Take Up Your Cross

[Audio]

Today, we continue to take a look at the miracles and teachings of Jesus. This morning’s passage comes from scripture that we alluded to last week. As a reminder to those who were here and to bring up to speed those who were not, we looked at Peter. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples and he was usually the one most willing to take a risk. Many times, at least before the Holy Spirit filled him up at Pentecost, Peter ended up sticking his foot in his mouth. Most of us, are familiar with what that feels like. I know that I do. We are going to pick up in Matthew, chapter 16.

Peter has just hit the ball out of the ballpark with his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus had asked this question to his disciples and they replied with the usual answers; John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, perhaps one of the prophets. Jesus then made the question more personal. He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, (the anointed One, the Christ,) the Son of the living God.” Yes! Peter gets it right and wins the $64,000 question. Jesus tells him that was a great answer and that God had revealed it to him. Yes, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God and that is the foundation on which Jesus would build the church. Peter was probably feeling pretty good about himself at that point. It appears that there is a break in the narrative at this point and that is where we pick it up in Matthew 16:21.

21 From then on Jesus
began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

It appears from the scriptures that Jesus is beginning to reveal who He really is and why he came to earth to his disciples. From the scriptures, we can gather that Jesus told his disciples not only why he came to earth but what was going to happen in the coming days, weeks, and months. While the scriptures don’t tell us if he told the disciples that he was going to be crucified, it appears from the response of Peter and then Jesus that Jesus at least gave a hint of how his death would take place. I’m sure the disciples were none too pleased to find out that Jesus would be killed on a Roman cross. From the way I understand it, a Roman cross with its crucifixion was and is about the most torturous way to die devised by man. It was a slow, agonizing suffocation. Criminals could hang on a cross for days before they died. The criminal was stripped of his dignity by being executed publicly and naked. Not only did Jesus tell his disciples he was going to die, but he told them how it was going to happen. No wonder Peter responded they way he did. Take a look at verse 22:

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

Jesus and his disciple had grown close. There is no way they wanted their leader to die in such an excruciating and humiliating manner. Peter was in a state of denial. Apparently, he didn’t hear the part about being raised from the dead on the third day, and the fact that all this had to happen so Jesus would fulfill the purpose for which he was sent to earth in the first place. Jesus responds: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

This is a danger that all of us face when it comes to being followers of Christ. It is easy to see things from a human point of view because we are human. It is much more difficult to see things from God’s point of view, because we are not God. This is where we have to pray for God to help us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where we have to lay everything on the line. That’s exactly what Jesus told his disciples as we continue in verse 24:

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.

I hope you ladies aren’t wearing open-toed shoes this morning. Actually, I hope all of you have your steel-tips on this morning. As I read through these passages that we are looking at this morning, I said, “Ouch!”

Jesus makes it very clear that if we are going to be a Christ follower – a disciple, then we must deny ourselves – in other words, turn from our selfish ways. Ouch! I sure don’t like to think of myself as selfish. I sure that you don’t like to think of yourself in that way either. Jesus was talking to the men that he had been teaching for the last two years – Sometimes I think it would be so easy if I had been one of Jesus’ disciples. But yet, knowing the nature of humans – the sinful nature – I know I probably wouldn’t have fared any better than they did. Peter says, “Jesus, you don’t have to go through all that.” Jesus reminded Peter, “that’s the way it was planned.” Jesus reminds his disciples right then and there that they had to give up their selfish ways. Jesus is reminding us right now that we have to give up our selfish ways – and not only that – but we have to take up our cross and follow him.

We often think that Jesus carried the whole cross from the court to Golgotha. But he didn’t. Criminals only carried the cross beam to the place of crucifixion. Not that it mattered, because the crossbeam was still heavy. Jesus had been beaten within an inch of his life. Carrying a cross is heavy duty work. Jesus reminds us that those who try to hang on to their life will lose it and those who lose their life will find it. One thing that became very clear this week is that we who serve Christ – we who serve the Kingdom of Heaven live in a very backwards Kingdom. By giving our life to Christ we gain the world – By holding back our life from Christ, we lose everything. Jesus’ asks the question, “What good is it if you have everything you need in life and yet lose your soul? Is all this stuff you’re trying to gain more important than your soul? (PDV — Pastor Dale Version)

Like I said, I had some very serious ouch moments as I read this scripture this week. There’s a second scripture that was equally convicting and it’s found in Romans 12.

Romans 12:1-2 is one of my favorite verses:

1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We often talk about living a lifestyle of worship. I want to address our students for a moment. Most of you have been back in school for a few days. As Christ-followers, we must live a lifestyle of worship because this is pleasing to Christ. Is it hard? You bet! Is it unfair? Sure! Is it a sacrifice? Yes, it’s supposed to be. Paul tells us that when we life our life for Christ – giving up our selfish ways and taking up his cross, being a living sacrifice, we are truly worshiping him. So many times, we think we have to come to church to worship Christ. Not so, we worship Christ when we live our lives as he has called us. Let’s go just a bit farther in what Paul says in Romans. If we are living as Christ-followers and we are working to build his Kingdom, what do we need to do? How do we live our lives as living sacrifices? Are you ready to get your toes stepped on?

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,
and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.
12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

When I read this passage earlier this week, I kept saying, “ouch!” This is a tough scripture. We often think that Paul was more faith and not so much works. Paul reminds us that living our lives as living sacrifices involves hard work. He reminds us that we are to love each other and we are to love others. He emphasizes that we should really love them and not just to pretend to love them. Wow! Then, he tells us what we really need to hate and that is to hate what is wrong. Catch that, not the people who do wrong things, but the wrong things that people do. My favorite word lately is darkness. There is, it seems, darkness all around us. Church, we must hate the darkness, but the people – we are to love them – the scripture is quite clear about that. Not only are we to hate what is wrong, but we are to cling to what is good. What is good? God is good – Christ is good. We are to love each other with genuine affection – which means we aren’t suppose to pretend. There’s a song that I love called Stained-Glass Masquerade:

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade.

I’ve said this to our students and I’ll say it to you, church should be a safe place where we can share how things are really going. There shouldn’t be any of this shallow, “How’s it going?” I’m fine,” stuff going on at church. Let’s be genuine with each other. Paul goes on to say that we should serve the Lord with enthusiasm. Rejoice in the hope that we have. Let’s be confident that God is on our side. In times of trouble, be patient and keep on praying. One thing that I have learned over the past few weeks is the power of prayer. We are told in the book of James that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. I invite you to join us, if only just once a week, you choose the day, for prayer at 8:00 AM. We have been finding these prayer meetings powerful as we pray for our church.

Paul also reminds us to be ready to help God’s people when they are in need. I can’t argue with that and always be ready to practice hospitality. I have good friends in Indiana who cook our meals for FLAME. Dave and MaryLou Stevens are people who know how to practice hospitality. Not only are they a great cooking crew, but they care for the students; taking the time to write notes; taking the time to pray for students; taking the time to get to know them. I know I have learned a lot from them and continue to learn more from these wonderful laypeople.

Here’s the steel-toed shoe part: “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Paul, you can’t be serious – but Paul is serious – this is what it means to be a Christ follower. Yes, it goes against every fiber in your body, but that is what Christ means when he says to deny yourself and follow him. Paul gives us just a few more – be happy with those who are happy – weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. I think he’s covered that one already.

Three more:

  • Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people
  • Don’t think you know it all
  • Do all that you can to live at peace with everyone.

Are these tough or what? Do your toes hurt? I know mine do. Jesus reminds us, “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.”

So what is the challenge for us today? These scriptures are plenty challenging for me. I know I have more than enough to work on. But where does that leave you? What is your takeaway this morning? What one thing has God spoke to you this morning? In the quiet of the next few moments, if God hasn’t spoken to you, ask him to show you how you could follow him more. If God has spoken to you, use these next moments to commit yourself and your life to Him. What is your desire? What can you do to pick up your cross and follow Christ?

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