************ Sermon on Luke 9:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 22, 2016
"Taking Up the Cross"
After hearing the story of Jesus, a pagan king asked to be baptized. Just as he was about to kneel at the font, he asked the missionary where his dead parents were. "In hell," was the missionary's reply. "Then I prefer to be with my parents when I die," declared the king as he hurried away from the baptismal service.This story reminds us of what Jesus said about not loving father and mother and home and country more than we love Him. It reminds us that there is a cost to following Jesus. It reminds us that if you are not willing to pay the cost then you had best not follow Jesus.
Too often, my brothers and sisters, we don't realize the consequences of following Jesus. For instance, we praise those who make Public Profession of Faith as though they have already crossed the finish line; in fact, they are only at the beginning of the race. Or, we think that following Jesus is like a walk around the block or a stroll through the park; instead, it is more like a roller derby! We tend to forget or ignore stuff like this.
Take a look at what happens in our Scripture reading. "Who do you say I am?" asked Jesus. "The Christ of God," answered Peter (Lk 9:20). You would expect Jesus to praise Peter for this profession. But this is not what happens at all. Instead, Jesus issues a warning! And, He says the words of our text:
(Lk 9:23) If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.I am sure the Lord was happy about Peter's statement. But Jesus also wanted His disciples to understand the cost of following Him.
As we look at these words of Christ we need to ask the what, who, why, how, and when.
I What is the Cross?
A Our first question concerns the what. What is this cross that Jesus is speaking of? After Good Friday, Luke's audience knows exactly what these words mean. Jesus is talking about Calvary. Jesus is talking about persecution, pain, suffering, and death.
Think of the cross of Christ. On the cross, Christ suffered unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul. On the cross Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.
So when Jesus speaks of the cross, He is speaking of something awful and terrifying.
B Now, what is the cross-bearing Jesus speaks about to His disciples? We need to keep in mind the words of Peter:
(1 Pet 4:1) Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude ...According to Peter, Christians can expect to suffer even as Christ suffered.
(1 Pet 4:13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ ...
We know that Luke's gospel was written during the time of Nero's reign as Caesar. During Nero's reign, Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith. I've told you before of all that Nero did to believers:
-Christians were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake
-Christians were dipped in tar and set alight as living torches
-Christians were sewed in the skins of wild animals and torn to death by hunting dogs
-Christians were tortured on the rack
-parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes
Hebrews sums up the suffering of the saints this way:
(Heb 11:36-38) Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (37) They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- (38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.These are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ. This is the cross-bearing that Jesus has in mind for His disciples and followers.
We see this in baptism this morning. Baptism symbolizes many things, such as the washing away of our sin, new birth, and being joined to Christ. It is also a sign of our burial with Christ, our participation in His suffering and death. To be a Christian is not only to be united with Christ in His resurrection; it is also to be united with Him in His pain and agony and suffering. It is to experience the same rejection of men that He experienced.
C The worldly man or woman interprets the words of our text literally. When they hear Jesus speak of taking up one's cross they think of a piece of jewelry, an ornament, a decoration. I see all sorts of people wearing crosses -- whether they belong to Jesus or not. But this is not what Jesus means by the cross. Luke's audience knew what Jesus meant: the ancient equivalent of the electric chair, the gallows, the most cruel punishment the world has devised, a form of horrible torture used only for the worst of criminals.
D The expression "carry one's cross" has come to be used for any kind of suffering we are called upon to endure whether it is physical pain, ache, or deformity. This tells me that many Christians do not understand or misinterpret what Jesus says.
The Apostle Paul, for instance, speaks a couple of times about the thorn in his flesh -- some sort of physical or emotional affliction that tormented him (2 Cor 12:7). But that was not Paul's cross. His cross was the humiliation, the pain, the suffering he endured for the sake of Christ. He talks about this cross when he says:
(2 Cor 11:24-27) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
The cross we are called to bear, dear people, is not arthritis, poor eyesight or deafness. It is not cancer, diabetes, a cold or flu. It is not a personal disability or a disabled child. It is not an unhappy marriage. It is not an unemployed husband. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, He is not referring to "ordinary" suffering, the kind of tribulations that afflict Christians and non-Christians alike. Instead, what is meant is suffering that has to do with our relationship to Christ. Let me emphasize this: the cross we Christians are called to bear is suffering because of our relationship to and with Christ.
II Who Bears the Cross?
A Our second question concerns the who. Jesus said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23).
Who bears this cross? Was it, is it, only a select few? We know Jesus was talking to His disciples. Consider, for a moment, what happened to them:
Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword in Ethiopia.Each of the apostles had to deny themselves and take up a cross.
Mark perished at Alexandria, after being cruelly dragged through its streets.
Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in Greece.
John was put in a pot of boiling oil and was afterward exiled to Patmos.
Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty point of the temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
Bartholomew was whipped to death.
Andrew was bound to a cross until he died.
Thomas was run through the body with a lance in the East Indies.
Jude was shot to death with arrows.
Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.
Barnabas was stoned to death at Salonica.
Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.
B Is Jesus talking only to the apostles? No. He is talking to you and me and everyone else who professes their faith. To everyone who believes Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23).
Usually we aren't told this when we first become a Christian. When first faced with the Christian religion we are told that Jesus died for our sins and that we are to believe in Him; but no one may have told us that following Jesus means denying ourselves and taking up a cross.
Many today preach a Gospel of success: "Follow Jesus," they say, "and yours will be success, prosperity, fame, freedom, a great marriage, and a wonderful family!" Who can ignore a come-on like this? Jesus, however, makes no such promises; He wants people to follow Him, but He also wants them to know that following Him means self-denial and a cross.
C Self-denial and a cross. To our self-indulgent culture this sounds odd, something that happens overseas or in a third-world country. It doesn't happen to us here in America, does it?! Jesus' point is that it does. Everyone who has a relationship with Jesus -- the disciples, the first century believers, Christians in the Middle East and China, you, me -- can expect and should expect this. I think of what Paul writes to Timothy:
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...I think also of the words of Jesus to His disciples:
(Jn 15:18-19) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (19) If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
Jesus teaches us this morning that if we are faithful the world will sooner or later offer us a cross to bear. Just as Christians are in the business of following Jesus so the world is in the business of offering crosses. Or, as Daniel Berrigan once said, "If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood."
Clarence Jordan was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister's church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.
As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.
"That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars," the minister said with a satisfied smile.
"You got cheated," said Jordan. "Times were when Christians could get them for free."
Do you follow Jesus? Are you thinking of following Jesus? Let me tell you, it is costly to follow Christ -- it is going to cost you self-denial and a cross.
III Why Take Up the Cross?
Knowing this, why would anyone even want to be a Christian? Knowing this, why would the disciples or you or me even bother to profess Christ? That's our third question. Jesus answers this:
(Lk 9:24) For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
(Lk 9:26) If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
This does not teach a work's righteousness. The clear teaching of Scripture is that we are saved by grace through faith.
However, Jesus tells us that those who follow Him take up the cross. Jesus tells us it is a case of life everlasting or death everlasting; it is a case of Christ acknowledging you or Christ denying you. At stake is your soul and my soul.
It is costly to follow Christ -- self-denial and a cross -- but it is even more costly not to follow Him. That's the message we are all to hear this morning.
IV How Take Up the Cross?
A Our fourth question concerns the how. How are we to take up the cross? What does Jesus have in mind?
First of all, let me tell how we are not to take up the cross. We are not to seek the cross; we are not to have a martyr's complex. There are some Christians who go out of their way getting a reaction from the world; they are loud and obnoxious and pushy about their faith. When the world reacts to their behavior these Christians think they are bearing a cross; but they aren't. They are simply reaping the results of their own personality. The cross they are bearing is not Christ's but their own.
B How, then, are we to bear our cross? Listen to what Paul and Peter says:
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...As I said earlier, the cross we bear is because of our relationship to Jesus Christ. Cross-bearing is the result when we do good and live holy lives for the sake of Christ. Cross-bearing is the result when we testify to Jesus in a godless and immoral world.
(1 Peter 3:17) It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
V When to Take Up the Cross?
Our fifth question concerns the when. Listen again to the words of our text: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). Did you notice when we are to take up the cross and follow Him? We are to do it daily. Every day we are to take up the cross and follow Him. This is not a one time event, an occasional thing. This is not something we do just at Lent or when we remember World Hunger. This is something we do and are called to do continually. Every day we are to live for Jesus and be ready to suffer on His behalf. This does not necessarily mean we will suffer every day. But we must be prepared .
Are you a follower of Jesus? If you are, expect to take up a cross.
I you aren't, it sounds terrible to take up a cross but the result of eternal death is far worse.
I invite you, congregation, to follow Jesus but expect to deny yourself and take up a cross.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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