From Necessary to Imperative to Promises
I was going to title this "Bringing in the Wood Chips" from the saying that pastors are to bring the woodwork and not all the wood chips into the pulpit. This text is so familiar we look past the beautiful carved stature, and see only Peter rebuking Jesus and Jesus calling Peter Satan. Look at the wood chips; follow Jesus words from necessity to imperative we'll arrive at some beautiful promises.
Jesus says it is necessary for Him to suffer, to be killed, and to rise. You don't see the word "necessary" but "must" in the insert. Young's Literal Translation catches it: "From that time began Jesus to show to his disciples that it is necessary for Him to go away to Jerusalem, and to sufferto be put to death, and.to rise.
I left out words to highlight how Jesus emphasizes what is necessary for Him to do, but the missing words are important. Jesus suffering many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the Law means He will suffer at the hands of the Old Testament church. Jesus doesn't mention the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Herodians who have opposed Him. He names the members of the Sanhedrin, the rulers of the church. Nothing less than the church is going to make Jesus suffer. And nothing less than the State is going to kill Him. The Sanhedrin had lost it's authority to execute, so when Jesus says that it is necessary that He be killed in Jerusalem, Jesus is saying that the Roman state will do it.
To suffer is bad, to die is worse, but to be raised makes it all better. In all 3 predictions of His Passion Jesus says He will be raised, but in all 3 cases it's as if the disciples didn't hear. Peter surely didn't or he wouldn't have said, "Never Lord." But the 3 necessities hang together, and if you're ever going to go to heaven, if you're ever going to be rescued from hell, from worry, from fear, from guilt, from sin, from death, you need all 3.
It was necessary that Jesus suffer at the hands of the church because you and I deserve to. For the equivalent of not going to church, the Old Testament church could stone you. For sassing your parents, she could stone you. For misusing the name of the Lord, you guessed it: stoning. Based on this, I say it is necessary for us all to be stoned. But we're not. Instead we're invited to the House of the Lord, to a Stone that can't be shaken. We're invited to call on the name of the Lord and be heard. We're invited to the find shelter in the Rock of ages.
Why? Because the innocent Jesus suffered in our place at the hands of the church. He suffered as if He was the one who decided not to go to church, as if He was the one who back talked His mother, as if He was the one who misused the name of the Lord. It was necessary that the church did all this to Jesus or she would have had to do it to you.
From necessity we move to imperative. Jesus says those saved must do the following. Note He is speaking to His disciples. He says 3 imperatives: You must deny self; you must take up your cross; you must keep following Him. Don't hear these words, as most do steps to being a disciple. How could that be when Jesus says them "to His disciples?"
Jesus says them to those who see the suffering and death of Jesus is in their place to pay for their sins, and who are to know the Father will raise Him to proclaim it's a done deal. What Jesus did you are regarded as having done. The 3 imperatives don't tell you how to become a disciple but what discipleship looks like. Young people like to say that. They say, "Tell me what that will look like." Here Jesus' tells you what being a disciple for His sake looks like.
Being a disciple is a decisive denying of the self. It's saying of self what Peter will say of Jesus: I know not the man. It's stepping down from the throne of your life. It's not holding God to your standards as if what He wills and does in the world must make sense to you. It's looking at the wronged, suffering, sinful, guilty person in the mirror and saying, "Who is that person? I don't recognize him."
Being a disciple is a decisive denial of who you are, who you want to be, who you think you should be, and being a disciple is taking up your cross. Remember the first hearers of this knew the horror of the cross, knew that the one who took up a cross in their day died on that cross, and they died shrieking, crying, and moaning in pain. We complain if the self is made to wait in traffic. We moan if the self is treated rudely by a salesclerk. We can't stand not getting the respect we deserve. Being a disciple is not the self being mistreated, insulted, or wounded, it's the self dying.
I don't think you're taking the point. I think you're all infected with Decision Theology. You think Jesus is calling you to decide to follow Him when in fact He is telling you what being a disciple means. It means you will deny self to the point of death, and unless you've seen an insect, animal, or person fighting for their physical life, you have no idea of the trauma, drama, and utter impossibility of you deciding to take up your cross and nailing yourself to it. Yet to the cross your self will go.
And that brings us to the third imperative that describes the life of every disciple of Jesus. The first two were decisive, one and done, acts: Deny self; take up cross. The third is a present imperative "continue to follow Me." Remember Jesus is telling you what the life of a disciple is, not how to become one. In following Jesus, you'll find self-denial and you're cross. They are in doctor's offices, business offices, bank offices. Sure self-denial and the cross are found in the valley of the shadow of death, but there are a hundred low-lying areas, depressions, and sinkholes before you get to that valley, and in these you find the meaning of Paul's words, "I die daily."
From necessity to imperatives to promises. Jesus ends with promises not conditioned by you denying yourself, taking up your cross, and continuing to follow Him because that is what all disciples do. The promises all begin with the Greek word "for" or "because." The insert doesn't translate them all and it doesn't have verse 27. "For whoever will save his life, shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul? For, the Son of Man is about to comeand then he will reward each, according to his work."
These are promises. These are what disciples are to keep in the forefront of their thoughts as they are ever led into self-denial and picking up their cross. In losing self, Jesus promises you find your true self. A few weeks ago we found a Privet Hawk moth in the courtyard. It's a beautiful creature. Look up the caterpillar it comes from. It's 3 inches long, fat, bright green, and ugly. The life disciples of Jesus lose no matter how it looks in health, happiness, or success is that bug. The beautiful moth is our true self that only is found on the paths Jesus takes us down.
For argument's sake, lets say you were capable of gaining the whole world. It would cost you your soul. That's what Jesus says here and that's the offer Satan made to Him in the Great Temptation. He would give Jesus the world without any self-denial or painful cross if He just worshipped him. To gain this fallen world which Scripture says lies in the power of the Evil One, you have to dine with the Devil, and no matter how long of spoon you use you're not just going to share his bowl but his fate.
Of course, most don't sell their soul to gain the world, but just a piece of it. A little illicit love there, a few thousand dollars here, a little sleep on Sunday morning, a little accepting of the self and rejecting of the cross, and whose your daddy now? Nobody has the means to regain their soul. What happened to Judas when he tried? No once you leave the path of a disciple you have no means to get back on it. Jesus is saying stay on the path; follow Me; let not the death of self or the pain of your cross deter you.
Why? Because Jesus forfeited His soul to death in exchange for your soul. Remember His soul was troubled unto death, but Jesus kept going. Jesus held your forgiveness, your redemption, your fallen soul in His hands. The Devil tried to entice Him to drop it offering the whole world and still Jesus wouldn't drop you. Death came in all it's pain and terror trying to pry your soul out of Jesus' hands by nailing them to the cross, but Jesus still wouldn't drop you. He made the exchange: His pure soul for your dirty one, and when Death couldn't swallow His pure soul or body, it had to spit Him out Body and Soul, and you came with soul and body.
But how is the last verse a promise? "For, the Son of Man is about to comeand then He will reward each, according to his work." You can base your life on your works or Jesus. Those who give all to get waterfront property won't walk away with it, but those who lost self in the waters of Baptism will gain all. Those who insisted their will be worked in life will find their will done in death. Those who said Jesus will to forgive them be done will find His will done for life. Those who found their work sweet like rain upon their tongue will face Jesus with the bitter taste of tears upon them. Those who found the bitter taste of self-denial and the cross in life will face Jesus with the sweet taste of His Body and Blood in death.
Follow the steps from necessity to imperative to promises, but don't mistake the chips for the carving or the Carver for the carved. Jesus is the Woodworker; your life such as it is today and for all your tomorrows, is sculpted, crafted, and blessed by Him by self-denial, the cross, and promises. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20140921); Matthew 16: 21-27