Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Luke 9:18-24
Pentecost 5 – July 14, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
A few years ago the Presbyterian Church (USA) was planning to publish a new hymnal. One of the hymns they wanted to put in their new hymnal was the one we just finished singing: “In Christ Alone.” There was just one problem. They didn’t like the words in verse 2: “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied . . . .” Why wouldn’t they like those words? They say that Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins. They were uncomfortable speaking about God’s wrath being satisfied by Jesus’ death. They felt it was more appropriate to speak about God’s love. So they suggested the words “the love of God was magnified” instead of “the wrath of God was satisfied.”
They asked for permission from the hymn writers Keith Getty and Stuart Townend to print the alternate words in their hymnal. And thankfully Getty and Townend would not give them permission to change the words of their hymn. They refused permission on the basis of biblical truth. No matter how gruesome it may sound the truth is that “on that cross the wrath of God was satisfied.” God’s wrath had to be satisfied so that we could be forgiven and saved.
For the producers of that new hymnal the wrath of God and the death of Jesus on the cross were inconvenient truths that they didn’t want to deal with or at least they wanted to blunt the seriousness of God’s anger over sin by emphasizing the love of God instead.
In our text today Jesus reminded his disciples that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. For the disciples this was difficult news to hear and deal with. This talk about suffering and death was an inconvenient truth.
Today we’re going to consider
THE CROSS: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Jesus was well into his ministry. The disciples had witnessed some amazing miracles especially in Galilee. There was the healing of many people, even raising a little girl from the dead. Jesus cast out demons. He fed 5000 men miraculously with five loaves of bread and two fish, probably more like 10,000 or more counting women and children.
For the disciples Jesus was more than amazing. He was all-powerful. He had to be the Messiah. There was no stopping the growth of his kingdom. And that kingdom probably meant many things to the various disciples, but they all certainly imagined a mighty rebuilding of the Old Testament nation Israel, more glorious that even the days of King David and King Solomon. There would be no Romans or Babylonians or Assyrians or Greeks to threaten them. It would be heaven on earth. Jesus would be known and worshiped around the world, and his disciples would share the glory with him.
But then Jesus had to start talking about suffering and death. Nothing like talk about suffering and death to ruin the dreams and visions of a new and glorious Israel!
Jesus actually began this discussion by asking the disciples what people were saying about him. The disciples told Jesus that people were suggesting that he was John the Baptist or Elijah or another one of the prophets who had come back to life. But Jesus got more pointed with his disciples. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
Who do you say Jesus is? Do you realize that question just might be the most important and eternally significant question you could ever be asked in life? When you’re lying on your death bed one day there will be nothing more important than knowing and believing who Jesus Christ is and what he did to save you from your sins. Who do you say Jesus is? I know you can recite the words of the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,” and so on. More important – do you really believe those words?
Peter made it clear for the disciples and for himself that they all believed that he was the Son of God. “You are the Christ of God,” he said. In other words Peter and the disciples believed that Jesus was the long promised Messiah prophesied all the way across the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi.
But now it was time for Jesus to reveal to his disciples an inconvenient truth – what it would mean for Jesus and for them that he was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It was something the disciples didn’t really understand, and most certainly, didn’t want to hear.
Jesus warned them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” In his account here Luke doesn’t provide all the details of the disciples’, especially Peter’s, response. Matthew in his gospel fills us in. Peter was quite disturbed by Jesus’ warning about his suffering and death. He actually took Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter couldn’t imagine Jesus dying. Why should that happen? It was as if Peter was saying to Jesus, “Don’t talk like that. Things are just beginning to go so well for you and for us. You have the power to make the kingdom of God come to Israel.”
Peter may have known and believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, but he really had no idea who he was or why he had come to the world. Peter was so mistaken that Jesus rebuked him with terrifying words: “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” In other words Jesus was saying, “You want worldly glory and power for me and for yourself. That’s not why I came to this world. I came to die on a cross to build a far greater kingdom, an eternal kingdom, that will be preached to all nations of the earth.”
Suddenly for Peter and the disciples the cross was an inconvenient truth, a truth that got in the way of all their hopes and dreams. They wanted to have God’s love magnified, but they didn’t understand that first of all God’s wrath had to be satisfied.
Already back in the late 1970’s when I was in the seminary Prof. Martin Albrecht, our music professor, alerted us to the fact that the new hymns that were being composed often avoided words about Jesus dying or the shedding of blood on the cross. Such words were considered too gruesome, too grotesque, not an accurate portrayal of God’s love and mercy.
Why would Peter and the disciples, why would hymn writers, why would hymnal producers want to avoid words about the cross, the shedding of blood, the wrath of God satisfied? They were avoiding the most serious problem that every human being faces – sin and the wrath and anger of God over sin. This problem has not changed from the days of Adam and Eve. People don’t take sin seriously. The LORD told Adam and Eve, “On the day you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you will certainly die.” And we all know the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death.”
Sin is an inconvenient truth, a massive and unmovable reality, that people don’t like to deal with or take seriously. And if sin is an inconvenient truth, then the cross, the only remedy to sin, is also going to be an inconvenient truth.
In our Sunday Bible Class entitled “Why the Christian ‘Church’ is Dying” we’ll address the issue that most people in our nation and world and way too many people who identify as Christians have become universalists. Everybody will be saved – at least most everybody. They all just go to a better place. People don’t think God is going to really send anyone to hell. He wouldn’t do that. God is too good. God just forgives sin. His wrath doesn’t need to be satisfied. He doesn’t have any wrath. His love needs to be magnified.
For way too many sin and the wrath of God have become an inconvenient truth – and so has the cross.
In the Garden of Eden the LORD already knew that the cross would be a necessary reality. The snake would bite the heel of Eve’s Descendant, the Savior, the Messiah. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born Isaiah the prophet clearly wrote that the cross was a necessary reality: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And Jesus knew that the cross was a necessary reality for him. He came to suffer and die to atone for our sins and the sins of the world.
The cross is a too inconvenient truth for way too many very foolish people. If people really understood the seriousness of their sin and the absolute necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross these church pews and the church pews of churches across this country would be filled every Sunday. But the cross is an inconvenient truth for them.
Living a godly and Christian life is also an inconvenience for most people. Jesus went on to tell the disciples and us in our text, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Political conservatives like to make fun of millennials today and call them snowflakes, people who can’t deal with any challenges, any difficulties, anything they don’t want to deal with. The truth is, however, that most people are spiritual snowflakes. They don’t want to deal with inconveniences and troubles and challenges. They get angry at God when he allows troubles in their lives. They most especially don’t want to deal with the inconvenient realities of being a Christian in what is rapidly becoming a very unchristian and ungodly world.
But they can’t say Jesus didn’t warn them. Being a Christian, having the blessing of God’s forgiveness and the promise of eternal life, will also necessitate the inconvenient truth that there will be personal crosses in life. Life will not always go the way you want it to. God isn’t going to just give you whatever you want. He may allow just the opposite to challenge you. You aren’t going to be admired any longer in American society for being a Christian. You will more likely be criticized, at best, tolerated. Some of Jesus’ disciples literally lost their earthly life as Jesus warned. Inconvenient crosses.
But they gained a better life, an eternal and heavenly life. And so will we and all who recognize and believe that the cross was horrible, but it was necessary. It’s our only hope. Amen.