Pent 1320 (Proper 17a) – “Let’s Get Focused!” Matthew 16:21-28
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon meditation is taken from of, the Chapter:
Matthew 16:21-28 (ESV)
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “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.”
 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.  Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Let’s Get Focused! That seems to be the theme of Jesus discussion with the disciples. In order to get focused obstacles need to be removed. Hindrances need to be overcome. Distractions need to be ignored. Truth needs to be embraced.
How many of you have watched the political conventions these past two weeks? Both parties have been working overtime to get their message out to voters. The hope is to draw voters to their side of the election. Each party did this by placing before their viewers reasons for voting for their candidates. Such reasons focused on the character of their opponent and the past history of their opponent. Such reasons focused on the accomplishments of the candidate in question. Such reasons focused on the hinderances to achieving the style of living guaranteed by our nation’s constitution. The goal was to ensure the people were looking where the candidates wanted them to look. The goal was to move the people to make the right choice when November 3 has come and gone. They wanted to be the one taking the president’s oath of office in January, 2021. Let’s Get Focused!
Jesus calls to his people and makes a similar command in this passage from Matthew’s Gospel account. Jesus is not running for elected office, for His office has no competition. He comes to redeem the world by shedding His blood and giving His life as the atonement for our sins. Jesus wants all sinners to get it right. Let’s get focused!
To this end, Jesus reprimands Peter and tells him to focus on what is important. Recognize the obstacles to your obedience. Remove the hindrances to your sight. Let go of the distractions to your faith. Embrace the call of the cross of Christ. Let’s get focused on the Cross of Christ. The cross is where the Christ will overcome the mayhem of sin and death.
Jesus was quite focused on the cross. Matthew records that Jesus began to teach his disciples the truth about his ministry and work. Matthew writes:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
We must always read these words in context. Last week we heard the confession of Peter who proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the son of the Living God. The first goal of Jesus ministry was brought to fruition. The truth of who this Jesus is was confessed by his disciples. The incarnation of the Son of God was recognized and confessed by these disciples of Jesus.
Now the great truth of God’s salvation must be joined to this confession. The Son of Man will be betrayed to sinners in the City of God’s Name, suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes of God’s Temple, be put to death, and on the third day be raised again to life.
Do you remember what Jesus told Nicodemus and others who were wondering about this Son of Man? Jesus taught with a view to his suffering death and resurrection. “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so also must the son of man be lifted up.” Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” “The Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus always lived focused on the cross and also the empty tomb.
Many would comment on this as being Jesus’ fate. What do you think? Is this Jesus’ fate to suffer, die and rise again to life on the third day? Before you answer how would you define “fate”?
Fate is an unchangeable, preset event. Every action leads the person one step closer to the end event. It would seem that this would describe the ministry of Jesus. It was Jesus fate to be born to die and rise again. However, fate misses one key element in all of Jesus saving work. Fate does not need a planner. Fate has no planner. There is no one behind fate.
Fate denies the will and work of God in the salvation of sinful mankind. Fate creates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If men are fated to sin and die, then Jesus’ death and resurrection are pointless.
We do not have a God who set the world in motion and left it to its own devices. We have a God who loved the world he created and now gives His son to die and rise again to redeem and restore that sinful world. We hear in Jesus words not fate but divine necessity. The love of God for sinners is focused on the cross of Jesus Christ. God was focused on the cross and the Son of God is focused on the cross.
Apparently Peter is having difficulty with the cross. For Peter, the cross is not reasonable for the Christ. The Son of God should never have to experience such things. The horror of crucifixion is beneath the God’s son. Listen to Peter’s oath of denial.
“May God be merciful to you, Lord! Forbid this being for you!”
Peter presumes to know the will of God. His sin blinded heart and mind fail to see the love of God in the suffering and death of this Son of God. His thinking stops short of what this death of God’s son will accomplish. Peter does not look past the cross to the empty tomb which is the vindication of Jesus impending death and the exclamation point on God’s redeeming love and mercy.
We are not any bit different from Peter. We see what we want to see and deny what God would have us see as truth. We sometimes fail to see the fullness of Jesus’ continued ministry through the Church in general and this congregation in particular. St Paul speaks to such things in the Epistle reading for this day. Paul reminds us that our faith in Jesus Christ and our confession of love for God must be true. We are to put aside lip service and give heart service to our Lord.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13
We sometimes look through the lens of personal opinion rather than the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The lens of personal opinion refuses to see the cross of Jesus Christ as the focal point of the believer’s life. Jesus clearly warns against such thinking when he gives warning not to deny such service.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Like Peter, we are to deny those things which war against the work of the Gospel and to support those things that serve the preaching of the Gospel. Supporting the ministry of the Gospel is the calling of the Church, and of this congregation. God’s people have no choice in the matter. It is not fate, but the will of God that the Gospel be preached to every creature throughout the whole world.
What we cannot do as an individual, we do as a congregation. What we are unable to do as a congregation, we do as a synod, or congregations that work toward the same calling and purpose. As Paul said, we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, outdo one another in showing honor, be zealous for the work of the Gospel, and actively serve the Lord who bought us with the price of His suffering and death upon the cross. As Christ carried his cross for us, so we also carry our cross for him. Do you remember these words from the hymn “Go to Dark Gethsemane”?
Follow to the judgment hall,
View the Lord of Life arraigned;
Oh the wormwood and the gall!
Oh, the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame or loss;
Learn from Him to bear the cross
Silent, uncomplaining, faithful obedience is the call to bearing the cross. We know the goal of the cross of Jesus Christ and we know the goal of the cross which Jesus gives us to bear. It is the refining preparation for the Day of Resurrection. As Jesus was raised to life on the Third Day, so also on the Day of Resurrection yet to come, will we be raised to live with him in eternity.
Until that Day, then, we continue to look to the cross of Jesus Christ and see the will of God accomplished for the salvation of the world. Until that day, then, we continue to bear the cross we are given that we should serve and support the work of the Gospel in thought, word, and deed.
God entered this world of mayhem and sin through the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, Jesus Christ. This same son denied himself that we would not be denied of God. This same Son was abandoned by His Father that we might be adopted as Sons of God. This same Son died that we might live, and rose from death that we should have hope for the world yet to come.
May you always focus on the Cross of Jesus Christ and His empty tomb as you seek to serve your savior and bear the cross of faith.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen