To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory forever and ever, Amen.
Have you ever had one of those days where everything seemed to be against you? My wife and I were once watching a parenting presentation and the presenter said that every family should go camping. And why? Because he said that camping is like planned difficulties. When you go camping inevitably things go wrong, but you kind of expect it because it’s camping and those difficulties bring you together as a family. I think it’s true. A number of years ago my parents graciously gave us their pop-up camper, which my dad’s parents had given to them. It’s a 1974 camper that’s been in my family for 3 generations now. So, we’ve used it to go camping a number of times and every time we have problems. Once we were up all night because the racoons had discovered how to open and close our cooler and all night we heard our cooler open and close as the raccoons kept stealing our food. Another time we were in northern Minnesota and mosquitos found every hole in the canvass and ate us alive while we slept. Another time we finally got the kids to bed and Katie and I climbed on to our mattress and after a few moments we discovered there must have been a leak in the camper and our mattress was completely soaked, so we slept (or tried to sleep) in water the whole night and got up drenched in the morning. Camping is like planned disaster and difficulty.
But has life ever felt that way for you? Has it ever felt like it doesn’t matter what you do everything seems to be going against you? Life is going against you? Yes, there are reprieves, yes there are moments when everything is right, but so often things aren’t going the way that you want or expect? How do you handle these things?
Well, here in our text, Jesus pretty much tells us, “Guess what, if you want to follow me, if you want to be my disciple, if you want to walk with me, life is going to be against you every day.” You’re going to be in a battle, in a struggle every day.
Sounds really encouraging doesn’t it? Should I just say, “Amen” here and leave you with that? No, no, no. Yes, this world is a struggle, yes life will be against us, but look at what Jesus gives us here – it’s everything we need to live life in this world not with doom and gloom, but with confidence and peace and joy. How so? Here Jesus gives us four things: His identity, His mission, Our identity, Our mission.
First, His identity. The word about Jesus has been spreading. People have been talking about him and what he’s been doing. So, when Jesus has his disciples alone, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” What are people saying about who I am? What do people say my identity is? “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” These were all the ideas that people had. So clearly there was still a lot of false, wrong, misunderstandings of who Jesus is floating around. There still is today. People still have wrong ideas about who Jesus is: a great teacher, a great example to show us how to live, someone who you can take or leave as much or little as you want of what he says, someone that when you follow him is going to make your life easy and carefree. But then Jesus asked his disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” And to this Peter gives the right response: “God’s Messiah.” In other words, “You are the promised Savior of the world, you are the anointed one of God, you are the one who has come to make everything right between sinful humanity and God.” That’s who Jesus is, that’s His true identity.
Which leads to His mission. “Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.” Why? Why shouldn’t they tell this to the crowds? Well, we just saw how many misunderstandings the people had of who Jesus is. They had just as big of misunderstandings of what the Messiah was going to do. Many were looking for an earthly Messiah to give them a nice life on earth, if they got carried away in their ideas, who knows what act of political uprising they may try thinking that was the kind of Messiah Jesus is. So, he told them not to tell anyone.
But Jesus goes on about what His mission really is: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” There is no one who has walked the face of this earth that has had life more against him than Jesus. Jesus’ entire life was characterized by rejection and suffering. He was rejected by the religious leaders, he was rejected by his own people, he was even abandoned by his close friends and his disciples when he was arrested. He suffered many things – the thorns, the spit, the mockery, the flogging, the ridicule, the humiliation, the chants to crucify, the nails in his hands and feet. In fact, it wasn’t just life that was against him, he even had God turn against him, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” But there was a goal: the third day. Why did He suffer all of this? Why did He face a life that was totally against him? For you. For me. For our sins. To pay our price. To restore us to God. So that no matter what in life is against, God isn’t, God is with you and for you.
So Jesus’ identity is that He is the Messiah whose mission was to face everything that was against us so that God might be for us, which leads to our identity, who we are. Who are you? “Whoever wants to be my disciple.” You’re someone who follows Jesus. But that’s not who we are born into this world. We were born into this world an anti-identity. We were born into this world sinful. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22), “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires” (Romans 8;5), “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, wince you have taken off your old self with its practices.” (Col 3:5-9) That’s not who we are, we’ve been given a new identity – a new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Remember who you are: a redeemed child of God, a disciple of Jesus.
And that leads to our mission: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Being a disciple of Jesus means that we’re going to be going against the grain, against the tide within and without. You see, we have a sinful self inside of us, what does this sinful self want? It only wants what it thinks is best for me, myself, and I. Me first today, it says. What does Jesus say? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves.” That means putting God first, others second, and me last. Try to do that for one day. Try to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If you feared God, you’d be afraid of doing anything that offends him, if you loved him you’d always obey all his commands, if you trusted him, you’d always turn to him in difficulties. We all have chinks in the armor – certain sins that will do us in: for one it’s lust, for another it’s complaining, for another its greed, for another it’s gossip, what is it for you? For me? To fight against that sin is a struggle. To cling tenaciously to all of God’s Word in a world that loves and promotes and idolizes sin and sinful behavior, it’s going to be a struggle daily.
So, here we are: when everything is going well in life for us, we’re tempted to self-righteousness. “I must be a pretty good person, everything is going well, no need to be actively pursuing a relationship with God through His Word and Sacraments, no need to gather with fellow believers in church, no need to study God’s Word on my own. Everything is great.” And then Jesus’ words come: “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” If you want a nice, easy life in this world without God, you will ultimately lose your eternal salvation.
But on the other hand, when life is difficult, when everything is against me, I’m tempted to despair: “Where is God in my need? Where is God when my life is falling apart?” And I’m tempted to give up on God. But again, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.”
So where does this leave us? To be a follower of Jesus means that you’re going to live daily with a struggle. A struggle against the sin inside of you and a struggle against a world that hates God. So what do you do? In every struggle you face, keep in mind three things: Acknowledge, Appreciate, and Anticipate. First, Acknowledge, when you feel the struggle inside to deny yourself, deny your sin inside of you, when you feel heat for being a Christian, when difficulties and problems and struggles in general come up in life, realize that God is using all of these things to move you to acknowledge you to your need, your desperate need for Him and point you to what He’s already done.
Second, appreciate. You see, no matter what struggle you face in life, what difficulty arises, what challenge comes, may it remind you that the only struggle, the only difficulty that could really do you in, could ruin you for all eternity, that’s already been dealt with, that was Jesus’ mission, He dealt with that on the cross where he died for you. In the midst of any struggle appreciate the worst struggle Jesus already endured so you never would.
And finally, anticipate. You know, camping isn’t so bad because no matter what difficulty you experience, you know that in not too long you’re going to go home, the difficulties, the disasters, they will come to an end. Jesus came as the Messiah to go to the cross so that no matter how difficult or challenging or full of struggles your life here is, you have an eternity of joy, an eternity without difficulties and struggles and problems awaiting you in heaven!
May your struggles and crosses drive you ever closer to The Cross and that’s Jesus’ cross and realize that no matter what you lose in life, you really haven’t lost anything, because with Jesus you have everything you really need forever. Amen.