Text: Matthew 18:1-20
Date: Pentecost XIII Proper 18 + 9/7/14
Lately St. Matthew has had us ask “Who is Jesus?” St. Peter spoke for us all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying to the Lord, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then we heard Jesus explain what that meant for Him to be the Christ, namely, that He came to suffer and die, to be the sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world, and be raised again from the dead for our justification, salvation and life. Then He said that in order to follow Him, in order to be a Christian (a “little Christ”) the life of faith requires of us that we also take up our cross. In other words being a disciple, a Christian, entails a certain kind of suffering on our part for and in His name and even death to this world. It is to be “buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, that by this baptismal faith “with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,” “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 2:20; 3:3).
This “newness of life” however does not mean outward victory and glory and success as the world counts it. It is a hidden life. The life of faith to which we are called is, first and always, a life of daily repentance and faith, daily confessing our sins which still cling so closely (Heb 12:1) and turning, daily, to the promise of our baptism, returning to Jesus.
Today Jesus touches on some of the most sensitive sufferings we must endure for His sake. And they are not physical sufferings of the body. They include rather suffering to self in true humility, then in true love, care and concern for others. It means trying to live holy lives while yet contending with sin. We are also to help other brothers and sisters in that same fight. This life of repentance and faith is to suffer a daily dying and rising. As St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, speaking of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
That righteous living means that we first die to all pride. It is the contest and fight of pride of place that is the cause of so much dispute, lovelessness and warfare in this sinful world. Pride lurks in all of us. The disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” What did they expect Him to say? What were they seeking? Some way to measure themselves against others? It was a self-seeking question. Jesus gave us an object lesson in answer. “Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” To “turn” means to repent of pride. Like a child we are to know and confess that we are not spiritually independent but totally dependent solely on the grace of God. And that means for everything! Jesus is the greatest in the kingdom. In His earthly ministry He depended solely on the word and spirit of His Father for all things.
Secondly we are to die to sin, that is not allowing sin to have the upper hand to reign over our thoughts and emotions and actions. The temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, when He successfully fought every temptation of the devil He did so as a human being, “tempted in every way like we are,” fighting solely with the weapons of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, the sword and the Spirit. You have the Word of God. You have the Spirit of God. That means you don’t have to give in to temptation. That does not mean that you won’t ever give in for we also continue to have that fallen, sinful nature hanging on which, if the right buttons are pushed or the fire is lit we very well may give in. “But,” we pray in the psalm, “with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared” (Ps 130:4). Receive the forgiveness of your selfish pride and of your various sins now, today.
In the third place we are to die in love toward one another. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus literally laid down His life for us and the whole world. We lay down our lives in service to our neighbor. Jesus does not say here, as we often think, “if your brother sins against you ignore him, that’s his problem.” No, the cross we bear is the commitment to deal with sin regardless of whether it resides in us or in our brother. In the Sermon on the Mount, you will recall, we are called to deal with our own sin when, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…go. First be reconciled to your brother” (Matt 5:23-24). Today we are called to deal with sin in the neighbor. Either way each Christian must be so concerned not only with self but with each other that we bring the forgiveness of Christ to bear in our lives and relationships.
Today Jesus describes some aspects of what it means to take up our cross, namely, in humbly dealing with sin in ourselves and others relying solely on God’s Word and Spirit. It is the presence of Christ in our midst that makes this all possible—the carrying of our cross and following Him.
It is the death of Jesus we proclaim in our words, our actions and our worship that is the power to make all this possible, the life of repentance, faith and living in the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul put it best when he said that we Christians are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-11).
As the old hymn says, let us, therefore, ever walk with Jesus, let us suffer here with Jesus, let us gladly die with Jesus, let us also live with Jesus. “We are Your own living members; Where You live, there we shall be In Your presence constantly, Living there with You forever. Jesus, let me faithful be, Life eternal grant to me” (LSB 685).