Your Final Profit and Loss Statement
With the advent of a new school year, each day has been an adventure with the kids coming home with one more “need” for yet another class. Now don’t get me wrong. We picked up the “necessities” list for the kids and made sure they had everything on it, but unfortunately, everything they needed wasn’t listed there. So each day after school, with one more revelation of something they needed, we traipsed up to the store to pick it up.
Life is kind of like that, isn’t it? We think we’ve done everything on the list, that we’ve figured everything out and are ready to sail on, only to find out that the rules seem to change, that there is something else we didn’t count on.
We like to think of ourselves as put together, prepared, ready for whatever comes our way, that we have our chores done. And life would be a lot easier if we could be “ready” for whatever, if we had a list of things to do and could complete them and move on. But life isn’t that way, and neither is faith. In today’s passage, Jesus challenges the status quo, the religious life, the human way of thinking.
Yes, we talk about our crosses. “So-and-so is my cross to bear,” we quip about a neighbor, relative, or co-worker. But these are not the crosses Jesus presents this day.
As we explore this passage, I want us to recognize three truths.
- Our understanding and outlook live well beneath God’s will and plan.
- God’s way requires the cross
- Only what God saves will last
I. Our understanding and outlook are well beneath God’s will and plan.
(The Easy Way) I like the story of the young man, eager to make it to the top, who went to a well-known millionaire businessman and asked him the first reason for his success. The businessman answered without hesitation, “Hard work.” After a lengthy pause the young man asked, “What is the SECOND reason?”
We love Peter because he is such a wonderful picture of us, ready to step forward, ready to speak, but always speaking before he understands. He was a big man with big fisherman’s hands a big heart to match. He loved Jesus and wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went. But he didn’t understand God’s will.
Isaiah 55: 8-9
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Peter has failed to understand Jesus’ leadership and lowliness. He is espousing the common values of the time about power and worth and not espousing God’s values.
To be a disciple it is first necessary that we understand the difference between the teacher and the disciple. We are merely learning. God’s will, God’s plan is so often foreign to our thinking that like Peter we come off half-cocked with our ideas and plans, only to find we are holding back the plan of God.
II. God’s Way Requires the Cross
Deny yourself and take up your cross. What is your cross today? For most of us we consider our crosses those things that cause us pain, a chronic condition a chronic relative or co-worker, or maybe just the daily grinding routine. And so these make up the daily cross, but only when they are a part of self-denial, of denying the selfish will and seeking God’s will forus. Jesus speaks of something more than just the earthly things that meet us each day.
“Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.”
From Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Should we not consider all crosses, all things grievous to flesh and blood, as what they really are, as opportunities of embracing God’s will at the expense of our own? And consequently as so many steps by which we may advance toward perfection? We should make a swift progress in the spiritual life, if we were faithful in this practice. Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum.
So the purpose in denying ourselves is something far more than just “putting up with” them, but an exercise in self-denial, in seeking God’s will for our lives.
“Denying myself and taking up the cross is abandoning the project of the constructed self and allowing myself to be real and vulnerable, to be loved and loving, also to the point of suffering and death. These texts are not calling us away from what it means to be a human being, but calling us to be truly human, to find our true selves in God, but abandoning our false selves.”
WARNING: This text does not call us to devalue ourselves and become kind of a doormat to the world. That was not Jesus’ role, nor is it ours. In fact, denying our value in God’s eyes is actually not carrying the cross, it is taking the easy way.
To choose not to “eat, drink, and be merry”—that is the hard way.
To stand up to the bully—that is the hard way.
To call a friend to account—that is the hard way.
To speak up for righteousness when a friend or family member wants to live his or her own way, to risk rejection and loss—that is the hard way, the way of the cross.
When we choose the easy way, we love ourselves more than God.
No men do more harm to themselves, than they that love themselves more than God. From the Geneva Notes http://www.ccel.org/g/geneva/notes/Matthew/16.html
Self denial is not the opposite of self-fulfillment. We don’t give up on things. That just causes emptiness. Rather, Carrying my cross is not giving up on things, but it is a lack of emphasis on self. It is not self-esteem or self-abasement, self-fulfillment or self-emptying. It is a denial of, a turning away from self and turning toward God.
III. Only what God saves will last
Finally, Jesus gives us the formula, the truth we don’t always long to hear: If I save my own life, my own self, all is lost. BUT, if I let go of self, my plan, my ideas, my life, I will find so much more than I ever considered possible. What a conundrum!
We are not all called to be martyrs. Here in this country there are very few martyrs for their faith, although around the world many give their lives for Christ. So how can I lose my life for Christ?
“To the Hebrew, the soul [OT:5315 nephesh] was also the very essence of the living being but also the root of a person’s passion and desires. That is what Jesus says we must offer to him if we are to find the fullness of meaing; our very passions and desires.
“From the root of self comes all worship and all selfishness. Christ is inviting us to liberate ourselves from ourselves so that we might be completely free to love selflessly.
“It is to this freedom of humble service that Jesus calls us; the freedom that only occurs when we no longer live to take but to give; we live forgiving.” Copied from http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/Matthew/mt_16_21-28.html
The gospel calls us to lay down our lives, our futures, our hopes and our dreams—daily, moment-by-moment, for the gospel, for the truth.
Whether she is a good candidate for president or not, I strongly respect Governor Sarah Palin’s ability to stand for what she believes is right. In a country where expedience is often the defining line, she chose to continue her pregnancy, knowing her child would be born with Down’s Syndrome, that he would most likely always be a child mentally. She believed that God gave life, and she refused to take it away.
What in your world, in your life, are you trying to save? It takes commitment and faith to speak the hard words, to make the heavenly choices. I know of one minister who had a choice to make. A wealthy member of the congregation routinely advised this young minister on his sermons, telling him what to preach and how. One day in prayer, the young man felt a conviction that it was time to preach a simple gospel sermon, one that convicted of sin and called the hearers to repentance. He knew it would most likely mean his job, but he was sure this was the way to go.
The young pastor preached the sermon, called for repentance, and prayed his closing prayer. He found peace in his soul, knowing he had done God’s will. As the people filed out of the church, one by one, he noticed a difference in many of the handshakes, a firmer grip, eye contact. Some eyes were even damp, it would seem.
I wish I could tell you everyone in the congregation jumped on board and the young man’s ministry prospered. It did, but not at that church. The wealthy man withdrew his support, which caused the board to reconsider the pastor’s employment. It was a hard-fought battle, but eventually the young pastor’s employment was terminated. He moved on, broken-hearted but fulfilled because he had done as God requested.
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?
What good is it if we have our families, our friends, our community, and yet we have nothing else, nothing eternal.
Again, what good is being self-satisfied when we know we could be God-satisfied?
Most of the time we live well below even our own self-expectations. We take the easy road, because we know God will understand. But Jesus called His disciples, and calls us today, to a life of self-less-ness. A life that reflects the truths and callings of God rather than the lies and teasings of the world.
A life that denies my self-ish desires and wants to seek that for which God created me.
How can we life such a life?
By recognizing that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, but seeking out, through the Word of God and prayer, God’s will.
By taking up our cross, that is, by turning over our selves to God and allowing God to grant us the desires of our heart., and finally,
By living our lives to save not our reputations or ourselves, but by walking forward with determination and hope, knowing that God is with us, and speaking the words of truth that others may be saved from lives of desperation and loss.
Let us pray.