Monday, September 04, 2023

The Gospel of John, September 3, 2023

This is video of yesterday's adult Sunday School class from Living Water Lutheran Church yesterday captured from Facebook Live.

Hard Truth, True Promise

[Below, you'll find the message shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church yesterday, September 3. You can also view live stream video of both of the services in which the message was shared.]

Matthew 16:21-28
The first of the 2024 presidential campaign debates happened recently. I hate presidential debates. One reason I hate them is that candidates usually spend their allotted times trying to tell us things that they and their “handlers” think we want to hear: things that will vindicate us in our desires and ambitions, maybe in our fears and prejudices. Political campaigns are rarely times when we’re told either hard truths or true promises.

Today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 16:21-28,  shows us that Jesus never took the advice of “handlers.” Otherwise, He wouldn’t have given the hard truth nor true promise He delivers to us today.

Let’s set the scene. The Gospel lesson continues a conversation we began to consider last Sunday. In it, Simon, the son of John, confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Because it’s on this confession of Jesus as both God’s anointed King, in the world to make all things right, AND God the Son, that Jesus will build His Church and His Kingdom, Jesus gives Simon a new nickname, Peter, meaning Rock. All who can confess Jesus as their King and God have new and everlasting lives with God. Their lives are built on the strong rock of God’s grace that gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who live with repentant trust in Jesus.

In today’s lesson, Jesus explains to us what it means to have Him as our God and King.

It starts: “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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21)

This isn’t what Simon, the Rock of faith, or the other disciples had in mind at all. They wanted to hear something altogether different.

In fact, nobody wants a Savor King, a Christ, Who suffers and dies, even if His death is followed by a promised resurrection.

We want Messiahs who are going to make our lives smooth and easy, who will save us without telling us to give up our sins: selfishness, greed, envy, gossip, adultery, idolatry, and prejudices.

We want a King Who saves us in our sin rather than a Savior Who saves us from our sin. We want glory without a cross, forgiveness without contrition, resurrection without crucifixion, new life without the death of our old sinful selves.

But, Jesus is telling us today that’s not how the Kingdom of God comes into our lives.

If even the sinless Lamb of God must die in order to fulfill His mission in life, how much more must we, who are sinners, die to sin in order to share in Jesus’ eternal kingdom?

Peter's reaction to Jesus’ words is immediate and forceful. “‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22)

It’s here that Jesus gives Simon a new nickname. Thundering with anger, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)

In the blink of an eye, the foundation rock, Peter, has become a stumbling stone, an impediment trying to prevent Jesus--just like Satan tried to be to Jesus in the wilderness--from fulfilling His mission.

That mission is simple: To offer His sinless life on a cross, paying the price for our sin, so that all who follow Jesus rather than the call of sinful human concerns, will be raised from the dead with Jesus.

Our call is to daily get out of Jesus’ way with our sinful desire for the worldly successes and victories of this dead world and, instead, get behind Jesus and follow Him through cross and resurrection.

Jesus clarifies His call to us in this way, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

What exactly does Jesus mean?

Years ago, a group of Methodist pastors approached a colleague, who served a small inner-city church, about becoming bishop for their church body. The pastors had been impressed by his faith, his teaching and preaching, his servant heart, and the way the love of Christ was seen in him.

After they’d made their pitch, the inner-city pastor said that he couldn’t be a bishop. He explained that his wife suffered from a debilitating condition and his adult son had developmental issues. Both needed his care.

But surely, his colleagues insisted, he could get help. The pastor felt in that moment as though he was being accosted by Satan, being given an easy path away from his call as husband and father so that he could chase the glories of the world. He didn’t cave.

He could, he told the group of pastors, get more help for his wife and son and he might need to do so sometime. But for the foreseeable future, he believed, God was calling him to be with his wife and son. He could not delegate the life to which God had called him to anyone else.

Keep in mind that this pastor’s cross wasn’t his wife or son. People today misuse Jesus’ words from today’s lesson when they describe the adversities of life as their crosses.

No, this pastor’s cross was the satanic allure of forsaking his call to follow Jesus in order to gain the rewards of the world, the temptation we all face and, I suspect, the sin all of must confess, of wanting this world more than we want theiscrucified and risen Jesus.

The cross we saints who remain simultaneously sinners until we, like our Lord, die and rise trusting in Him, bear is the call to follow Jesus for life with God despite our inborn desire to pursue our desire rather than God’s will.

That pastor was ultimately able to refuse what the world would regard as a promotion because following Jesus goes by way of the cross, the way of crucifying the old self “with all sins and evil desires,” as Martin Luther puts it in The Small Catechism, so “that the new person [can] come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

With what easy pathway is the devil, the world, or your sinful self tempting you this morning?

You married folk, is there someone else in your life who’s new and different, someone with whom you’ve never had an argument over bills or purchases, kids or childcare?

Young people, is there an easy way for you to cheat on your tests and get the good grades you think will unlock a great future for you?

People in business, are there daily practices that cause you to want to or to actually cut corners ethically?

Older people, do you find yourself looking down on younger people because they sin differently than you do?

The world is filled with Satan’s siren call to the easy way. But the easy way is a stumbling block to following Jesus and the life He gives to all who trust in Him.

There’s only one way to life with God. It’s the way that Jesus speaks of today: the way of daily repentance, that is, daily turning away from sin and death and daily turning to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin that brings new life from God.

Jesus says that one day He will return and reward each for what they have done. What does this mean? Is this “works righteousness”? No!

Those who refuse His kingship and salvation will go to eternal condemnation and separation from God.

But those who, in response to and empowered by the Word of God to repent and believe in Jesus, will receive eternal life with God.

And this good news isn’t just for us after we die. Over the years, I’ve constantly been struck by a contrast between the dying and the vulnerable who trust in Jesus Christ, on the one hand, and those who may be physically vital but whose lives are harried and chaotic because they think they can trust in themselves, or their efforts, or the cosmos rather than Christ. The reality is, whether we realize it or not, we all live each day in the valley of the shadow of death. But those who live in that shadow with Christ and His Word giving them strength and life, have a “peace that passes all understanding.”

Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus describes Himself in this way: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved…” (John 10:9) Today and every day, enter the Kingdom of God through the open Gate of Jesus, our God and King. Amen