Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:21-28
Dear saints to whom God is committed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is easy to see commitment. If someone is committed to his career, it is obvious to everyone around him. He puts in the time, day and night, weekday and weekend, holidays included. Whatever it takes to get the job done. He keeps up to date on industry trends and participates in continuing education. He doesn’t give 80% or 90%. The standard business slogan is to give 110%. Do what it takes to get the job done.
Commitment in sports is similar. If someone is committed to a sport, it is obvious to everyone around him. Late night practices trying to perfect that shot. Early morning games far from home. From a few years old, great sums of money must be invested into equipment and lessons, team fees and travel. Scraped knees, bloody noses, and some broken bones are the price you have to be willing to pay. Do whatever it takes to get it done.
So what does commitment to God look like? Coming to church here and there when you feel like it and when it is very convenient? Reading the Bible to the family perhaps on a special day like Easter or Christmas, if at all? Giving God an offering of the excess cash you don’t need for something else? That’s not what Jesus says.
Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Denying yourself is giving everything to God. Not just your time, talents, and treasure, but your soul, your life, your all. Denying yourself is not holding anything back. It is praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Denying yourself is throwing everything you want out the door and entrusting yourself to God and His will.
The disciples didn’t do so well with this. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, not one of them stood by Him. They all fled. Not one of them denied themselves and picked up their cross to follow Jesus. They all wanted to save their lives rather than lose them.
We see it further with Peter and His denial of knowing Jesus during His trial. Today we also heard it when Peter’s idea of how Jesus should save us did not line up with Jesus’ plan of salvation. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Jesus told the disciples that it is necessary that He go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, but Peter thought that was a bad idea. He didn’t deny himself and his will but he denied Jesus and His will. Peter said, “God be merciful to you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Jesus replied very sternly and sharply, “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.” Peter was not denying himself and his will. He was not submitting himself to God’s will, which of course is not just far better, but is perfect. Peter’s will was that Jesus would not die. That is Satanic! That is why Jesus responded so sharply.
As Jesus explained, He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. There is divine necessity in that word “must.” It was divinely necessary that it happen. Jesus didn’t fall into a trap made by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. He wasn’t tricked into suffering and dying. Jesus intentionally walked right into it. It was God’s plan of salvation from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
Peter thought that God should be merciful to Jesus, but that was not the way to save us. In order for God to be merciful to us, He was not merciful to Jesus. Jesus was charged with the sins of the whole world. Jesus was given the punishment that our sins deserve even though He was innocent of sin.
Jesus was committed to die for us so that God would be merciful to us. Jesus was committed to the reason He came to earth, thus He knew it was necessary that He suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Jesus was committed to His plan of salvation, because He is committed to us.
It is easy to see Jesus’ commitment to us. He left the joys of heaven to come save us. He lived a life of humble service and fulfilled God’s Commandments which we cannot fulfil. He was committed to the point of death on a cross to save us.
Jesus had to do it all for us to save us because our commitment to do what is right is so fragile and wavering. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by the sins that we fall into over and over. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our laziness and indifference to hear and read His Word. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our small offerings to God despite His rich blessings to us.
We are not committed to God. No one would ever accuse us of giving God 110% or doing whatever it takes to spread the Gospel. We do not show the commitment to God that we show the many other things in our lives.
Thus, we need to be asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” What will it profit if we have millions in the bank and we die and go to hell? What will it profit if our children play in the NHL or major league baseball but they die eternally?
Jesus points Peter and us to the eternal things that actually matter. He tells us to set our minds on the things of God, not on the things of man.
When Jesus asks, “What shall a man give in return for his life?” we know the answer. There is nothing we can give in return for our lives. All the money in the world will not buy us eternal life. All the good works in the world will not buy us eternal life. All our commitments to God will not buy us eternal life.
The only thing that can be given in exchange for our lives is the life of Jesus. Jesus willingly and gladly gave His life in exchange for ours. If Jesus had been merely a man, the payment would not have been enough. Since Jesus is God, the payment was complete and perfect. His perfect, innocent life for our miserable, sinful lives.
Our commitment to God cannot save us because it is woefully inadequate. Jesus’ commitment to us has saved us because it is perfect and complete. He died for us and rose from the dead to reign at the right hand of God the Father almighty. He committed Himself to us personally by putting His name on us in Baptism. He committed Himself to us by instituting His holy Supper for us, giving us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.
It is easy to see commitment. In everything God has done and continues to do for us, we see that He is completely committed to our salvation. He puts in the time and the effort. He has done and continues to do whatever it takes to save us. God is committed to you, to save you, and you can see it in everything that He has done and continues to do for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.