The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
Loving Father, this morning we are together to worship You and to continue our journey with Your Son on his way to the cross. We trust in your promise that by our faith in your Son, we will be counted among the righteous and be given the right to be called children of God. We praise you for the gift of salvation that Jesus Christ has given, and for His life and ministry that we encounter. Guide our time together so that we may take up our crosses and follow our risen Saviour, in whose name we pray. Amen.
John Mark writes of a time when Jesus journeyed with his Disciples. It appears that his more casual followers straggled along at a distance. Waiting for the next witness of his divine authority by another healing or miracle.
As they walked along, Jesus engaged the Disciples with a dialogue that ended with the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Mark records Peter’s profound response with well known words, “You are the Christ.” Matthew adds a bit more to Peter’s words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16 ESV) It is then that Christ Jesus commends Peter in Matthew “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17 ESV)
As I prayed over this passage of Scripture, I was blessed. The Holy Spirit opened my understanding of this passage of Scripture in a new way. I saw in my minds eye that it was at this point the ears of the devil were perked up, and his attention was drawn to Peter, who is blessed to receive the wisdom of God. Peter who has now revealed Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God.
I am convinced that the devil was also listening as Jesus spoke about what it meant for him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again on the third day. The devil would have understood exactly what Jesus meant. But these words would have confused Peter and would have planted the seed of doubt.
Doubt in the destiny of the Christ, Son of the Living God. But even in the beginning of doubt, Jesus demonstrated his love, concern, and care for Peter. Just as he loves us, is concerned over us, and cares for us, in our times of both doubt and certainty. Times of fear and of faith.
I am convinced that Jesus was actually speaking to the devil, when he said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Placing himself as a barrier between the temptation of the devil and dear Peter. Just as Christ Jesus living in our hearts by his Holy Spirit, presents an unmovable barrier between the devil and our spirit. Joined with us through faith in Christ Jesus, and his sacrifice for us. A reality that Peter was beginning to question, which made him vulnerable to the influence of Satan.
It was after this, that Satan obeyed the Christ, Son of the Living God, as he must always do. He separated himself from Peter, at least for a while. Then Jesus warned Peter, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” That warning is for every Christian. Every casual follower of Christ Jesus. Every dedicated and disciplined Disciple.
When we set our minds on the things we see around us in the world, we become vulnerable to the worst temptations. Temptations to doubt the reality of Christ Jesus, of our baptism, of our faith.
Of God’s love for us.
When Jesus called all the followers and disciples together, he spoke a hard truth, a strict reality, almost a command. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Words that have become so real to us in people of faith around the world. Just as it would to the Disciples in the early Church in Jerusalem during their persecution. The image from a few years ago still haunts me, as I read these verses. An image of 21 Coptic Christians, in their orange prison jumpsuits, kneeling with heads bowed. And standing behind each one an Islamic Terrorist with machete or sword or knife, ready to inflict a fatal blow. Also the recurring images of Christians, in Africa, China, and around the world who are imprisoned, humiliated, persecuted and matyred for sharing their faith.
These are the modern witnesses for Christ Jesus. These are the ones who embraced the grace of God, rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ. Who became vivid portrayals of our Lord’s words, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”
In the shadow of the cross of Christ, and the witnesses of these modern martyrs, how are we to order our lives to take up our cross and follow Jesus? To live the grace of God in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit?
To discover the answer, we search the Scriptures and we turn to a prolific Lutheran writer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
In the Scriptures, we discover the words of Paul, ‘We know that our old self was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.’ (Romans 6:6–7 ESV)
Taking up our cross and following Jesus, reminds us that we can resist every temptation, set our hearts to the discipline of discipleship, and live our faith, because Jesus has set us free by his sacrifice. A life renewed each moment by the grace of God.
In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer describes the Grace of God. He writes of the concept of “cheap grace.” Listen to how he defines it: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
In many ways, I agree with Bonhoeffer, that we are blessed when we respond to God’s grace with our lives of repentance, discipline, discipleship, and faith. That is what the season of Lent is all about. I also agree with Bonhoeffer, that the enemy of the Church is ‘cheap grace’, when people abandon the teaching of the hard truths and flock to others who speak only of the blessings of Christianity.
But the grace of God is never cheap … because it cost the death of God’s Son on the cross. The grace of God is a given in the life of a Christian, as we confront our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness. But we must never take the grace of God for granted.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert, He responded to the devil with the words, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ” (Mt 4:7 NLT) We test the Lord our God, when we live without the discipline of faith and yet expect God to receive us with forgiveness and acceptance when we meet Him in eternity.
As baptised Christians, receiving God’s gift of faith in our Saviour, we are given eternal life with our Saviour. But, living in this broken world, we will still confront the cross of Christ. When we hear Jesus’ call to live out our discipleship in our actions and attitudes, I hope the each of us will decide to live our lives in the shadow of the cross. As the New Living Translation quotes Jesus, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”
I was told once that most Christians are intimidated by the concept of discipleship. It’s just too difficult for us to consider ourselves disciples.
That it is easier to remain casual followers, who are certainly Christians by their faith in Christ Jesus. But are reluctant to take up the discipline of Discipleship. Reading the Bible, Praying, Worshipping, Living Repentant Lives, Serving the Church, Caring for Each Other, and Supporting the Church with their finances.
Lent is a time when we can set aside time to confront the parts of our lives that are not under submission to Christ Jesus. To let the Holy Spirit show us the ways we can revive the momentum of our own discipleship. To see discipleship as something to be desired rather than to be feared.
As people of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that salvation, by the grace of God, binds us to his will for our living. By the grace of God, we are free to surrender our will to the will of God and to submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus Christ. To celebrate the promises of God.
At our baptism, we receive the full promise of God to be joined with Christ Jesus in eternity. And we invite God’s Holy Spirit to be a vital part of our living. We are declared righteous with God, because of faith. But it was only the beginning of our life with Christ Jesus.
We can hold onto our faith in Christ Jesus, trust God, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit through all the challenge that our discipleship will bring.
Over the few weeks of Lent, lets ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father. And may the grace and peace of God, keep our hearts and minds in, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev David Thompson