Monday, October 20, 2008

How Can I Be a Part? (Matthew 16.24-28)

October 19, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today we continue a series of “Questions of Discipleship” – that is, if you are serious about trusting and following Jesus, what questions will you need to wrestle with.

Two weeks ago we asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Last week we asked, “What do I have to offer?”

Today we will ask, “How can I be a part?” What does it take to be a Jesus-follower? Is it simply joining a church? Is it learning the Lord’s Prayer? Is it giving money to the church? Is it doing good works? If God is still doing something in the world, how can I be a part of that? What do I need to do? And WHY? Those are the questions answered in today’s text from Matthew 16.

Why Should I? (4 reasons)

The reasons Jesus gives are all-or-nothing kinds of reasons. They have to do with life and death. Following him is not a casual, take-it-or-leave it, or fun hobby kind of thing. It’s the difference between really living or being really lost.

Here’s the first reason to really follow Jesus: you are saved for something. He says, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it” (v. 25). It’s a bit of a play on words. “Losing your life” here means both dying and losing sense of the purpose of it. And that overlap is intentional. Further, there is the seeming contradiction of losing life in order to save and/or find it. What Jesus is saying here is revolutionary to the kingdom of self. In order to really follow him, we have to give up control of our life and direction to him. As long as we are trying to save our life, steer our ship, find ourselves (you pick the metaphor), we are rejecting the complete authority of God over our life, and rejecting Jesus as Lord. We may have claimed him as Savior (our rescuer), but in denying his Lordship or authority, we are missing the purpose of his salvation. Why follow Jesus? Because following him means you are saved for something.

Second reason: you can’t take it with you. I don’t mean to sound so cliché, but that’s basically what he’s saying next: “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (v. 26). Nothing else in this world lasts. Wealth, power, status, reputation – it will all fade away. But your soul is eternal. God made you to live forever. After your body becomes frail and dies, your soul lives on. And your soul is YOU – you either live eternally with God in Heaven or in eternal separation and suffering in Hell. What good is accumulating stuff for 30, 40, 50, even 100 years, if you neglect your eternal soul? That’s the question and another reason Jesus gives for truly following after him.

Third reason: the worth of your soul. Building on the second reason, Jesus asks, “Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (v. 26). What is your soul worth? Is it worth trading for anything? Many a book and movie plot has explored that question. And the answer, from scripture to the most secular version is that nothing is worth losing your soul. The sweetest deal is always regretted when the final reckoning comes. If anything, these stories point out our short-sightedness, grabbing the sugar candy waved in front of us and giving up the infinitely more precious welfare of our eternal soul.

Fourth reason: there will be a reckoning. Interestingly, Jesus goes on to the same concluding reason often found in our secular stories of soul-bartering. There will be a final judgment or a reckoning, and it is there that the eternal fate of our souls will be far more important than anything else from our brief life. Jesus says, “For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (v. 27). On the surface, this sounds like a straight out appeal for salvation based on good deeds. And the Bible does teach that our deeds matter – and that we should do good deeds. But here’s what else the Bible says about our good deeds: no one is good. No one is righteous enough to purchase salvation for their soul. Only Jesus was perfect and sinless and good. It is because he has purchased salvation that we can stand before that final judgment and “pass.” It is only because we are “with him” and “in him” that God will look at us and recompense (like compensate) us for HIS good work. That is why following Jesus is so important – it’s how we know and demonstrate that we are with him and in him. If we go off our own direction, will he say, “I never knew you?” Or said another way, when Jesus stands at the judgment to say, “She’s with me” will you actually be there as one who followed him? Or will you be MIA?

How Can I Be a Part? (what it means to come after Jesus)

So those are the reasons Jesus gives for following him as a disciple. What then does it look like to follow after him? What does he mean by “come after me?” (v. 24). Jesus says three things; let’s look at them.

First, he says, deny yourself. This is, perhaps, the easiest to understand and the hardest to do. Another way to say that is, “It’s not all about you.” Denial of self in order to follow Jesus means taking self out of the driver’s seat, off the throne of your life (again, pick your metaphor). It basically means your life is not your own, but belongs to God. Does that sound radical? It is! But it is not without precedent or analogy. When you undergo major surgery, you put yourself and your life in the hands of the doctors and nurses. Once they put you under, you are not in control; you have yielded your own control, sometimes to save your life. That’s what is at stake here. And the stubborn insistence that “I will not undergo surgery because I will not be in control” can well cost you that same life. From an early age we are taught to be independent, in control, and look out for #1. Following Jesus is counter to that; we are to be dependent, in His control, and answering to him as #1. As with anything, we can err in either direction of what God teaches. It is possible to warp this verse into a system of self-deprivation that harms the temple of the body and turns deprivation into a religion. That’s not what Jesus is teaching. Rather, he is teaching that we cannot follow him if you or I are in the lead. We must yield and come after him.

Second, Jesus says take up your cross. This teaching reminds us that being a Christian is not about comfort, nor should it be a comfortable thing. There is often suffering involved; there is a cost to following Jesus. For some early believers and even still today, following Jesus literally costs them their lives. I am far too caught up in my own comfort to want to consider that, but I would hope that God would give me strength to face whatever following Jesus costs me. Said another way, taking up our cross means that we will bear whatever following Jesus requires us to bear, even as Jesus bore all that he was required to bear as he carried his cross. Thankfully, God gives us what we need to be faithful.

Put in a more modern and everyday context, don’t expect following Jesus to be a vacation. It may well involve suffering, struggle, and sorrow. But know, too, that there is no better and more joyful place to be than in God’s hands as we follow obediently after Him in Jesus Christ. One illustration of this from common life is the familiar scene of children asking parents for dessert. “Can I have some ice cream?” they ask. When the parent replies, “No, not until you eat your veggies,” a child might plead, “But don’t you love me?” The parent replies, “Of course I love you – which is exactly why you have to eat your veggies first!” What we struggle to learn as children is the same thing we struggle to learn as Christians – that there is no better place to be then in obedience and trusting our parent. While that is mostly true for imperfect human parents, that is always true for our perfect Heavenly Father!

Third, Jesus says follow me. He began by saying, “If anyone wishes to come after me” and it is in this third explanation that he defines that as following. Following implies paying attention, staying close behind, and obeying. Following Jesus is not a casual hour a week at church kind of thing. It is an intentional, costly, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day commitment to Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Teacher. Imagine if you were dropped in the middle of an active war zone and all you saw was one battle-toughened friendly soldier nearby. As you stammered, “How will I ever get out of here?” he responds, “Follow me” and begins marching towards the woods. Are you going to try to figure out your own plan, or follow him? And yet we try to out-think, maneuver around, and make our own plans on the sovereign, all-wise, and infinitely compassionate Lord of the universe.

If you have any interest in getting through, getting home, and the well-being of your soul, follow him!

Jesus has given good reasons to follow, but ultimately, follow him because he has shown himself to be who he says he is and he has done all that he said he would do. The starting question was, “How can I be a part?” Indeed, why would you want to do anything else? Amen.

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