Manuscript Sermon: The Cost of the Kingdom

Today, I was asked for a copy of the manuscript of the sermon I preached. I don’t usually manuscript my sermons in advance. I study, and then I write an outline from which I preach.

However, I do recognize that some people might prefer a long form manuscript. So, I transcribed the sermon today, and I will post it here for those who might be interested.

Did you know the cost of becoming an American citizen? If you were not born here, the cost on paper is a grand total of $680? Our government has many forms for someone interested in citizenship to fill out, for which they charge $680. According to ABC News.com, additional fees can run into the thousands. Extra costs might include immigration lawyers, not to mention the challenge of waiting. “Applicants can spend years marked by a feeling of lost opportunity and helplessness as they wait for the process to conclude” says Romy Ribitzky, editor for ABC’s Internet news site.

This serves as an indictment of bureaucracy; you fill out a piece of paper work, send it into the government, and in some cases a two-year backlog holds up the processing. Students, you know there are times when you have done homework and the teacher has not processed it immediately. This is the same case. But the good news is that to become a citizen of God’s Kingdom doesn’t require any waiting period. All you need to do is say “I accept You as my Lord” and it is a done deal. You have been stamped; your passport into the Kingdom of Heaven reads “Full Entry”.

Today what we’re going to look at Jesus specific teaching about what it means to be a follower of His. I don’t often ask you to do this, but I’m going to ask you to write the reference for these verses on the front page of your personal Bible so that you can refer back to them; they’re that important. Turn with me to Luke chapter 9; we will look at vs 23 to 27. Once again, I encourage you to write this reference in the front of your personal Bible. You will want to know this, to be able to refer to it, and to share it with others about becoming a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus asks us: For Kingdom Citizenship, What Will You Give? Luke 9:23 reads, “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” Notice there are three components to this work. When I first became a follower of Jesus, I had been taught good solid Lutheran theology: what is the whole duty of man in the Westminster Confession. “To love God and to enjoy Him forever” is the answer; but there is a difference between being a follower of Jesus as opposed to just saying “I am a Christian”. Jesus himself says this is what it takes: “if anyone would come after me” – the original words “come after” mean “if you intend to follow”. This is what it will take; the first component is to deny yourself, and that’s a tough thing for us to do.

We have to ask ourselves, “who benefits from this self-denial?” Having watched my mom listen to Ellery Queen murder mysteries, and having married a woman who loves Agatha Christie novels, I’ve learned that criminal investigative procedure asks “who benefits” as a means of learning about possible motives for behavior. When we ask ourselves “who benefits from my denying myself”, are we just looking around for things that make us unhappy and trying everything possible to stop them? The author H.L. Mencken once wrote that Puritanism was “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” I don’t believe that Jesus was suggesting that we live a dour, unhappy life.

We have the joy of the Lord in our lives! We have every reason to come before God and to praise him with the harp and the lyre. In Psalm 150, we find that we get to bang on symbols and make a lot of noise. I love Psalm 150. Verses 3 through 5 say to “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.”

I recognize that God wants us to have a wonderful vibrant relationship with him but understand that it needs to be on His terms. I can’t just pick any particular thing that I want to do and if it is directly against what Scripture says, decide that I’m going to do things my way. I can’t channel the spirit of Frank Sinatra and do it my way; NO – with God, it’s His way or no way.

We are to deny our self, and I think what really makes that work is the recognition that our self, our flesh, is constitutionally opposed to God. God says “come and do this” and our flesh’s automatic response is, “no, I don’t want to do that.” Our flesh is like a precious toddler in the terrible twos: remember those times, parents, where you were trying to teach your toddler a simple thing? Their response was “NO. I wanna do it MY way!” Congratulations: that’s your flesh! Paul describes this in Romans 7 where he says “it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me!” Our flesh is like that; we want to do our own thing, so when Jesus says deny yourself, I think what He was getting at is a tendency to let our flesh run away with ourselves. We have to be on guard against that.

The second component we have in this verse is where Jesus says to take up his cross daily. Remember that when He says “take up his cross”, the people to whom He said it are living in Roman occupied territory; if you tick off the Romans bad enough, they will put you on a cross. We have this instrument of torturous death as one of the primary symbols of God’s love for us. Consider that if this took place now, we might have a noose on the wall, or a large hypodermic needle, or four or five rifles from a firing squad in its place; the cross, by every measure, is an instrument of death.

However, there’s something that the Romans did that our society would never consider to do; we would consider this “cruel and unusual punishment.” It would be as if Jesus said “if anyone is going to call himself a disciple he must take up his own rope, tie a noose hanging over the scaffold, and put his head in the loop.” “If anyone would call herself my disciple, she must load the hypodermic needle, selecting the poison that will kill her, and carry it into the chamber.” “If anyone would call themselves my disciple they must load the bullets into the weapons that will be fired.” To carry the cross is to recognize that we need to submit to this process of self death.

We have to admit to God that He is right in His judgment to state that our flesh needs to die. We need to cooperate with Him in making sure our flesh gets put to death; that is an ugly and uncomfortable thing to hear, but it is the truth. God does not force anyone to become His follower; Jesus said “if anyone intends to follow” meaning “look, it’s up to you if you want to follow me or not. I will call you; I will enable you to respond, but you’ve got to take the steps necessary to surrender.” This second step is to die. Notice it says he must take up his cross how often? Daily.

Everyday, we have to be willing to go to God and say, “Kill my SELF.” A song from a Christian band called “Killing My Old Man” came out in 1981. I was traveling with some friends and some parents heard this song and decided that it was awful and terrible, and that their child should never be allowed to listen to that band because they thought the message was advocating murder. I tried to explain that it was about putting your old self to death, but they wouldn’t listen. “No, no, it’s about murder, it’s about death, and it’s awful.” They were were right; it is about murder and it is awful and it is necessary.

Left to our own devices, our flesh will run rampant. Jesus said “if anyone would come after Me he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” That “follow me” phrase means “to accompany”. It means that you need to find what Jesus is doing and go join him in it. To go with Him would be a wonderfully easy thing for us to do if Jesus only ever did the exact same thing everyday all the time. He’s a little bit more complex than that; God does all kinds of amazing things in the world, and it’s up to us to find them and join Him.

Are we going to feed the poor? Yes, we are to feed the poor. Is that all we are to do? By no means. Are we to visit the sick in the hospital? Yes. Is that the only thing we are to do? No. We are to feed the poor, visit the sick, go to prison and visit the prisoner, preach the Good News, look after orphans and widows in distress, and keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.

God is at work in this world in many different ways, and our challenge is to find whatever He’s doing and join Him in it… and let’s be honest, we all have limited capacity. God has infinite capacity, so He can do whatever He wants as often as He wants; we are limited and finite and are bound by the strength of our bodies, and the amount of gas in the tank.

But we do what we can do within our scope of influence. When you go out shopping for your own food, ask yourself if you could pick up a few extra cans of food. In so doing, you are feeding the hungry. If you find yourself in a department store looking for clothes, consider purchasing an extra coat or other clothes or sundries. When you bring those items to your local shelter, you are helping the needy. Do the things that you already do, but extend your scope for the Kingdom’s sake.

If anyone would call himself My disciple he must…” must — not should, not a suggestion, but an imperative that Jesus gives — he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. What will you give?

The second question to consider is like it; What Do You Value? Let’s look at verses 24 and 25: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” If you spend all your time and energy guarding your soul — guarding your self — the only thing you have at the end of it is a wasted effort. I’m not saying don’t take care of your bodies; you live in them and you need to take care of them. But if you live your whole life caring only for the tent in which you live, what happens to it at the end of the life cycle? You lay it down.

Consider this: we are eternal people, with a very tiny physical existence at the start of everything. Once we’re done with these tabernacles of earth, Scripture says we lay them down; we don’t use them again, and we go on for the rest of eternity not encased in flesh. So, for us to effect our eternal destiny to look after something that is going to get older and decay and break down over time doesn’t make any sense.

If you let go of your old self for Christ, you gain you your true self. Don’t focus on the things of this world; instead, when you focus on the things of Heaven, that’s what you gain: Heaven! Christian singer Keith Green wrote a song called “I Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven”. On the spoken intro of that song he says, “I know that Jesus Christ is preparing a home for me for 2,000 years. If this world took 6 days, and that home took 2,000 years… this is living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there!” Someday… someday – imagine this, we’ll get a version of Warden that smells wonderful all the time! It’ll rain whenever it needs to rain; we won’t have to pay for water circles, and all of our needs will be taken care of because it’s God’s version of this place. Someday… someday…

Verse 25 asks the question: “what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” is really asking the question, what do you value? Stuff? Self? Power? Personal validation? Jesus is challenging us to value heaven more than anything else. I recognize the only thing I can take with me into eternity is YOU. Relationships are the only thing that we can take with us into Heaven, so that’s why we build into one another, we speak truth to one another, we sharpen one another, we challenge one another, we love one another.

What would you give? What will you value? To be a part of God’s Kingdom, What Will You Show? Jesus said in verses 26 and 27, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Let me challenge you with something; let’s look at Jesus saying “if anyone is ashamed of me and my words”. I want to look at the very idea of shame. The world’s definition of shame is this: that bad feeling that you get when you’re caught doing something wrong. I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and other sources to double-check. According to the world, shame is the feeling you get when you’re caught. It’s not doing the bad thing as the bad thing; it’s getting caught doing the bad thing that’s the bad thing! As long as you’re not caught, you can be rotten… but happy! You only feel shame when you’re finally busted.

I think that’s not what Scripture means at all. The Bible definition of shame is the recognition that you are wrong. God has a wonderful and amazing plan for our life and yet we often think about this amazing plan and say, “nope! Don’t want THAT. I’m going THIS way instead!” And yet, we often choose our way instead of God’s Way, which is spelled out so wonderfully clearly and in loving language. Shame is the recognition that we are wrong. That doesn’t mean that you are innately bad and you can’t be ever do the good thing; that’s not true. What’s the old saying? Even a blind pig finds a truffle once in awhile. It’s interesting to see how awful people can turn around and look after other awful people. Our tendency as awful people is to look at the occasional bright good thing we you do, and say, “see? I’m not so bad!”

Yes, we are. We are so bad. THAT is our shame. But thanks be to God, He doesn’t leave us like that. He loves us in spite of that. He loves us before we recognize how bad off we are, and says, “this one is Mine. You belong to Me. I will bring you out; I will clean you up; I will declare you My own; I will woo you as a husband woos his young bride.”

If we think that lifting up Jesus’ word in our lives is a wrong thing, something of which we should be ashamed, then Jesus will agree with us, and leave us to our own SELF-ish devices. Look carefully at the Scripture: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Look at the challenge of verse 27: “I tell you the truth some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” I don’t think this is necessarily referring to the Second Advent. In light of Acts 1, it could be just a literal reference. However, I think this also applies to us here and now as well.

Some people are never ever going to let go of their own self righteousness; they are convinced that they are good enough, smart enough, and by golly, people like them and that’s sufficient for them. They will insist upon setting their own ultimate standard for behavior and attitude; they say, “I am my own moral compass and I know what is right for me, and so therefore I’m going to do whatever I want, and as long as I am true to my own set of values, then everything is fine and hunky dory.” That’s not true but that’s what is believed.

Jesus reminds us some people, faced with this life of flesh, will let go of its controlling nature, and instead become citizens in the Kingdom of God. When we recognize our self doesn’t draw us to righteousness, we’ve got to let it go. When we let go, we win; we don’t lose, we win! We gain eternal life: I John 5:11 and 12 says: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And verse 13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We don’t have to guess, or hope, or pray, or wonder, because God has made an exchange: my old dead life for the new one He wants to give. The only election that matters right now is God’s election of you to belong to Him.

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Pastor Ed Backell

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