Friday, September 05, 2008

Matthew 16:24-27 (1)

I preached this message twice in the last week. Once at Twin Lakes camp ground, as part of our summer of services there, and once at teen church last wednesday evening. Both times it left me breathless and heartbroken. Breathless with excitement, like the Queen of Sheba, over the glory and majesty of God, heartbroken like Paul, that some people will never see.

What do you savour right now? Are you savouring the thought of the air conditioning in your car as your drive home soon? Are you savouring the start of the new football season? Maybe you’re a Giants fan still enjoying what happened in February. Are you savouring this place? The thought that you have a few days, weeks, or months left here before you return to work. Maybe you’re savouring the thought of lunch.

I ask this because what we enjoy, what we think about, what we set our minds to, what we savour when our minds are at rest is important. It tells us a lot about ourselves. It tells us a lot about how highly we value things in our life. It tells Jesus a lot about how highly we value Him in our life. What we savour is important. What goes on inside our heads matters. It matters because ultimately if will affect the way we live. We what we savour mattered to Jesus.

Shortly before the text that we jumped into this morning Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Moments later, however, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying that He must suffer many things, be killed and then rise again on the third day. After Peter rebukes Him for saying this, Jesus turns to Him, and, in verse 23 says ‘…thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be on men’. Peter’s problem was that he was too caught up and preoccupied in the temporary to see the eternal. He was savouring the things of man. He has too world a view of Jesus. But why was this such a big deal. I think, in the next four verses Jesus gives us five very, very good reasons to savour the things of God above the things of men.

Look at verse 24 with me, as Jesus starts to talk about the normal Christian life. He says ‘if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.’ To come after Jesus just means to be a Christian. To the twelve disciples, that’s what being a Christian was, following Jesus wherever He went, literally. They were with Him everywhere for the three years of His ministry on Earth. So this verse tells what we are to expect as we live as Christians. We are to deny ourselves. Being a Christians means not indulging in every carnal wish. The word used for deny here means to utterly cut off and disown. That is what we are to do to ourselves, we must utterly cut off and disown ourselves.

Jesus words could be paraphrased ‘let the Christian refuse any association or companionship with himself. To deny yourself means to fight the old nature, to work against the temptations which always come, and to exhibit self control. We are to deny our ego. Jesus says in Matthew 5:3 that the first requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of God is to be poor in Spirit. To be humble and to be humble we have to deny ourselves because by nature we are proud and arrogant. Being humble is hard. If we’re going to have any chance of real humility, we must always keep in mind our sin and what a great cost Jesus paid for it. In dealing with others we must assume that the most annoying sins we see in them are magnified in us.

The Christian life is one of denial. What does this mean today? It can’t mean wearing camel hair shirts and eating locusts any more can it? Well, if your favourite TV show is too smutty, and leads you into unChristlike thoughts, deny yourself. If there’s something you love to do on Saturday nights that leaves you tired and inattentive for church the next morning, deny yourself, if you find yourself savouring sports, or shopping or gaming more than Christ. Deny yourself. This isn’t needless asceticism; this is a response to the Gospel. This is the recognition that Jesus is much, much greater than all these things. This is to live in such a way that the world will ask us for the reason for the hope that we have.

The second requirement of discipleship is no less costly. Verse 24 continues with ‘and take us his cross and follow me’. Today the idea of taking up my cross has been on the one had mystified, and on the other hand devalued. To take up our cross is not to attain to a higher level of spiritual life that only a few can hope to achieve, nor is taking up our cross having to put up with an illness or a difficult family member or colleague, as real and hard as those problems are.

The original hearers and readers of this verse would have had no difficulty in understanding what Jesus meant. To them the cross was a vivid reality. In the area where Jesus was speaking 100 men had recently been crucified. Just a few years before that 2000 men were crucified in Jerusalem for their part in a rebellion. The disciples would have known that the take up ones cross means to come and die. It means to walk along a road carrying the instrument of your own execution on your back. It means to be seen by all as broken and beaten. It means to be walking on a death march, carrying the wooden beam on which you would soon hang.

When Christ calls you and me to take up our cross he means that we must be willing to do anything, answer any call, make any sacrifice for Christ’s sake. For some it will mean literally death, as it did for some of the disciples, but for most, it will mean the life of self denial. This is why Christ, in rebuking Peter starts off telling him about the cross. Because for the Christian the life of discomfort is normal, not abnormal. Even though what Jesus did on the cross was totally unique, it modeled the sort of life every Christian can expect. Not one of leisure and comfort, but of hardship and suffering.

Why should it be that way though? We haven’t seen any good reasons to savour the things of God yet have we? Well look at verse 25 with me as Jesus gives us our first reason here: ‘for whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake will find it.’ This is the great paradox of Christian living. If we lose our life we will keep it, but if we try to keep our life we will lose it. Whatever does that mean? It means that whoever lives to save or protect his earthly, physical life or live like that is the priority will lose it. It means that if we deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and therefore lose our lives, we will keep them. We’ve already seen that following Christ is not about ease and comfort. We can not chase God and money with all our hearts. If we try to ‘have it all’ in this life, we will one day lose it all.

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