Read This Page in My Language
What does it mean to be committed? As I thought about it—and, admittedly, it didn’t take very long—I concluded that this is a huge problem in society. People don’t understand what it means to be committed, nor do they have the integrity to remain so. Nowadays, being physically intimate means you are committed to a person, until you’re not. Marriage used to mean that you were committed for life. For most people it doesn’t mean that anymore. The United States’ flag used to mean that one was willing to die for his or her country. I don’t think most people consider such a sacrifice when they see the flag.
The commitment made at one’s confirmation is supposed to mean that one will be faithful to his or her vows to God for all of life. Yet, most confirmands don’t even come to church the Sunday following their confirmation. So, what does it mean to be committed?
Today Jesus answers that question for us, and the answer is striking. It is striking because the answer is so obvious when you think about it. To be committed to something means you’re willing to suffer for it. And suffering means that one is willing to deny him or herself out of faithfulness to the commitment.
Now, the focus of this sermon is on what it means to be a committed Christian. So, my purpose is not to go on a rant against the lack of commitment in society. The purpose, rather, is to challenge ourselves with the question: Am I really committed to Christ? And if I say that I am, (because lots of people say they are) how will that show itself from day to day? Does it mean I will attend in-person worship? Is that the litmus test for commitment? Does it mean I will participate in the operations of the church? Does it mean I will say I am a Christian if someone asks me? The list can go on and on.
Well, the answer to those questions is: yes, yes, and yes, but it is so much more than that. Yes, being a committed Christian means you will say “yes” if someone asks you. But that’s easy. The real crux of the issue is whether one is willing to say it even though it will lead to public shaming and ridicule. Is one willing to suffer for being a Christian? That is what it means to “deny ourselves” as Jesus says, and to “take up our cross”, and to “follow him”.
But first you have to be a Christian. And I think people are confused about what that even means. To be a Christian means to believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. And saying you believe that means you believe he is God, that he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and that he rose again on the third day.
In other words, to be a Christian means more than calling yourself a Christian. It means more than growing up in Christian family and attending church as you grew up. It even means more than becoming a communicant member, although that is included. A Christian is one who publicly believes and confesses Christ as the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Let me read verses 27-29 of our text: “Jesus went out with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah, still others, one of the prophets.” “But you, “he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
So, Peter was a Christian. And if he is answering for the entire group, it means the other disciples were Christian (although as it turns out, Judas wasn’t). But Peter doesn’t yet understand what it means to be a committed Christian, and a committed Christian is what Peter will need to be if he is going to “save his life” as Jesus says in verse 35 and not “lose it”.
Well, what is the litmus test? How will Peter and the other disciples know whether they are committed Christians? The answer is if they are willing to suffer for it.
That is why Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” As soon as Jesus began to talk about suffering and death as part of the plan, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Imagine that! Rebuking the Son of God! But it’s not so much because he rebukes Jesus that Jesus gets upset with him. It’s that Peter wants to enjoy a cross-less Christianity, and there is no such thing. We say the phrase often: no cross, no Christian! But I don’t think we understand yet what that means.
Because what it means is that for Jesus to be the Christ he must (note the word must) “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.” And to that we say, “Well, yes. Christ died on the cross for our sins.” But then he goes on to say, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross [note the personal pronoun “his”], and follow me.” So, it’s not just Jesus’ cross that defines the Christian. It is also the Christian’s own individual crosses that define his or her life. And this is where everything goes wrong.
Because like Peter we don’t want crosses to be part of our Christianity. We want to be able to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I follow Jesus Christ” apart from any crosses. Well, as long as it is Jesus’ cross, we’re okay with that, but we don’t want it to have anything to do with us. No! That’s fake Christianity. That is a Christianity with no commitment. “If anyone wants to follow me”, Jesus says, “let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
So, we need to define what the cross is. The cross is any suffering the Christian receives because of his loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment to Christ and his teachings. So, this means I won’t get a divorce when I feel like getting a divorce. I must deny my desire to get a divorce in favor of what Christ says. Because I am committed to what he says, right?
It means that as hard as it is to say I am sorry, I will say I am sorry, because I am a real Christian, and Christians deny themselves in favor of what God says to do as they repent to each other and forgive each other.
Living under the cross is putting God at the center of your weekly schedule and denying your other wants and commitments so that as a family you worship God. Think of how many people say they are committed Christians and don’t even worship God! Worship is the most basic thing!
Taking up the cross means that we don’t go along with the gender-neutral agenda, that we don’t look to politics for guidance and direction, but that we openly and publicly confess the truths of God’s Word, even if that means we go to jail. Which is coming. That is what is coming ahead for us in western society. Are you willing to take up that cross and carry it? Are your children prepared to do so, and are you preparing them for it? Because it is their generation that will be most affected.
You see, life has its way of sorting out those who are committed and those who aren’t. The Bible says, “He who remains faithful to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Not he who grew up in a Christian family will be saved. That is not necessarily true. Not he who has Christian parents and grandparents will be saved. Not even he who sits in the pew and goes through the motions will be saved. Because you can have head knowledge—lots of people know the Christian teachings–but have they made their way into your heart so that they determine every aspect of your daily life? Or is Christ compartmentalized? For these few things he is over here. For everything else in life, he doesn’t factor in.
Just how deeply does the Word of God penetrate your heart and life? Be honest with yourself. Because the problem with the Christian church today in America is that by and large it doesn’t. Somebody sent a letter to me this week encouraging me to continue doing the necessary work here at Immanuel, because as they said, “our congregation has the spiritual maturity of elementary students”. Do you agree? I’m not saying that is the case; I’m still trying to figure it out, but I know we are not yet at the college level. Probably junior high when you consider the average of everyone involved.
So, what is the answer? The key is to be more concerned with God’s concerns than with our own concerns. Jesus says to Peter, “You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns” (v. 33). That was Peter’s problem. And I put it before you today, that is also our problem. We are much more concerned about our own concerns than with God’s concerns. And what is God concerned about?
The cross. Plain and simple.
God was very concerned that the Son of Man would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed and rise after three days.” We know Jesus didn’t want that to happen in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed, “If it is your will, take this cup from me!” (Luke 22:42). But then he prayed, “Yet not my will, rather your will be done” (Luke 22:44). You see, he denied himself in favor of God.
And that, ultimately is what God wants from you: to deny yourself in favor of Him whenever what you want is contrary to Him. It is the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. Well, who is equal to such a task? That was the reaction of the apostle Paul when he pondered the great responsibility of being a Christian and in his case an apostle. “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:16)
Do you know what the answer is? (And this is very comforting) Christ. Only Christ. For only Christ fully and perfectly submitted himself to the cross that God had given him in life. Only Christ truly denied himself to the point of death! I haven’t done that. You haven’t done that. God calls upon us to do it. Only Christ as the world’s substitute came to earth and said, “I will do it.”
And that is why it was such a horror to Jesus that Peter would say, “No, don’t do it.” Because if Christ didn’t take up his cross and follow the will of his Father, then no one would be saved. Peter doesn’t understand this, but Peter needs to understand this. You and I need to understand this. There is no salvation without the cross, because only the cross is punishment enough to pay for sin. But it’s not the crosses we bear that pay for our sins. No! Only Christ’s cross was painful enough to pay for our sins. And it did! All of our sins, all of our unfaithfulness, all of our lack of commitment has been paid for and forgiven by Jesus.
So, why do we still have crosses? Because we identify with Jesus. If you don’t identify with Jesus, you won’t have many crosses. You will still have problems, but problems aren’t crosses. Crosses are problems we experience because of our open identity with Christ and commitment to his teachings. You already know: if we keep it a secret there are less problems. If we only partially commit ourselves to him, we get to live more of the way we want (which is more of the way our sinful nature wants, which is much more in line with society, so there is less difficulty).
But then I think of how much Christ committed himself to me. You see, what does a person do with that? Christ committed himself so fully to me that he took up his cross and followed the path that led to his death. Will I now take the crosses that he gives me and toss them aside? May God forbid such a thing!
And may God forgive such a thing. May he forgive it over and over again, so that through his continual commitment to me I may be moved to commit myself back to him. The theologians of old were fond of saying, “Christ’s obedience and love were not cheap.” Ours should not be either.
Let us “lose our life” for the sake of Christ and his gospel teaching so that at the end of it all we may save it. And let us also be willing to lose our lives as a congregation so that others may be saved. Somebody says, “But why lose ourselves for others?”
We do it for Christ and for the gospel. If we only lost our life for somebody else, then that might be a legitimate question. But Jesus says, “whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it”. And the committed Christian understands all of this. May God grant such an attitude to us all. Amen.