Preached: June 27, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is recorded in Luke 9
And it happened when [Jesus] was praying alone that the disciples were with him. He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. And others that one of the prophets of old has risen.”
He said to them, “But you, who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “The Christ of God.”
He warned and commanded them not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, high priests, and scribes, be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all, “If anyone is determined to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross each day and follow me. For whoever is determined to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me, he will save it.
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
He was in his late teens, entering into all the glory of youthful manhood. He had the looks and the build, the youthful hormones surging through his system. Work was going well. And now an influential lady had taken an interest in him, much more than a Platonic interest. However, she was married, and her husband had put a lot of trust in this young man. But maybe she could open different doors for him? What was he to do?
Despite the sexual drive of youth, he refused her advances. He refused not because of possible risk, but because this would betray his God. How could he do such a wicked thing and sin against God?
But one day she caught him alone, grabbed him by his coat, and said, “Come to bed with me!” He got out of there as fast as he could, but she still had his coat in her hand. What was his reward for doing the right thing? She accused him of attempted rape, and he was sent away to prison. What a loser!
You know the rest of the story. You can read about it in Genesis 39-41. After a couple of years Joseph was brought out of prison and placed in charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. But Joseph didn't know that was going to happen. He did know that his brothers had sold him as a slave and that when his life took a turn for the better as a servant in Potiphar's house, then he ends up falsely accused and in prison. Might he not have felt like a loser?
That's the world's goal. When you do the right thing for the right reason, when you do it for Jesus as Joseph did, the world wants to make you feel like a loser. It's so tempting to focus on not turning out as a loser in this life, that we lose sight of why we are here. Jesus warns us, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24 NIV). So be a loser for Christ. Be a loser for Christ by confessing him with your mouth and by following him in your life
Jesus asked his disciples who the crowds were saying he was. The people held a pretty high opinion of him. Some thought he was the recent great preacher John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. Others though he was one of the prophets of old, maybe even Elijah. Rather high praise.
Still today many people have high opinions of Jesus. For example, in this book that ranks the 100 most influential people, Jesus ranks well above men like Caesar Augustus, George Washington, or Thomas Edison. In fact, Jesus makes number three on his list. Only Muhammad and Isaac Newton beat him out. High praise. And at Christmas especially, you'll here people say good things about Jesus. He was a good man, a great teacher, an excellent example for us to model our life after asking, “What would Jesus do?” See his goodness, his kindness, his love, his humbleness! High praise.
The world says, “That's fine. You can think highly of Jesus. Everyone has their own opinions.” The world won't make you feel like a loser for placing Jesus among the great.
But that's not who Jesus is, is it? Peter didn't confess that Jesus was one of the great prophets. “But what about you? … Who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20 NIV). “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20 NIV). That was Peter's answer. That is who Jesus is.
He is not a christ, but the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He alone is the one foretold by the prophets of old. He alone was sent by the Father to carry out the work of saving sinners. He alone is God who became man to be the one and only Mediator between God and man. He is the Christ of God.
That's the confession that will get the world against you. For this confession doesn't simply place Jesus at the top of a list. It places him above all lists. He is the one and only Christ. He is the one and only Savior. That means anyone who has a different opinion about Jesus is not saved. They are lost, headed for hell. The world labels this bigotry, prejudice, closed-minded, backward ignorance. It wants to make you feel like a loser for thinking that only Jesus can save.
The world uses our own words against us to make us feel like losers. For we confess with our mouths not only who Jesus is but what he has done to save us.
Jesus explained to the disciples what must happen as he carried out his saving work. He says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Luke 9:22 NIV). That's what we confess every time we say the Apostles' Creed.
The world throws it back at us: “How foolish to think that someone's death on a cross two thousand years ago can pay for your sins today! How superstitious to think that a dead man rose! How many funerals have you been to where that happens? Don't be so naïve. Leave behind those primitive myths. Stop being a loser.”
And it's not only the world outside of the church but also the world that's infected the visible church. Note it was the religious leaders (the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law) that rejected Jesus. Many of the most prominent leaders in Christianity today consider us who hold that Bible is the verbally inspired truth and that the miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus, are actual, historical events -- they consider us to be naïve, leaning on the crutches of 16th century religious ideas that are out of step with the progress of our modern era. We're just losers.
But dear friends, don't be ashamed to be a loser for Christ. Believe in your heart that Jesus is the Christ of God. He alone was sent to save you. Believe that his suffering and death freely pays for all your sins. Believe that he has risen from the dead. You are forgiven. With such faith in your heart, then confess with your mouth. Confess as Peter did. Confess who Jesus is and what he has done to save you. Don't worry about the world labeling you a loser. Rather remember what Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:18-24 NIV).
But it's not only our words, but also our actions that matter. And Jesus goes on and speaks about our actions. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV).
Deny yourself. This isn't the faddish self-denial where someone gives up something for a while: “I gave up chocolate.” “I gave up TV for a week.” “I'm giving up a lot to simplify my life.” Even self-denial to the extreme of becoming a monk or hermit is not what Jesus is talking about. He's talking about something much more difficult and greater.
He doesn't say deny yourself this pleasure or deny your body that comfort. He says deny yourself, period. Deny your very self, that self you were born with, that self you inherited from Adam, that self that you know so well, that you once cherished as your bosom buddy. Deny your old self with all its sinful desires. Deny your old self, especially its desire to cling to some credit for your relationship with Jesus, that old self that imagines that you had some natural good to attract God to you, some inborn spark that you had the power to fan into flames. See what a loser your old self really is. It has no power to do anything that's right in God's sight. That's what we once were. So deny yourself.
We didn't have the power to deny ourselves. The old self controlled us, and still would. But the Holy Spirit drowned your old self in the water of Baptism. He created a new self in you. So keep on drowning your old self with daily repentance. That's what it means to deny yourself.
And take up your cross each day. Just as Jesus suffered on the cross for you, our crosses are what we suffer because we follow Jesus. You don't search them out. The crosses come as you live for Jesus. But unlike sickness or disaster, you could avoid the crosses. For example, a mom and dad worried about their son going off to a secular college. How would he bear up under ridicule for following Jesus? When he's home for Thanksgiving, they ask him about it. He says, “There's no problem. No one knows I'm a Christian.”
But that's the problem, isn't it? He wasn't taking up his cross. He was hiding Jesus, like we hide those things we're ashamed of. That's why the world wants to make you feel like a loser, so that you hide Jesus.
Rather, take up whatever crosses come as you live for Jesus. Live for him, not just on Sunday mornings, but every day. Take up your cross daily.
And follow him. To follow someone, we need to keep looking at them. Keep your heart and mind focused on Jesus. That's what God's Word and Sacraments do for us. They are the lens through which the Holy Spirit focuses our hearts and minds on Jesus, so that we follow him.
How easily we're distracted by the things of the world! We think we need to focus on the here and now if we're going to make it through this life. The earthly draws our attention. But remember what Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it” (Luke 9:24 NIV). If that's where your focus is, you're lost.
Look to Jesus. See him bear the cross for you. See him rise from the dead to give you the victory. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow him. The world may well label you a loser for doing so. In times of weakness you may even feel like a loser. But remember Jesus words: “Whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24 NIV).
Like Joseph, be a loser for Christ. Keep your heart and mind focused on him, no matter what the world says. Confess him with your mouth. Follow him in your life. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.