I feel like Jonah running away. I saw that Matthew 10 was the lesson for this Ember Friday and included the difficult sayings of Jesus. I thought about meditating instead on how if you just trust God and pray hard enough, He is guaranteed to financially bless you. Then I gave serious consideration to verse 31 (at least the second half): “you are of more value than many sparrows.” That seemed easy enough to talk about.
But the truth is that Jesus Christ wants me to go through the Cross and not to avoid it, even when the Cross He has chosen for me to bear is to say some difficult things that He first said.
The context of Matthew 10:24-42 is that Jesus is about to send out the 12 to minister on His behalf. Since we have also received the same commission, we should listen carefully to what He has to say to His disciples. This is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that He’s asked them to carry on His ministry. For the first time, the disciples are really acting as the Church, the Body of Christ who ministers to the world on behalf of Christ.
Whenever Jesus spends time with His disciples, He gives them a radical call. That call, which we hear especially during Lent, is to deny yourself, to give up the world, to give up everything for Him. When Jesus first called the 12, He called them to leave their jobs, homes, and family and follow immediately – trusting only in Him. In Matthew 10 He makes the radical nature of His call even more clear – the same radical call that He gives to each of you, as His disciple
In verse 16, Jesus tells us that He is sending us out as sheep among wolves. In verse 17, He tells the disciples that they will be delivered up to synagogues and councils and scourged or whipped, and He’s telling us that we, too, will face determined resistance to God and therefore to us. In verse 22, He reminds all His disciples that they will be hated for His name’s sake, and in verses 24-25 the disciples should not be surprised to be called Beelzebul since the disciple is not above Master.
Does anyone feel like turning back at this point? Our experience as comfortable Christians here in the U.S. hasn’t been much like what Jesus is describing. But if it started to become like that, would any of you feel like turning back?
If we stay comfortably dumb, not speaking about Jesus Christ or how our life is hidden in Him or how we are His Temple, then I suppose we may be able to ignore some of what Jesus says. But speaking about Him is part of His call to discipleship. How is it that people heard about Jesus Christ, after He had bodily ascended? Because His disciples went out and told people about Him in their lives.
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in daylight; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (verse 27.) “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (verses 32-33.)
What are we to make of this commandment from our Master? I may not take it literally in terms of getting up on top of my slanted roof and preaching, but surely Jesus is telling me something about the need to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – even though there may be a price of pain I have to pay for it.
So radical is the call of Jesus Christ on your life that He says that He who loves father or mother or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me (verse 37.) In another place Jesus puts it even more in our faces: he who does not hate mother and father for my sake is not worthy of Me. The point, of course, is not to hate our parents whom God has said we should honor but to love Jesus Christ that much more.
Oh yeah – I almost forgot one more itsy-bitsy teen-weeny miniscule point. I hate to bring it up, but in verse 38 Jesus says: “He who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of Me.”
Jesus really means this when He says it. Some of you may be tempted to walk away. You might be thinking: “This isn’t what I signed up for. All I signed up for was to come to church every week or two. Yes, I believe, but this is too extreme for me.”
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, the call to discipleship is extreme because sin and death are extreme. And so is God and His absolute sovereignty over you and me.
But praise God this is not the end of the story!
You all remember how Jesus Christ carried His cross. That wasn’t just His Cross: – it was yours – and mine. He carried your Cross for you when you couldn’t carry it. And now He’s asking you to carry His cross. And this is the Cross of Jesus that He has asked you to carry: that you, His disciple, become like Him, the Master; that as He died for you, so you die to yourself for Him; that as He gave up His life for you, so you give up your life – every bit of it – for Him; and that as He faithfully confessed you before His Father, so you would faithfully confess Him before all people.
Prophets often have strange visions. Well, I’ve had one. Oh, it wasn’t a vision like
Ezekiel’s of strange spinning wheels and creatures with multiple heads and wings. My vision is this: that when I say we are to carry the Cross of Christ, I’m not just saying that we should carry His Cross, as if it’s simply a physical object outside of Him or us . . . . I’m saying that we are to carry Jesus Christ Himself – and that Jesus Christ is our Cross.
I see a picture, not of me carrying the Old Rugged Cross, just a rough piece of wood, from which I might imagine I get a few splinters. No – I see all of us together carrying the image of Jesus Christ within us: individually and together. I see Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church being the very presence of Jesus Christ to Tyler, TX, and I see a vision of other local churches carrying Christ together.
St. Lewis – not St. Louis the city – but C.S. Lewis – said the following about bearing Jesus Christ in Mere Christianity: “He works on us in all sorts of ways. But above all, He works on us through each other. Men are mirrors, or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men. But usually it is those who know Him that bring Him to others. That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important….The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”
There is one more thing that we must never forget. The Lord who commanded you to take up the Cross that will kill the old you (and be painful in the process) is the same Lord who said you are worth much more than the sparrows He cares for. The Lord who has asked you to be not afraid when you proclaim Him to others is the same Lord who has counted the hairs on your head. He has not asked you to carry His Cross without being there Himself to care for you. The same loving Lord who cares about your hairs is the one who knows that it is by the Cross that He will make you into His loving disciple. If it worked for Him . . .
As I have lived for 19 years with my wife Jackie (God’s second greatest gift to me!), I have had the opportunity to study her. I have taken this opportunity to map the topography of her skin and notice the little distinctive features on her. (I started to count the hairs on her head but kept having to start over!) If I can pay a little attention to Jackie like this, how much more do you think God the Father pays attention to and cares for you?
The next time you hear Jesus’ call to take up your Cross, deny yourself, and follow Him – remember as well how much He cares for you and promises to be with you, carrying His Cross with you.
Prayer: Father, I thank You that You love me so much that You have counted the very hairs on my head. I thank You for loving me enough to send Your Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die for me, and I ask that by Your loving grace I might filled with a desire to take up the Cross You have handed to me that I might be like my Master in all things. Amen.
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed divers Orders in thy Church; Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same; and so replenish them with the truth of thy doctrine, and endue them with innocency of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name, and the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1. Have I been denying Him by not speaking of Him to others?
2. Meditate on the love and attention God must have for you so that even the hairs on your head are numbered.
3. What fears do you have about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Ask God to help you in your fears and to give you the courage to take up the Cross He has handed to you.
Resolution: I resolve to revisit my Lenten fast and discipline, or the most important resolution to which the Lord keeps directing me, and to receive it as the Cross of Jesus – indeed, the very presence of Jesus Christ – in my life today.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson