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Christ Makes Us Cross-Bearers in Him

17th Sun. after Pentecost, September 13/16, 2018

Mark 8:27-35  

34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  35 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.

This week I heard a story about a soldier on a battlefield.  The battle is kicking into high gear.  The soldier frantically jumps into the trench as the shells start falling all around him.  He starts grabbing for something anything to help him out as the explosions rock his position.  Suddenly he feels something metal between his fingers.  He grabs it and pulls it up:  a silver cross.  Next thing he knows, someone’s jumping into his trench, an army chaplain.  The soldier tells the chaplain, “I’m glad you’re here!”  Holding up the cross, he asks him, “How do you work this thing?”

Kind of reminds you of Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples here.  As Jesus spoke to them and told them about the cross that He would have to bear, they didn’t know what to do with it.  They didn’t know how to bear what Jesus was telling them.  And yet later on, look what happened.  Each and every one of those disciples, with the exception of Judas, all learned to bear the cross of Christ.  They all learned what Jesus was getting at when He told them that the Son of Man had to suffer.  They didn’t figure it out on their own; it was all the work of Christ for them and in them. 

And He did this not just for the Twelve—but for all of His disciples, even us.  Christ is our all in all.  He is our everything.  He is our life and our salvation.  And because of that, He makes us cross-bearers in Him.      

 

1.  By clearly showing us who He is.

He makes us cross-bearers first by clearly showing us who He is.  That is what He did for His disciples that day.  On that day, Jesus didn’t mince words; He didn’t speak in parables.  He spoke plainly to them about who He was and what He had come to do.  As they walked the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, a city that was the seat of Roman power and might in Palestine, Jesus asked His disciples who everyone else thought He was.  They answered with all the ridiculous rumors:  “John the Baptist,” they said, “but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (v. 28). 

Then Jesus put the question to His disciples personally:  “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered for the entire group when he said, “You are the Christ” (v. 29).  From everything they had seen Jesus do and heard Jesus say, they had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one anointed to save all Israel. 

But that word, “Christ”, Anointed One, it was a loaded word.  For hundreds of years, ever since the kingdom of Judah was hauled off to captivity in Babylon, the Jews had always been ruled by someone else:  the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans.  They’d begun to see the promised Messiah as a political Messiah who would throw off the shackles of outside rulers and restore the kingdom of Israel to her former glory, establishing an earthly kingdom that would last forever.  If they thought Jesus was that kind of Christ, they would try to make Him their king—and in doing that, keep Jesus from completing His mission.  So, that was why Jesus told them not to tell anyone who He was (v. 30). 

And that was also why Jesus went to great trouble to clearly show that He is the Christ—but maybe not the kind of Christ they were expecting.  He starts teaching them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31).  The Christ is anointed—not for glory, but for suffering.  Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 point to the kind of suffering that the Messiah would face, how His clothes would be divided up before Him, how He would be pierced for our transgressions and carry in Himself all our iniquities.  How the punishment that brought us peace with God was upon Him—and by His wounds we are healed.  To be the Christ means to be the One who bears the cross.

Frankly, it’s something most people don’t understand:  why would the promised Savior of the world choose to suffer?  That’s what Peter didn’t get at the time.  He took Jesus aside to quiet Him down (v. 32), basically saying, “Don’t worry, Jesus, our Messiah’s not going to suffer; just put it out of your mind.”  Human beings naturally connect God only with the good things in life, with success, good health, prosperity, and happiness.  People think God’s working in your life only when good things are happening.  How many times have you heard someone say, “If God is such a loving and caring God, then why does He allow people to go through a hurricane?  Or why does He allow children to starve in Africa?  Why does He allow so much suffering in the world?”  And the truth is you and I can’t figure it out either.  Our problem is often the same as Peter’s. 

Remember what Jesus said to him?  “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 33).  For Peter those words had to sting.  But this was how Jesus ultimately made Peter into a cross-bearer—by clearly showing Him who He is. 

It’s how He made us cross-bearers too.  By His cross, He has clearly shown us who He is, the kind of Savior He is.  That He is the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God in human flesh.  And at the same time, He has shown Himself to be a Christ who was willing to suffer for us and our salvation.  A Christ who hides His glory in weakness and pain.  A Christ who wins—not by a flashy battlefield victory, but by laying down His life as a sacrifice for us all. 

And knowing that is what makes us cross-bearers in Christ—people who bear the cross of Christ in this world of suffering.  We don’t have all the answers.  But we know that if Jesus was willing to suffer for us, He’s also willing to be with us in our suffering too.  This week was the 9/11 anniversary again—people think about the horrible suffering of that day.  Yet one of the most powerful stories of that day was when rescue workers digging through the rubble found six huge steel crosses that had been formed by the collapse.  In that moment, all of them stopped to pray.  For them it was a reminder that, even in the midst of all the carnage, God was right there with them, working to heal the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds (Ps 147:3).  And that’s the comfort we can share when someone we love is hurting.  We can bring the cross of Jesus to bear and point to His great love and mercy.           

 

2.  By clearly showing us how to follow Him. 

And as we carry the cross of Christ in our lives, it changes us.  It changes how we look at things; it changes what we do.  As our all in all, Christ makes us cross-bearers in Him also by clearly showing us how to follow Him. 

Jesus wasn’t finished speaking openly about the cross.  After scolding Peter, He gathered the crowd together with His disciples and told them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (v. 34).  If you want to bear the cross of Christ, then you need to pick up and carry your own cross. 

So, what is your cross?  Well, your cross is anything that you suffer on account of being a believer in Christ, for bearing Christ’s cross in your life.  Sometimes it takes the form of persecution—being ridiculed for actually believing in Jesus!  But more often your cross isn’t going to come from outside; it’s going to come from inside.  A cross isn’t something that happens to you; it’s a choice that involves following Christ—doing His will.  The crosses you carry are inward struggles.  It’s the struggle to change the channel on the T.V. when something bad comes on instead of thinking, “Oh, well, this stuff is normal.”  It’s the struggle to stand up for what’s right, instead of giving in because “it’s hard” or “It won’t do any good anyway.”  The struggle to speak well of your boss—even though your boss is a jerk.  The struggle to tell someone about Jesus—even though your mind can come up with 30 reasons not to.  It’s the struggle to say no to yourself—and yes to Jesus. 

Christ makes us cross-bearers in Him by showing us exactly what following Him is all about.  To lift that heavy cross—it’s hard!  To bear the cross is to suffer and fail time and time again.  We often stumble and fall under the weight of it.  And yet, it’s worth it!  “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (v. 35). If all you care about is this life, then, well, you can have it—but that’s all you’re going to have.  But for those who by faith choose to bear the cross—His cross as well as our own—Jesus makes this promise:  Remain faithful to Him unto death, and Jesus says, “I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).  Your life will be saved eternally—not because you suffered, but because He suffered and died for you.  You will be saved—not because you carried your cross, but because you’re following in faith the one who carried His cross perfectly to save you.  You will rise from the grave and have eternal life—because Jesus Himself died and then rose again, having won your place in God’s eternal family.

That’s the beauty of the cross of Christ.  There’s no secret to making it work.  It works all on its own to forgive us when we fall, to comfort us in times of grief and suffering, and to give us the hope of everlasting life—all for the sake of the One who bore it.  As we carry Christ’s cross in faith, by the Spirit’s power, Christ helps us to carry our own crosses, fighting our battles—leading us to eternal victory.  Amen.           

Christ Has Done All Things Well

16th Sun. after Pentecost, September 9, 2018

NKJV Mark 7:31-37  

37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

I recently read about George[1].  George had been deaf from birth.  His parents would take him to church when he was growing up, but he never understood what was going on.  Think about it.  Pastor would get up and talk.  Then they’d pass the collection plate, and pastor would talk again, usually with a big smile on his face.  Nobody at church knew sign language; there was no interpreter.  So, the only real lasting impression he had about church was that the preacher’s job was to make money from the people.  Well, because of his negative experience, George wanted nothing to do with Jesus and His church. 

Around the world there are some 360 million people who have disabling hearing loss. Out of that vast number, only 2% of the them are Christians.  Why?  For some it’s because of experiences like George’s; but it’s also because people who are deaf or hard of hearing live a pretty isolated life.  The rest of us don’t know sign language well enough to communicate, let alone to share with them the truths of God’s Word.  The world of the Deaf is a vast mission field, full of people who need to know their Lord and Savior.    

In your lifetime you’re likely to meet at least one person who is totally deaf or hard of hearing.  What are you going to say?  What are you going to do?  Last week we emphasized how Christ is our all in all because of our weakness; but today, we focus on Christ’s strength.  As we see His encounter with a deaf man, we’re reminded that Christ is our all in all—for He has done all things well

 

  1. Through His compassionate care.

Christ has done all things well through His compassionate care.  Jesus had just arrived in the region of the Decapolis, by the Sea of Galilee, when, suddenly, a crowd came to see Him.  And they’d brought a man with them “who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech” (v. 32)—a man who was unable to either hear or talk.  They were pleading earnestly with Jesus, begging Him “to put His hand on him” (v. 32). 

So what did Jesus do?  He did all things well!  He showed an uncommon level of care and compassion in answering the prayers of the crowd. 

First of all, Jesus stops what He’s doing and takes the man aside, away from the crowd (v. 33).  He gave the man His undivided attention, not to mention a little privacy and dignity.  But also in doing so Jesus took away all the visual distractions that would have kept the man from understanding what Jesus was up to. 

Next, Mark says that Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, and then He spit and touched his tongue (v. 33).  He was engaging in some basic sign language.  Put yourself in the man’s shoes; he might have had no idea what Jesus was up to.  At least, now he knew what Jesus intended to do.  He was essentially telling the man, “I’m going to unstop your ears and loosen your tongue.”  But the sign language didn’t stop there.  Jesus also looked up to heaven and “sighed” (v. 34), showing the man where his help would be coming from—from heaven, from God, and that it’s the kind of help people pray for. 

And then, after taking all this time and giving the man all this attention, Jesus healed him!  Totally and completely by the power of His Word, “Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly” (v. 35).  Christ has done all things well!    

Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus showed everyone that level of compassionate care?  What would you say if I said, “He does”?  It doesn’t always seem that way, though, does it?  It’s tempting for us to look at people who have hearing loss or other disabilities and think that maybe God has made a mistake, or that He doesn’t care about those people as much.  But the truth is that Jesus shows this amazing level of care and compassion to all of us—no matter who we are, no matter whether we can hear or not.  There are about 7.5 billion people in the world today, and yet Jesus assures us that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mt 10:30).  Do you think someone who takes the time to know you that well—to number all the hairs on your head—doesn’t love you?  You have HIs undivided attention.  He listens to all your prayers.  He shares with you in the pages of His Word His promise of deliverance.  And then—He keeps His promise!  He delivers—sometimes even immediately!  Christ has done all things well—no one cares more compassionately for us! 

And when we encounter someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, we want to bring that person to Jesus, to know that compassion for themselves.  So how do we do it?  By reflecting Christ’s compassionate care.  It starts with communicating.  You may know someone at work who is deaf, or there’s somebody in the family.  Or maybe it’s more than one!  Maybe it’s your neighbor or a person you meet at a restaurant.  Be willing to take the time to communicate with that person.  You can learn sign language if you want, but it doesn’t even have to be that complicated.  Smile.  Pass notes on paper.  Send text messages.  Sincerely build a relationship with this person, and then as the Spirit leads, tell them about Jesus.  Connect that person with Christ in His Word.  Bring them to church.  Share printed copies of the sermon—that’s why they’re here!  If you don’t know a deaf person, maybe you want to support the ministry of those who serve the deaf and hard of hearing with God’s Word.  One way to do that is to look at the work our sister synod the WELS is doing with their Mission to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.      

 

  1. Through His almighty power. 

Christ is our all in all.  We have total confidence in bringing people to Him as our Lord who does all things well—not only according to His compassion, but also according to His almighty power.  Power to open ears to ear and mouths to speak. 

With just one Aramaic word, “Ephphatha,” the miracle was immediate.  The deaf man’s ears were opened and tongue was loosened.  The man who couldn’t hear now heard everything; the man who could barely utter any syllables was now speaking clearly in complete sentences.  It was the almighty power of God’s Word.  Only God could heal a man’s deafness with one word.  Only God’s Word could set a man free from a life of silence and isolation.

And yet, Jesus didn’t want word of this to get out; He forbid them from speaking about it.  Why?  Because He wanted to put that almighty power to use for the good of all people.  And He didn’t want anything to get in the way of that.   

That’s because Jesus had a bigger goal than just healing a few people’s diseases and disabilities.  He wanted to go after death itself.  Death touches every aspect of life on this earth.  And yet, we don’t just die overnight.  It comes after us piece by piece.  Death is ultimately what takes away not only hearing, but all our senses—sight, taste, smell, touch.  And so Jesus, in His care and compassion for the whole human race, chose to exercise His almighty power to defeat death.  How?  By carrying in Himself all our infirmities—all our illnesses, all our disabilities—as He went to the cross.  There, at the cross, Jesus defeated death once and for all.  There, at the cross, He put to death all our infirmities.  He died and rose again—and because He lives, He will someday grant all of us the same kind of healing He gave this man.  We will have perfect bodies with perfect ears and perfect mouths, bodies that will never be corrupted by sin and death, bodies that will live in peace and joy with Jesus forever.  Christ has done all things well! 

And yet there was another miracle Jesus did that day.  He didn’t just open the ears and mouth of the deaf man.  He also opened the ears and mouths of everyone who saw it and heard about.  It was another miracle of the almighty power of God’s Word.  Their ears were opened to hear the good news about Jesus and put their faith in Him.  Their mouths were opened to proclaim the wonders that Jesus had done.  The more Jesus told them to be quiet, the more they spoke up!  Because they were astonished “beyond measure”.  And in their astonished amazement at the Son of God, they couldn’t help themselves.  They had to tell everyone:  “He has done all things well.  He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v. 37).

Hasn’t Christ opened our own ears and mouths the same way?  James tells us that, “He brought us forth by the word of truth” (Ja 1:18).  By the power of His Word, He has called us to faith in Him and in His promises.  And by the power of that same Word, He still opens our mouths—to be able to share the good news of what Jesus has done.  And that is why we want to bring all of our friends to Jesus—deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise.  Since He’s opened our hearts by His Word, we trust He can—and will—do the same for them too. 

 

As our all in all, Christ has done all things well.  And may His powerful, compassionate Word help us to overcome all things to bring more and more souls into His kingdom.  Amen. 

 

[1] Not his real name.

We're Dirtier Than We Think

NKJV - Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23  

14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand:  15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man...

21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

 

I’d like to begin by having you do something for me.  I’d like you to shake hands with the person sitting next to you.  It’s a pleasurable experience shaking hands, isn’t it?  A couple of statistics for you.  First of all, around the world four out of five people don’t wash their hands when they’re coming out of the bathroom.  How does that make you feel about the person sitting next to you?  You hear a stat like that and it instantly makes you worry about the contamination you’re getting from other people.  But there’s another fact you need to know.  Each of you have 3600 bacteria living on your own hands.  You can’t see them, but they’re there.  Forget everyone else’s—your hands are dirtier than you think!  

Now I’m not trying to worry you.  In America we have a good hand-washing culture.  And washing our hands with soap is pretty easy.  It only takes a minute or two and you get rid of a lot of those germs. 

But there are other parts of our lives that are not so easy to clean.  Our lives are still defiled by our many sins.  What can we do to get rid of them?  When it comes to sin, we need to see that Christ is our all in all—because, like the unseen germs on our hands, we are “dirtier” than we think

 

  1. The problem is more than just “surface dirt.”

We are “dirtier” than we think because the problem is more than just “surface dirt.”  That’s how we human beings tend to look at sin, isn’t it?  It’s a “surface dirt” problem.  We think of sin as things like using bad language or taking God’s name in vain, engaging in violence and murder, eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, stealing, viewing porn, sex outside of marriage.  And we figure if we can avoid doing all those things, we’ll be able to keep ourselves clean.  We even come up with little rules to help us avoid doing some of these things.  We tell ourselves things like, “I will wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom.”  We may even get to the point where we start to feel good about ourselves.  “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not like those four out of five people that don’t wash their hands coming out of the bathroom.”  We even get to the point where we stop worrying about our own sin and are only concerned with everyone else’s sin, as though the world’s moral filth is somehow going to rub off on us.    

Well, that’s where the Pharisees were at.  The Pharisees and the scribes basically believed that sin was only a “surface dirt” problem—a problem of outward behavior.  And they thought they had sin whipped.  They had even instituted a whole system of rules—“the tradition of the elders”—to make sure that they wouldn’t be tainted by sin.  One of these rules was this handwashing ritual, where, after an afternoon of buying and selling in the market, you’d come home, and before you did anything else, you’d stop at a water jar by the door, dip your hands in up over your wrists, and ceremonially wash off all the uncleanness and sin you picked up from the world.  This practice was so ingrained that, when they saw Jesus’ disciples eating bread without washing first, they found fault with them and with Jesus (v. 2).  They even asked Jesus about it: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” (v. 5). 

And this was how Jesus answered:  “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (v. 6-7).  He called them hypocrites!  The religious leaders of Israel!  And yet it was true!  They thought they were holy—but they were really living a lie.  Instead of listening to God’s Word and trusting in His promises, they had idolized their system of man-made rules.    

Jesus gathered the crowd and set the record straight.  He said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him” (v. 15).  All the evil that you see in the world, all the adultery, the homosexuality, the violence, the general moral uncleanness of society—none of it can make you dirty in and of itself.  But “the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man… For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these things come from within and defile a man” (v. 15, 21-23).  Sin is more than just “surface dirt.”  Sin—the thing that defiles us and makes us unclean in God’s sight, that condemns us before God as people who deserve nothing but hell—it doesn’t come from outside of us, but “from within”, from our own hearts. 

When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then afterword had her husband killed, it wasn’t because of his upbringing.  It wasn’t because adultery and murder were so prevalent in his society.  It was because he was following the sinful desires of his own heart.  In Jeremiah 17:9 we’re told that the heart is deceitful above all things.    

So, instead of being so focused on what other people are doing, let’s put our own hearts under the microscope.  When you look at your heart, what do you see?  Do we see the lust in our hearts when we find ourselves looking at an attractive member of the opposite sex?  Do you see the rage and hatred that flashes when you find out someone’s been talking about you behind your back?  Do we really see that green monster of envy rearing its ugly head when we learn about our co-worker’s promotion?  Do we see that God’s Word judges our thoughts just as much as our actions, that he who hates his brother is a murderer—and that no murderer has eternal life in him (1 Jn 3:15)?  The Pharisees wanted clean hands because they convinced themselves that following these rules would keep them from sinning.  Yet all the rule-following in the world didn’t allow them to see their own growing hatred for Jesus—hatred… that finally ended… in murder.  If you don’t pay attention to the sin in your heart, that sin eventually comes out.

Yet a funny thing happens when you put your heart under the microscope.  You begin to realize that your sin is more than just “surface dirt.”  You begin to see just how much evil actually lives in your own heart—that it’s worse than you thought.  That we are “dirtier” than we think

 

  1. The solution is a cleansing only God can give.

Hand washing is important; yet it’s also true that no matter how long or how hard you scrub, no matter what kind of soap you use, you will never get all the germs off your hands.  It’s the same with the sinful thoughts and desires that live in our hearts.  No matter what we do, we’ll never be able to get rid of all of them.  Yet that’s exactly why Christ is our all in all.  We’re led to realize that the solution to our “dirtiness” is a cleansing only God can give.  

We’re dirtier than we thought.  We can’t get rid of every evil thought or desire.  And there’s no rule we can follow that will purify our hearts.  The only solution is the cleansing that God has given in His Son Jesus Christ.  As true man and true God, Jesus’ entire life, even His thoughts, remained pure and holy.  When the Pharisees and scribes nailed Jesus to the cross, He wasn’t thinking of how He could worm His way out; He wasn’t even fantasizing about how He was going to get even.  His only thought was, “Father, forgive them.”  And by sacrificing His perfect life, Jesus paid the price of hell for all our uncleanness, including every dirty, evil, sinful thought we’ve ever had.  By Christ’s dying and rising from the dead, God has wiped away the filth of all our sins. 

You received God’s cleansing at the waters of your baptism, when Christ Himself removed your dead, sinful heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26).  He put His Holy Spirit inside you, to make your heart captive to the Word of God, so that your heart isn’t just confronted with the law of God, it’s also comforted with the good news of His grace and love.  The comfort that still has the power to cleanse your heart from sin’s guilt and power, every time you hear it.     

There’s nothing wrong with setting some rules and living by them; we all do it.  But at the same time, it’s important to remember that these rules aren’t going to save you.  One day you are going to wind up breaking them.  A day will come when you don’t “wash your hands”—either the soap will be out, the phone will ring, or you will just plain forget.  And if all you have are rules, then you lose out on the comfort of the gospel.  We’re dirtier than we think.  The answer isn’t to come up with another rule to hide behind.  Instead, confess the sin—whether it’s a sin in your heart or a sin in your life.  Take it to Jesus.  Let Him give you the cleansing that only He can give, the cleansing of His forgiveness, the cleansing that enables you to walk in newness of life.  Let Him cleanse your heart—and in turn, your life—by the power of His love. 

Hands washed with soap saves lives here and now.  But hearts washed with the cleansing blood of Jesus saves our lives for all eternity.  Amen.

Be Imitators of God

 

Take Private Time with Jesus

Mark 6:30-34

30 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.

33 But [a]the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.

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