above all commandments, not subject to any of them, Jesus by being incarnated in a Virgin's womb, put them all on His back. Every Commandment that weighs you down, depresses you, causes you to despair of being good enough to go to heaven. Jesus kept perfectly.
But there's more. Jesus was offered the whole world by Satan. Satan took Him to a high mountain and in a pinprick of time showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. He saw vast empires, powerful armies, and riches you can't imagine. But in order to gain these, Jesus had to forfeit your soul. To get them all Jesus had to do was to worship Satan a little. It would take no more than the bowing of the head, maybe just a nod. But while doing that would gain Him the entire world, it would have cost Him your soul. Jesus could not go to the cross as a pure, holy sacrifice in your place, if He was guilty of committing even one sin.
That was the deal. It was Him for you. While we have nothing to exchange for our souls: not enough money, not enough suffering, not enough good works, not enough time, talent or treasure - perfect Jesus did. So, either your soul or His was going to suffer the eternal pangs of hell. Either your body or His was going to feel the fire that can't be quenched and the worm that doesn't stop gnawing. Either your mouth or His was going to answer for the shameful things you have done. Either your heart or His was going to be stabbed by the sharp pangs of guilt. On Good Friday's cross, Jesus offered up His body, soul, and suffering, in exchange for yours. On Easter morning, God the Father announced He had accepted that exchange by raising Jesus from the dead.
Jesus did what is impossible for you and me to do. He kept, fulfilled every single one of the 10 commandments. Not one of them did He leave undone for you to do to in order to go to heaven. And not only did Jesus fulfill every Commandment, He paid the full price, the full penalty for your breaking them. Not even sinful men make you pay a bill twice, do they? If you can prove you already paid for something, not even Wal-Mart makes you go back and pay for it again. Don't think God is worse than Wal-Mart. Jesus put up the payment for your sins on Good Friday. God the Father accepted it, and Easter is your receipt that your bill has been paid.
It took the dying of Jesus to get your redemption done, and by joining you to His death, Jesus does another impossible thing. He leads you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He leads you to lose your life rather than save it and so to find the life He always meant for you to have: A life innocent, blessed, and righteous in God's sight. Now some of you just heard me say, "Jesus leads you to live differently. Don't do guilty things, do innocent things. Don't do cursed things, do blessed things. Don't do unrighteous things, do righteous things." Congratulations. You're right back under the law where you will find nothing you do is innocent, blessed, or righteous enough.
This is not what I said. Jesus joins you to His death in Baptism. St. Paul says in Romans 6, "As many of you who have been baptized have been baptized into His death." Baptism takes you right into the grave with Jesus on Good Friday. Dead is that self which cannot deny itself. Dead is that self which refuses the cross. Dead is that self that won't follow Christ.
But Jesus doesn't take you into His grave and leave you there. As Romans 6 goes on to say, "We were buried with Him by Baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in a new life." We come out of the grave as new men, new women, new people and into a new life. A life where God continually looks upon us as innocent, blessed and righteous. A life where the Holy God looks upon us as His dear children. While the devil, those around us, and even our own conscience can only see us as guilty, cursed, and unrighteous, God for Jesus' sake only sees us as innocent, blessed, and righteous.
So dear friend, what is this world to me or you that is full of sin, death and the devil when we have a world full of innocence, blessedness and righteousness in Christ? What is this world that calls me to give up my soul, my life and my all for pleasures, for things, for hopes and dreams that can only decay into ashes and dust compared to an everlasting world where I have all of God in Christ and He has all of me for all eternity? Though I live in this fallen world, I walk about today and everyday in a world without end. And that changes mercifully, thankfully, wonderfully how I walk in this one.
Now, it does take dying to get this done, but Christ has already done the dying and by Baptism He has made me a partaker of not only His death but His life, so dying I live. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XV (20050828); Matthew 16: 21-26