Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sermon for June 24, 2007: "The Christ of God"

I've been in New Jersey the last week attending a conference and raising money for my work with InterVarsity. While in town, I was given the opportunity to preach twice at Montgomery Evangelical Free Church (www.mefc.org; both sermons will be available soon for streaming audio and podcast download on their website under "Sermon Player").

Both Sundays, I preached the Gospel text from the Revised Common Lectionary. It's fun, and just a little demanding, to hear God's Word for a specific situation from a text you didn't choose. My experience the last two weeks reemphasizes to me that the whole Gospel can be found in all the Bible's parts.

Note: There was a commissioning service for Stephen Ministers this Sunday. Stephen Ministries is a lay pastoral care program. Also, the brackets indicate the sections of the sermon. I follow very closely Paul Scott Wilson's The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching (I think this is a must have and highly practical guide to preaching well; I read it through again in preparing my sermons this year, and, 2 years after preaching class, I love it even more).

Luke 9:18-24

“The Christ of God”

[Introduction] From time to time, we all say things that we don’t really understand. The boy who sees a girl and says, “I’m going to marry that girl” will only proudly remember he said that if he marries her. “For better or worse ‘til death do us part,” sounds poetic until the worse comes and we realize what we really said. The quick-spoken and short, “I hope you have children just like you,” from an exasperated parent hangs like a curse over the child when, as nature seems to have it, they DO start having children just like them. We say these things, they almost slip past our lips, and then, only later, do we really realize what they mean. This is the hidden power of our cutting words, promises, and confessions.

[Page 1: The disciples had to lose their lives]“‘But what about you?” Jesus asked the disciples. ‘Who do you say that I am?’”

Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

When the other Gospels record this event, Jesus makes a much bigger deal out of Peter’s confession, saying things like, “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven,” or, “You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church.” In other words, he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. Our reading from Luke today highlights the same reality in a different aspect. Luke highlights that Peter didn’t realize the full import of his confession. He didn’t realize that in proclaiming Jesus the Christ of God, he really was signing his own death sentence. For this confession, he would have to lose his life.

For Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

Verse 18 sets the stage. Jesus is praying in private and his disciples are with him. He asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” Up to this point, he has been healing and ministering and preaching, and it’s time for the quarterly evaluation of the congregation and the leadership.

The disciples respond quickly. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” The crowd, apparently, is only saying good things, or the disciples are editing. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus.

“But what about you?”

“The Christ of God.”

Peter is right, but he didn’t understand what his confession really means. This is why Jesus commands them to be silent. If the people who have been with Jesus day in and day out don’t understand yet, then surely the majority of the crowd will not either. Jesus tells him that the Christ MUST suffer and be rejected, killed, and raised. Not only that, those who want to follow the Christ of God have to follow the same path. The disciples MUST deny themselves and take up crosses daily to follow. In the other Gospels, it’s here that Peter rebukes Jesus, and where Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter doesn’t want to have his glorious dreams of a Messiah torn down into this divine MUST. Peter wans a glorious Christ, but Jesus tells him that he MUST have a broken, torn, and defeated Christ. He wants a glorious place beside Christ, but Jesus tells him that he MUST lose his life in order to save it. In the end, Peter has become so focused on his life goals and expectations that he wants Jesus to conform to his expectations. But instead Jesus says to Peter that he must lose his life if he wants to save it.

[Page 2: We have to lose our lives] And the same is true for us: We have to lose our lives if we want to save them. You see, our problem is much like the disciples’. When Jesus puts the question to us about what the world is saying about him, we can say all kinds of things. “Well, Jesus, the world thinks you’re a great moral teacher, a political revolutionary, an advocate for the poor, a path to mystical enlightenment.”

“But who do you say that I am?”

By now, we expect this question and well up with pride because we know the answer: “You’re the Christ of God, only begotten Son of the Father, the Word incarnate, one Person with two Natures, God’s Revelation and the path to Reconciliation, our Salvation and our Promise of everlasting life.”

But, Jesus says to us as he said to his disciples, “I may be all those things, but my path isn’t one of glory but one of a cross. My path will lead you to participate with me in my cross. My path will cause you to lose your life in order to save it.”

The costs are steep. Hate your father and mother, Jesus says at one point. Pluck out your eye if it’s causing you to sin. Seek first the kingdom of God. Leave family and friends for the sake of the Gospel. We have to lose our lives. This is the divine MUST that we come up against as disciples. Jesus must suffer and die. We must participate in that suffering by laying down our lives as well. We must lose our lives if we want to confess him as the Christ of God.

But, like Peter, we don’t want to. We like to hold on to our Messianic dreams. We want to be successful. We want to be rich and powerful. We want to be recognized and respected (and, by the way, will break relationship with almost anyone over the smallest slight, compounding sin with sin until we get what we deserve). We will hold on to institution and power even at the expense of others. But Jesus says that we must lose our lives.

Since we want glorious lives, we seek to follow successful people, and we event twist our confession of Jesus to make him the kind of person we want to be ourselves. We want Jesus to be a great business person. We want Jesus to be a great counselor. We want Jesus to be an All-American athlete or a biker or a hip, relevant, Birkenstock-wearing yuppie. We want Jesus to lift weights at God’s Gym or cast ballots, depending on who we like at the time, either for elephants or donkeys. In the end, we have become so focused on ourselves that we don’t want to participate in Jesus’ life. We want Jesus to participate in ours. But, Jesus says, we must lose our lives if we want to save them. But, we don’t want to.

[Page 3: God saved Jesus’ life] Verse 22: “And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Thanks be to God: the end of Jesus’ life is not the end of the story. His disciples expected a Messiah to come in glory, but Jesus knew that he MUST suffer and be killed before the glory of the Resurrection. Jesus gave up his life, but God saved it on the third day. God saved Jesus’ life.

This is an important thing to consider. Jesus, fully God and fully human, walked among us for a short time. In that time, he lived in complete obedience to the Father, even to death on the cross. He lived in that divine MUST with his face pointed to a cross and walked the road from his birth to his death in humility and righteousness. When he submitted himself to this final death, he submitted himself as the Christ of God, the Messiah who everyone felt was supposed to be a hero, but instead was a servant. After he was killed, God raised him from the dead. God saved Jesus’ life.

So, when Jesus told the disciples’ that they had to lose their lives in order to save them, this was in the background. He was losing his life. The disciples were to take up their cross and follow Jesus. The life of the disciple is the life of walking with Jesus into Jerusalem at the end of his ministry, into pain, suffering, and death with a joy, a peace, and a confidence that God is in control. Jesus promises that if they would participate in his death by taking up their cross and following him in faith and obedience, then they will also be raised together with Christ in his resurrection. God saved Jesus’ life from the tomb, so also will God save their lives from shame, suffering, and death.

And from what we know, the disciples trusted God in this. They embraced Jesus’ cross and lived their lives as lost for his sake and the Gospel. It is said that some were crucified like Jesus, others were fed to lions, still others were flayed alive. But, first, because they lived their lives as lost, they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and saw God saving thousands of people’s lives all over the world. The Scripture tells us about the communion of saints in which these apostles’ now live, and it promises for them and for us the final resurrection from the dead. It’s interesting that many tradition churches when they come to the part of the Nicene Creed that mentions the resurrection from the dead, they cross themselves. The path to resurrection is through the cross.

[Page 4: God will save our lives] Because God was faithful to raise his Son Jesus from the dead, he will raise everyone who believes. God saved Jesus’ life, and God will save our lives, too. If we make the confession that he is the “Christ of God,” we will of necessity find ourselves in pain, sorrow, and suffering, but we will endure these things for the joy set before us. St. Paul put it this way in Philippians 3: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

We cannot earn the resurrection—there is only following Jesus along his way to the cross. First we believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again on the third day for us and in our place. Our first step along the path is to lose our lives to God in faith.

Second, by God’s grace, we have to lose our lives in service to God and others. Faith is followed necessarily by obedience. God has saved our life already, so we need to let God worry about the results of our obedience, about the clothes on our back, about the hairs on our heads. Trust and obey, the old song says, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.

It’s appropriate at this point to mention those who are being commissioned today to the Stephen Ministry. In an intense training period, they have learned to see themselves as caregivers to people in need. They are people who seek to care but not, interestingly enough, to cure. They have been taught to live in the reality that since God saved Jesus’ life, he is the one who will save all our lives. They know they are only caregivers, and God is the cure giver. For those of you receiving the commissioning, you are today promising to bear a cross. You are promising to bear with and listen to people in their grief, in their sorrow, and in their pain. You are promising to lose yourself in service to God by serving others. I pray that God shows you his peace and joy along the path down which he has called you.

Following Jesus on the way of the cross is what we all do, whether we realize the import of our words or not, when we with Peter make the confession that Jesus is the Christ of God. It’s not a comfortable trip, but it is the trip to which God has called us and by which God will save us. Montgomery Evangelical Free Church, hear the good news of the Gospel: God raised Jesus from the dead; therefore we too will be raised if we lay down our lives in faith and obedience to the Christ of God.

Let us pray.

[The prayer included some of these thoughts] There are resentments here, some petty, some serious, that have broken relationships in your body. There are people here too caught up in themselves to realize that the glory and respect they desire is due only to Christ, who died for them that they might die to their pride. Break hearts, dear Lord, that you might mend them. Break silences, dear Lord, that you might heal wounds. Whatever is the reason for these problems, Holy Spirit, cause these people to lose their lives at this point so they may experience your reconciling power.


Anonymous said...

Hello Jason, it's Sam Kee. Great sermon. How was the response? I ordered the "Four Pages..." book that you referenced.

Rich said...

Hi Sam! The sermon was fantastic, as all of Jason's are. I missed his 2nd one, but will listen to it on CD.

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