Sunday, August 28, 2005

Matthew 16:21-28, Romans 12:9-21 A Sermon Preached in Dromore Cathedral at Morning Prayer on 28th August 2005

What way do you think? What sort of attitude do you have? How do you view things that come along? This morning we're going to look at the only two ways we can think – either from our natural, sinful viewpoint, or we can see things as God sees them.

Our second reading this morning is the turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. Up to Matthew 16, we find the birth of Jesus, then the start of his ministry, some teaching, healing and miracles. It took the disciples until Matthew 16 to discover who Jesus was. But within Matthew 16, we find a turning point, a new departure, with that revelation of Jesus' identity.

We find Jesus and Peter in conversation. The other disciples are there too. It follows on immediately from the previous verses, in which Peter had declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. So now that the disciples understood that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus declared what the Christ would do.

He told them, “That he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things ... and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt 16:21). These were the things the Christ, the Messiah had come to do. These had been promised in the Scriptures, that the Christ would come to die for his people, crushed for their iniquities.

Yet Peter had other ideas. What does he do? He takes Jesus aside and has a quiet word with him. It goes something like this – 'now, come on Jesus, wise up; this isn't going to happen to you!' Peter was expecting, along with most Jews, that the Christ would be a great military leader, who would expel the Romans, the occupying army, and would set up his kingdom on earth and restore Israel to it's strength and glory.

But notice the strong rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” Hardly the words you would expect to hear Jesus saying to one of the disciples. And to call him by the name of the enemy – Satan? So what was the problem? Surely Peter was looking to Jesus' welfare, and trying to cheer him up, rather than thinking about death and despair? Jesus himself told Peter what the problem was: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter was looking at the whole situation through the eyes of man, and sinful man at that. He was looking for Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom, to expel the Romans, to get the glory through self-preservation. But that wasn't why Jesus came.

Jesus came because he had his mind firmly set on the things of God. He knew that he had to die on the cross to save his people. As the hymn tells us:

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in

As Philippians 2 tells us, he 'humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name' (Phil 2:8,9). And, as we find in Hebrews 12:2, Jesus,'who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame... is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.'

Jesus, knowing that there was no other way for his people to be saved, looked beyond the despair and pain and death of the cross, to the glory and the joy that would be his, and through him that would be extended to those who trust in him. And this was God's way. This was what God intended.

Thanks be to God, therefore, that Jesus resisted the subtle temptation from Peter to take the easy way out. Jesus suffered and died, going the hard way, the way of the cross, the way that we could be saved. Have you come to glory in this? Have you found this salvation because of what Jesus did for us?

After we come to faith, and have found that salvation in Christ, how do we view our faith? How do we live our life? What are the decisions we make in everyday life, in following our Saviour? Jesus then moves on to talk about the cost of being his disciple, which is all about denying yourself and living for God. Now to those of us who are settled, with a comfortable existence, these words will be very unsettling, very uncomfortable. We'll think first of what the world would tell us, then we'll hear how Christ calls us as his followers to be different.

The world around us, and even our own sinful natures would tell us that, even though we've come to faith, we should really look to our own interests – to make sure that we're all right. To take things easy, to seek comfort, and to avoid pain or struggle.

Jesus says: 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' Those who follow Jesus must put to death their sinful nature. They must crucify the flesh, and battle against the devil. This is no life of ease – but a difficult, painful struggle.
The world says, save your life; look after yourself. Store up for yourself good things; make as much money as you can and treat yourself to everything you desire or want.

Jesus says: '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 soul?'

Again, it is all about seeing things from God's perspective. Those who are materialists only see this world and live for this life, without realising that there is an eternity to live for – and a heavenly home to gain. And while it might look like you're throwing your life away in living for God, you are living in light of eternity, and storing up treasure for eternity – you truly find life, real life!

Indeed, some people have said to me that it is a waste that I'm going to become a minister – surely I could have a proper job, and make lots of money, and become wealthy, and have it easy? But all that is as nothing when you recognise the certainty of eternal judgement. This world is not the final thing – it will all come to an end. But our soul is eternal, and will live on – either in heaven, or in hell.

JC Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool writes on this passage that 'there is nothing so precious as a man's soul ... there is nothing that can make amends to us for the loss of our souls ... the world and all that it contains is temporal: it is all fading, perishing and passing away. The soul is eternal: that one single word is the key to the whole question.'

This theme of Christian living is also raised in the first reading, from Romans 12. Verse 2 (which wasn't read) tells us 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.' We are not to be conformed to the patterns of this world – whether in the way non-Christians think or behave. But as the spirit dwells in us, renewing our mind, he takes us, and changes us, making us to think like God, and turning away from acting like sinful beings.
But be warned of this – the Christian life is not easy. In fact, I don't have to tell you that – you probably know that better than me. Hard times come, and persecution comes, because the world outside doesn't want to know about the faith, or thinks us odd.

So how should we act when persecution or opposition comes? How should we relate to those around us? The natural, sinful, easy reaction is: REVENGE! As the saying goes – revenge is sweet – you get back at the person who hurt you, and it feels good (at least initially). It is so easy to lash out and get back at them! But it isn't God's way. It isn't the way we should live as Christians.

God's way is to 'bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them ... repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all ... never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God ... to the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'

This is the difficult thing, but the right thing to do. It is the mark of a Christian, because this is what Jesus did. In 1 Peter 2, we read this: 'if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly' (1 Peter 2:20-23).

Jesus was not only our Saviour, but also our example, and we should seek to live as he did. When you face those hard times, or people are hurting you, remember the example of Jesus, who didn't curse them, or answer back, or strike out – he was silent, he bore the hurt and prayed for his enemies.

So what does this mean for our every day life? What happens when you meet that annoying neighbour, or that hurtful colleague? Bear your suffering, having Christ as your example. Bless those who persecute you – do good to them, maybe making them a cup of tea, or asking how they are, or simply smiling, and not trying to fight back, or defend yourself.

And what might possibly be the results of such a course of action? By not fighting back, it means that the confrontation won't be escalated – they will lose interest, and they won't be provoked to continue on attacking you. It will also create space for God's grace to act, by making you a better witness. But it will also keep you from sinning – because whoever is angry with their brother is guilty of judgement – it is as if you have murdered them. So instead, by being transformed by the Spirit, and not fighting back, you will see so much good come from it.

But there's another reason, and both the passage from 1 Peter and Matthew focus in on it. It is the fact of judgement. There is a day coming, when everything that we have done will be laid bare, and will be judged. All sin will be punished. But for Christians, there is no condemnation, because Christ has paid for our sins!

So how are you thinking? How do you view life? Will you think the easy, sinful thoughts of instant gratification and revenge? Or are you willing to step out this week and set your mind on the things of God?


  1. Loooooooooooooooooong sermon Gary!

    I do see the point worldly view point an what Gods will is? But in practical terms its differcult... Got any tips on survival in the real world?

  2. Claire

    my tip is be reconsiled to God through his son Jesus Christ! then survival is certain!