Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
29 July 2018
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

Listen

Disciples are cross-bearers; they identify with Jesus Christ and imitate him in life and in death.

May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Our sermon text for today comes from Luke 9:18-26. Please stand and hear the reading of God’s word.

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And Jesus he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

The word of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And the church says: Amen!

Brief Recap of Series

Once there was a man named Charlemagne (c.742-814). He lived between the 8th and 9th centuries. He embarked on a mission to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity. He was skilled military strategist and he spent much of his reign engaged in warfare in order to accomplish his goals. Eventually, he was crowned as Emperor. He did more than fight wars; he also encouraged a cultural and intellectual revival in Europe. When he died in 814, Charlemagne’s empire encompassed much of Western Europe, and he had also ensured the survival of Christianity in the West. Today, Charlemagne is referred to by some as the father of Europe.

One hundred and eighty years after his death, in about the year 1000, officials of the Emperor Otho opened the tomb of Charlemagne, where they found an abundance of treasures. But they saw something even more amazing than all the treasures.

And if you hang in here with me, I will tell you what they saw in just a few minutes.

DESIRE

Let me ask you: Do you want to come after Jesus? Do you want to walk behind him and follow after him no matter where he goes?

Do you really know what you want when you say you want to follow Jesus?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often quoted for saying, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” That’s a catchy slogan. It would look good on a meme, or a T-shirt, or even a bumper sticker.

Yet, that is not exactly what Christ commands.

When Christ calls a man he bids him come and do something far more difficult and demanding than just die. He bids him come and live — in an on-going, daily, rhythm of self-denying and cross-bearing. He bids him come and walk in the slipstream of his cross.

DISCIPLESHIP

If anyone wants to come after me as a disciple, he must do three things: he must deny himself, and he must take up his cross daily, and he must follow me.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

If you want to come after Jesus, you must deny yourself.

For many people, self-denial is just the opposite of self-indulgence. You want to eat a fudge sundae, but you’re trying to be good, so you eat a celery stalk with a dab of peanut butter instead.

That’s a form of self-denial. But that is not what Jesus had in mind.

For some people, self-denial equals self-destruction. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people describe self-denial as a form of a spiritual suicide. Jesus never called anyone to act like a kamikaze or a terrorist. Self-denial is not the same as self-murder or self-mutilation.

Again, that is not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus never calls anyone to kill himself. Cross-bearing involves forms of struggle and suffering–but it is not a form of spiritual suicide. One is deeply Christ-centered; the other is radically self-centered.

So what does it mean to deny yourself?

One author puts it like this: “Self-denial is the opposite of self-definition.” (CD Jimmy Agan III, The Imitation of Christ, p123)

To deny yourself is to define yourself according to Christ and the cross.

To deny yourself means, “You have no allegiance to yourself, to your own plans and purposes. You are not your own authority, and it is not your claims that determine how you think or live.” (The Imitation of Christ, p123)

To deny yourself is to denounce your own ambitions, beauty, comforts, desires, ego, fame, and goals for the sake of Christ and the cross.

To deny yourself means saying about yourself, “The version of me that once took delight in going its own way is unrecognizable to me. That ‘old me’ has no significance for my life now. The only ‘me’ I recognize anymore is the one that takes up a cross and follows Jesus. (The Imitation of Christ, p124)

To deny yourself means devoting yourself to Christ as the Sovereign Lord of your life. It means recognizing that you are not Invictus; you are not the master of your fate, or the captain of your soul.

Do you still want to come after Jesus?

If so, you must take up your cross daily.

When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples in the first century, crosses were being used day after day as a means of capital punishment. People who were considered enemies of the state were punished and crucified in public. In this way the Roman Empire send a graphic message to everyone that this is what happens to enemies of the state.

So, when Jesus called his disciples to take up their cross daily, what was he calling them to do? Take up two heavy pieces of lumber and carry them around all day? No! He called them to take up their cross daily in their hearts and minds, not on their backs or in their hands. To identify with him and imitate him in life and in death

He called them to live, move, and exist as a people going up to Golgotha in Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to them there, except that hardships and afflictions await them.

He was calling them identify with him and imitate him in life and in death; to make conscious and deliberate preparations to live, suffer, and die — even as enemies of the state.

One practical way to take up your cross daily is to remember that you are baptized Christians. (If you have never received baptism, then you ought to receive baptism as soon as possible.) As the scripture says,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

We have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal. 2:20).

All those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24).

So, far be it from us to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and we have been crucified to the world. (Gal. 6:14)

If you are a baptized Christian, your life is signed and sealed with the cross, and now your life must become shaped and molded by the cross.

All baptized Christians are Cross-bearers. We are united to Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection through our baptism. His death is our death; his life is our life. We identify with Christ in our baptism; we imitate Christ from our baptism.

If you are a baptized Christian, you are a cross-bearer, so take up your cross every day. Make every effort to consciously and deliberately identify with Christ and imitate him as a cross-shaped and cross-sustained person.

In his booklet on the true Christian life, Calvin says, “Cross-bearing is more difficult than self-denial … For all whom the Lord has chosen and received into the society of his saints ought to prepare themselves for a life that is hard, difficult, laborious, and full of griefs.” (p 47)

That’s true. But that only focuses on negative aspects of cross-bearing. There are positive aspects of cross-bearing as well. It can also be liberating, powerful, and full of joys.

Do you want to come after Jesus? If so, you must follow him.

The word follow means stick close to him, like a student with his teacher; and stay close to him, like a servant with his master, wherever he leads, no matter what.

To follow Jesus is to look at him, to listen to his word, to labor in love, and to live for others the way he did.

To follow Jesus is to be led by Jesus.

Where is he going? Where is he leading us? What is he teaching?

In context, he said: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And  “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44)

He calls us to follow him. He is leading us to the altar of sacrifice; to the valley of decision; to the mount of death; to the edge of the world.

He calls us to come after him because that is the safest place in the world. He takes the hit, bears the judgment, endures the storm. We hide behind him in the shelter of his wings.

Do you still want to come after Jesus, to identify with him and imitate him in life and in death?

DELIVER OR DESTROY

If anyone wants to save his life he will lose it, but if anyone loses his life for my sake he will save it.

The word save also means deliver and rescue. The word lose also means destroy and ruin.

So if anyone wants to deliver his life he will destroy his life; but if anyone destroys his life for my sake he will save it; if anyone wants to rescue his life he will ruin it, but if anyone ruins his life for my sake he will rescue it.

Notice the reason for losing, destroying, and ruining your life: for Jesus’ sake, not for your own sake.

As one commentator puts it: “If you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus, then you will live with the priorities of the walking dead. You will live like someone whose only hope of rescue is to follow close on Jesus’ heels — so close, in fact, that the shame, rejection, and humiliation he experienced will become a daily feature of your own life.” (Agan, p130)

Again, Jesus is not calling for self-destruction; he is calling for self-denial. He wants us to identify with him and imitate him in life and in death.

This one of the most counter-intuitive things Jesus ever said. It cuts against the grain of our culture; it cuts against the grain of the church.

Even though we know that Jesus said, “If anyone wants to save his life he will lose it, but if anyone loses his life for my sake he will save it,” we still struggle to believe him.

We want to save our life without losing our life.

We want to be rescued without being ruined.

We want to be delivered without being destroyed.

We want the crown without the cross.

We want to know what we must do to inherit eternal life, but we sell out to receive it.

We want our best life now and eternal life later.

But what do we want to be saved from really? The devil. The world. Sorrow and pain. Sin and death. Wrath and hell.

What about self? Do you want to be saved from your self?

And what do we want to be saved for? Peace and comfort. Eternal life. Heaven.

What about service and sacrifice? What about Jesus? Do you just want to be saved from judgment, or do you want to be saved for Jesus’ sake as well?

As Luther said, “The cross puts everything to the test.” Right now it is putting us to the test; it is putting our hearts, our motives, and lives to the test.

Do you still want to come after Jesus? Do you still want to be saved?

If so, you have to identify with him and imitate him in life and in death.

When cross-bearing is approached as Law, the cross becomes a heavy yoke that no one is able to bear. When it is approached as Gospel the cross becomes a light and easy yoke. Why? Jesus does all the heavy lifting, bears all the weight, and does all work for those who are united to him. He is meek and lowly in heart and his cross leads us to rest and release. #Jubilee (Notes on Luke 9:23-25; cf Matthew 11:28-30)

Well, this is as good a time as any to finish telling you the story about the tomb of the great king Charlemagne.

When the tomb was opened those who entered saw an abundance of treasures in his tomb. But they saw something else that is even more amazing than all the treasures. They saw the skeletal remains of Charlemagne, seated on a throne, the crown still upon his skull, and a copy of the Gospels lying in his lap, with his bony finger resting on this text: ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know The Truth, p 250)

The answer to that rhetorical question is “It’s no good at all – it is a waste of life.”

After all that Charlemagne acquired and accomplished, those who buried him made sure that he had the right perspective. [Note: For more on this story see here and here.]

The cross shows us that there is much more to life than personal comforts, riches, and pleasures.

As light follows darkness, and life follows death, so glory follows shame, and the crown follows the cross.

So, let us go with Jesus outside the camp and bear the shame he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Heb 13:13-14)

If you want to come after Jesus, you must identify with him and imitate him in life and in death.