IN NOMINE JESU
We are people of the Cross. There are signs of the Cross all around us this morning. We see the Cross in the stained glass window behind the altar and in several of the stained glass windows that grace our nave. There are wooden crosses embedded into the stone walls on either side of the altar. We see the processional cross, albeit veiled, as it will be throughout the remainder of Lententide, as a reminder to us of Christ's covering our sins with His blood. There is also a wooden cross in the chancel, draped with a purple cloth to symbolize, with the crown of thorns, the death of Christ our King. There are crosses on the altar frontal, the purple parament placed upon and hanging over the altar. There are crosses on my stole, and I am also wearing a pectoral crucifix, a crucifix being a cross with a corpus, or a body, upon it. There are crosses in the light fixtures in our nave. Many copies that we have of The Lutheran Hymnal have a cross on the front. The sign of the cross is made several times during the Divine Service; some of us even cross ourselves at those moments. We cannot help but notice the Cross and its presence among us in so many forms. The Cross has such prominence for us because it is the means upon which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for us, where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. Of secondary import is what we are to do with the cross in our lives. In our text, the Lord says, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (v. 34b). He continues: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (v. 35). We are to bear our crosses for Him. But what is this cross that we are to each bear? One Lutheran commentator says: "This will mean that 'he take up his cross.' Jesus undoubtedly chose this figure because He Himself was to be crucified. Although this was a Roman mode of execution it was known universally. Jesus will bear His cross, one which He alone can bear. Of His disciples He says that each is to bear his cross, i. e., the particular one allotted to him. This word has grown too familiar by constant use [and misuse—MAS]. It is a mistake to call all suffering a cross. The wicked have many sorrows but no crosses. The cross is that suffering alone which results from our faithful connection with Christ. And the intimation is that each disciple will have his share of such suffering. The thought grows overwhelmingly: Christ with His cross leads, and all His disciples, each loaded with his cross, follows in one immense procession, like men who are led away to be crucified. Paul carries the figure farther: they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh; and Paul himself is crucified with Christ. The earthly prospects of a disciple are not alluring." [Lenski]
Martin Luther further defines what this cross is in a sermon he preached for Holy Cross Day (September 14): "Christ has commanded that everyone should discover and take up his cross. You must become holy even as He has sanctified His own flesh and blood. But where do you find it? You must not take a shovel in your hand and dig a great hole nor ride a horse to seek it up in Jerusalem. It is discovered when God sends you misfortune whether it be illness, injury to body and wealth, or through evil people. There you find it buried. See to it that you recognize this. When you know that God has sent it to you, then you have found it with your heart. This discovery is worth more to you than if someone presented you adamantine or emeralds."
But why is such suffering called a cross? To this end, Luther also says: "But it is called a 'cross' first because it is sorrow and it hurts and thereafter because it is borne in weakness and agony. It is just like Christ's suffering. It was accompanied by great disgrace, for no one would praise it. Everyone mocked Him and His cross and said, 'He helped others, now [let us] see Him help Himself,' among other abuses. It is also a cross because I endure and suffer and have no one to comfort me. But even that is thus far a poor cross. But when I stay there and suffer and everyone who sees it also sings, leaps for joy and says, 'It serves him right. He deserves even worse,' as it happened to the apostles and when it is the most aggravating and bitterest and you think that you have been abandoned by every creature and even by God Himself, that is the true very cross. It is being forsaken by both man and God."
The early church father, Caesarius of Arles, also says in response to the question,
"What does this mean, 'take up a cross'? It means he will bear with whatever is troublesome, and in this very act he will be following [Christ]. When he has begun to follow [Christ] according to [His] teaching and precepts, he will find many people contradicting him and standing in his way, many who not only deride but even persecute him. Moreover, this is true, not only of pagans who are outside the church, but also of those who seem to be in it visibly, but are outside of it because of the perversity of their deeds. Although these glory in merely the title of Christian, they continually persecute faithful Christians. Such belong to the members of the church in the same way that bad blood is in the body. Therefore, if you wish to follow Christ, do not delay in carrying His cross; tolerate sinners, but do not yield to them. Do not let the false happiness of the wicked corrupt you. You do well to despise all things for the sake of Christ, in order that you may be fit for His companionship."
Not every form of suffering is cross-bearing. We like to throw the phrase around, thinking it will cause others to take pity on us, thereby making gods of ourselves, for we crave the attention and adoration that belongs to God alone. Even the heathen claim they are bearing crosses; yet they despise the cross on which Christ died, for they also despise Him. The heathen also despise true Christians who are truly bearing their crosses for the sake of Christ and of the Gospel. "So the true cross must include mockery and derision along with suffering" (Luther).
But there are some even within the pale of Christendom in this adulterous and sinful generation who regard fellow members with disdain, deriding those who truly seek to remain faithful to the Word of God in doctrine and in practice. This is true even in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, where members are pitted against each other for the purpose of advancing their personal or political agendas. Members who seek an anything-goes mentality in the Church become diabolical in their pursuits to remove pastors who have fought to remain faithful to their ordination vows, to remain faithful to the Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions, both in doctrine and in practice, which is put forth in the Divine Service. In many corners of our Synod, faithful pastors are starved out by unfaithful members who withhold their offerings as a form of blackmail, and circuit counselors and district presidents blackball these faithful men by denying them opportunities to receive calls to other congregations. They want false prophets—men who would rather be "friendly" or "loving" than be faithful, as if the two need to be separated. A mentor of mine has said that a pastor can "love" a person straight into hell by not being faithful to the Word of God. Faithful pastors and congregations are being driven from the Synod because they are not ablaze with the latest marketing techniques and business strategies that boast numerical growth but do nothing to promote true spiritual growth of the sheep, which simply entails their hearing the pure Word of God read and preached to them and to receive the Sacraments administered in accordance with the Gospel, as the Lord has commanded for 2,000 years and still commands today. To do otherwise is to be about the devil's work and to give Satan the glory. "That is why the cross is said to be found in the heart, since the appearance of scandal before the world envelopes [sic] us so that we must rise up and sing our own little psalm, 'I am miserable and forsaken'" (Luther). Unless we repent, we will incur the Lord's wrath, for He says in or test, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (v. 38).
To this end we would do well to hear the words of St. Augustine: "Turn, rather, to these teachings, my very dear friend: take up your cross and follow the Lord. For, when I noticed that you were being slowed down in your divine purpose by your preoccupation with domestic cares, I felt that you were being carried and dragged along by your cross rather than that you were carrying it. What else does the cross mean than the mortality of this flesh? This is our very own cross which the Lord commands us to carry that we may be as well armed as possible in following Him. We suffer momentarily until death is swallowed up in victory. Then this cross itself will be crucified. The cross will be nailed to the fear of God. We would hardly be able to carry it now if it forever resisted us with free and unfettered limbs. There is no other way for you to follow the Lord except by carrying it, for how can you follow Him if you are not His?"
We are not alone as we bear our crosses, for we follow the One who bore His cross for us all the way to His death—our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On His cross our Lord bore the full brunt of what we by our sins deserve. He paid the price for our sins, a burden that would crush us. He took our sins upon Himself and paid for them with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that we would live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Luther also preaches: "But such ignominy and scandal do not last long. It is over in a little while so that we see the opposite. That happened to Christ when He hung on the cross. All the world stood against Him there. He was accused and mocked and also forsaken by every creature. But when He was almost dead the play suddenly turned around. Then all the creatures had to see His innocence before all the world. The sun lost its shine. The moon was darkened. The earth shook. Graves were opened. The dead walked about among the people. The Jews returned to the city and smote their breasts. The Gentile centurion readily recognized, 'This is truly the Son of God.' The curtain in the temple ripped in two down the middle and whatever other miracles occurred at the time. This is all written for our comfort that when we stand in the midst of the cross we should also consider that it will not last for long. That is called finding the cross."
You are only able to find the cross because the One who bore the cross of Calvary has found you, purchased and won you from sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, giving His body and shedding His blood for you, winning the forgiveness of your sins on the cross and giving this gift of forgiveness to you in His Supper. He finds us and bids us to come to His Table to receive this great gift in faith. "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). The Lord lifts the burden of your cross through His body and blood so that you would see His cross, that you would see His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, that you would see the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you His peace. For this we rejoice, for the Lord makes our crosses lighter, as St. Paul writes in our Epistle: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:1-5).
For this we also rejoice, for God has given us the grace to endure our tribulations, to bear our crosses, because His grace is sufficient for us. It is by His grace it may be said of us in the Book of Revelation: "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:14b-17).
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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