Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Picture this: Christians live in a perfect world. They have everything they ever need or want. Those who confess faith in Christ never go hungry. Instead, they all have their dream jobs making more money than they need. Everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior owns a big house, drives a brand new car, and enough free time on their hands to enjoy them with their loved ones. Believers have the best health care coverage in the world for the best price. In fact, they never die.
Can you envision a world where everything goes right for God’s people? Most of us probably could, even if only in our wildest daydreams. We might even imagine the whole world would convert to faith in Jesus rather rapidly in a world like that. But the reality we face is a world filled with suffering. We see heartbreaking divorces. Parents burying their children. Cancer in remission. The list goes on. We might wish to see a distinction between believers and unbelievers, but the truth is Christians suffer just as much as others. With so much suffering, especially when believing in God seemingly makes no difference, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? That’s what we consider as we hear God’s word today.
In the last year of Jesus’ ministry, as the end approaches, he wants to make sure his followers understand who he is. So he springs a pop quiz on them. Just two questions. One: who do the masses say I am? Their answer: John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet. Some thought Jesus was John brought back from the dead. Others thought he was Elijah returned as the prophet Malachi had predicted. Still others thought him a good man in the tradition of the prophets.
People still think that today. No, they don’t say Jesus is John or Elijah. But they still think he was a good man, maybe even a man who spoke from God. Every year someone covers a “search for the historical Jesus.” To save you the time of looking into all of them, they always find the “real Jesus” is at odds with what we read in the Bible. They interview scholars. Some say Jesus was merely myth. Others say he was a political figure. Others say a teacher of good things. With the experts split on who Jesus was, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST?
That’s where Jesus’ second question to the disciples comes in. “What about you?” he turns to them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers for them all. “You are the Messiah.” “You are the Christ.” “You are God’s anointed, fully God, fully man. You are the one God promised would come.”
There’s an answer. WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? Because of who he is. Along with Peter, we confess Jesus is the Messiah. He is God and man. He rules the universe as our compassionate brother who took on flesh and blood. He is the one the Scripture points to. All the hopes and dreams of God’s people ride on him. But what does the Christ do?
Jesus warned his disciples not to tell others until the time was right, so that he could complete his mission. The mission was this: the Son of Man must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed. And he must rise again. But if even God has to suffer, has to die—WHY FOLLOW CHRIST?
Peter didn’t like Jesus’ news one bit. Here before him was the one who was going to deliver God’s people from their oppression. He was staring at the end of human suffering. In all his dreams, Jesus restored God’s kingdom—paradise on earth. So how can Jesus say hemust suffer? Peter rebuked Jesus for talking such nonsense.
Which of us hasn’t dreamed of a better world where our problems are gone? When you see an alternative to pain or misery or loneliness, don’t you take it? I don’t hear many people praying for 10 years of dementia when they could be praying for 10 healthy years instead. That just opens the bag to all sorts of questions. Where is God when I’m struggling to make ends meet? Where is God when all my friends have left me alone? Where is God when I struggle to do what’s right and end up jobless while the godless advance? He’s got to fix it! Like Peter, we are quick to tell God that we have a better plan. It’s a lot easier to follow our own advice than the teachings of Christ!
Of course, those are the devil’s plans. It comes through in Peter’s voice: “Oh, Jesus, just stay on earth a little longer. Set up a kingdom! Think how glorious it would be! All the people would acknowledge you,” he says. But Jesus rebukes him. “Get behind me, Satan.” Those aren’t God’s plans. They’re human. And they’re wrong.
Instead, God’s plan was what the Scripture said all along. Christ came to suffer and die. He didn’t come to rid the world of suffering, but to take its suffering on himself. He knew the schemes of the devil that make us look for glory. He resisted temptation. Instead, he did what was necessary. “The Son of Man must.” Why? Because God determined in eternity that this was the way he would save his world. A world filled with suffering that results from sin. He was, is, the promised Messiah who delivered all people. As he revealed to his disciples, he would die on a cross.
So WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? Why follow a man who died the cruelest of deaths? The most painful, the most humiliating? Because of what he does. He bore the cross for you. He suffered for our sins. Took our punishment. Died our death. He experienced our hell on the cross, not so we would feel sorry for him, but because he loves you. He’s God. He bore it as only he could. And irony of ironies, that day he was too bruised and bloody to even carry the cross. Someone had to carry it for him. So he could die for you and me and Simon. And also rise again. His resurrection guarantees this story—and our story—does not end in death.
But that’s not the reality we’re faced with. If Jesus suffered to take away all suffering, to save the world from death, why do we still have to deal with such terrible offenses as child abuse? Why do we still bury grandma and grandpa, mom and dad? If Christ didn’t resolve it, WHY FOLLOW HIM?
To that Jesus answers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” That’s tough. Give up my plans when they fly in the face of God. End my efforts to do what seems best to me but is contrary to what God says. If Jesus stopped with this, it would already be too hard. But he goes on. “Let him take up his cross,” Christ says. And we groan, “Great, even more suffering! Suffering because of Jesus and his gospel? Why, God, why?”
Friend, when your cross seems monumental, when you’re ready to drop it and run—for the times when you can’t pick up your cross, consider what Christ does for you. He followed God’s plan of greatest suffering, dying on a cross. He faced rejection by God and all people so that God would never reject you. Jesus knows your suffering. He won’t ignore it. Instead, he comes to you. He comes to us in the waters of baptism, promising that we share in his death and will certainly share in his resurrection. He comes to us in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. He comes to us on the pages of his book.
In light of what he’s done for you, is it too much to ask you to share, for this short life, in his sufferings? Shouldn’t we rather rejoice that God allows us to suffer because we bear his name—Christian, a follower of Christ? Thank God when others call you a fool for believing in Christ! Praise God when the world hates your outdated views on an ancient book! Give thanks that you suffer. WHY FOLLOW HIM? Because he has made you his follower. He knows your troubles. He won’t leave you alone in them. He promises he will make it right.
In a world so filled with problems, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST when we could think of so many better options? He is the only way to eternal life, and he won’t abandon us in this one. Follow Christ because of who he is, what he has done, and who he has made you to be. Take up your cross, and follow him!
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
It’s that time of year again. If children haven’t already gone back to school, they will be back in school shortly. And why? Why do we send children off to school? They have lots to learn—life skills, life lessons. The ability to read and do simple math problems are important in our fast-paced culture. History and social studies provide much-needed perspective on the world we live in. And there are many more lessons to learn. Whether we prepare students for further studies, for the work force, or just to be responsible citizens, a good education can go a long way in shaping the youth of our nation. But our learning is never done.
It’s the same here. We never finish learning this side of heaven. We’re gearing up at Resurrection for the school year, too. Sunday school and confirmation class seek to give children the necessary backdrop from which to continue to learn the important truths of God’s Word. Bible study puts us in contact with the Word of God as we grow closer to him. In God’s Word today, we see Moses encourage God’s people to learn God’s Word and take it to heart. He also impresses on them the importance of passing it on. Like Moses urged the people, REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. Keep learning what God has done for you, and teach others about the LORD.
Moses lead Israel for about 40 years. He taught them the things God told him. God called them away from Mt. Sinai after Moses received the Law from God. After the LORD delivered them from slavery in Egypt and miraculously provided for them in the desert, the people cowered in fear when they saw the giants living in the promised land. They rebelled against the LORD; the people were forced to wander 40 years in the desert. Even Moses sinned and was not be permitted to enter the land. Still, the LORD was good to his people. He delivered their enemies into their hands. He brought them to the other side of the Jordan. Now Moses gave his last great lesson to Israel.
Educators know, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Moses knew that, too. He repeated the law of the LORD before the people. He begins in our text with an urgent plea to listen. “Hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” Moses made it clear why the Israelites were receiving the land. It wasn’t because they were the best theology students, or because their nation was better than any other. The LORD gave it to them. That was to be their motivation for following the laws Moses taught them—the promise the LORD had made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The best teachers don’t just know the material they teach. They know how to ignite a passion for learning, to motivate students to learn. So what is our motivation to learn from the LORD? Like Israel, our motivation is the promise given to Abraham. Not the promise of the promised land, but that all nations would be blessed through him. That is God’s promise to us.
People forget a lot of what they learn in school. Students retain a fraction of what they learn from year to year. But even that is enough to remember addition and subtraction. But Moses told Israel they didn’t need to perform such simple operations with God’s Word.. “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” The people weren’t to add to the commands of the LORD. Or take away from them. Why? Because God was the one who gave them. They were good, like everything that comes from the LORD. He knows how to make good things. What’s more, the people would show their wisdom by obeying the LORD. Their job was to make God look good by living his law to the world—a law that was itself flawless and good. God was making them look good by giving them this law.
God’s law is so good that if everyone kept it all the time, the world would be a perfect place. If everyone loved God and their neighbor the way God intended, there would be no need for any other laws. So why don’t we see that?
A good teacher sets up the student to succeed. The LORD set Israel up for success. He gave them the proper motivation. He gave them a perfect law. But REMEMBER WHAT YOU LEARNED in Sunday school. The people crossed the Jordan River and defeated their enemies. Except when they failed to listen to God. The people turned away from the LORD. When it got bad, they cried out for help again. The LORD delivered them, but they went right back to doing the terrible things the law forbade. Sure, they had moments of greatness, in days of kings like David and Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. Faithful men like Elijah and Elisha still pointed people back to God. Humble women like Ruth and Esther still quietly trusted in the LORD. But the nation abandoned the LORD. They forgot his law. Didn’t care what God said. Ignored the prophets who pleaded with them. Ignored the Word of God. Even in Jesus’ day, they added their own customs to God’s Word. But they subtracted the love—the motivation behind it all.
So is there a problem with the law? NO! So what’s the problem? Human nature adds what I feel to the Word of God. Human nature adds science because it’s reasonable. It adds the tradition of the Church, because how else can we know for sure that we’ve got it right? Human nature adds my experience, because that’s my truth. But it doesn’t just add. It subtracts. Human nature subtracts all the little parts that point out what I’ve done wrong. All the things I don’t like. Sure, we’re okay when others hear the good law of God. But don’t let it point at me! The law always accuses us, because we omit— intentionally or by forgetting—what we don’t like.
People strive to make the world a better place without the Word of God. They inevitably fail. That’s human history. Since the beginning, people have been taking the Word of God and wrecking it. Ever since Adam botched the world we live in, his descendants have followed. And the Church, instead of bringing glory to God as his beautiful bride who keeps his commandments, has tarnished his reputation in the world. If God gave us a grade, it would have to be a complete failure.
The best teachers aren’t the ones who take the job because the hours are good or because they get a long summer holiday. The best teachers love their students. They want to see their students do well. They do all they can to help the student learn.
God knows that we can’t learn how to follow his law perfectly. He knows that on our own, we will never do anything more than fail. So did something no one else could. He came near. As Moses reminded Israel, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” There is no God who came near his people like the LORD did for us. Far more than any love of a teacher, he sent his Son to earth to be the Teacher. The one who taught he is the way to eternal life. He fulfilled the law we could never keep. He never added or subtracted from the Word. He brought God glory by always doing his will. He never once forgot a Word God spoke. He didn’t leave anything undone. Fulfilled God’s promises. Never broke a law. Always loved God and neighbor. For you. He earned the perfect grade for you. What the law was unable to do because human nature opposes it, he did. Because he is God. He took what people wrecked and made it good again. And he did it for you! His perfect score is yours!
When students finish a year or a semester in school, they move on to other classes and other teachers. Eventually, they graduate and don’t have to take classes anymore. But we don’t graduate from learning God’s Word. As Moses warned the people so long ago, this Word of God is spiritual life. It’s your eternal security. It’s your free pass to life with him. That’s what you’ve learned. Remember it.
But also use it! When students enter the work force, they struggle to apply equations and arts and sciences in an everyday setting. God’s Word still applies to our lives. It still has lots to say to us—not just for eternity, but also for our lives right now. But if it remains on the shelf until next Sunday, it remains a cold and lifeless book. Open it up! Watch God’s power work in your life.
And then also teach it. Moses exhorted the people, "Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Teachers go to school for years to learn their trade. But you already have the knowledge you need to teach others about Jesus. It’s the same message you learned in Sunday school. It’s the God who came down to earth to save his creation. Remember what you’ve learned. It’s really as simple as telling your children the things you’ve seen—observing what God has done for you in your life. Teach his love. Tell others all our God has done for us! That’s our motivation for keeping his Word, and for observing his law. That’s why we want to do what God says—because he is good. He is near in Jesus.
School starts soon. Some students love it. Others may dislike it. But we have something far more important than the lessons we learned in math, science, and social studies. REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. It’s not how we can make the world better through education. It’s how Jesus came to the world to give us his perfect record. Learn about him. Learn the Word of God. And then teach it to others. Amen.