Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus!
Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, June 29, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:38]
INTRODUCTION: The prophet Jeremiah was a man familiar with sorrows and woes. In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord gave him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews. Because most of his messages from God were unpopular, he was not well liked by his own people. In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned. What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord? Repent! Turn away from a worldly way of thinking and trust in the Lord. Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan. What was God’s plan? Simply this: Don’t resist the invasion of your enemies from Babylon; in fact open the city gates of Jerusalem wide, and let them come in and conquer you. But fear not, the Lord will go with you into captivity and you will be saved, just trust in God that all things will work out for you good. Oh this did not sound good to the leaders, prophets and priests of Judah; this wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted to Jeremiah to sit down and shut up! So Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another message from God. We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.” What Jeremiah discovered is what we will learn this morning, we all must…
I. Take up our cross and follow Jesus. In our Old Testament reading, we join Jeremiah who was told to go back into Jerusalem once again and declare the Lord’s will that Jerusalem would be conquered and if they resisted, they it would only make things worse. But this time, God was sending him to the leaders of Judah as a living sermon. God told Jeremiah to build a yoke (a harness for oxen), made out of wood and leather and walk into the city wearing it. He was to go to the leaders and declare, “If any nation will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar and put his neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord”. [Jer. 27:8] The people of Judah must have roared in disbelief, “What kind of a message is this? All of the other prophets are declaring victory over Babylon. In fact, they say that our land will not only be free of the oppressor, but we will even be prosperous beyond our dreams!” Jeremiah’s message was so opposite of all of the false prophets, that one of them named Hananiah ran up to Jeremiah, snatched the yoke off of his neck and broke it into pieces and declared the words they all wanted to hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” And to this, Jeremiah, the true prophet of God responded, “Amen! May the Lord do so.” Once again, Jeremiah was run out of town, rejected by his own people; scorned for being faithful to God’s will; hated by the very people God sent him to save. Now at this point, we might think that old Jeremiah would have learn the lesson of the world, “If through persistence you still fail and everyone else disagrees with you, you must be wrong!” But, Jeremiah wasn’t like everyone else. Jeremiah had faith in God’s Word, so he wouldn’t back down. Sometime later, the Lord sent Jeremiah back to Jerusalem with another message: “You have broken the wooden (yoke), but you have made in (it’s) place (a yoke) of iron. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have (now) put upon the neck of all these nations in an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”
Dear friends, for Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well. Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times. There is terror all around. In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up! But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that! “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word! He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus! There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death. Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6] “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37]
Dear friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way. He is the only truth…He is true life!” In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God. Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain. When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts. All around us, there is a limitless supply of glory preachers that will tell them just what they want to hear. “God wants to bless you with riches”, they say! “God wants you to be victorious in all your dealings in this world” they say. “If you’re not happy then follow these Biblical steps and God will bless you with good health and wealth!” But to this our Lord warns that the broad and easy way is a lie and it will not lead to the blessings you are seeking, but instead it leads to an iron yoke of pain and disappointment. Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”
The narrow door that our Savior speaks of is the cross. It is the way of faith; the kind of faith that clings to God’s Word and trust is his loving kindness, even if the circumstances in our lives are telling us to do the opposite. The cross has always been an offense to men and women of this world, because it minimizes our own personal achievement and places faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ above all other things. Sadly, even some of our own family members and closest friends may be numbered among those who are seeking the broad and easy way of the world. Do you have a loved one who has left the faith of their youth? Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to persuade them to return to the Lord? Perhaps you’ve given up on them; when before you were always speaking about Jesus and His love, and now you don’t even bring it up because it only causes hurt feelings or even an argument. Maybe they’ve even told you that if you don’t quit talking about the Church and Jesus they will no longer be a part of your life? And so…you’ve quit. Instead, you quietly listen to their get rich quick schemes, their plans of glory and pleasure and you just sort of nod. And to this, Jesus quietly speaks to us this morning and says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” These are hard Words. For some they may strike like a sword, swift and deep into your very heart. And to this we may respond, “But Lord, I only want peace in my family. Peace with my friends.”
II. What is peace? What kind of peace are we seeking? Are we seeking worldly peace or heavenly peace? Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36] “But Lord” we respond, “you are the prince of peace. You promised your perfect peace that surpasses all understanding!” And to this Jesus responds, yes but I also taught you to live by faith, and to trust in me. Haven’t I taught you to pray to the Father like this, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” For “which one of you, if (your child) asks for bread, will give a stone (instead)? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Dear children, even “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Dear friends, these Words are Words of peace. Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith. We must believe that every one of God’s promises are true and sure, even when it seems the very opposite is true. In regards to our children, we must learn to rest our hope and faith in the work God did for them in their baptism. When worry and fear creeps in, we must surrender these things to our loving father who promises that “He who began the good work” (in our children) “will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philipp. 1:6] God desires that you go back to the confidence, which you once had many years ago, when you obediently by faith brought your child to the font to receive God’s gift of salvation through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Cling to the promises that he made through the Water and the Word. Don’t be afraid to remind your children, no matter how old they are, that each and every promise God has given them is still true! Lay your fears there at the font and don’t be afraid to tell your children that you are still praying for them to come back to Jesus.
Friends, Jesus does still give peace, but the peace He gives is always centered in His faithfulness, therefore it is a spiritual peace. The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you. Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
CONCLUSION: Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear. Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior. Let’s not worry about carrying our cross and following Jesus. Instead let’s simply follow our Lord wherever He leads. Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us. Instead, let’s learn to be a living version of the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”: “Sometimes I’m up. Sometimes I’m down. Sometimes I’m level to the ground, but still I say glory hallelujah!”
And now, may that true peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may His peace enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!