Pentecost 13 – "The Things of God" – Matthew 16:21-28 – 9/3/17


sermon-9-3-17

Your Leader must be rejected by all, suffer many things and be killed in the most humiliating way, and if you want to be a ‘follower,’ you must deny yourself and remain faithful to Him and follow Him even if it costs you your life – which it most certainly will.

6a00d83451dcd469e201bb0924cbb8970dNow there’s a religion that’s never going to amount to anything.

No wonder Peter pulls Jesus aside for a little counseling. He thinks that Jesus has lost His mind and Peter is just the man to help Him find it. “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Peter had just correctly answered Jesus’ big question, like if you don’t get this one right none of the rest matters, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a trick question. A ‘trick’ question because Jesus already knows that NOBODY knows the answer to this question. Everyone always gets this one wrong. The only way anyone will ever answer this question CORRECTLY is if someone gives you the correct answer.

Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “And Jesus answered him, ‘blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven.”

But now the Christ, the Son of the living God, needs to be corrected. The heavenly Father may be ‘inerrant,’ but evidently, the Son of the living God not so much. If the “Father who is in heaven” revealed to Peter, Jesus’ true identity, then maybe He also revealed Jesus’ faults to Peter. “He takes things a little too seriously sometimes.”

Or maybe Peter was just responding to Jesus’ announcement like any of us would – AND DO. Who actually believes that God, IF HE REALLY IS GOD, would actually call it a matter of DIVINE NECESSITY that He be rejected, suffer and die in order to carry out His purposes for coming into this world? And who in their right mind would ever say, ‘now that’s the kind of God I want to trust my whole life to?’

We’re all theologians to one degree or another and we all have certain EXPECTATIONS based on our BELIEFS about what God is like and the way God carries out His work in this world and in my life – and although we all have DIFFERENT BELIEFS and EXPECTATIONS OF GOD – on this we all agree, “the message of the cross is folly….” (1 Cor. 1:18)

God, IF HE IS REALLY GOD, works in power and glory and success – and rewards all those who follow Him with power and glory and success – and who follows Him more faithfully than “the Son of the living God”? “SON OF GOD” and “SUFFERING AND DEATH” simply do not fit together. Surely what Jesus meant to say is that He is going to Jerusalem to establish His Kingdom and claim His rightful place as the new David, even the Son of David, to bring prosperity and success and to make Israel great again. (Sorry.)

Sigmund Freud said that all religion is ‘wishful thinking, born from man’s need to make his helplessness tolerable.’ Maybe so. But if so, what are we to make of this thing called ‘CHRISTIANITY’ with its claims that God carries out His gracious and loving work in this world through rejection, suffering and death – and NOT APART FROM IT.

Who would ever have conceived of a religion as ridiculous as this one that has at its very core, the rejection and suffering and death of its Lord as the only hope this world has?

And that is at least part of the point. The central event of Christianity is too offensive and runs too sharply against the grain of human reason to ever have been conceived by man. If you want a religion that is ‘reasonable’ and runs at least somewhat parallel to you’d expect a REAL RELIGION to look like, that is, OF THE THINGS OF MAN, you should consider Islam or Buddhism or Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unitarianism.

The Muslims have a high place of honor for Jesus but completely reject the thought that He was crucified – how ridiculous. Buddhism and Hinduism have carefully mapped out ways for you to reach Nirvana with no ‘word of the cross’ for either leader or follower. The Buddha’s crossed legs and folded arms and wisp of a smile is far more sensible and appealing than the outstretched and tortured figure hanging from a cross to the mocking ridicule from men and the sound of silence from the Father in heaven.

Who builds their trust and hope and confidence for life and salvation on “the stone that the builders rejected”?

Peter’s response to Jesus’ perfectly natural. In the words of one theologian, ‘we all want a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (H. Richard Niebuhr)

What Jesus is proposing both for Himself and for His followers is ‘scandalous’ to people who live in a culture that’s all about doing what ‘feels good,’ and who expect that God, IF THERE REALLY IS A GOD, is there to help them achieve ‘their best life now’ which whatever that is, certainly does not include “denying oneself and taking up my cross.”

Isn’t this the reason that we’re so confused about how to tell others about Jesus? Dare we tell them that He is the ‘rejected,’ ‘suffering,’ ‘crucified’ One who says “if anyone would come after me let him take up his cross and follow me…”? No, who would ever say, ‘that’s just what I’m looking for in a religion. How do I sign up?’

So we say that if they will follow Jesus, He’ll make them happy and fix all their problems – whether we really believe it or not, because the truth is just too absurd.

Isn’t this why people walk away from their baptism? They just didn’t get anything POSITIVE out of it. It didn’t do anything for them. When they really needed Him, He let them – He didn’t do what He should have done if He is REALLY GOD and REALLY GOOD.

We all have our minds set on THE THINGS OF MAN and NOT THE THINGS OF GOD – whose mind is set on going to Jerusalem to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribers, and be killed, AND ON THE THIRD DAY BE RAISED.

Peter was so shocked by the first part of this announcement that he never heard the bit about “the third day be raised.” And neither did the others. But even if they had heard it, it wouldn’t have made any more sense to them than the bit about rejection, suffering and death, because these things are also “not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father who is in heaven.”

And that is precisely what “my Father who is in heaven” did on the 3rd day. He raised His rejected, suffered and crucified Son from the dead and crowned Him “with all glory and honor and dominion and authority before all time and now and forever.” (Jude 25)

God has turned the tables on PETER and the ELEVEN and ON US ALL. He has done a NEW THING. An UNHEARD OF THING. A completely UNEXPECTED THING. “The stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

Of all the scandalous and offensive things, this one tops the cake. GOD HAS VINDICATED the One who WE REJECTED. GOD HAS DONE THINGS GOD’S WAY. And in so doing He has pulled the mask off of our way and revealed it for what it truly is – the things of man and not of God.

We wanted to make God in our image – our fallen and dying image. But He has exposed all of our false gods for what they truly are – the things of man and not of God. He has become the great ‘stumbling block’ and CRISIS for all of us who refuse to consider that maybe, just maybe, the things of God are actually “the way and the truth and the life” after all.

Which may at least partially explain why these disciples of Jesus were more frightened than joyful when they heard the Easter news from the women that He was alive. What will it mean for all who COUNSELED Him and REJECTED Him and SUFFERED Him and CRUCIFIED Him when “he comes with his angels in the glory of his father to repay each person according to what he has done”?

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” With that little word, “anyone,” Jesus places US squarely with Peter and the eleven who rebuked the Lord for not doing His job the way we think it should be done.

Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and He has done the DIVINELY NECESSARY THING to rescue and deliver you from sin and death and the devil – and redeem you and make you His own – and bring you to His Father in heaven to present you to Him as His precious bride “in splendor without spot or wrinkle – holy and without blemish.” (Eph.5:28)

He entered into our ‘rejection’ and ‘suffering’ and ‘death’ that we, by our sin of worshipping the ‘things of man’ above the “things of God” deserve. He owned it all as though it were all His – because you are His.

So, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Face it. God’s ways are not our ways. Its time to stop trying to force the “things of man” onto God. Be done with it. The game is over. Give up.

There is nothing left for you to cling to but Him. Whatever the folly of the cross is, it’s now your folly and you’re the fool who delights in your foolish Lord.

As absurd as it sounds, your greatest delight is in knowing that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I, with all of my false hopes in all of my false gods, who live, but Christ, the ‘rejected, suffering, crucified and risen Christ, who lives in me. And the life I now life I live by faith, not in the ‘things of man,’ but in the Son of God who whole loved me and gave himself from me.” (Gal.2:20)

Today, the rejected, suffered, crucified and risen Lord comes to you, not in glory but hidden under bread and wine, to “repay you,” not “according to what you have done,” but “according to what He has done for you.” “Take and eat, this is my body.” “Take and drink, this is my blood.” These are the “things of God and not of man.” So even if you were to “taste death” today, you have “seen the Son of Man come into His kingdom.”

This is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost and our gospel reading opened with these words from St. Matthew, “From that time Jesus BEGAN to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

This is just the BEGINNING. We have 13 more Sunday’s to go in this journey with St. Matthew, and a lot to learn along the way.

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