Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 25, 2008

Sermon on Matthew 16:21-26

CHRISTIAN, GET THE MESSAGE STRAIGHT!
1. The message about Jesus’ life
2. The message about the Christian life

Text: Matthew 16:21-26

Introduction

Peter couldn’t have been more right. Last Sunday, in the Gospel, you heard Jesus and his disciples discuss what people thought of him. Then Jesus asked the disciples what they thought of him, and Peter very correctly answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Now, Peter couldn’t have been more wrong. In today’s Gospel, you heard, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (v. 21). And without Jesus’ invitation for their thoughts, Peter spoke up and very incorrectly stated, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22).

How could this close disciple of Jesus be so right in verse 16 and so wrong in verse 22? How could Peter have been so right at one point and so wrong at another? And if Peter could have been right at one moment and wrong the next, what does that suggest about us? Are confessional Lutherans like you and I, who take pride in the fact that we strive to be faithful and honest with the Word of God, prone to mix up and misunderstand Jesus and his Word? Those are searching questions that deserve our attention, and our study of today’s Gospel will help us to do just that. Today’s Gospel from Matthew 16 encourages you: Christian, get the message straight! Get the message straight about Jesus’ life, and get the message straight about the Christian life.

1. The Message about Jesus’ Life

Today’s Gospel marks a transition in Matthew’s book. Prior to this point, we’ve heard quite a bit about the miracles of Jesus – the feeding of 5,000 and later 4,000, walking on water, healing a foreigner’s demon-possessed child. And you’d better believe that those miracles drew some attention toward Jesus! Who wouldn’t be impressed with a man who could perform those kinds of wonders? Who wouldn’t think that this man wasn’t divine in some way?

Now we’re about six months away from Holy Week. Jesus believes it is time to focus his disciples’ attention on the central event of his mission and the most pivotal moment in world history. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” There must have been some glory and fame as an official groupie of the miracle-worker from Nazareth. But suddenly the glory and fame were to be no more. It seems that Jesus had emphasized this for some time before Peter’s adverse reaction. When you read Matthew 16, Peter’s good confession and not-so-good suggestion appear only six verses apart. In reality, there was some time between Peter’s statements. So now that Jesus’ reality check has settled in a bit, Peter raises as strong of an objection as he can. “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” The message of the cross offends Jesus’ own disciple! “No, Jesus. I’ll take your weighty preaching and your impressive miracles, but what’s this talk about a gruesome death? No, Jesus, may God have mercy on you and never let that be!”

If someone calls you Satan, you can be fairly sure that isn’t a compliment. You can be even more sure when God himself calls you that. “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'” Peter wanted to rewrite the script. Peter wanted to alter the plan. Peter wanted Jesus to promote a different message. But what Peter didn’t want to see was the very plan God had enacted. What Peter didn’t want to hear was the very message that Jesus had been proclaiming to them.

Have you ever noticed how much “First Article Christianity” is touted in our country? Maybe you wonder what I mean by the term, “First Article Christianity.” Think about the Apostles’ Creed. There are three main sections, or articles, in the Apostles’ Creed. The first article is about God the Father; the second article is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God; the third article is about God the Holy Spirit. The First Article is about the way God created the world and preserves and protects us today. The Second Article explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection have redeemed us from sin and defeated death for us. The Third Article shows us how the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in the message of the Second Article.

Now think about the latest inspirational book you saw at the Christian bookstore. Think about the last religious article you read in the paper. Think about the last TV evangelist’s sermon you overheard. What percentage of those is focused on the First Article? What percentage of those contain a message focused on the way God preserves and protects and provides for us, or maybe the way God uses us to provide for others? Now, in contrast, what percentage of those is focused on the Second Article? What percentage of those contain a message focused on the journey that the Son of God made through the Palm Sunday crowds to the Good Friday cross and out of his Easter tomb? Not so much, right? With few exceptions, you will see that the message in many Christian circles today is not that Jesus “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” And when that message is proclaimed, you will hear many people preferring a different message, essentially saying, “No, Lord! This shall never be the message we preach about you!”

Before you think that this critique is only about the Christians “out there,” don’t forget how often we are inclined nod our heads along with First Article Christianity, but never dare touch the Second Article in our conversations with others and confessions of faith to others. Truth be told, we’d be quite content to avoid that uncomfortable discussion about Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. After all, that discussion not only makes others uncomfortable, but it makes you uncomfortable, because if it’s true, it means both you and the person across the table from you are miserable sinners who need a rescue from the jaws of hell. What a downer! Who wants to hear that? And so we think that if we just tweak the message, surely that will help the Christian cause. But if we fail to get the message about Jesus’ life straight, we will replace the life-giving Gospel with a “Christian” message that never really gets at the heart of the Christian message of salvation. But without that message about Jesus’ life, and without faith in that message, there can be no salvation.

Fortunately, Jesus did not take up Peter’s advice. He didn’t say, “Hey, Pete, not a bad idea. I really wasn’t looking forward to the cross anyway.” No, Jesus had in mind the things of God, not the things of men. Jesus was bound and determined to make the journey and fulfill the message. Jesus suffered for your sins and mine at the hands of the chief priests and elders. He endured the pangs of hell for your guilt when he was crucified and killed. He secured a “not guilty” verdict for you when he rose from the dead on the third day. And that message about Jesus’ life is the greatest news that you and I and the world need to hear. Christian, get the message straight about Jesus’ life, because in that message is your salvation!

2. The Message about the Christian Life

Life wasn’t going to get easier for Jesus, and it wasn’t going to get easier for his disciples, either. They would be caught in the crossfire of his arrest and trial and crucifixion. They would be persecuted for proclaiming the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension. All but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for preaching the message about Jesus’ life. As unpleasant as it was to hear, Jesus needed his disciples to understand that they had dark days ahead as much as he did. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'”

Just in case the disciples thought that they were in it for the fame, fortune, popularity and pizzazz of following Jesus, Jesus takes the time to also get the message straight about the Christian life. Christians imitate Jesus in his humiliation. Christians don’t live in perfect glory and peace now. The Christian regularly needs to “take up his cross and follow [Jesus].” Christians endure hardships for following Jesus and face criticism for confessing Jesus.

It is important that we get the message straight about the Christian’s life. Jesus is not telling people to live an ascetic life for the purpose of living an ascetic life. Nor is Jesus suggesting that a vow of poverty and a bare-bones life will cause someone to find salvation. Listen to his words carefully. “Whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Whoever trusts in him as Lord and Savior and, as a result, is willing to endure whatever hardship comes as a result rather than leaving Jesus behind – that person may lose the world, but not his soul. Jesus’ message about the Christian life is that it often is a reflection of his own life. Christ suffered for us, and we can expect to suffer for him.

That’s another message that our sinful nature would rather not hear. Lose my life for Jesus? Do I really want that? Is it worth working on my troubled marriage when it would just be easier to give it up and walk away? Is it worth speaking up about Jesus Christ when I wouldn’t get strange looks from people if I just kept my mouth shut? Is it worth denying myself the latest gadgets, or the newest car, or the tropical vacation, so that I can give more to the work of our church, the ministry of our school, and the mission of our synod? But at that point, when our sinful nature flirts with the message of a cushy life, Jesus’ warning comes to mind. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Chasing after an ungodly way of life or obsessing about unnecessary things in life cannot gain eternal life.

Jesus has already reminded us how important it is that we get the message straight about his life. Now he tells us: Christian, get the message straight about your life! The proper message about the Christian life is not one of prosperity in the present, but of blessing in eternity. Let’s face it. All the wealth and privilege of the world cannot pay the debt we owe God for sin or secure a home in heaven’s mansions. None of your possessions can cause you to possess heaven’s glory. Only faith in the cross of Christ can give you that. And as a follower of the cross, you will have your crosses to bear. You will face struggles you wouldn’t face otherwise if you weren’t a follower of Jesus. You will face opposition you wouldn’t face otherwise if you weren’t a follower of Jesus. But you will know no greater peace than you know as a follower of Jesus. You will know of no greater assurance than your baptismal adoption into God’s family. You will know of no blessing on earth greater than the blessings Christ has prepared for you in heaven. And those truths make our earthly crosses worth bearing. We know that Christ’s victory came after his cross, and in the same sequence, our victory from Jesus will come after we have carried our crosses (not because we carried our crosses, but after we have carried them) and followed him in faith through this world.

Conclusion

I heard someone say that one of the scariest places to visit is your local Christian bookstore. Doesn’t that sound odd? But the person who made that statement had a point. He was very concerned about the misleading messages regarding Jesus’ life and the Christian life you can find in so many religious books today. And let’s face it. There are some terribly misleading ideas about Jesus’ life and the Christian life floating around the church today, and some of those false ideas can threaten faith itself. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t leave any mixed signals in the words we heard from him today. We understand that his mission was to rescue and redeem us at the cross, and we know that we will carry our crosses in life on this side of heaven. But someday we will exchange those daily crosses for an eternal crown given to us by Christ himself. Look forward to that crown, but in the meantime, keep the message straight! Amen.

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