In one of our first homes as a young navy couple, we lived on the second floor in our apartment complex. Of course, there was a third floor. The couple that lived there was not shy about arguing. One of the common lines we would hear from the husband was, “What about me?” And he wouldn’t just say it once. Now, I have no idea what led to him saying that repeatedly, but one thing was for sure. Either he always wanted the focus on him or he felt the wife always wanted the focus on her. Either way, someone was focused on themselves and was mad not everyone else was as well. This argument line happened often enough that 31 years later we still remember it.
What might this have to do with today’s passage? Hold that thought for a few moments please.
Today’s passage it tough!
Entering Month 5
Tomorrow we start our 5th month (I think) of some stage of stay-at-home or safer-at-home. Fortunately, Governor Hogan announced that all 24 jurisdictions in Maryland are now in Phase 2 of Re-Opening. My beautiful home church has a committee actively working on the best, safest, and most-reasonable plan of reopening of our building to worship and ministry. In many ways we are moving forward and I am thankful.
But let’s look at this time at home.
Our time at home has changed us. You may or may not see it. I do not think it takes much boldness to say we are different as individuals and as a community than we would have been had we not been living in a new way for these last few months.
At the beginning of what I am choosing to call an adventure, I wanted to think of the time at home as a time of cocooning. What happens in a cocoon? A caterpillar, through a lot of difficult change becomes a butterfly. While some caterpillars are intriguing to look at, most of us can agree that the butterfly is almost always more beautiful than the caterpillar. That’s what I was hoping for in our time of cocooning, not necessarily physically, but spiritually. But yes, physically too would have been good for me.
I thought, as I think many of us did as well, that the cocoon time was going to last 2 weeks. Well, 17 weeks later, we are to some extent still cocooning. Lately I have been thinking, if only I had known, what would I have done differently?
How would I have made best use of that time? Did any of you have those thoughts too?
In All Things…..
One of the verses that I hold onto at difficult times is Romans 8:28, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His good purpose.” How I read this is that what ever is happening, God can turn in to something good and that good grows us more into the person God created us to be.
Using that logic, then this time of quarantine could have been, perhaps even should have been, a chance for us to get out of our own way and turn ourselves to God.
Now, I am an optimist. But I will admit, even my optimistic outlook has been challenged during this time. I spent most of the first two months of this year with my sister cleaning out my mother’s home after her passing. Then I got sick, with the virus? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t wait to get an antibody test. Then it was time to get out, get back to focusing on Winter Grace Senior Ministries, be with the people, and even travel. Nope, none of that happened. And my hopeful outlook on life was challenged. I missed my kids!
Please do not think I am forgetting about the terrible impact this virus has had on our community, state, country, and the world. I haven’t forgotten those who have died with Covid or from Covid. I haven’t forgotten or ignored those who through their work have put themselves at risk to care for the sick. I am well aware of how those who were already in challenging health situations declined from being unable to be out and about. I hurt for those separated from their loved ones. I haven’t forgotten those who have lost their jobs, been thrown into very difficult financial situations, and lost much during this time. I know that weddings looked very different than planned. And I know that has been incredibly difficult. We lost much of what was familiar and normally focused on.
What I am saying is in all of this, God can bring good out of this. And that good may be relying so much more on Jesus than we did just a few short or long months ago. What have you been able to do that you otherwise would not have been able to do?
Schedules changed. Priorities changed. We have been changed.
And actually, in a number of ways our priorities may have changed just as this passage is calling us to change: to think on Jesus and not ourselves.
Our Scripture for today, Matthew 10: 24-39, can definitely fall under the category of challenging words from Jesus. Please hear these words from Isaiah 9:6.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The Prince of Peace that we read about in Isaiah 9:6 is starkly different from what we hear in this passage in Matthew. Jesus is not talking about not bringing peace, but a sword. How do we reconcile these considering Scripture does not contradict Scripture, but gives us a coherent message?
What is the context of this passage? Our pastor in California back it the mid 1990’s taught repeatedly that context is everything. What is the context of these words of Jesus?
Jesus was sending out the disciples to the lost sheep of Israel. If they were well received, they were to let their peace rest on that place. If not, shake the sand from their sandals and move on. They were warned that they might be handed over to the local authorities. Jesus knew that His message would cause strife because those who sought power rather than repentance would reject the disciples because the power-seekers were rejecting Jesus. He knew that violence was not only possible, but likely. There were those who would trust their eternity to Jesus and those who would not. These divisions would even occur in families. And these can be the most painful divisions of all.
Jesus told them to be bold. That what he taught should be proclaimed from the roofs. He told them not to be afraid.
Next, we come to our text where we read about the sparrows and then we hear about acknowledging and be acknowledged by God, or not. If God has His eye on the sparrow, would He not have his eye on those who follow Jesus?
This passage of Scripture we are studying this week is challenging. It is all about out priorities. There is so much in this passage that we could explore. Books could be written about these individual verses. But we are going to focus on verses 38 and 39.
In this passage, Jesus tells us we must love Him more than our mother or father, and son or daughter. Now, let’s just pause there. We must love Jesus more than those who are closest to us, our parents and our children. Wow!
Rob and I just had the great blessing of having both of our kids at home. Tom was home for a weekend and Elizabeth, whom we had not seen since New Year’s Day, thanks to Covid, was home for 10 days. The 4 of us together for that weekend was wonderful. And that time with Elizabeth was so special. Time to laugh, talk, hug, find a wedding reception venue, all kinds of great stuff. It was a great birthday blessing to me. If you know me at all, you know I am all about my family, my kids, loving them, and being in a relationship with them. Right?
So back to what I said just before that then. We are told we must love Jesus more than our mother or father, and son or daughter.
I want to point out it says more, not instead of, but more. We are to make Jesus our priority. If we do that then the rest of our attachments will align with the priorities we are supposed to have.
Jesus has just told his disciples that they need to make him their priority. But hadn’t they already done that? They have left their professions, their homes, even their families to follow Him. What more could he possibly want from them?
As in our quote unquote favorite infomercials, “but wait there’s more!”
Next Jesus told them they must take their cross and follow Him. This is the first time the cross is mentioned in Matthew. What did the cross mean to those who were listening in first century Jerusalem? It was an instrument of death. It was the way the most heinous of criminals were put to death in Roman society and now the One who was supposed to be the Messiah is saying that we each have a cross to bear? He told them to pick up their cross. Why would they pick up a means of torture and death? And why would they follow Him carrying it? What could this mean?
They couldn’t have imagined that Jesus, in the not too distant future, would be forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. What in the world must the disciples have thought when they heard Jesus say this? It wouldn’t have been eagerly received. That’s for sure. Was Jesus telling them he was going to die? That they too were going to die, and by crucifixion? No one would want to hear this news coming from their teacher that they had left their previous lives for. Can’t you almost hear Peter ready to object to what Jesus was saying? Peter was like that.
Verse 38 and 39 have to be two of the most challenging of verses we read in the New Testament.
Hear these verses again please. 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
What did Jesus mean for his followers then and His followers now?
Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. We need to make sure we are looking at this from a first century perspective.
When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. They say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is mostly likely not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.
While our pastor in California preached context is everything and rightly so, I seem to keep coming back to the idea that we, today benefit from 2,000 years of hindsight. We have a different, or perhaps a more full understanding of the cross. What the cross meant then is not the whole story of what the cross means to us now.
Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death.
Jesus was and is saying we are on a path of dying to self when we follow him.
This passage is calling on us to die to self. It is a call to absolute surrender to Jesus. Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials.
As believers we are not told that our lives will be easy. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost. He also promised that He would be there to us give us the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-19), comfort us in our trials (James 1:12), and act as a faithful high priest who understands our struggles (Hebrews 2:17) and accomplish for us peace with God by His blood (Romans 5:1).
We are taught that we are never without or out of the reach of the love of Jesus. In actual fact, as believers when we stand up for our faith and against the powers of this world we very well may experience more difficult times here on Earth than non-believers in some respects. The call is tough, but the eternal reward is matchless.
We are told to die to self. Then what do we do?
We live for Jesus! What does it mean to die to self? It means living in the grace of God that transformed us into a new creation at accepting Jesus as our Savior. It means accepting the gift of grace each day as our continued transformation into the person that God created us to be. A person who puts the will of God first and only. We replace our will with the Will of God. It means just being one more step closer to Jesus every day. It means giving up selfish ambition. It means to serve others, not expecting to be served. It means standing up for Jesus and proclaiming His message from the rooftops as verse 27 says, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”
Acknowledge God and He will acknowledge you! Being a disciple may be costly in this life, and we just may not get to do what we feel like doing, if what that is contrary to God’s will, but the reward of eternal life with God cannot be surpassed. There is nothing greater. We begin our eternal life with God the moment we accept Christ. That eternal life, the one we gain for losing ours, begins in this world and continues forever. This life, here on earth or for eternity is not supposed to be a “What about me?” life like the question shouted by our neighbor 30+ years ago.
The best part of this eternal life with God, is that God is with us every step of the way. We are not given an insurmountable task of carrying our cross and left to our own devices! No, we who are brothers and sisters in Christ have the Holy Spirit, himself, dwelling within us, we are given abundant grace and mercy. We are living within community with each other to lift one another, support one another, pray with and for one another.
These last few months, 4 now, have been unlike any other we have experienced. Life is filled with challenges. But we are never alone in enduring those challenges, as long as our eyes and hearts remained fixed upon Jesus, and we do not allow ourselves to be deceived by the powers of evil in this world. Let us emerge from this cocooning time more as who we were created to be- those formed in the image of God. -Amen.