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SERMON – Cross Bearing


He first met Jesus when he and others from Capernaum went down to Judea (possibly for the Feast of the Tabernacles?). John the Immerser’s preaching excited his brother and others. John was a fiery preacher, all right, & that appealed to his own no-nonsense approach to life. In fact, he had responded to John’s call to repent & be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. But he had to be practical, too, and he’d been away from his work long enough. It was time to get back home.

But where was his brother? That young scamp been away all night! Andy was so taken with John that he’d probably spent all night either listening to the prophet or rehashing his words with one of his friends. Then suddenly there he was – and before a word could be said about it being time to get going or where have you been, he almost shouted, “Come quick! We’ve found him!”

“What? Found who? What are you talking about?”

“We’ve found the Messiah! Come on! You‘ve got to see him!” And Andrew would not start for home until Simon had gone with him to see the new wonder man!

But wonder of wonders! When Andrew brought Simon to this new teacher, Jesus called him by name! And he gave him a new name – Cephas, the Rock. Simon sort of liked that. He thought of himself as being solid – but others thought he was too temperamental for a name like Cephas.

Anyway, from that moment it seemed as if Cephas’ life was intertwined with that of Jesus. Jesus would not leave him alone. Even when he went back to fishing, Jesus came along and said, “Follow me — and I will make you a fisher of men.”

And the power that Jesus displayed! Turning water into wine at that wedding feast? He’d never seen or even dreamed of seeing anything like that! And he never would forget the time Jesus was preaching by Galilee and stood in Simon’s own boat. His words were certainly different and his message seemed clear enough, though sometimes his parables were mystifying. But when he finished, he said go out where the water is deep – and catch some fish! Simon knew better because he’d fished all night and caught nothing. (That’s the way it is in fishing. Sometimes you catch ‘em – and sometimes you don’t! But, might as well humor the guy.) So what happened? One cast of the net and it was so full of fish Simon had to call for help! Boy, that really got to him! Scared him too! He cried out, “Leave me, Lord! I’m a sinful man!” But Jesus just said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men.

Then there was the night after they’d gone out to a lonely place to get some rest. Lonely? That was a joke! Thousands of people were waiting for them when they got to shore – and of course, Jesus went to work healing and teaching until late in the day. Then Simon and the other “regulars” got Jesus aside and tried to get him to send them away – but he said, “You give them something to eat!” Andrew found some kid with a little bit of food and brought it to Jesus. He prayed over it – and started handing it to the Twelve. Simon and the others passed it on to the people – and all of the thousands of people ate and had all they wanted!

THAT got the crowd going. They wanted to make Jesus their king, and that would’ve been ok with Simon – but Jesus just didn’t seem to understand what he could do with all his power. Maybe he just figured the time wasn’t ripe yet. (He was pretty smart after all.) He sent the Twelve away in the boat – and went off alone to pray (as he did so frequently).

Anyway, while they were rowing across the lake, a big storm came up. It was late in the night – and all of a sudden, there was someone – it looked like a ghost – walking across the water! That was scary too! Until it spoke and said, “It’s me. Don’t be afraid!” Then Simon said, “If its really you, Lord, tell me to come to you on the water!” Jesus said, “Come” – and he started walking to Jesus. That lasted a few steps – until he realized where he was – out on the stormy sea away from the boat! Then fear overcame faith and he sank into the water! He cried out, “Lord, save me!” – and Jesus did.

Then one day Jesus asked the Twelve, “Who do people say I am?” They said, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say I am?” Simon spoke first. Did all of these things he had seen Jesus do flash through his mind before he answered? I do not know. But he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Jesus blessed Simon and said that on this rock he would build his church. Then for the first time Jesus began to tell his disciples he must go to Jerusalem – and there be killed, but that he would rise again on the third day.

This was more than Simon could take. He took Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Lord, this can never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Simon and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” He had earlier said that flesh and blood had not shown Simon that Jesus was the Christ; this knowledge came from God. But now Peter has left the things of God and is thinking as Man thinks.

Then Jesus called all of the disciples and the entire crowd to him and said, “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.”  In other words, “Simon, not only are you out of order to try to talk me out of my cross, but cross bearing is so much a part of my kingdom that you cannot belong to me unless you take up your own cross, denying yourself to follow me.”

What do these familiar words mean? What did they mean for Simon Peter – and what do they mean for us? Is it possible that the familiarity of these words has bred contempt for them in our thinking? Are these words so radical in their meaning that we tend to discount them? Do we rationalize them away so that they are stripped of meaning?

Let me begin by saying that these words do not refer to accepting the normal pains and difficulties of life. Are there any diseases that Christians suffer – that are not common to others as well? In fact, as a normal thing, Christians suffer less from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” than other people do. The reason for this is that people bring much of their suffering on themselves by their own sinful lifestyle.

Someone who is obedient to God will not get drunk and smash himself up in a car wreck. Now, someone else who is drunk might hit him, but it is not as likely anyway that he will do it to himself. The same is true of many of the other misfortunes of life. Being a Christian does not exempt us from the troubles of life. But these troubles also come to those who are not Christian. Bearing these troubles is not the same as taking up our cross.

The meaning of “take up your cross” is found in the significance of the next two clauses: deny yourself and come follow me. When we understand these, we will understand take up your cross. But, these must be linked together.

It is not enough to deny yourself. You must deny yourself in order to follow Jesus. People may deny themselves for many reasons that have nothing to do with following Jesus.

Someone asked Leon Trotsky, “What is a Communist?” The reply was simple: “A Communist is a dead man walking.” What did he mean? Simply that a true, dedicated & committed Communist was one who had given up himself for his Cause.

We have seen this illustrated in our time, not with Communists, but with Radical Fundamentalist Islamic people who are willing to become human “smart bombs” that target themselves on various things: a market place in Israel or the World Trade Center towers in America. These people give up their own lives for a Cause they think is greater. They are willing to die for what they believe in – and they are even willing to kill themselves if this will advance their Cause. But, this is not taking up the cross to follow Jesus.

Why has the Cross become the symbol of Christianity? Certainly it goes to the Cross of the Savior – but it goes beyond that. His cross is important as the means of our salvation – but it is also important as an example for us in how we are to live as walking dead men. Taking up our cross is denying ourselves to follow him. In the Cross, he sets an example for us to follow – and His path is the road to Golgatha.

Consider, the matter of forgiveness. On the Cross, Jesus poured out his blood for many for the forgiveness of sins. We talk about this and remember this each Lord’s Day. In fact, this is right at the heart of the gospel message – that we are bought with the blood of the lamb. Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” This, he said, is “the gospel I preached to you.” This is the gospel they received and on which they had taken their stand –  and this is the gospel by which they (and we) have been saved and forgiven of our sins.

We understand that we have forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. But let me help you look at forgiveness from a different perspective. Have you ever struggled to forgive someone? You see, there are two sides of forgiveness: forgiving and being forgiven. As those who are forgiven, we can appreciate the Cross of Jesus. He took up his Cross and bore it to Calvary. There he died so that we can have forgiveness of our sins.

Why did he die? Why not just forgive us and save himself all of that pain and suffering?

As those who are forgiven we are thankful that he died for us. But try to ask yourself why he had to die? Wasn’t there another way? There must not have been another way, for he prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

That was the first prayer in the Garden. He prayed that prayer for an hour! Then, after waking the three whom he had asked to keep watch with him in prayer, he went back and prayed another hour. This time he prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Did you notice the difference in these prayers? The first time he prayed for the cup to be taken from him – and added, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” The second time what was the prayer? The second prayer was “may your will be done.” He no longer asked for the cup to be taken from him. In fact, the form of the statement in the Greek assumes that it is not possible for the cup to pass without Jesus drinking it. Thus, the second prayer is acceptance of the fact he will drink the cup – and a prayer for God’s will to be done. What does all this mean? Just that there was absolutely no other way for us to be forgiven except for Jesus to go to the Cross. Jesus wrestled with this – but he accepted God’s will and even prayed that God’s will be done.

Now, if it is true that for God to forgive us through Jesus the cross is necessary, what do you think it takes for us to be able to forgive one another?

Is it easy to forgive another? Or is it (at least some of the time) a real struggle? Have you ever had someone who had hurt you – and hurt you bad? And you knew you needed to forgive him or her – but you just could not do it! You kept reliving that hurt. You kept focusing on the pain you suffered – and still suffer. You just could not get beyond the injustice of it – and even if you didn’t want to do something yourself to hurt that person, you would still rejoice greatly if God somehow brought him low! You would see justice was served and the sin against you punished.

But, you know God wants you to forgive. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In other words, we can’t even rightfully pray for forgiveness unless we forgive. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

But you cry out, “Father, I just can’t! I can’t forgive. The hurt is too great! That person walked all over me! He is too calloused. I just can’t do it!”

How can you forgive? Listen to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We are to forgive in the same way God forgave us in Christ. Now how did God forgive us in Christ? It was by Jesus going to the Cross.

Is he saying, then, that for us to forgive that impossible person that we also must go to the Cross – and there be crucified? That is exactly what he is saying.

We deny self, deny our “rights” – give them up voluntarily because we love the person who has offended us. We love him because God has first loved us. And because God’s love is in us, we yield our “right” to resent the wrong, to wallow in it, to demand justice, to exalt self and our hurt over all things related to this other person – we give all of that self-centeredness up. We do that just as God gave up self-centeredness when he forgave us in Christ.

We follow Jesus to the Cross – and there we die with him. We suffer in that death. It’s hard to give up selfishness to do what’s right. Grudges are sweet. Deadly, but sweet. They poison us, but they are sweet. And they are hard to give up.

Why? Because we are proud. By nursing a grudge, we feed our pride – because grudges grow in the same soil as pride and from the same root. Until we kill pride, the grudge will keep growing larger and larger. Let pride be crucified and grudges vanish in a moment. What fills them will be gone.

Does this idea of dying with Jesus at the Cross seem strange to you? It shouldn’t, if you are a Christian. That is what is at the root of becoming a Christian in the first place! If you are not a Christian it seems strange.

I remember a man I studied with and attempted to teach the gospel to while I was in New Zealand. By education, he was a Psychotherapist. As such, he had been taught to look at the human psyche in a certain way. We read Romans 6 together:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

As he struggled to understand this, we talked about the “old self” being crucified with Jesus. I commented that this old self, the old “I” is Ego.

Ego was a word that had a special meaning to him as a psychotherapist. To him it meant the inner-core of who a person is. If there is no ego, to him, the person had nothing at all at the core of his being. For the ego to die, in his thinking, the personhood of the person was dead. He could not conceive of such a thing.

But his dilemma gave me new understanding – for as Paul also wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” My Ego is dead – but Jesus takes its place. And with Him at the inner-core of who I am, I am truly raised to walk in a new life.

So, in becoming a Christian – and in living as a Christian – taking up my cross, denying self, and following Jesus is at the root of it. My convenience, my pride, my pleasures, my interests are all crucified – so that I may let Jesus live in me.

If I refuse to die with him, he cannot live in me – and I cannot be his disciple. My crucifixion is just as essential as his crucifixion. It was not possible for the cup to pass without his suffering it. It is not possible for our cup to pass and for us to be or remain his disciple.

He told two of his disciples, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” What was true of them is true of us all. He said to all of us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Will you come after him? Then you, too, must take up your cross, drink his cup, and be baptized with his baptism. That begins as we turn from sin and, in faith, are baptized in his name. But it continues as we walk with him from then on.

Note: if you should use this sermon please come back and post a comment letting me know how you adapted it and how people received it. Thank you.

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