140921 Matthew 16:21-26

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 September 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 16:21-26
Theme: Christianity Comes Down To The Cross

The Christian faith is rich in symbolism. If you want proof, look no farther than this sanctuary. Without a word, Bible doctrines are being taught here. The triangle on the banner over my shoulder represents the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three sides equal three persons. One shape equals one God.

The symbol hanging from the lectern is much smaller, but it is no less significant. The anchor brings to mind last Sunday's sermon and the inspired words of Hebrews that compare our hope to an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (6:19).

Symbols like these are important. They have meaning. They enhance our understanding of God and God's Word. But no image is able to capture the essence of our faith like Christianity's most popular symbol.

We see it when our worship begins and ends. It stands over us at the communion rail and the baptismal font. And it has a permanent home above our altar. Originally this symbol was formed when two pieces of wood were fastened together, but now it is not unusual to see it in gold or silver or polished brass.

The cross is a powerful symbol, but it has no power in and of itself. It is not an idol to be worshiped. It is not a relic to be adored. The cross is important to us only because of what it represents. The cross is something Christians display in their churches and homes because of the world-changing events that took place there.

As Jesus began to prepare his disciples for his suffering and death on Good Friday, he also wanted them to be ready for the hardships they would have to endure as his followers. The words he shared with them serve as a timely reminder for followers of Jesus today.

Our faith, our confidence, our lives in the present, our hope for the future, everything we hold near and dear to us as disciples of Jesus comes down to this...

CHRISTIANITY COMES DOWN TO THE CROSS

I. Christ carried a cross to his death
II. Christians carry a cross in life

Whenever we study the Bible, it is important to consider passages in their context. This principle is especially true for a proper understanding of this text. In the section immediately before it Jesus posed a question to his disciples: "Who do you say I am" (16:15)? Other people were calling him John the Baptist or Elijah or another one of the prophets, but Jesus wanted to know where the disciples stood on the question.

It is not surprising that Peter was the first to answer, but perhaps his answer does come as a bit of a surprise: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16). The disciples who were so often confused were not confused on this point. After spending so much time with Jesus, having seen so many of his miracles, Peter understood who Jesus really was. He was the promised Messiah, the Christ, God's own son.

Jesus was pleased with Peter's response, but he wasn't satisfied. The disciples knew who Jesus was. Now it was time for them to take the next step and learn what he had come to do. "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" (21).

Jesus had made veiled references to his death before, but this was a new revelation. Jesus was giving his disciples a glimpse into the not-so-pleasant future. He was taking them down the road to Calvary. He was showing them the way of the cross. He was laying out the details of God's plan to save the world.

And how did the disciples react? Did they get down on their hands and knees and thank the Lord for this divine revelation? Did they ask questions to make sure they understood what Jesus was saying? Did they just stand there in stunned silence? None of the above.

Instead Peter, the bold confessor, Peter, the one who had just so clearly and beautifully confessed his faith, took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him: "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (22)!

Peter gladly acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God, but death didn't fit into his picture of the Messiah. Peter believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world, but his death would bring everything to a screeching halt. There just had to be another way.

"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'" (23). Wasn't Jesus being a bit harsh? Perhaps Peter was out of line to rebuke him, but was it really necessary for Jesus to equate him with the devil? Yes.

Satan himself had tried to convince Jesus that there was another way. When he tempted Jesus, the devil took him to the top of a high mountain and said: "Jesus, I know you know the difficult road that lies ahead of you, the suffering, the pain, the cross. I have a deal for you. You don't have to go through with it and you can still have it all. All you have to do is bow down and worship me."

Jesus responded directly to this direct attack: "Away from me Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only''" (Matthew 4:10). Satan was defeated, but he didn't give up. He tempted Jesus again and again and again. And sometimes he put on very deceptive disguises.

Peter was not the devil. He was Jesus' disciple. He was Jesus' friend. He had good intentions, but that made his suggestion even more dangerous. And his misguided attempt to keep Jesus from his mission made him an unknowing partner of Satan.

Jesus needed Peter to understand that the cross is not just one possible solution for the problem of sin in the world. The cross is God's only solution. Jesus had to carry his cross to save the world. Jesus had to die on the cross to redeem the world. Peter needed Jesus to die on the cross for his sins. And so do we.

In the first chapter of I Corinthians, Paul wrote: "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (23). Two thousand years have passed since those words were written, but nothing has really changed. Christians continue to preach Christ crucified, and the world continues to reject him.

The world says that it is naive, perhaps even a bit barbaric, to insist that God required his Son to shed blood and die as a payment for sins. And the message of the cross becomes muted. It is just unrealistic to expect people to believe that they are totally helpless and need a Savior. And the message of the cross gets drowned out in a vast sea of religious ideas. It is unpopular (some might add unloving) to take a stand and declare that the way of the cross is the only way to heaven. And the message of the cross sounds like an echo in the distance that gets softer and softer and softer until it is gone.

Satan is alive and well. He has convinced many that the cross is foolishness. He has convinced many others that the cross is meaningless. And he wants to convince you and me that clinging to this outdated and unsophisticated teaching is useless.

So what do we do? We do what Paul did. We preach Christ crucified. We preach Christ crucified because without the cross there is no Christianity. We preach Christ crucified because it is the only message that gives hope. We preach Christ crucified because it is the only message that forgives sin. We preach Christ crucified because it is the only message that saves.

The message of the cross is the Christian's greatest comfort, but that does not mean that Christians will always be comfortable. Because of what we believe, Christians will have to carry their own crosses while they live on earth.

Jesus told his disciples: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (24,25). Jesus said it himself. Jesus' followers carry crosses. So what shape do those crosses take?

The cross does NOT include every challenge or setback that we experience. Some our problems are the direct result of our own sin. Sometimes we have no one to blame but ourselves. A cross is anything that causes a Christian to suffer for the sake of the Savior. It can mean tearing down churches or tearing down reputations. It can be physical or it can be verbal. But no matter what form our crosses take, Jesus tells us that we can expect them.

When the disciples heard this, how do you think they felt? Not what they said. Not the front they tried to put up on the outside. How do you think they really felt on the inside? "Jesus, this is not what I signed up for. I thought that you were going to be the victor, not the victim. And if you are really going to die like you say you are, then what's going to happen to us? I'm not so sure about this anymore. I didn't realize that following Jesus was going to be so hard."

Jesus' disciples had their doubts. And they still do. A Christian employee insists on being ethical in his workplace, and as a result he gets passed over for promotions. A Christian couple decides to save themselves for their wedding night, but instead of being supportive their friends make fun of them. Trying to remain faithful to God and God's Word causes tension even among the members our own family. Add all of these things up and we might begin to wonder: I'm not so sure about this. Why does following Jesus have to be so hard?"

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise to explain why everything happens the way it does, but God's Word does assure us that suffering serves a purpose in the life of a Christian. "Suffering produces, perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3,4).

The Lord allowed his disciples to see that the crosses they carried were not a burden at all. Instead, they were able to rejoice "because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (Acts 5:41). And believers have God's ultimate assurance that no matter what happens "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Through the crosses we bear, we give God glory. Through the crosses we bear on earth, God serves our good. Through the crosses we bear in this life, God prepares us for something far better.

This sermon began with a discussion of Christian symbols. I neglected to mention one symbol that many Lutheran Christians cherish. Perhaps you noticed it as the background on the screen today. Luther's seal is a symbol that communicates the theme of this sermon without a single word.

Martin Luther designed this seal to reflect his theology. Inside of the golden band, inside of the bright blue field, inside of the pure white rose, inside of the blood red heart, at the center of the seal is a single black cross.

For Luther, the cross symbolized sin and forgiveness. For Lutherans, the cross is the symbol of death and life. On the cross, Jesus took your place. On the cross, Jesus took away your sin. Everything we believe, everything we stand for, everything we hope for, the heart and core of our faith comes down to this. Christianity comes down to the cross. Amen.

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