The Burden of Being a Christian - January 29, 2017
Pastor Peter Metzger
First Lutheran Church
Lake Geneva, WI
January 29, 2017
The “Burden” of Being a Christian
Is it worth it – to call yourself a Christian? Is it worth it to believe in Jesus and to carry all the baggage that goes with it? And, I mean it. We just read three Bible passages that show that “inconvenient” is a mild term for what Christians have to deal with because of their confession.
The three men in the fiery furnace faced certain death for their confession of faith in God. The Apostle Paul faced merciless ridicule, outright rejection and unflinching disdain for a message deemed foolish by many who heard him preach. In our Gospel for today, we hear Jesus himself almost pitying those who follow him, calling them poor in spirit, the meek and humble people of the world, those who have no human reason to boast or any earthly advantage to celebrate.
Even Luther, the so-called champion of Christianity 500 years ago, had to wonder whether it was worth it to make such a big stink out of the Reformation. In a decisive moment in the year 1521, Luther stood on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor and was told that if he would not stop preaching about the grace of God, then he would not only be excommunicated from the Christian Church but he would be sentenced to death for crimes against the state.
Is it worth it? Granted, you may not face the threat of a fiery furnace for your confession of faith, but you may well face the fact that you are a social outcast. You turn on the news and what do you see? The bitter vitriol spewed out against pro-life, conservative, fundamental, Bible-believing Christians, who are painted as the enemy of women’s rights and the deniers of scientific enlightenment. Then you log onto social media and find out that it’s not just the liberal news that feels that way; it’s your friends and neighbors too, i.e. people you care about who are saying that what you believe as a Christian is backwards, misogynistic, judgmental hate speech.
Is it worth it to be a Christian if it means giving up the things that you love to do because God says you’re not supposed to do them? Your favorite television series that’s rated TV-MA because of graphic nudity, or your friend’s epic Friday night parties whose sole purpose seems to be getting as drunk as possible. Maybe it means marrying your boyfriend of the last 10 years because living together as husband and wife without being husband and wife is a sin against the 6th Commandment.
Is it worth it to be a Christian if it means you actually have to live like one and make sacrifices of time and resources and energy? Your yearly offering statements are out in the hallway right now. How money could you have spent on other things if you hadn’t felt the need to give back to God? How many weekends could you have traveled or how many events have missed because you were here worshiping God?
And after all that – after all you’ve given up and endured in the name of Jesus – what are you left with? What have you gotten in return? Are you still broke, single, sad? Do you still fight with your daughter-in-law? Do you still get sick? If you give up all that and get none of these things in return, then what advantage is there for being a Christian? Why does Christianity have to be such a taxing burden?
You know how God answers that question? He responds with Micah chapter 6:
Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, you mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
God hears us when we wonder whether it’s worth it to be a Christian – when we dwell on all our problems and fail to love God – and he sees that for what it really is – not only a lack of confidence in God’s power, but a complete blindness to what God has already done for us in his loving grace.
He says, “You want to know how I’ve ‘burdened’ you? Let me tell you: I delivered you from slavery in Egypt. You’re welcome, by the way. I provided leaders for you while you wandered in the vast and empty wilderness of Sinai for 40 years. A thank you would be nice. I prevented a mighty king from completely destroying you and I actually turned his evil intent into a blessing for you. I thought that was a stroke of genius but apparently I was the only one. And when you committed gross and sexual sins with the Moabites at this place called Shittim, not only did I forgive your sin out of my immense love for you, but I still fulfilled my promise and let you enter the Promised Land of Canaan to set up camp at Gilgal and from there to conquer 7 other nations and become a force to be reckoned with. Please, enlighten me as to how I have ‘burdened’ you,” God says.
Of course, maybe the people of Micah’s day, who lived hundreds of years after any of those things took place, felt the same way that you might after reading a list of God’s accomplishments like that. “It’s ancient history! I wasn’t alive for any of those things. What has God done for me?”
Well, if you fail to see how those things are God’s gifts to you, then maybe you don’t really understand this whole Christianity “thing.” God didn’t deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt because he liked them. In fact, when he sent Moses to set them free, they wanted to send him back because they thought that the life that God had to offer in freedom would be worse than their slavery.
God didn’t lead them through the wilderness, protect them from their enemies or give them the Promised Land because he wanted them to be able to kick their feet up and live in luxury without a care in the world. God did all these things because in his grace he had something better in mind. God’s primary concern was not for the Israelites’ slavery to Pharaoh, but the slavery of all mankind to sin, and by leading them out of Egypt and by miraculous and repeatedly showing them his grace and power, he was priming them for the coming of Jesus, who would not usher in an age of prosperity and peace in the world, but would bring forgiveness for our sin and peace with our God, just as Micah says later in chapter 7:
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.
We spend so much time here at church looking at ancient not because we want you to be scholars, but because we want you to recognize the pattern of God’s grace. The pattern that began in the Garden of Eden; the pattern that is traced throughout all of history; the pattern that culminated in the cross of Jesus; and the pattern that persists even in your life today.
Notice what Micah says, “You will again have compassion on us.” Just as God showed his grace over and over again throughout history, he continues to show us that grace today, especially in the forgiveness of our sins.
How many things have you done to deserve God’s anger? How many blessings from him have you overlooked or ignored, attributing them to random chance or your own hard work? How many times have you wished that Christianity would allow you to do the things that everyone else does, so that you could sleep around, get drunk or skip church without feeling guilty? How many times have you desired something that God hasn’t given you and grown bitter about it, resenting him for not satisfying you or taking matters into your own hands to get what you want whether that’s God’s will for you or not?
For all those sins, and so many more, you and I deserve nothing but God’s punishment. We have burdened him with our sin, and in return he has burdened us with his grace. He sent Jesus a descendant of that faithless Israelite community, born in the Promised Land that they didn’t deserve to inherit, so that he could “tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea,” so that he could make good on the promise he made to Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Jacob to send a Savior from our sin, to meet our deepest need and to give us the greatest gift – far better than the love of a good woman, a full bank account, or peace with your daughter-in-law – the gift of a right relationship with God and the hope of living in his love forever.
Is it worth it to bear the “burden” of being a Christian? I should think so. Does that mean life will be easy? Absolutely not. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were still thrown into the fiery furnace; Paul was still thought a fool; Jesus still calls us meek and lowly; and Luther was still regarded as an outlaw for believing what he did and for confessing faith in Jesus.
We will still face hardship. We may still be unpopular for believing what we do. We may never get things we pray for. But we already have the free love of our God and the full forgiveness of our sins, and that’s enough. That’s more than enough. It’s more than we deserve. It’s more than we have any right to ask for. It’s more than anything this world has to offer, and it costs us nothing, as Micah says:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
God has shown you his mercy. We read about it in His Word every week. So treasure it. Value it above anything this world has to offer. Pursue it the way the people of this world chase after careers and idle weekend pleasures. Live in response to God’s grace, love his mercy and walk in humility, knowing that nothing but the love of God is accountable for your relationship with him. And when trouble comes, count on God’s pattern of grace. The same God who delivered the three men from the fiery furnace is your God, who has delivered you from your sin and from your slavery to it. The same God who sent Paul to preach the “foolish” message of the cross, has sent you to share the same unpopular message of Jesus to the world around you. The same God who emboldened Luther to stand in faith-filled defiance of Pope and Emperor will give you the strength to say with Luther, “I don’t care what it costs; I don’t care what people think; I don’t care what I might “miss out” on; I believe in Jesus, my Savior from sin. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”