Pick Up Your Cross

Sermon from Matthew 16:21-28

I recently watched a movie about the Battle of Midway, one of the most significant naval battles in World War II. In this battle, one pivotal element of the Americans’ success was the pilots who flew dive-bombers, called helldivers, and attempted very dangerous attacks that, when carried out successfully, were able to deliver missiles at exactly the precise spot to sink the Japanese aircraft carriers. These tiny planes and the brave men flying them were able to assail and overcome massive opponents.

This mental image of the tiny helldivers bringing down huge aircraft carriers reminded me of the Gospel passage we talked about last week, when Jesus told his disciples that they would be able to storm the very gates of hell. I imagine the disciples were very excited and enthusiastic after that moment, and Peter felt ready to take on any foe after Jesus said to him, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

However, from this high moment, it all came crashing down in the very next paragraph in Matthew, when Jesus began to tell them about the tactics he planned to use to bring down the enemy. Jesus told them that he intended to use his own body to “dive-bomb” the gates of hell, by allowing himself to be arrested, insulted, tortured, and even killed at the hands of the Jewish leaders. But he assured them that this tactic would conquer the very gates of hell, because he would be raised to life again on the third day.

The disciples were completely shocked at this announcement, and we have Peter – the walk on water guy, the all-in guy with the clear confession of Jesus as the Christ, the rock on which Jesus would build his church – being reduced from a rock to a stumbling block to Jesus. When Peter resists the idea of Jesus’ death, Jesus tells him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).

What a reversal! We often find ourselves in the same situation… We are sold-out and excited about the mission of Jesus until we find out that the tactics he plans to use with us will cost us, and then we find ourselves pulling back.

Very rarely in life is the easy way the right way. Very rarely is the way of contentment the way of the hero.

I’m reminded of the story of Moses in Exodus 3, where he is captivated by the glorious vision of God in the burning bush, entering into the very presence of God. Moses is happy about his people being delivered from slavery until he hears how God plans to do it. When God tells Moses that he is the one God has chosen to go to Pharaoh on his behalf, I think Moses probably had a “St. Peter moment.” He was very reluctant to answer the calling of God. But God was calling him out of contentment into courage.

Jesus said the same thing to his disciples:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Matthew 16:24-26

The comfortable way, the convenient way, the easy way is not the way of the Lord. When Jesus calls someone to be his disciple, he “bids him come and die,” in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The call of a disciple is a call to courage, to a backbone of steel, to the bravery of a helldiver.

When I try to think of modern-day examples of this kind of bravery, I think of first-responders, like those who ran into the wreckage of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 to rescue those facing the destruction and the flames. Even closer to home, I think of medical professionals who every day put their own personal health at risk to face a global pandemic. And I think of teachers who this very week have put on their masks and put on their smiles and entered into the classroom, doing their best to keep our kids safe while ensuring their education. I think of the businesspeople who continue to fight for their businesses and their employees to keep our economy functioning. All of these people are helldivers in our day, putting their lives on the line to do what is right rather than what is easy or comfortable.

When our kids were younger, my wife and I were concerned about things we saw in their school, and so we made the difficult decision to pull them out of public school and enroll them in private school. In order to do this, we had to move and downsize our home, and my wife had to take a full-time job in order to afford it. However, we felt that it was the right thing for our children, and we would do anything for their welfare.

Most people can relate to this – we would do anything for our kids; we would sacrifice anything to make sure they are safe and happy. However, can we apply that same sense of devotion and self-sacrifice for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God? Will we lay it all on the line to be the people that Jesus is calling us to be? Will we live by his Word alone? Will we dive-bomb the gates of hell for the sake of victory over his enemy?

Living the life of a disciple of Jesus is not without cost. However, Jesus promises that it’s not without reward either. Jesus continued by saying to his disciples:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

Matthew 16:27-28

The Apostle Paul, a helldiver himself, put it a different way:

As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:36-39

The helldiver knows that the battle is worth it. It’s not a suicide mission; it’s a mission of bravery. It’s a personal devotion to the tactics required for victory for the kingdom of God.

Influence as Salt and Light

Sermon from Matthew 5:13-16

Each one of us has some kind of influence in this world. We don’t have to be a CEO or a president or a big-name pastor. We all have influence for Christ everywhere our lives take us.

One time when my son was small, we were riding home from church after hearing a sermon about The Good Samaritan. My son said, “Dad, that sermon was about you… the priest who walked by…” I was surprised and asked him what he meant. He said, “Remember the other day when I asked you to play with me, and you didn’t do it?” Wow, that kid was paying attention! Even in our own homes, we are held accountable for our witness and influence!

We often in our minds make a disconnect between our church lives and our weekday lives. But Jesus is saying that we can’t do that! Who we are on Sunday has to be who we are every other day of the week. This is not easy to do!

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13

Scholar David Turk believes that the salt Jesus is referring to in this passage is salt from the Dead Sea. In that part of the world, this salt is used everywhere – for healing, for food preservation, for flavor. He says, however, that it’s the sodium chloride in this mineral compound which is what makes it so effective and useful, and the sodium chloride is the first thing to wash out of this compound. Once the sodium chloride is gone, all that’s left is a useless white powder, only good for throwing away.

I suggest that to the degree we see moral decline in our society, Jesus is saying that it is the Christians who bear the responsibility for this. Our societies decline when Christians aren’t being “salty” enough. We have failed to preserve our societies by inserting our integrity into politics, education, business, and social justice.

If societies are to be renewed, Christians must hold the line. If we don’t do it, who will?

We are all surrounded by pressure to conform to those around us, to fit in, to keep up. But Jesus commands us to maintain our saltiness even if we are the only salt in the bowl!

Jesus commands us to shine the holiness of God, the character of God, from the inside out. We must be so firmly rooted in the ways of God that we will not be moved.

The apostle Paul says, ” Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6). Elsewhere, he says to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Sometimes truth and love feel like opposites, don’t they? It’s difficult to be both gracious and salty! We must resist the temptation to fall too far on either side; we either lose truth in favor of grace, or we lose grace in favor of truth. There is a fine line right in the middle, and Jesus calls us to walk it.

We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature. The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins – sins of the Body, and sins of Disposition.

Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, on 1 Corinthians 13

The righteous tend to struggle with sins of the disposition – we get grumpy and judgmental. Jesus wants us to be at the same time salt (maintaining holiness and truth) and light (loving and brightening all those we come in contact with).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

When people see you living as salt and light in the world, it will inevitably stir up conversation. People will see a difference in you and wonder why. This is when you need to not be afraid to let your light shine in order to glorify your Father in heaven. It is in these moments, when your salt is at its saltiest and your light is at its brightest, that you have the greatest opportunity to influence those around you for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Seeking Jesus, the Bread of Life

Sermon from John 6:22-59

In the below sermon, I challenge you to check your motivations for seeking Jesus the same way Jesus challenged those who were “seeking” Him in John 6. Are you truly seeking to worship and adore Him, or are you seeking the fringe benefits? What lies are you believing that are keeping you from worshiping Him in spirit and truth? Jesus confronts our bad motivations and self-centeredness. The only “work” He asks of us is belief.

Seeking Jesus, the Bread of Life – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

New Life: Fishing Again? Returning back to the Old

Jesus calls us to new life in Him. But we don’t have to wait until our resurrection day to begin that new life. New life in Jesus begins now!

Before we look at what new life looks like, I must warn you: there is always a great temptation to stay in our old life or return to it again. Even the disciples experienced this setback. When Jesus called His first followers—Peter, James, and John—they were out on the Sea of Galilee fishing from a boat (and not doing too well at that!).  Jesus challenged them to go out into deep water and put out their nets again. Peter was exasperated, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” Luke 5:5, NRSV).

New Life: Fishing Again? – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

You remember the rest of the story. Peter, James, and John pulled in a miraculous catch. Thus began a great adventure with the incarnate Lord and Savior of the world as Jesus called them from their profession as fishermen to become fishers of men.

Fast-forward three years. Peter, James, and John have now experienced amazing things as disciples of Jesus. They have walked beside the Lord witnessing His mighty acts of healing, listened to his teaching, and even participated in miracles. And yet, even they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men (and not doing very well at that!). Read John 21:1-25.

After the dramatic events of the His death and resurrection, Jesus again appears where the men are fishing.  He calls to them to cast their empty nets on the other side of the boat. Another miraculous catch. Recognizing Jesus, John whispers to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And in true “Peter” fashion…

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:7-12)

The story begs the question: why did Peter and the disciples go back to their regular jobs of fishing again? Jesus had called them to so much greater.

The reason is clear from an earlier account in John’s Gospel.  Remember that before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times. If that wasn’t bad enough, his denials were in spite of a personal vow that he would go to the death with Jesus: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38).

After his denials, Peter was acutely aware of his own inadequacy, his own failings, his own weakness. Rather than stepping into the Resurrected Life and moving forward with Jesus’ call on his life to be an apostle, Peter had reverted back to being merely a fisherman. And evidently, he had brought the others with him. Like an athlete who lets down the team in the big moment, Peter had fumbled the ball after vowing to be a superstar! He was discouraged and disillusioned.

In our own walks with the Lord, very often some major disappointment or failing on our parts hinders or blocks us from truly stepping out into the fullness of the Resurrected Life. Is there any disappointment in your life that would have you fishing again rather than boldly living for the Lord?  Is there any unworthy feeling holding you back, some guilt or shame, that would prevent you from truly walking in the newness of life that the Lord has for you?

In a wonderful moment of restoration, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (John 21:15-17).  The disciple who once vowed,  “I do not know the man!” now says to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” three times. In reversing his three denials, those affirmations became a reaffirmation of Peter’s calling to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord. Jesus sealed Peter’s affirmations with, “Feed my sheep.” By taking Peter back to the beginning, to the moment of his calling, Jesus gave Peter a new start and a new challenge.  Peter would indeed be fishing again for people!

The Lord would do the same for you. The Lord has a special call upon your life. It’s a call that will require you to step into a new reality, a new life. The temptation will be to return to the old ways and to the old life. And yet Jesus, your risen Lord, will meet you in your failings and challenge you to get back to your calling, to living once more for His kingdom.

What’s holding you back? Is there any failing in the Christian life that has disillusioned you and hindered you from living the Resurrected Life? Have you been fishing on the wrong side of the boat again? Jesus restored Peter, and he will restore you!

Excerpted from The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New

The Christian Life Trilogy (Houston, TX: Bible Study Media, Inc., 2014)

The Christian Life Trilogy is a formation tool for the church and individual. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. These three redemptive acts of Jesus shape the character of Christian formation for the church and the individual follower of Jesus.

The Christian Life Trilogy is a 20-week Bible study curriculum that is divided into 3 studies: 

Each study is designed to bring transformational change through in-depth study of what the Apostle Paul calls the “things of first importance.” “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Download Free Previews and Samples Download Now

The Crucified Life focuses on the Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, and it is intended for use during the season of Lent. The Resurrected Life is intended to begin at Easter and walk us through all the areas in which Christ brings us newness. The Spirit-Filled Life is intended for use around Pentecost, and it instructs believers in the power that can be found through life in the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the Christian Life Trilogy leadership materials, The campaign kit will include a sample study guide, a daily devotional book, and a teaching DVD for each of the three parts of the Christian Life Trilogy. Order your Christian Life Trilogy Campaign kit today!

Campaign Kit includes:

  • 1 Campaign Training DVD
  • 1 Campaign Manual
  • 1 Crucified Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Resurrected Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life DVD
  • 1 Spirit Filled Life Small Group Study Guide

Christian Life Trilogy Campaign Kit

On sale now for a limited time! Click here to purchase your Campaign Kit for only $99! Start now to plan your campaign for Lent 2018!

Training Materials:

The Campaign Manual and DVD provide resources and training as to how to maximize the engagement of your congregation by doing the Christian Life Trilogy as a church-wide campaign. Each of the three titles can stand alone. Many congregations use the Crucified and Resurrected Life for Lent and Easter, and then kick off the Spirit-Filled Life in the Fall season.

The Training Videos provide teaching for the senior pastor and campaign leadership teams, as well as the small group hosts.


SESSION 1: FOCUS ON THINGS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE

SESSION 2:  EXPONENTIAL THINKING

SESSION 3: BUILDING A TEAM

SESSION 4:  PLAN YOUR CAMPAIGN

SESSION 5:  HOW TO RECRUIT HOSTS

SESSION 6:  HOST TRAINING SESSION

SESSION 7:  THE VALUE OF A CHURCH-WIDE CAMPAIGN

The Gospel: Jesus Messiah Yahweh!

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.  –Romans 1:1-4

And so Paul begins his great letter to the Roman church. Paul identifies himself as a servant, a slave, of Jesus Christ who has been uniquely called to deliver a message from God—a message of Gospel, literally Good News. The Epiphany is the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel was foretold

In these first four verses we learn several very important truths about the Gospel which illumine the true meaning of Epiphany and its implications for us. First, the Gospel is something which was foretold in ancient prophecy. Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us”.

Through his prophetic spokesmen, God foretold that he would visit us as a man. Could you fathom hearing such a thing for the first time? The creator of the Universe is going to be born as a baby? Unbelievable really, and yet that is what the prophets promised beforehand in the Holy Scriptures.

Jesus is Israel’s long awaited Messiah King

Paul then goes on to say that Jesus was “a descendent of David” with regard to his “earthly life”. Being a descendant of David meant that Jesus was qualified to be the human king of the nation of Israel. David’s heirs would not only be the line of kings but everyone was expecting that the Messiah, THE KING, would be revealed as a descendant of David. In Luke 2 where we read the birth story of Jesus, Luke is careful to explain that the reason Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, had to return to Bethlehem for the Roman census was because they are descendants of David. The Angel of the Lord announced the “good news of great joy” that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The message announcing Jesus’ birth was good news not only because the promise of a human heir to the royal line of David was born, but more! Paul says, “through the Spirit of holiness [he] was appointed the Son of God…” Before Mary was with child, she was told by the angels of God, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” —Luke 1:35

Any one who bears the title “Son of God” by declaration of God is to be acknowledged by Israel as the rightful heir to David’s throne and there for the Messiah King of Israel.

Jesus is Salvation for all who believe!

Jesus is not only fully human and an earthly King, he is Yahweh God the Lord. Yes, Jesus is an earthly human king, but he is also the divine King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the creator and sustainer of the entire heavens and the earth. When Paul inscribed the letter to the church in Rome, he had the advantage of connecting the prophets of old with the full life events of Jesus. Paul saw that not only would Jesus’ nature as Yahweh God be revealed in his miraculous birth, but that his divinity was climactically on display for all the world to see and believe in Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead!

And so, Paul summarizes the heart of the Gospel message in three words: Jesus Christ Lord. Or if we were to connect them with their Old Testament equivalents: Jesus Messiah Yahweh. Those three words contain the message of the Gospel in its simplest expression as they frame the announcement: Jesus is the long awaited earthly Messiah, Jesus is Yahweh God in the flesh!

The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to what Paul calls the “obedience of faith”. Once the Gospel message is heard, one cannot remain neutral about Jesus; it is to be believed in faithful action. The revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of the World, means salvation for all who believe in that message.

Paul would go on to write in Romans chapter 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The Gospel announcement is powerful. Those who believe in Jesus as Lord and God will find a glorious eternal salvation in Him. Indeed, salvation is found in no other name!

What is your response?

“Do you believe that Jesus Messiah is God? Does he reign over every aspect of your life? Do you obey him as your King and God? The invitation of the Gospel is for everyone, and everyone who calls upon Jesus Christ the Lord will be saved. That is the good news promised from the messengers of God to you, both old and new! Listen to the wonderful promise given in the Gospel of God:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NIV, Romans 10:9-13)

Today is the day, give your life to Him! Do not doubt, believe! Follow Jesus as your Lord and receive salvation in His Name!

The Dinner Table

Some of the simplest things in life are those we most take for granted.

The last speaker in the clip mentions three powerful sources of growth and unity for our community as a people:

  • The Townhall
  • The Church
  • The Family Table

He says that we no longer have the first two, and that the family dinner table is the “last bastion of the great power to be united as a people”. Do you agree with him? Why or why not? From your experience and perspective what is the great power of unity in the table and how does this translate to the Communion Table?