Sermon based on Mt. 16:21-28 for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear followers of Jesus who bear crosses: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Following Jesus means bearing a cross. It means to deny yourself and take up your cross. We may have all kinds of ideas about what this means. But it doesn’t really mean to suffer difficulty or hardship. Nor does it mean to carry the burden of illness or loss. These may be part of the cross we are to bear, but they are not the essence of the cross.
Crosses are used only for one thing: dying. You don’t just get sick or suffer hardship on a cross. You die on a cross. You don’t just lose something on a cross. You die on a cross. So Jesus is calling for you to die; to lose your life for His sake. But any mention of dying, and we want to rebuke Jesus like Peter did: “Far be it from me Lord! This shall never happen to me!” We are so attached to this world that we fight the very thought of death. We fight the very thought of a cross. We think we know better.
That’s all Peter was thinking. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus follows immediately after Jesus had said that He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Now Jesus says that He is going to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and be killed. Peter just wonders how Jesus can build His Church if He is dead. Isn’t it better that His enemies would be dead? Peter is looking forward to fighting alongside Jesus as He conquers His enemies and brings in His kingdom. That’s why he said to Jesus at another time, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:31). He’s so ready to say this because he doesn’t think it will ever happen. He’s on Jesus’ side so he’s got nothing to worry about right? No cross to bear. But Peter had his mind set on the things of man, not on the things of God.
Like Peter, we don’t want to bear our cross. We don’t want to die to ourselves. We don’t want to die to our desires. We desire to be in control. We want our will to take place since we think we know what is best.
Jesus says to us what He said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23). When we fight the will of God, we are being Satanic. When we fight the will of God, we support the will of the devil. When we fight the will of God we are setting our mind on the things of man, not on the things of God.
Our will is so stubborn. We think we know better than God. We don’t want to lose our life. We don’t want to give up control. We want to gain the whole world and give up nothing. But Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24).
Denying ourselves means refusing to acknowledge our will and seeking only God’s will. Denying ourselves means to not assume or believe that God’s way of working in the world will conform to our expectations or definitions of success and glory. There is a cross involved in denying yourself. Denying yourself means praying, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” It means not clinging to this life or the things of this life.
The point isn’t to determine what kind of cross you will have to bear, but to relinquish control – to deny yourself – and submit to God’s will since He knows better than you. It means praying, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
What is this will of God? First and foremost it was for Jesus to die; for Jesus to suffer on the cross. Jesus explained this. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). He must suffer many things. It is necessary that He die.
This is the language of prophetic fulfilment. Something is necessary because God has planned it to happen. Something must happen because God has promised it through the mouths of His prophets. It is necessary that Jesus suffer and die and be raised on the third day. It was necessary for our sakes.
Because it was either going to be you or Him. It was necessary that either you suffer for your immoral thoughts or Jesus suffer for your immoral thoughts. It was necessary that either you suffer for your thoughtless words or Jesus suffer for your thoughtless words. It was necessary that either you suffer for your shameful deeds or Jesus suffer for your shameful deeds. Because of God’s love for you, He made a promise to send His Son to die in your place. Because of His promise, it is necessary that it happened according to His promise.
There is nothing man can give in exchange for his life, but there is something God can give in exchange for man’s life – God gave His own life. Jesus died your death on the cross in exchange for your life. There is only one thing you do on a cross – die. And that is what Jesus did for you – He died for you.
Since you were baptized into Jesus’ death (Rom. 6:3), His death is your death. His cross is your cross. But Joined to Christ, your cross is also His cross. He strengthens you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. He gives you eternal life so that you are ready to lose your life for His sake. He gives you the benefits of His cross so that your cross is also borne by Him.
Joined to Jesus’ death means that His blood covers those times that you thought that you knew better than He does; those times you have set your mind on the things of man instead of the things of God. Joined to Jesus’ death means that His forgiveness covers those times when you didn’t want to die to yourself and fought to be in control instead of submitting to God’s will. Joined to Jesus’ death means His love covers those times you have not denied yourself and have not followed Him.
Now, joined to Jesus’ death, we have no need to fight death. We can sing with the psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15). We can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And we can take comfort in hearing the voice from heaven in Revelation saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev. 14:13)
So not only does Jesus bear our cross, but He also prepares us to be ready to die from this life because of His cross. We can embrace death because we are joined to Jesus’ death. Our eternal life is the will of God, so we can pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Since God has promised us eternal life, He makes us ready to lose our lives for His sake. And since it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for us and we are baptized into His death, we are dead to ourselves and alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.