Pentecost 5A Gospel Analysis: True Discipleship
SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, pp. 94-96.
PASTOR EDWARD F. MARKQUART
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198
This Bible study is from THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations beginning in 2006.
In these fifteen verses from Matthew 10:24-39, there is “way too much” for one sermon. It seems that a preacher would be wise if he/she focused on one, two or three of these teachings of Jesus on discipleship.
#100. THE FATE OF THE DISCIPLES Matthew 10:24-25
Matthew collects many of the primary teachings of Jesus about discipleship into this section of chapter 10. Luke collects similar teachings in Luke 12.
Jesus’ warning about the oncoming persecutions of the disciples was prophetic. That is, the first Christians faced a triple persecution: persecution from the Romans, persecution from the Jews (synagogues), and persecution from one’s own family. Just as Jesus was hated for bearing witness to the truth (John 15:18-20), so also will Christians be hated for being loyal to Jesus Christ. It is to be remembered that Christians were persecuted and ridiculed until the time of Constantine in about 315 CE when Christianity became the official religion of Constantine’s Christian Empire. Since then, throughout history, Christians have experienced persecution and ridicule, especially when the governments and/or culture of that era have been hostile to Christianity.
-A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. We, disciples, know that we are beneath the stature of Jesus, and our goal is to learn as much as we can from him and to absorb into ourselves his wisdom and ways of loving. The goal for us Christians is to be like Christ, to be “little Christs,” to embody the wisdom and ways of Jesus into our being. Christ is to be our master and we are to be his slave. We are to belong to Christ as a slave belonged to his/her master.
Underline and focus on the phrase, “A disciple is to be like the teacher.” That is what we want to hold onto. That is what we want. We want to be like Jesus, as much as humanly possible.
We think of the hymn, “I want to walk as the child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. “ The hymn continues, “I want to look at Jesus. … I want to be with Jesus.” In our minds, we often add the phrase to the same melody, “I want to be like Jesus.” We sing in our spirits, “I want to walk as the child of the light, I want to be like Jesus.”
To be like Jesus is to follow Jesus. None of us follow our teachers perfectly and flawlessly but we still follow.
“I want to walk as a child of the light,
I want to follow Jesus
God set the stars To give light to the world
The Star of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The lamb is the Light of the city of God
Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.
I want to see the Brightness of God
I want to look at Jesus
Clear Son of righteousness shine on my path
And show me the way to the Father.
I'm looking for the coming of Christ
I want to be with Jesus
When we have run, with patience, the race
We shall know the joy of Jesus.”
-If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! If the enemies of Christ call Jesus the prince of demons and malign him, how much more will they malign and attempt to ridicule those who follow Christ and belong to Jesus. Jesus was playing on the word, “Beelzebul,” which in Aramaic, means “the Lord of the house.” We as Christians expect ridicule, slander and smugness from those who do not follow Christ.
#101. EXHORTION TO FEARLESS CONFESSION Matthew 10:26-33, Luke 12:2-9, pp. 94-95 in Aland’s text.
Notice that these teachings are nearly exact parallels in both Matthew and Luke. These almost perfect parallels of teachings indicate that Matthew and Luke are borrowing from an earlier common source that Biblical scholars have labeled, Q.
Luke 12:1 says, “Jesus began to teach his disciples.” Luke gathers together Jesus’ teachings about discipleship in Luke 12 and 13, just as Matthew gathers together Jesus’ teachings about discipleship in Matthew 10 and 11.
A crowd of thousands hear Jesus teach. See page 179, #195, Luke 12:1 and notice the size of the crowd that was listening to Jesus as he was teaching: “When so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon each other.”
-So have no fear of them; In this short passage, we have four references to the word, “fear,” and the word, “fear,” controls this whole text. We are not to fear governing Roman authorities, ecclesiastical Jewish authorities, and even divisions in the family. Rather, we are to fear and love God above all things. Those categories are still important. That is, we often fear government, the church, and the family. We could add a fourth fear: our friends and the crowd around us. Sometimes, we Christians, are in that situation where we need to speak a Word from the Lord to our government, our church, our family or our friends and we are afraid to do so…because of possible rejection or persecution. So often, we keep our mouths shut and we hide in the safety of silence because we are afraid of rejection and conflict. We do not have the courage to be truthful.
-For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Ultimately, the truth will be made known.
-What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. This ministry and gospel of Jesus, the gospel, the kingdom was just becoming known. The gospel and the kingdom were in the shadows of history, but soon would be known and spread throughout the whole wide world. Rumors about Jesus and his kingdom were being whispered around the countryside, but there would come a time when the truth about Jesus would be needed to be shouted from the rooftops so that all the world would know the truth about this Jesus. The Scriptures say: “That time is now.” Now is the time to proclaim from the rooftops and the hilltops the truth about Jesus and the kingdom.
-Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; Yes, the Roman government had the power to kill the body of Jesus and the bodies of his followers. The Greek word for witness is “martyria” from which we get the word, “martyr.” Witnesses for Christ expect to be martyred, but those who kill the body cannot kill the soul. … Another secondary point is this: the Scripture differentiates the body from the soul. “They” can kill the body but not the soul. There is a soul in a human being that cannot be killed at the point of death.
-Rather fear him (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell (hades.) We are not to fear human beings and any persecution of human beings; rather, we are to fear the Lord God and stand in awe of the majesty and holiness of God. Martin Luther taught that we are to fear and love God above all things. He taught that there is this perplexing ambivalence in our relationship with God because we both fear God and love God. We stand in awe before God; we often stand breathlessly before the majesty of the mountains and skies of the creation of God and the infinity of the universe expanding right before our imaginations. We know that we are a drip within God’s vast ocean and a microdot in God’s ever expanding universe. At the same time, we also realize that God can punish us, annihilate us, and exterminate us. This place of everlasting punishment and everlasting extermination is called hell.
Literally, the word, “hell,” means “gehenna” or the “valley of Hinnom.” The Valley of Hinnom was a place of child sacrifice outside the walls of Jerusalem in the Old Testament. We are not to fear the punishment of our fellow human beings; we are to fear the punishment of the everlasting God who created the universe.
In Lutheran theological terms, this threat of punishment is called the Law. The Law and this threat of punishment is to drive us to Christ and his forgiveness. The Law threatens us; the Gospel promises life and God’s goodness to us. Lutherans have a theological way of thinking called the Law and the Gospel. We experience the Law whenever we are confronted with the demands of God, the accusations of God, the threats of God e.g. the threat that God will destroy both our body and our soul in hell. In the next Bible verses, we find pure gospel. That is, God assures us and promises us that we are more valuable than insignificant sparrows, and that the numbers of the hairs on our head are accounted for in the mind and heart of God. That is the Gospel. God speaks to us with both the Law and the Gospel, with both the threat of punishment and hell and the promise of forgiveness and everlasting life.
-Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? In the eyes of the ancient world, a sparrow was inexpensive and monetarily worthless. Notice that Luke has five sparrows and Matthew has two sparrows. Matthew has two sparrows being sold for one penny and Luke has five sparrows sold for two pennies. Once again, we do not get hung up on the minutia, the petty details of the text. Matthew and Luke share the identical idea although the details are different.
A sparrow means a small bird, but sparrows in particular. A. T. Robertson, a famous Biblical scholars, says that such sparrows are “sold today in the markets of Jerusalem and Jaffa.” http://www.ccel.org/r/robertson_at/wordpictures/htm/MT10.RWP.html
-Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. The NIV translate this sentence, “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of our Father.” Does this mean that everything that happens to a sparrow is the will of God? Does this then mean that everything that happens to us human beings is the divine will of God and that we humans are part of a specific and detailed godly blueprint of our lives? Does this mean that God has a specific, detailed plan for our lives (God’s will) and this plan is being carried out in every detail? Who we marry? Where we live? The car we buy? Who we meet today? It seems to me that this passage is saying something more limited. That is, we are part of God’s glorious will for our lives, but that does not mean that God controls all the specific details of our lives as if we were some puppets who are predetermined to live out a specific, divine plan. Like good parents, God has a grand vision for the life of his children to live in love, kindness, justice, mercy, and peace within an extremely evil world. Healthy parents have good and grand visions for their children but do not have detailed blue prints of their children’s lives.
“Not one of them is forgotten before God.”Only inLuke. Luke’s version of Q is more helpful than Matthew’s. That is, Matthews says that “no sparrow will fall to the ground without your Father’s will;” Luke says that “no sparrow is forgotten before God.” Both seem to be quoting from a previous source, called Q. We in the church have this fundamental principle to let “Scripture interpret Scripture” and it seems that Luke’s version of the story illuminates Matthew’s. In other words, in my perspective and theology, I believe that God does not forget one of the sparrows and God does not forget my life either, since I am even more valuable than the sparrows. For me, Luke’s interpretation is more helpful than Matthew’s. Luke's emphasis is that God does not forget us as individual human beings.
We recall the words from the hymn, “Keep your eye upon the sparrow.”
“Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.”
- Words by Civilla D. Martin, 1905
- Music Charles H. Gabriel, 1905
“Civilla Martin wrote: "Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle, true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One daywhile we werevisiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faithgripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience." The next day she mailed the poem to Charles Gabriel, who supplied the music. Singer Ethel Waters so loved this song that she used its name as the title for her autobiography.”
-And even the hairs of your head are all counted. Both Matthew and Luke record that ALL the hairs of our head are numbered. In other words, God knows the littlest of details about our lives, and we deeply appreciate that. Knowing that we human beings live in a vast, expanding, seemingly impersonal universe that is some fifteen billion years old, it is a miracle beyond comprehension to say that the Mind/Logic/God behind this universe is personal. This God behind the universe is so personal that this God knows ALL the hairs on my head. In other words, no earthy sparrow nor hair of the head is forgotten by this all knowing and all loving God. Jesus simply called his God “abba,” or “pappa.” To name God “father” is to claim and intimate and personal relationship with God.
-So do not be afraid (of them); you are of more value than many sparrows. We are not to be afraid of the persecution and ridicule of governments, culture, family, and friends because we human being are preciously valuable to God.
Human beings are afraid. One of the deepest fears in human beings is that we are alone in the universe; that there is no God; that the Intelligence behind this universe is not personal and does not know when a sparrow dies nor when one of the hairs on our heads fall out. At the heart of faith is the belief that God is, that God is with us, that God has not forgotten us, that God is involved in the minutia of our daily lives. We are not simply afraid of the rejection and ridicule of governments and cultures around us, but there is a deeper fear that we are alone in the universe and that there is no God.
-Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I (the Son of Man, Luke) also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; Circle the word, “therefore” with a double or triple circle. That is the key to the whole text. Because we know that God keeps track of us even better than the sparrows, therefore, we are to acknowledge Jesus before others. The truth is simple: Because Jesus teaches us that God knows us better than the sparrows, we disciples of Christ are to publicly acknowledge and profess our allegiance to Jesus Christ to family, friends, neighbors and associates. As a Christian speaks well of Jesus by word and deed on this earth, so then Jesus will speak well of that Christian before God in heaven.
As a footnote, notice that Matthew uses the pronoun, “I,” rather than the words, “Son of man.” This is the only example in the New Testament where the phrase, “Son of man,” becomes an “I.” The Son of man is ALWAYS in the third person on the lips of Jesus except in this passage in Matthew.
-But whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Here comes the Law. There is condemnation for those people who cover up that they are Christian, who cover up that they belong to Christ and are followers of Christ, who cover up that they embrace his wisdom and his ways. It is not enough to be a “secret” Christian who secretly and invisibly follows Christ. We are to be public Christians; that is, people around us are to know that we are followers of Christ. We are willing to share the abundance that Christ gives and also to endure the ridicule and suffering that may be given to us because we are Christians. It is necessary to courageously confess his name (Phil. 2:11, I Tim. 6:12-13, Acts 4:9-20). This courageous confession is what energized the first century expansion of the Christian faith and still energizes the expansion of the Christian faith today.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU THAT GOD KNOWS WHEN EVERY SPARROW FALLS TO THE GROUND AND THAT THE HAIRS ON YOUR HEAD ARE NUMBERED?
#102. DIVISIONS WITHIN HOUSEHOLDS Matthew 10:34-36, Luke 12:51-53, pp. 95-96.
This passage seems to come from an earlier document, Q. We recall when there are exactly linguistic parallels between Matthew and Luke, it appears that both authors were copying from a common document which we call Q (German for quella or Source.) We recall from previous lessons that Q is the oldest layer of the New Testament, perhaps written in about the year 40 CE, and that Q is primarily composed of the earliest recorded teachings of Jesus. There are more Aramaisms and Aramaic colloquialisms in Q than any other part of the New Testament.
-"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (division.) Christ does not bring false peace. Some Old Testament prophets complained of people who say “peace, peace, where there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14). What passes under the name of peace is often only a mask that masquerades and hides injustice, brutality, and a dictatorship. Some families or nations give an aura and illusion of peace simply because of the dictatorial “peaceful” rule by a despot. Jesus was not bringing a false peace, which tolerated injustice and oppression.
-For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. In the first beginnings of the early church, there were enormous divisions in the family when a person converted to Christ and Christianity. That same theme continues in India today when a member of a Hindu family becomes Christian or in America today, when a member of an irreligious family becomes a follower Christ. When someone in the family becomes a devout Christian, it can create conflict within that family. In Jesus’ time of history, there were persistent family tensions as so many Jewish people were converting to Christ. There were tensions in their synagogues and also tensions and divisions in their family. Jesus was warning his disciples what to expect when they began to follow him.
#103. CONDITIONS OF DISCIPLESHIP Matthew 10:37-39, Luke 14:25-27
We are going to move slowly through the teachings in this important section.
These teachings (Matthew 10:37-39 and Lukan parallels) also appear to come from Q.
-Now great multitudes accompanied him. OnlyLuke. Write “1000s of people” near the words, “great multitudes.” All look up Luke 12:1, p. 179, #195, and discover that “when so many thousands gathered together that they trod upon it each.” Be thinking about the number of people present for the miracles of the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000 (stories which are part of the next section that we will be studying.)
-He who loves his father, mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. The first commandment of the Old Testament is clear: “You shall have no other gods before me.” This includes one’s family. Luke uses a stronger, more hyperbolic phrase, when he says, “whoever does not hate his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life, cannot be my disciple.” We Christians know that we are not to literally hate our family, and Matthew’s version of this text is more appropriate for us. The word, “hate,” is an Aramaic expression that retains all the hardness of an Aramaic metaphor. Arthur Just, in his commentary on Luke, tells us that the language of hate comes from the Torah, from Genesis 29:30-31, where we are told that Jacob loved Rachael more than Leah and “God saw that Leah was hated.” Jacob did not literally hate Leah, but Jacob loved her less than Rachael. The point is, we are to “hate” our family (Luke); that is, we are to love our family less than Jesus Christ. Whoever loves his family more than Jesus Christ is not worthy to be called a disciple. Similarly, Raymond Brown, in his commentary on John 12:25, says “loves…hates is a Semitic usage which favors contrasts to express preferences. Deut. 21:15, Matt. 6:24, and Luke 14:26 are more examples of this.”
-He cannot be my disciple. Only Luke. Luke is very clear: if a person loves one’s own family more than Christ, you cannot be his disciple. This is not to say that we Christians cannot love our family. Most of us love our family deeply, as deeply as humanly possible. But the Word of God counsels us that we are to love our family less than God. This does not diminish our love for our family but encourages us to love God even more deeply than our family. Besides, who gave us our family in the first place?
-Whoever does not take up his cross is not worthy of me. Circle the word, “cross,” and focus on that word. This is the first reference to the cross in the gospels. Good Friday and Easter have not yet occurred, but Christians remembered what Jesus said about the cross during his lifetime. Before Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross, the cross was important in his teaching. In the gospels (and here in this section we are studying,) we can closely examine six teachings of Jesus about the cross as a way of life. His teachings about the way of the cross may be Jesus’ most notable and remembered sayings about discipleship.
After the resurrection, the cross became the primary symbol of the Christian faith. Today we see crosses everywhere. The cross is and always has been the primary symbol of the Christian faith. Humorously, sometimes, you find crosses made out of Popsicle sticks, egg cartons, and plastic, lovingly covered with yellow sequins, glittering gold, Pepsi bottle caps, and neon lights. And it is found on dashboard, chimneys, water towers, desks, earlobes, and bosoms. And regardless of all the sizes and shapes; and regardless of all the colors, commercialization, and corniness, no other symbol has so captured the imagination of Christians as the cross.
For Christians, no other symbol illustrates what it means to be a Christian. No other symbol so clearly illustrates for us the love of God: the breadth, length, height, and depth of his compassion. The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1:18 says “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God.” The cross symbolizes the power of God’s love, not human love. God’s love is when a person loves so much that they are willing to die for another. For me in my life, it was young Mike Bonavez who died in a foxhole in Viet Nam in order that his buddies could live. For me, it was my Aunt Annie who wanted to die in place of her daughter, Lois, my cousin who was suffering and dying with cancer. Who is that person for you? That is, who do you personally know in your life history who has been willing to lay down their life so that somebody else could live?
When Jesus was a little boy of eleven years old and living in Nazareth, Judas the Galilean led a political insurrection and riot in a nearby village, Sepphoris, that was merely four miles from Nazareth. Jesus would have witnessed the ugliness and aftermath of this political riot. The result? 2000 men were hung on crosses along the road of that village. Jesus, as a boy of eleven, certainly would have seen that gruesome spectacle and that event would have made an indelible impression on him. Jesus made the cross the central symbol of discipleship and he himself was executed on a cross.
Jesus and other great leaders have inspired followers by offering the high cost of commitment. Barclay, in his commentary, reminds us that during World War II, Winston Churchill offered “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” “Garibaldi, the great Italian patriot, appealed for recruits in these terms: “I offer neither pay nor quarters, nor provisions. I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country in his heart and not only with his lips, follow me.”
DISCUSSION QUESTION: SHARE A STORY FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL HISTORY WHERE SOMEONE WAS WILLING TO DIE IN ORDER THAT SOMEBODY ELSE MIGHT LIVE.
LUKE: Count the true costs of discipleship. Luke’s context, Turn to Luke 14:25-33, p. 193, #217. Luke adds the parable about the wisdom of counting the cost e.g. it is wise to count the true costs of building a tower or the true costs of going to war. In this text, Jesus warns about not fully anticipating the full costs of building a tower or waging war. Similarly, a “would-be” Christians needs to count the true costs of discipleship before becoming a disciple.
-Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
-For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
-Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
-So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.Luke adds verse 33, “Whoever does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple.” That is, we are to love Christ more than our homes, families, friends, material possessions, and even life itself.
In particular, Luke emphasizes the word, “all,” and we have seen Luke emphasize the word, “all,” on three specific occasions. Here in Luke 14:53. Also in Luke 5:11, p. 22, where the fisherman left “everything” and followed him. And also in Luke 18:22, p. 218, where the rich young ruler is told by Jesus to “sell all that you have and give it too the poor.” In the parallels of Luke 18:22, we see that Matthew and Mark do not insert the word, “all.”
In other words, I personally believe that Luke is emphasizing the word, “all.” It may be that the spirit of this word, “all,” in Luke is parallel to his “hating” one’s family in order to be a follower. … The point of the parable is this: there are unanticipated costs in building a tower or waging war or being a disciple, and each of these ventures will probably cost a person more than they realize.
From a sermon, Counting the Cost of Discipleship:
“You would have expected Jesus to say to those massive crowds: “Come, come, come. Come to the waters. Come to the Spirit. Come to the kingdom.” Instead Jesus said to the crowds, “Count, count, count. Count the cost. Count the expense to you. Count the price of being my disciple.”
As Jesus looked over the great crowds following him and listening to him, you would have thought he would have enticed them into discipleship. You would have thought he would have made it easy; that he would have put the bar of discipleship very low. You would have thought he would have said, “It is easy being a disciple. Love your wife. Love your kids. Show up to work on time. Be nice to the neighbor next door. Go to synagogue. It is easy to be my disciple.”
But Jesus did not want a large number of “little bit” disciples who had a “little bit” of prayer, a “little bit” of commitment, a “little bit” of dedication, a “little bit” of love. Jesus didn’t want one hundred and twenty “little bit” Christians but he wanted twelve disciples who were truly committed to prayer, to discipleship, to being ruled by Jesus as their king. And with these twelve dedicated disciples, Jesus would change the world. A small-dedicated cadre of people can change the world, for good or evil, and Jesus wanted a small number who would transform the world positively. Today, more than a billion people gather to worship Jesus, not because of “little bit” Christians but because of people who paid the high cost of discipleship.”
Now, as we have discovered, the devil can be very devilish and will take the good things of life and turn them inward on themselves so that we begin to love our material possessions more than the God who gave us our material possessions; so that we can begin to love our family more than the God who gave us our family; so that we begin to love our life itself more than the God who gave us our lives.” (End of an excerpt from a sermon)”
PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS NOW AND MEMORIZE THIS GREAT TEACHING OF JESUS: Matthew 16:24-25 (Pentecost 15A)
If anyone would be my disciple,
Let him deny himself,
Take up his cross,
And follow me.
He who finds his life will lose it,
He who loses his life for my sake will find it.
Write these pages on pages 362ff.
The words of Matthew 16:24-25 amplify the text for Pentecost 5A.
LET HIM DENY HIMSELF
-If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. These words are in italics at the bottom of the page. Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34-35, Luke 9:23-24. Highlight those words in all three columns. What does it mean to deny one’s self?
To deny one’s self is to love the Lord God more than father, mother, brother, sister and possessions. The words, “to deny himself,” are not found in Matthew 10:37-39, but the thought is there. That is, we are to deny ourselves in that we are to love the Lord God more than earthly relationships and earthly possessions which are both transitory.
To deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. This is one of the greatest teachings of Jesus. Some people never discover what it means to deny themselves. We are reminded of the worldly and successful Little Pip from the musical, STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF, who sings after he loses his wife and her love, “What kind of fool am I? What do I know of love? Am I the only one that I have been thinking of? What kind of man is this? An empty shell? An empty shell in which no heart can dwell.” Little Pip had never learned to love. Little Pip never learned to deny himself and take up the cross of his wife. What does it profit a person if that person is enormously successful and has not learned to love as Christ loves? What good is all the stuff, material possessions and successes that he/she has accumulated during a live time?
William Barclay in his commentary describes what it means to “deny self.” He writes: “We will understand the meaning of this demand best if we take it very simply and literally. ‘Let him say no to himself.’ If a man would follow Jesus Christ, he must say no to himself and yes to Christ. He must say no to his own natural love of ease and comfort. He must say no to every course of action based on self seeking and self-will. He must say no to the instincts and desires which prompt him to touch and taste and handle forbidden things. He must unhesitatingly say yes to the voice and command of Jesus Christ. He must be able to say with Paul that it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him. He lives no longer to follow his own will, but to follow the will of Christ, and in that service, he finds his perfect freedom.”
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO DENY YOURSELF? (A person is to record the responses and turn them in after class)
Members from one class said that “to deny self” means:
-To deny self means to put aside those parts of our lives which are sinful; to turn to Jesus.
-To deny self means to be convicted of my own sin, that I am not living a worthy life.
-To deny self means to deny my old life of sin.
-To deny self means to daily drown my own needs and to put other people needs before my own.
-To deny self means to acknowledge our own sinfulness.
-To deny self means to deny overeating, overdrinking, overworking, etc.
-To deny self means to pray for others needs ahead of your own.
-To deny self means to give up a planned pleasure without being a martyr.
-To deny self means the sequence of J.O.Y. = Jesus, Others, Yourself. (Learned at camp.)
-To deny self means to deny the plans and pleasures a person had for one’s life. God places a person in need in front of you e.g. an aging parent, sick child, a foster child.
-To deny self means frustration and tension in trying to balance the needs to care for my aging parent with the needs to care for my nuclear family and children.
-To deny self means to give up your personal wants for the greater good.
-To deny self means to accommodate your lifestyle for the sake of the family.
-To deny self means to put the needs of others first.
-To deny self means to take care of people whom God has put on our doorstep.
-To deny self means to seek God’s will, let God lead us, and daily submit to God’s will.
-To deny self means to face activities we would otherwise not chose, activities that yield greater spiritual rewards.
-To deny self means to be like Mother Theresa in her selflessness.
TAKE UP HIS CROSS
-Whosoever does not bear his own cross daily. Only Luke. Luke 14:27. Circle the word, “own.” Focus on the word, “own.” In the same column, find Luke 9:23 which is printed in small italics. Highlight the words, “take up his cross daily.”
Each one of us has different crosses to bear during our lives. Sometime it is one cross; sometimes, there are several crosses. Crosses can be interpreted as burdens that we carry. Circle the word, “cross,” and write down a burden or primary burdens that you are carrying now. Please date it; that is, also write down the date that you wrote that statement. Some of our crosses are more painful than others; some of our crosses feel more trivial than others. But all people carry a cross or crosses.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO PICK UP YOUR CROSS DAILY? (A person is to record the responses and turn them in after class.)
Members of one class answered the above question with the following remarks:
-To take up our cross daily means to take up the burden of another person’ life (or one’s
own). To someone else, it may seem that my mother or father is a burden, but they are not.
-To take up our cross daily means to pick up the burden has in one’s life such a devastating disease or accident or handicap.
-To take up our cross daily is like carrying my brother/sister on my back. Because that person is my brother or sister, I do not think of them as heavy.
-To take up our cross daily means to be open and flexible to God’s plan.
-To take up our cross daily means to focus on God daily e.g. daily devotion.
-To take up our cross daily means that we fail. That is, we do not do it.
-To take up our cross daily means to try to be loving every day.
-To take up our cross daily means to have grace under pressure.
-To take up our cross daily means to go the extra mile to do our jobs of life well.
-To take up our cross daily means to work among atheists and agnostics who see Christianity as ridiculous.
-To take up our cross daily means to work on my relationship with my mother and with people I do not like.
-To take up our cross daily means to go against what our culture/media say is success.
AND FOLLOW ME
This whole course is an exercise in learning to follow Christ. To follow Christ is to believe in him and live a life of his love.
WHOEVER FINDS HIS LIFE WILL LOSE IT;
WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE WILL FIND IT.
-He who finds his life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39. This, too, is one of the classic teachings of Jesus. Matthew connects this teaching with the cross; that is, to take up the cross and follow Christ implies to lose your life for the sake of Christ. This is one of the Grand Reversals found in Jesus’ teachings: find/lose, first/last, humbled/exalted. Jesus reverses the conventional wisdom of the world and offers the wisdom of the cross.
An important question for all of us is: “What does it mean to lose one’s life?”
Let Scripture interpret Scripture. A fundamental principle in Bible study is to “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” That means, we find the same or similar Scriptures elsewhere in the Bible and read those other similar Scriptures in order to see if they help us understand more fully. Notice there is a parallel teaching about “losing life” in the Gospel of John and Luke. In other words, we have the same teaching of Jesus but placed in three very different settings in three different gospels. We ask the question, “What does it mean to lose one’s life” and we are listening to the same Scripture but in three different settings. We have seen that Matthew connects this teaching to the cross and dying on the cross.
John’s setting helps us understand what it means to lose your life. Please turn to John 12:25, p. 271, #302. John does not connect this teaching about “losing your life” with the cross but with the dying of seed when it is planted. John says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life, loses it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John says that we are to be like a grain of wheat planted into the ground. As the seed dies, it produces much fruit. And so with our lives. We are to die to self that others might live. When we die to self, that produces wonderful fruit in our own life and in the lives of others.
But what does it mean, “to die to self, to die like a grain of wheat?” It means that selfishness dies in our life, slowly and ever so gradually, over time.
Dying to self is a daily event. There is a daily dying of selfishness in our lives. Ever so slowly, you begin to focus on other people’s needs rather than you own.
As selfishness dies, “otherness” is born. This “otherness” is alive and grows.
This whole process of inner death and inner rebirth is a miracle, like the transformation of a seed. When a seed dies, it is not the result of its will power, but is a miracle within the seed. Similarly, when we humans die to self, it is not the result of will power but a miracle of God within.
Ignatius: “I am God’s grain.” Early church history has a memorable story about one’s life being a grain of wheat. “Ignatius of Antioch went to a martyr’s death, willing to hate his life in this world in order to live eternally, and thus gave an example of how servant would follow Jesus. As he did so, he cried out, ‘I am God’s grain.’” Raymond Brown, on John 12:24-26.
Luke’s setting of this teaching is not nearly as good as John’s setting. Luke’s setting in on page 203, #235, Luke 17:32ff. Luke puts this teaching into the theme of the end of the world. Luke refers to Lot’s wife. “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it (e.g. Lot’s wife), but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night, there will be two in bed and one taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left.” Luke puts the same teaching (he who loses his life will find it) in a setting about the End of the World.
To lose one’s life is to lose one’s selfishness and self-centeredness. This is a daily experience, to daily die to self. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Not I but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) As selfishness dies within, we can begin to see the needs of others more clearly. This is a daily process: the destruction of selfishness and self-centeredness within and also being raised to new life as we find new love for others. There is an inverse relationship: that is, as selfishness is slowly destroyed within, a new love for Christ and others is born and growing within.
We are aware that the concept of “losing your life” seems to be parallel to “denying yourself.”
This teaching of Jesus is absolutely true. It is not just some pulpit platitude. It is not just some pious talk. This teaching is as sure as day follows night and night follows day. It is as sure as two plus two equals four. If you live your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for other people and their needs, you will find it. Jesus’ teaching is absolutely true.
Jesus says that you are to deny yourself. By that, Jesus is saying that we are to die to selfishness. We are to surrender our selfishness to God. We are to surrender our selfishness to Jesus Christ. Rather than serving our selfish needs, we are to serve God and other people.
The great religious geniuses of the world have understood that. St. Francis of Assisi wrote: “For it is in giving that we receive, and it is in dying to self, that we are born again to a living hope.” Mother Theresa, celebrating her eightieth birthday, preached and talked about surrendering our selfishness to Jesus Christ. The most important thing that can happen to anybody’s life is to surrender one’s self to Jesus Christ.The Apostle Paul said in the epistle lesson for today, “Present your whole self as a living sacrifice to God.” As a Christian, you are offering your whole self to God: your eyes, your ears, your legs, your feelings, your thoughts. You offer everything to God. You surrender your whole self to God as a living sacrifice.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO “LOSE YOUR LIFE AND THEREBY FIND IT?”