Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Viewers and readers have the chance to view the life of Jesus and his followers through fresh eyes in a production called “The Chosen” directed by Dallas Jenkins. Our youth and adults will receive instructions this fall on how to view the series, and we will hold discussions on each episode afterward. These words are recorded in the accompanying devotional book: “The Word was in the beginning, before the heavens and earth, before sunsets and the Pacific, before wildflowers and whales and strawberries and freckles. He was before all of it because He made all of it. The Word spoke the world into existence, which is perhaps why Jesus was called the Word. By His words came all that we know, and by his words come light and knowledge, healing and hope.” [The Chosen: 40 Days with Jesus, Minnesota: Broadstreet Publishing Group, 2019, p. 24-25.] When Christians want to re-orient their spiritual compass—we could call it their moral compass too—they turn to the Good Book and to the Good Savior contained in the pages of the New Testament. There we find the archetype of Godly living, and we find at least 12 persons who try to follow his example with varying degrees of imperfection. Can you imagine what it might have been like in that day to actually walk with and listen to Jesus? That’s what Peter, James, and John did and the rest of the Twelve. But there were more: Mary Magdalene and Joanna. There were those who were changed by his presence and his words: the Canaanite woman; the woman at the well; the man possessed by demons. Everywhere Jesus went, he cut a swath of redemption and renewal. So those who believe they need personal redemption or renewal would do well to learn from his actions and his words. And through an amazing vision, a man was changed by his encounter with Jesus: his name was first Saul, later changed to Paul. Letter after letter in the New Testament were written by him! Today we will study Jesus though his message in Matthew with a continuation from last week of Paul’s letter to the Romans, continuing with chapter 12.
First, what can we learn from Matthew 16? Jesus had a deliberate teachable moment as he led the Twelve out of Galilee to a place apart. He asked them who they believed he was: Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus blessed him for his answer! There was surely excitement in the air. Would Peter’s answer be your answer? I wonder if it would be the answer of others in our nation today. “You are Messiah.” It was certainly Peter’s answer, and on it Jesus said he would build his church. Now get this: immediately after Jesus said those words, he said other words that must have been a gut punch to those disciples: He said he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. He also said on the third day he would be raised, but I wonder how many disciples heard that part. Suffer. Killed. The one they were following; and admiring; and telling others about would suffer and be killed. Stunned silence must have preceded Peter’s protest. “No!” Then temptation to revel in that adoration must have dangled before Jesus’ eyes. “We need a hero!” the 12 might have thought. But that wasn’t his Father’s plan; that was Satan’s plan: taking the easy road instead of the hard road; taking the road of self-adulation instead of redemption. Then, only then, the other shoe dropped. I can imagine the Twelve leaning in to catch his words: “Whoever of you wishes to save his own life, will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” How does someone process something like that? Even 2000 years since those words were spoken, we still contemplate them and study them. Words are only powerful and perpetual if they are mated to actions that reflect them. Jesus not only taught with great words, the Bible says he IS the Word. [John1] “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word WAS God.” Such a powerful statement! But this man plainly laid out the “Cost of Discipleship.” The Cost is very high. It is not just singing praises, belonging to a church, and carrying a Bible. It is talking the talk; and it is walking the walk We can change our nation and our world by living more like Jesus.
Second, we continue with the words of Romans 12 where we left off last week. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we put legs on our faith. This is where we cast off the garment of “hypocrite” with which the world might try to label us. Instead we match our words with our actions! If you have your Bible, open it to Romans 12:9. This part of Paul’s letter is a masterpiece of how to transform your life.
- Let love be genuine. A man named Greg Baer is the founder of “Real Love Ministries”. He grew up in a family with parents who exhibited “Conditional love.” What he learned was that if he obeyed them, they praised him. If he followed the course they mapped out for him, he was praised. So he became a doctor and, according to him, he gained a lot of much money and an empty soul. He married the woman his parents hoped he would marry, and she offered him conditional love too. He was so unhappy that he planned to take his own life. He made a plan as he and his first wife divorced. And then, he met a woman who embodied unconditional love. He felt alive, and free, and grace coursed through his veins. They married. He wrote a book on his discovery and he called it “Real Love.” His wife is his life partner in all things now, and he is genuinely filled with joy. His soul was longing for genuine love. That’s what Jesus taught too! “Let love be genuine.”
- Never lag in zeal (in common language means “Do not give up.”) I am especially proud of a lesson our daughter Jenny taught to their son Marshall. He used to get frustrated and give up on a task, declaring in tears, “I can’t do it!” “Marshall,” she said, “Don’t say you can’t do something; instead say: ‘I need help.’” Now he does! What a great life lesson for adults too!
- Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, be constant in prayer. Recently a person in church asked us to pray for a loved one, saying: “The doctor gave us no hope that he would get better.” I think it’s a shame when people feel like a situation has no hope! I’ve seen sick people get better; and I’ve seen addicts get clean. Hope is powerful. Being patient in suffering is difficult. Years ago a man in the church learned he had Parkinson’s Disease. He knew his symptoms would be hard on his wife, so one day he went into his garage turned on his car, and took his own life. He did not have patience or hope. But two weeks after he died, the Michael J Fox Foundation announced the discovery of palliative medications that would calm down Parkinson’s Symptoms. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, be constant in prayer.”
- Bless those who persecute you. Jesus’ point is simple: others curse those who persecute them. We take the high road, asking God to bless them in their bitterness and their situation in life.
- Here’s a hard one: “Extend hospitality to strangers.” Walking down a street and encountering strangers, some people hold their belongings tighter, look away, or look down as they approach the other. It is a protective action. But there are other ways to extend hospitality. When my son Chris and his son Calvin were leaving an Orlando City Soccer game, they had to walk to their car. Calvin had a pouch of water with him, and as they approached a corner, a man there said he didn’t have any money and he was hungry. Calvin stopped and said to the man, “I don’t have any money or food, but I will share some of my water.” And he did. The man thanked him. Each step Chris took with his son as they got closer to their car moved him. So at his car, Chris got the spare change he kept in his car and together, father and son walked back in the darkness. Chris, said, “I was so moved by my son that I brought you lots of coins for your cup too.” Extend hospitality to strangers.
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. That seems natural unless we think about it. Some resent when another person has something to rejoice about, and some can’t let themselves be vulnerable enough to cry with someone who is sad. But people love to have others celebrate with them, and people are comforted by someone just sitting with them in their sorrow: on a chair; on the edge of a bed; or even on the floor as they weep. That is holy work if you can do it.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Part of the problem with our world is people who feel wronged who retaliate. It happens in America; it happens in Israel and Palestine; and it happens in domestic violence cases in the world. There is higher ground than that. Take that road instead.
What a masterpiece of instruction Paul’s letter is! And the 12th chapter: wow!
Re-read it this week and think of at least one way that you can make a change for the better in your life, and therefore, in our world.
Let us pray: Holy God: wrap us with qualities that make us disciples of Jesus; love, grace, mercy, hospitality, hope. Remind us, however, of the price Jesus paid and the price some disciples may pay to exhibit the qualities and take the stands Jesus took. Give us the courage to make at least one change this week that will give us a closer walk with Thee. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 30, 2020