"Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it. He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward."
"Radical to the Extreme"
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Now and then someone will picture the faith for us. There are pictures we like better than others. It all seems to depend on what one is trying to communicate. If you want to talk about the peace of believing, well, that is a comforting picture. If you want to talk about our security in Christ, then that is easy to listen to. If you want to hear about the joy of believing, oh my! That is a wonderful and comforting thing! But if you want to talk about the cost of discipleship, or look at the difference between believing and not believing — then you get a pretty hard and fast and radical picture. In fact, as our theme this morning suggests, it is Radical in the extreme.
Jesus starts our text with familiar words about confessing Him before men. The demand seems reasonable to us -- even if the tone seems just a little strident. But it gets sharper and far more exacting with each sentence. Finally, we have to admit that Jesus paints the picture in black and white. There is not a lot of wiggle room and compromise there.
Jesus is demanding. This is a no-holds barred look at the Christian faith, not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of Christianity we have grown used to in our society — perhaps even in our church. Jesus talks about war, about setting us against one another, about crosses and how if we love someone more that Him we are "not worthy" of Him. This doesn't sound like that Christianity we hear about so often, where it seems harder to miss out on going to heaven than it is to get there.
When Jesus talks about the faith, He describes it as something which seems totally absorbing. This is not the religion that you fulfill by showing up for a Sunday Service two or three times a month. This is a religion that can cost you your life. There are great potential benefits, but the dangers are just as great. Try to find the easy way in this faith, and t sounds like you will miss out entirely. This religion Jesus describes is not something else in your life, something on the side, but something central — something that will consume your life.
In fact, it sounds almost revolutionary. He came not to bring peace but a sword. He came to set a man against his father and a woman against her mother, and so forth. These are not words of peace and comfort and the status quo, these are words of revolution and change. If we knew nothing else about Jesus, we would have to conclude that He is speaking about something revolutionary. From this perspective, it is easy to see why political leaders throughout history have found Jesus and His church so threatening.
Jesus was telling the truth. He always does. Even when it doesn't fit into our preconceptions, Jesus is always telling the truth. This, not the comfortable pews and convenient services you are used to, is what the Christian faith is and what it is about. There is nothing "pretend" about the Faith. It is a "pedal to the metal", full-tilt, all or nothing, life consuming faith, or it is not the saving faith of Jesus Christ.
First thing our text tells us is that nothing can be more important. If parent or child is more important, you are not a true Christian. If getting along with others is more important, you are not a true Christian. If personal comfort, or well-being, or even your own life is more important to you that the Christian faith, then you are not a true Christian.
By this point, you should have recognized that this is not a "gospel" passage. This is Law and Judgment. Here Jesus says "Measure yourself against this standard." The Law is true. When it accuses us of sin, it has no power to condemn under the Gospel, but it is true. When Jesus tells us that we cannot cling to anything in preference to Him, that is the truth. When Jesus says that you must take up your cross, that is His judgment, not merely an opinion or an over-zealous thought.
The Christian faith is a faith that requires everything. It is not casual. It is not easy. It is not something you can successfully play at or toy with — it is not a hobby or an avocation. It must be your life, for the price is the CROSS. You can expect to pay a price in pain and personal sacrifice if you are one of Jesus' people. If it is easy and natural and causes no problems in your life, it isn't the Christian faith - at least not the one Jesus was speaking of.
With those demands and expectations, you might well ask, Is it worth it? Do I want to be a part of something that guarantees pain and difficulty. Do I want a part of a religion that promises to set children against their parents and parents against their children? Do I want to be a part of something that claims to be more important than anything else in my life and even more important than myself? You gotta ask yourself, sometime . . . somewhere. Is it worth it?
And that is a question that only you can answer. Only you can make that judgment for yourself. Many people say no. The price is too high. They want their things, or their pleasures, or their family. They aren't about to lose their child over this or that. They will not deny themselves anything, or take up their cross — after all, crosses are such dirty and nasty things — and they have blood and pain on them! Many people say that it is just not worth it to them.
That doesn't stop them from coming to church. That doesn't mean that they don't try to make the church be what they want, and try to prevent it from being what it is, in fact. They still call themselves "Christians," and they expect us to call them Christians too. But the real question is, does Jesus call them "Christians?" And judging by the words of our text, I would have to guess that the answer to that is "NO." So, is it worth it to you?
To come to an intelligent decision, you have to look at the gift. What is it that Jesus offers for all of this pain and sword and self-denial and setting Christ first? The answer is 'the forgiveness of sins.' He offers a resurrection from the grave unto everlasting life in glory with Him. He offers peace and joy and — well what He offers is so much better than anything we experience on this earth that we have to take it by faith. We cannot even imagine, really.
He who has found his life shall lose it, — that is what Jesus says about those who decide that it is not worth the price. The will be paying another price — actually a far steeper price. And he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it. That is what Jesus offers as a gift. Your life will be given back to you, never to be lost again. You won't lose it to sorrow or sickness or pain. It will be fully yours, and without end.
That is one way of answering the question, Is it worth it? Another way is to look at the price paid for you. Jesus went to the cross for you. This faith not only requires that you take up your cross, but Jesus also took up the cross — a real, wooden one, for you. He can demand so much because He gave so much. He took the guilt of your sins, and endured the punishment you deserve. He bore the wrath of God against sin for you, and died the death your sins required, so that you could enjoy that life without end in His presence. He died for all, the Bible says, so that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
The simple truth that you can debate the question means that God has counted you among His own and has given you the power to live for Him. He has counted you worth the price. That is the reason you are here, the only reason that you can even contemplate the demands. For you, the door is open. Now you can consider the cost of discipleship, and ask yourself if it is worth it.
Of course, none of this is done to earn our way. Jesus has cone that. Whether we do this or that, or count ourselves as living up to it doesn't make us Christian, and it certainly doesn't make us fit or deserving of salvation. All that Jesus has told us is to give us a way to look at ourselves and see if we are truly Christians, or just hypocrites, just fooling ourselves.
People often do that, you know. Especially when it comes to religion. They name it and claim it, as the saying goes. They call themselves Christians and simply assume that whatever a Christian is is what they are, and that whatever a Christian does is what they do. If you are a Christian, that is true. But first you have to be able to assess correctly if you are a Christian.
And our text tells us that Christianity is Radical to the extreme. There is clearly nothing half baked or temporary about this faith. It is a full-time, full-throttle, everything else comes second to Jesus and His Word kind of thing. When you look at it, it has to make you wonder. It has to make you aware that you do not measure up. It has to make you repent and call on God and throw yourself on His mercy and hope in His grace.
If you don't find this text challenging you, you aren't paying attention. When you consider this you have to cry out with the father of that possessed young boy from the gospel lesson a couple of weeks ago, Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief. This is not easy listening Christianity, or doing what comes just natural Christianity. There is nothing fuzzy and warm about the picture Jesus pains of the faith. This faith, described by our Lord Himself, is radical to the extreme.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say "Amen".)
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