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August 30, 2020   Dare to be Disciples

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Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ.

Don’t go changing’,  to try to please me;   you never let me down before. …I love you just the way you are.”    Remember that pop-song by Billy Joel?   ‘I love you just the way you are’ = a nice thought for human relations;  but this attitude is mis-applied into religious circles.

Religious people are mostly respected in our day;  but the most admired religion is not ‘Christian’,  but -rather- a personal & independent spirituality.   That’s my impression.

The religion considered to be the most enlightened,  intelligent, & compassionate  is not the main-line & traditional churches.   No ~ those are made fun-of.

Instead,  the newer spiritual groups are considered better;  with more up-to-date morals, & with charismatic leaders = who don’t tell you what to do,  but ‘coach’ you to ‘do what seems right to you.’   And when you have your own self-directed spirituality,   you’re not expected to change your thinking or lifestyle,  or to conform with old traditional standards,  with someone else’s ideas of ‘God.’   These spiritual people like to imagine that God sings Billy Joel’s words to us:  “Don’t go changing’,  to try to please Me;   …I love you just the way you are.”

People want to identify with God generally,   but they don’t really want God to tell them what to believe,  or what to do.   People want the benefits of being like Christians,  with ‘love’ & ‘hope’,  but without giving up their own opinions & behaviors,  or conforming to God’s strict Bible ways.   People want to fit God into their own chosen lifestyle.   People imagine that God loves them  ‘just the way they are’,  because that’s how God made them.   BUT thru the unchanging Scripture,  God shows this type of  ‘religious free-thinking’  IS our sinful rebellion against Him;   our old nature rejects His holy ways,  and resists any need to change.

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Today in the Gospel lesson,  Jesus reminds us of God’s definition of true religion,  when He says,  “If anyone would come after Me,  he must deny himself,  and take up his cross,  and follow Me.”    *What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?   The word ‘disciple’ means:  student & follower.    And here,  we learn that a disciple /denies himself,  /takes up his cross,  /& follows his Master.   Let’s talk about Jesus’ definition,  and  ‘dare to be disciples.’

           When we said last week  that the church was ‘built on the rock’,  we heard that that rock was Peter’s confession  that Jesus is the Christ,  the Son of the Living God.  Until the disciples had that bold confession of faith,  they were not ready to hear about Jesus’ approaching suffering & death.    Last week,  Peter was our good example of confessing that faith.  But this week he’s our bad example  of a Christian faith UN-willing to trust  and conform in practice.   Peter shows us our own two-faced lives.   In one moment,  he’s saying that Jesus is The Lord, the Son of God;   and in the next moment,  he’s rebuking the Son  because  -in his opinion-  God’s way is wrong.

Jesus knew He would have to go to Jerusalem,  suffer,  die,  & be raised on the third day.  It was time the disciples learned it too.   But Peter rebukes him:  “far be it from you  Lord.   This shall never happen to you.”   Peter was even willing to fight to make sure it didn’t happen.

But Jesus turns to him with stinging words:  “Get behind me Satan!   You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God,   but on the things of man.”

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Peter’s intentions look good,  but in reality they hinder God’s perfect will.  It was God’s will that Jesus suffer & die,  with the sins of the whole world place upon Him.  It would only be in the holy blood flowing from Jesus’ broken body & pierced side  that Peter  -& all of us-  would be washed clean of the sinful rebellion against God & His ways.

Any person who wants to be Jesus’ disciple,  & live by the faith which leads to eternal life,   needs to understand the earthly cost of that discipleship.  His Disciples have a new way-of-life to live = that means a giving up of the old life.   This new life is a committed & holy life,  moral & obedient by God‘s rules.   It’s a life of humble forgiveness toward others;   it’s peace-loving,  & a life of serving the needs of others.  None of these come naturally to us;  they are born of faith.   But, this is what true disciples do.  “If anyone would come after me,  he must deny himself,  and take up his cross,  and follow me.”

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THE FIRST requirement is to DENY SELF.   That means the disciple is willing to give up his own lifestyle & natural desires.   But this isn’t a decision of the human will,  it’s an act of willing faith,  empowered by the Spirit of God.     As Jesus pays our death penalty for sin,

He makes us holy in God’s eyes.   We are ‘redeemed’,  so we are no longer our own;  we were bought-back from death  at the price of His blood.

So our old natures have been crucified with Jesus,  dead & gone  = as Paul says,  we have been buried with Christ in baptism,  and so like Christ,  we now rise to a new life,  as a new creation of God.  The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us this new birth  as a child of God.

In the history of the church,   we hear of a man named Augustine = an early,  faithful theologian.   Shortly after his conversion to Christ,  Augustine was walking thru town & saw a former mistress of his.  When he saw her,  he turned & walked in the opposite direction, away from her.   This surprised her.  So she called out  “Augustine,  it is I.”  But Augustine kept walking & called back,  “Yes,  but it is not I.

A disciple gives up his sinful life,  & becomes a different person.   A disciple learns to say NO to self,  and YES to Jesus‘ ways.   Jesus doesn’t ask for a little bit of our time,  & a little bit of our money = He asks for ALL OF US.    He came to kill our old sinful desires = which drag us away from Him;   He drowned our sinful selves,  and then He gives us a new self,  whose design is based on His earthly life.

And even tho we make the good confession of faith with our mouth,   it takes time &  practice to get rid of our old ideas & lifestyle,  & be able to do God’s good things.  That’s what happened to Peter.   He didn’t yet understand  how suffering & death fit into the picture of Jesus being the promised Messiah,  so he was ready to fight that idea.    Instead of saying,  “Lord,  this shall never happen to you!“,  his faith should’ve said,  “Ok, Lord;  whatever you say;   but help me understand why.”   

So,  like a strict Master,  Jesus disciplines His student.  ‘Out of my way Satan!’  ‘Satan’ means adversary.   Peter is not ‘the devil’ or possessed;  but he’s acting like the devil,  opposing the will of God.   Jesus was teaching all of us  to be true followers;  to stop ourselves & trust Him.

We must change from  ‘just the way we are,’   to being the way He wants us to be.   This is a lesson we need to learn over & over again,  because what we think & desire runs our old life.  But now,  we are to trust that God’s ways for our life are better ~ far better.  Belonging to Christ means we deny ourselves.

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THE SECOND requirement of a disciple is to TAKE UP THE CROSS.   When Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem,  He was determined to die in our place.  He laid down His heavenly glories to become a lamb for slaughter.  Jesus was willing to spend His earthly life on you& me.

You see,  His cross was not just a piece of wood,   or a form of Roman torture & death.   The cross stands for ALL of the humility & agony that Jesus suffered for our sin.   It began with Him setting aside His glory as God,  to take up our human flesh,  and come to live on this broken creation,  among broken creatures.   The ‘cross’ was the hard work of teaching resistant people;  & having patience with disciples,  who resisted learning the truth.   His cross was the rejection of His own friends & neighbors in Nazareth.   It was the satanic opposition from the religious leaders of His day.   It was finally the total abandonment of His Father = which is the definition of hell.

For US,  ‘the cross’ we bear for Jesus as disciples,   is not the ordinary trouble,  sickness,  or hardship  that comes to every human-being in a fallen world.   The cross is some trouble which comes to Christians because they follow Jesus.  The cross is what we carry as a result of bearing the light of faith  in a sin-dark world.   It’s the ridicule we get from others because we believe in Christ;  the criticism we get  because we do things the Bible-way.

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This ‘cross’ we bear  is also our struggle against ourselves.  We don’t like to deny ourselves;  we like our priorities,  but God says we need His instead.  When we desire something,  but the holy faith says ‘no’, that‘s a hard cross to bear.  When following Jesus means admitting our own sins,  & turning away from our favorite wrong ways,  it‘s a cross.     /It’s also a heavy cross to give-to others  without getting anything back.  /Serving others can seem humiliating.  /Having to get new friends because our old ones don’t respect Christ or His ways ~ is a cross to bear.  /Reprioritizing our lives  to make time for worship & prayer,  /or arranging our finances  so we have a fitting thank-offering for the Lord.  Doing these things is not easy;   we resist our own faith,   and  it’s a cross to bear.

Acts 14 says,  ‘It is thru much hardship that we enter the kingdom of heaven.’  Jesus says that the world will give us trouble,  & we will be persecuted because of Him.   Peter shows us that some of our trouble is ourselves.   This gift of a new life is a ‘cross’ in this old world;  but it is true life & it’s worth it.  So, we carry it patiently, & it bears witness to who is Lord of our life.

*Why would we make our life harder by denying our own desires & carry a ‘cross’?  Because we are following  The Master,   who bore the real cross for us,  and gives a better life  than we can make on our own.

*Why would we endure ridicule & mocking  by holding on to traditional morality connected with gender, marriage & sexuality?   *Why would we give-up something we want  in order to help someone else?   Because our Lord did that for us  = we learned it from Him;  it’s the better way,   and we are following Him.   It’s a cross to bear,  but we do it.   This is what it means to be a living disciple of the world’s only Savior & Lord.      Our Lord does not want us to be like those who say they’re Christian,  but their life doesn’t look any different than non-Christians.  We are all tempted to have it both ways;  but our calling is to display God’s NEW life in Christ.

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FINALLY,   the THIRD requirement of a disciple is to FOLLOW JESUS.   Jesus says that this is the way we really find our life.   Like the game ‘follow the leader,’  we study our leader & His teachings carefully,  & imitate His actions as closely as we can.  We imitate His obedience to the Father,  His mercy,  forgiveness, & serving others.   Jesus summed it up for us  when he told us,  “A new commandment I give you.   Love one another,  as I have loved you,….”  (Jn 13)  “by this  all men will know that you are My disciples, …when you have love for one another.”

Jesus is very stern with Peter,  because this is no game, & it’s not optional.  The Master has chosen us,  redeemed us,  & has promised to live in us.   Following Him means actually imitating Him.   So there is no such thing as a ‘personal religion’ = that’s a lie of Satan;  doing our own thing is what got Adam & Eve in trouble.   We do not tell God  how we want to live our lives,  how we want Him to bless us,  & how we want to worship Him = He tells us.  He leads & we follow.  If we do not follow Him,  we do not belong to Him,  & we do not have true & eternal life.

So,  Jesus came & lived the kind of life our Creator expects all of us to live; /in goodness,  kindness,  /moral & upright,  /with self-control.   Paul said,  “I have been crucified with Christ,  and I no longer live  but Christ lives in me.”    *How does Christ live in us?   “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” (Paul says)  that’s how.    *Will Christ live in satan?   No.  All ‘satans’ oppose God.   But Christ lives in His followers;   that’s why we’re called  ‘Christian.’

Like Peter,  we will struggle with being opposed to God’s guidance & will.  But our Lord corrects & disciplines our old nature.  This is a daily repentance & forgiveness.   It’s a growing process,  as we learn from God’s Word what is right & good to do.   And Jesus show us  -here with Peter-  that He does not compromise.

When Spanish conquistador -Hernan Cortes- disembarked his 500 men on the east coast of Mexico,  in the early 1500’s,  he set fire to the ships that had brought them.  His followers watched their only way of returning home  going up in flames;  they now knew that they were committing everything,  even their lives,  to the cause of conquering a new world for Spain.

When Christ calls to His baptized, & says,  “Follow me,”  we are also called to burn our ships in the harbor,  to get rid of all worldly loves & loyalties  which might come between us  and our Master.

‘Dare to be a disciple.’    It’s not enough to be a ‘christian in name only.’   His baptismal promise of a new birth has been put upon you;  the One who lives in you  intends to work thru you in the world,  for the good of those around you.    You can trust Him.

Deny yourself,   take up your cross,   and follow Him.

Amen