The Church God Wants – Take Up Its Crosses

The Church God Wants – Take Up Its Crosses is a difficult conversation about the life of the Christian.  We are on a roll!  We don’t want the good time to end.  Why would God allow his children to suffer?

On a Roll

In our verses today things were going very well for the disciples too.  Jesus was healing crowds of people.  A few loaves of bread and two fish were multiplied so that there was more than enough to feed thousands of people.  Peter had just made a confession of faith that still serves the Christian church today, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  Then Jesus warned them just before our text to avoid the teaching of the Jewish leaders.  They could handle that.  They were on a roll.  The disciples thought that soon the kingdom of heaven would come down to earth.  Jesus would set up his earthly kingdom, and throw off the hated Roman oppression.  The kingdom of David would come back from the ashes.  The Jewish nation would be a world power.

But listen once more to what Jesus tells them from the first verse of our text, 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, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Red Flags Everywhere

Up until this point Jesus used parables, or stories, to explain his ministry and work to the people and his disciples.  But now Jesus told them plainly what would happen.  After the clear confession of faith made by Peter, for the rest of the disciples to hear, the next step was for Jesus to prepare them for his suffering and death.

The disciples probably saw a few red flags flying up.  “What is Jesus thinking?  Things are going so well!  Why speak of death, when he’s curing everyone?!  Jesus doesn’t need to go to Jerusalem.  If he knows people are going to kill him, why go there?”  Peter, the unofficial spokesman of the disciples, understood exactly what Jesus was saying, and he acted on it.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”  Peter was a little more diplomatic than what the English shows, but he thought that Jesus was out of his mind.  Peter along with the rest of the disciples still didn’t fully understand why Jesus had come or what he was doing.  The disciples were looking for an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one.

Many people today still misunderstand why Jesus came or what his purpose was while he was on earth.  If we open a history text book, Jesus will get credit for the Golden Rule and maybe starting Christianity.  Jesus is simply a great teacher, just like Confucius, or a Greek philosopher.  Other religions treat Jesus as only a prophet from God.

The problem that we will focus on today is that many Christians, just like Peter and the rest of the disciples, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, are looking for an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one.  We can also easily slip into this same sinful train of thought.  Take up your cross; follow Jesus.

Get Behind Me

As soon as Peter’s words left his lips, Jesus knew right away what was going on.  “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  Satan was using Peter as his instrument to once again tempt Jesus to sin.  This is why Jesus calls Peter, Satan.  When Jesus calls Peter a stumbling block, he’s calling him a temptation.  Just as he does with us, the devil sets temptation after temptation at Jesus’ feet, in the hopes that he might trip, falling into sin.  We usually only think about the temptation of Jesus when Satan appeared to him in the desert, at the top of the temple, and on a high mountain.  But this instance reminds us that Jesus faced temptation, sometimes from his own disciples, every day of his life, just like we do.

Denial Ain’t Just a River

Jesus knew that all his disciples were confused, not just Peter, so he explains, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  If the disciples wanted to continue to follow Jesus, they would need to deny themselves.  Jesus isn’t talking about going without peanut butter or ice cream as we think of denying ourselves while on a diet.  No, Jesus meant throwing off, denying the sinful self, getting rid of the dead person inside of us that hates God.  By ourselves this is impossible, but by the grace of God every Christian has denied the self and continues to do so every day.  This happened first when we came to faith.  For many of us this was when we were baptized as babies.  For others it was later in life by hearing the word.

The problem that we face is that even though in faith we stand righteous before God, as long as we live on this earth, are covered with sinful flesh, and tempted by the devil.  We will daily deny our old self.  Fighting against sin will be a constant struggle.  Luther said it this way.  We drowned the old sinful self in the waters of baptism, but that old self learned to swim.  There will be a battle inside of us – between the old sinful self and the new person who wants to follow Jesus until the day we die.

The Dear Cross

The next item on Jesus’ list is “take up his cross.”  There are some Christians who believe and teach that once a person becomes a Christian, you will be on a roll the rest of your life.  God is with you and will bless everything you do.  However, these confused Christians run into problems when they take their theory too far.  They think since God blesses Christians in everything they do, Christians will always be successful.  So if you’re not successful, you can’t be a Christian.  Let me give you an example.  If you’re sick or have a disease, and pray to God for healing and recovery, God listens and answers his believers, so God must heal you.  But if God doesn’t heal you, you probably didn’t have a strong enough faith, and you might not be a Christian.  This “success theology” can lead a Christian away from Christ, straight into unbelief and eternal punishment in hell.

The truth is that God doesn’t promise that Christians will be on a roll their whole lives.  Actually the opposite is true.  God promises that we will suffer and be persecuted the rest of our lives.  This suffering and persecution is the Christian’s cross to bear.  To our sinful minds this sounds miserable!  Red flags fly up, just as they did for the disciples.  But even the sufferings and persecutions of this world are blessings from God.  He promises to give us strength to bear our cross.  Remember that God’s goal is to get us to heaven, not to set us on a roll the rest of our days.  Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The Church God Wants – Take Up Its Crosses is the third in our summer sermon series on what God wants to see in a church.