21st Sunday After Trinity October 24, 1999
408, 519, 521, 532
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of our Savior Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
I’d guess that nearly every adult sitting here this morning has been through the familiar process of buying a car. On any given day, all across the country, thousands of people visit the new and used car lots, trying to pick out the automobiles that suit them best. You’ll see them out there kicking the tires, looking under the hood, going for test drives—you know how it goes—you’ve probably been through the process a number of times yourself. You want to check out all the options: see if there’s a stereo system, see how much leg room there is, see how big the trunk is. But what’s the one most important thing you consider when you’re buying a car? Why, the price tag, of course! How ridiculous it would be if you went through all those steps in selecting a new car, and never once looked at the window sticker to see how much it cost!
But I wonder how many people in this world don’t view Christianity in exactly that way! I wonder how often people have said to themselves something like this: “You know, that guy Bob who lives next door is a Christian, and it sure seems to give him peace of mind. He faces every day with a smile, like he knows all the answers, or something. Maybe I’ll become a Christian. What can it cost me? An hour of my time on Sunday morning, a couple of bucks for the collection plate, and I’ll be all set! What could be cheaper?!” People like that want to buy the car without really looking at the price tag, which we all know is impossible to do.
It’s true that the forgiveness of your sins, your ticket into heaven, doesn’t cost you a thing—that’s been paid for. But following the One who paid for it—that’s expensive. It’s by far the biggest investment a person could ever make, and God wants us to consider the cost of such an investment. Jesus told His followers, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it; lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”—Luke 14:27-30. On the basis of Jesus’ words in our text, I’d like you to consider with me the question:
Yes, by earthly standards, following Jesus is indeed very expensive. But there’s one thing we have to get straight right away: it’s not the forgiveness of sins—our justification—that costs the Christian so much. If you think you’re helping to pay for THAT by following Christ, you’re going to run into some very serious problems. No, our justification was entirely paid for, in blood, by Jesus. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to the disciples when He told them how He would have to go up to Jerusalem, to suffer and die. And that’s why Jesus came down so hard on Peter, when Peter said, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Christ knew that we sinful human beings desperately needed forgiveness, and He wouldn’t allow anything detour Him from the long road of suffering that led to our forgiveness. He could have avoided all the pain and sorrow. No doubt He was tempted to. But in John chapter 12 we hear Jesus say, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”—John 12:27. Specifically for the purpose of saving us from the damnation that we deserved, Jesus DID go up to Jerusalem, He DID pick up His cross and carry it, and He DID die on that cross to free you and me from the death-grip of sin. And now that THAT is accomplished, He calls us to pick up OUR crosses and follow Him. That’s the “expensive” part.
And from one point of view, being a Christian IS a very expensive affair. Then why be a Christian?—Let me draw an analogy. Everyone knows how the cost of surgery and hospitalization is skyrocketing these days. But if you ask a person who, for example, has just had a heart bypass that cost $100,000—BUT SAVED HIS LIFE—you know what he’s going to say—he’ll say it was worth every penny! In the same way, being a disciple of Jesus can be very expensive, earthly speaking, but often those happy disciples don’t even realize that they’re sacrificing anything.
A Christian does make sacrifices, though. What does it mean when Jesus tells us to bear our crosses? Simply speaking, a “cross” is anything bad that we put up with in this life specifically because we are Christians. It’s something that we bear for Jesus’ sake. The early Christians often had to bear the cross of actual, physical persecution. They were thrown to the lions and burned at the stake. The crosses that we bear in this country, now, in the 1990’s, aren’t as obvious as that. And from one point of view I think that can make them even harder to bear up under. For instance, nobody’s going to throw you in jail if you talk openly about your faith at work, but you may suffer some sneers and jokes behind your back; and those can really hurt! One night a young people’s meeting I attended had an interesting discussion on the Christian experience in public universities. A lot of us were able to describe how it felt to be treated like idiots in school if we happened to mention God, or the Bible, or creation. People treat you with a condescending sneer, as if you had just told them you still believe in the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. In Bible class a couple of weeks ago we discussed how the open persecution of Christians is becoming commonplace in our country. Every day now you see bumper stickers and car ornaments that ridicule the Christian faith. After a while, that sort of thing can begin to wear on a believer. It’s one example, anyway, of a cross that we bear because we are Christians.
There are many investments involved in being a Christian, besides the sort of sacrifices I’ve just described. That’s why one person called Christianity “the most expensive religion on earth.” A follower of Christ finds himself devoting not just one hour a week to his faith, but hours and hours of time. Time for church meetings and Bible classes. Time for family devotions and personal Bible study. He takes time for prayer, and he often takes a lot of time to tell others about Jesus, and explain his faith to them. He gives his time, his dedication, his love, and often a lot of his money to help his fellow believers and to serve Jesus. Now, from an earthly point of view, that may seem like a lot to spend. But a person who’s had his sins forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, is like that guy who’s just had an expensive heart bypass—he’s likely to say, “Who cares about the money? I’m going to live! I’m going to live!”
And that gets us down to the real issue. People will either view Christianity as very expensive, or as a tremendous bargain. It’s either a total waste of time, or its the only thing in this world that’s really NOT a waste of time! Believe it or not, it all depends on how you define one simple word: life. In our text, Jesus uses this word in the same passage to mean two different things. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. This is a paradox. It’s a statement that seems to contradict itself; it doesn’t appear to make any sense. However, I’d like you to listen to a parallel passage, John 12:25. Here Jesus says the same thing a little differently, and His meaning becomes perfectly clear: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”—John 12:25. Aha! There’s the answer: Jesus is talking about two different kinds of life!
To deny yourself. To give up earthly wealth in favor of eternal treasures. To give up earthly life for the sake of life eternal; that’s what Jesus is talking about here. Did you ever think about how different you are, as a Christian, from the people who live around you? All their efforts are bent upon making their life here on earth a success. They want money, a good job, power, comfort, peace of mind. They want happiness for the sixty or eighty years that they’re alive on this planet, and that’s it. The Christian is looking far beyond that. His goal is not an imperfect happiness that lasts sixty or eighty years—but a perfect happiness that will last for ages upon ages. In short—happiness for eternity, in heaven, with God.
And that’s why Christianity is such a bargain. Because in order to collect that eternal life, we have only to meet one condition: righteousness. And God, through Jesus, hands us that righteousness we need as a free gift! Thousands of years ago already, God was offering this tremendous bargain to bankrupt sinners like you and me. He said, through the prophet Isaiah, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”—Isa 55:1. Not that salvation doesn’t cost anything—it doesn’t cost US anything. It cost Jesus plenty! He bought us back from hell, and He paid the highest price imaginable to do it. Peter tells us, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”—1 Pet 1:18-19.
Our salvation is accomplished. It’s complete. We have peace with God on earth, and the promise of everlasting peace in heaven. And you know, that makes people act kind of funny! People who have this forgiveness through Jesus actually seem to consider it a pleasure to devote all that time and money and effort to God. It’s not a “payment” or a “duty” at all. It comes naturally. It’s the fruit of faith. So you see, if you look at it from the eternal point of view, Christianity is the most tremendous bargain in the history of the world!
A newspaper reporter was once sent to interview a famous clergyman who had made a name for himself as a wise man and a brilliant preacher. The reporter was astonished to find him living in a one-room apartment containing only books, a table and a bench. “Sir, where is your furniture?” he asked. “Where’s yours?” replied the clergyman. “Mine?” asked the puzzled reporter, looking around. “But I’m a visitor here. I have no furniture—I’m only passing through!” “So am I,” said the preacher.
Let’s pay less attention to the fixtures and trappings of this earthly life, and more to the furnishings of our heavenly home. Let us consider carefully the words of Jesus when He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Mat 6:19-21. God grant that our treasures and our hearts may always remain with our Savior, in heaven. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.