An Invitation to Die

Matthew 16:21-27

Remember classified ads? That’s how people used to look for jobs before the internet. Some people still do. Can you imagine coming across an ad that read:

Disciples Wanted: Must be eager to live a life of self-denial.   Applicants must embrace the instrument of their execution.   They must also demonstrate a willingness to live simply, socialize with outcasts, suffer abandonment of friends and endure rebukes from polite society.  Salary: Deferred

I wonder how many replies that kind of a want ad would generate. And, yet, how many people have said that they want to be a disciple of Jesus? They say it before accepting the conditions of what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be his disciples.

Well, part of our mission here at Christ Church is “Discipling His People.” So it might be worthwhile to see how Jesus discipled his people. He lays it out in today’s Gospel reading.

Being a Jesus Disciple begins with a desire. You must have a desire to follow Jesus.

Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers. . .” Greek: If any man desires to come after me Much more powerful word than “want”

“Desire” evokes images of burning, longing, craving, hunger, passion Desire drives people forward Any 16 year old boy knows the force of desire.

I saw a good example of that desire in a Broadway play. Some of you might have seen A Chorus Line. It debuted on Broadway in 1975. It’s a behind the scenes look at the young men and women who pursue careers as dancers on the Broadway stage. A very tough career choice.

They come from all over the United States to New York just to get a chance to audition. They’ve spent endless hours honing their dancing/singing skills They take any day job they can to pay the rent – and they live in pretty miserable conditions New York is not cheap. Then they endure the humiliation of auditions where they are herded through like cattle all vying for a handful of openings. So most will suffer rejection after rejection after rejection. And yet they press on with the grueling practice sessions, the menial day jobs, the meager living conditions.

Desire drives them forward – desire to be on the Broadway stage Everything else takes second place to getting that one slot in the chorus line. Whatever it takes will be worth it.

Discipleship begins with a desire to follow Jesus. It’s a burning, longing, hunger that drives you forward. It can’t be quenched by life’s setbacks. It can’t be satisfied by anyone else. And whatever it takes to keep on following him will be worth it. Because it’s Jesus.

Peter said as much when he once told Jesus, Lord, we have left everything to follow you.

Then the Disciple must DENY self Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself” Eugene Petersen offers this paraphrase in The Message: You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am.” That’s a tough one.

“Self” is the enemy of Discipleship Consider the variety of words that we prefix with “self” Self-righteous, self-important, self-centered, self-indulgence, self-satisfied, self-seeking. All of these have to go! It takes some intention to let these go,  It takes some initiative. And it’s not comfortable letting them go.

With a lot of Christians, it’s SELF that leads, not Jesus But these Christians have forgotten the Terms of Salvation.   Here what Apostle Paul says about “Self” and the Christian:

To the Romans he wrote: (Rom. 6:6) 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 slave to sin.

To the Galatians he wrote (Gal. 2:20)  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

To the Ephesians he wrote (Eph. 4:22-24) 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; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Have you ever considered how freeing it can be to give up on “self?” Consider some other self words: Self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-confidence, self-sustaining These words aren’t in the vocabulary of the authentic disciple Because these “selfies” aren’t required for the authentic disciple. And, you know, it can actually be a relief to let these go too.

Take self-confidence, that’s always been a tough one for me. I was the kind of kid who always figured I’d screw it up. Growing up, our family did competitive water skiing. At 12 years old, my age group was always the first one up. And I remember dreading when it would be my turn. Everyone was watching and my performance affected the outcome for our ski club. What if I didn’t get up?  What if I fell on the first buoy? What if I missed a buoy? All these things never happened. But I expected them to happen. I dreaded that they might happen. And it took the fun out of competitive water skiing for me. All because I lacked self-confidence.

I wish someone would have told me to put it on Jesus’ shoulders. Put your confidence in Jesus, not yourself. When you free yourself up like that, you don’t have to worry about screwing up. If you fall, then it’s Jesus’ fault.

A disciple lives a life of freedom, free from self. Because a disciple is:

Jesus-sufficient, Jesus-reliant, Jesus-confident, Jesus-sustaining

Then the third mark of the disciple is death.Jesus says: “Take up your cross and follow me”

Consider what it meant to the disciples to” take up your cross.” In 1st Century Palestine, the cross wasn’t a fashion accessory, a piece of jewelry or something pretty.  A cross meant only one thing:  It was an instrument of death.

Wear a diamond-studded cross on a necklace, and no one bats an eye. But suppose you wore a miniature, diamond studded Glock 45? People would  ask, “Why would you wear such a disgusting item as a piece of jewelry?” One theologian has said “When Jesus calls, he bids us come and die.”

But taking up your cross is more than just dying. It’s following in Jesus’ model of taking up his cross.

First of all, that means taking up your cross is voluntary.  Jesus chose to go the cross; it wasn’t forced on him. The cross that you bear is something voluntary, not something forced on to you.  You choose to bear it.  Don’t confuse it with choice made for you.

For instance, going through life with a disability is not something you choose, it’s something you accept. So it’s not a cross that you bear. Raising a child who is disabled is not something you choose, it’s something you accept. That’s not what it means to take up your cross.

Second, taking up your cross means sacrifice.  No way around that one. When Jesus went to the cross, he went as the sinless and unblemished sacrifice for all sin for all time. To bear your cross really is an invitation to sacrifice, to die. What are you willing to put to death in your life to follow Jesus?

Dietrich Bonnhoffer was raised in well-to-do family in pre-Nazi Germany. At age 21 he received his Doctorate in Theology graduating summa cum laude. He was too young to be ordained, so he enrolled in New York’s Union Theological Seminary for postgraduate studies.

When he returned to Germany, he experienced a personal conversion and resolved to carry out the teaching of Christ as he found it revealed in the Gospels. In other words, he became a disciple of Christ. It was about that time when Hitler came to power. Bonnhoffer helped start the Confessing Church in Germany which would not bend to the government’s dictates.

Soon, war was on the horizon. Bonnhoffer was a committed pacifist. He knew that his resistance to a draft could jeopardize his life and the Confessing Church movement. So he returned to the United States where he could continue teaching and minister safe from Hitler’s reach.

But something troubled Bonnhoffer. He could see where things were headed in Germany. War was coming and he could only hope that Hitler would be defeated.
But after the war ended, how would he ever participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany if he did not share the trials of this time with his people. To be an authentic disciple of Christ, he had to make a choice:  A secure life in the United States or return to Nazi Germany.

Bonnhoffer wrote: Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security He returned to Germany. He sacrificed the security he enjoyed in the United States to take up his cross and return to Nazi Germany. He would continue his work with the Confessing Church and also aid with the resistance. Months before the war ended, Bonnhoffer was arrested and executed in a concentration camp.

Finally, taking up your cross means that you voluntarily sacrifice for the good of someone else.  Quitting smoking is not bearing your cros. Because YOU are the one who is benefiting. Going on a diet (sacrificing chocolate) is not bearing your cross.  Because YOU benefit from that sacrifice.

Let me give you an illustration of the kind of sacrifice I’m talking about. I’ve shared it before, but it bears repeating.

Sam operated a successful counseling business in a mid-sized industrial city. His contracts were with the major corporations which had brought growth to the area.  Most clients wanted help with a drinking problem. 

The center’s contract with each corporation enabled employees to seek help with a guarantee of anonymity.  Each employee’s problems and progress were treated as completely confidential, It was well known that client files were for the eyes of the counseling staff only.

One day the executive vice president of the largest firm under contract made an appointment to meet with Sam. This executive demanded to see the files for his employees. Sam told him politely but firmly that this was impossible. The files were completely confidential. The vice president’s face became red, and repeatedly insisted on seeing those files immediately. Sam continued to refuse.

Finally, the vice president stood up and moved toward the door. As he touched the doorknob, he turned around, paused, and stared at Sam. “Tomorrow our legal department will contact you to terminate our contract with you immediately.” 

Once more, Sam reminded him that this was confidential information. “No matter. You won’t be seeing them any more, unless you give me their files right now, and I mean right now.”

At that point, Sam could see his counseling practice collapsing. He pictured his own personal finances collapsing. Then he addressed the executive in as measured a voice as he could muster. “Dick, I’m sorry.   It can’t be done. “My center’s work with your employees is completely confidential. Cancel the contract if you must, but you’ll never get those files. 

The vice president walked back and took his seat again. “Okay,” he said, in a subdued voice. “If that’s the way it is, then I guess it’s safe to tell you why I came. I have a drinking problem, and I need your help.”

When Sam uttered his final refusal to the vice president’s demand, Sam stepped 

into a kind of death. It was a death freely chosen. One that followed from all that he was as a professional, a counselor, a Christian, a human being. When he uttered that final refusal, he gave up his life as he knew it, trusting that somehow God would be there on the other side.

In the language of today’s Gospel, Sam simply took up his cross, and by his own choice walked behind Jesus 

The Lord puts calls his disciples. It’s a call that is unique to each one of his children. Not everyone is called to be a Dietrich Bonnhoffer.

But the call goes out to all who call him Lord. And with that call comes a challenge that he has equipped you to meet. He has gifted you with talents for that call. You already meet the qualifications.

Don’t even think of answering this want ad unless you’re ready to put your complete trust not in your own talents, not in your resources-  but in him. Real life is about

Following him.

Living for him.

Trusting in him.

As he told his disciples: For those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.