I want you to know that every week – as I prepare my weekly message – I struggle with what it is that I’m going to say. But there are for preachers like me – essentially two types of sermons or messages.
One kind is to proclaim how much God loves you. And that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for you. And because of that we have the forgiveness of our sins. And then, because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with God someday. And that’s what we call the Good News – or the Gospel – the Good News of God for us in Jesus Christ.
And it is this Good News – or another word that we use a lot around here is grace – in other words, God’s undeserved love and favor – which is the heart of the Gospel.
But the second kind of preaching – which is not quite so popular – is that – now that you have heard the Good News – what are you going to do with it? Are you ready to deny yourself, and come follow Him? You’ve come to believe in God – to believe that God sent His only Son into the world to save the world from sin. But now what?
I want to talk to you today about who you say Jesus is – and to ask you if you’re ready to come and follow him.
Folks – I am convinced that what you say about who Jesus is is the most important question in life that you can answer. Eternity hangs in the balance. Essentially – Jesus is many things. The Bible calls Him many things. Son of God, Son of man, the Good Shepherd, the Messiah, teacher, rabbi, the Lamb of God. The list goes on. But it is as Savior and Lord that He comes to us today.
To say that Jesus is the Savior implies that you agree that there is something from which you need to be saved or rescued. And that you cannot in and of yourself provide that rescue – that you need someone outside of yourself to do that for you. And that you have come to realize that it is Jesus – and Jesus alone – who can be that Savior. These are the kinds of sermons that we like to hear. And usually the ones that I get the most compliments on.
To say that Jesus is Lord is to agree that I am not God. That I am not the master of all I survey. That it’s NOT all about me. And if it’s NOT all about me – then it must be about somebody else. And I’m here to tell you that that someone else is Jesus. So Jesus is God. Jesus is the Savior. And Jesus is Lord.
Now it seems to me that we need to pay close attention when we hear Jesus say to us in our Gospel lesson today, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Remember what I told you two weeks ago. Jesus never said, “Repeat after me.” He said, “Come, follow me.”
But before anyone says “yes,” or “no” to the invitation to follow Jesus, it seems to me we need to know who he is. That’s why in our Gospel reading we find Jesus asking questions. First – he asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answer, “Some say Elijah; some say one of the prophets; some say John the Baptizer.”
And then he asks them the crucial question. “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter – answering for the group blurts out, “You are the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the living God!” And since they got it right – Jesus then invites them to take up their cross—deny themselves – and to come and follow him.
You see, Jesus realizes that if people are going to follow him – and if his followers are going to be truly effective Christians in the world – they need to know exactly who he is. That’s the first thing. But then they also need to know precisely what is involved in being and becoming a disciple. It is a learning process – often with the encouragement of others.
Let me share with you a story. “Pastor Ed Markquart, a Lutheran pastor in Seattle, Washington tells about an encounter he had once with a pastor named Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand, was a Christian minister of Jewish descent in Romania who suffered years of imprisonment and torture under the communists because of his faith.
“Some years ago Markquart and some members of his church went to the Holy Land together. While there they took a cruise on a ship following the journeys of the Apostle Paul. One of the passengers on that cruise was Richard Wurmbrand.
“One night Markquart and his wife found themselves sitting with Wurmbrand at an evening dinner table. Much to his surprise, Markquart found Wurmbrand to be witty, charming and intelligent as he told delightful stories at the table.
“He was delightful until at the end of the dinner, when he learned over to Orlie, a layman from Markquart’s church who was also making the trip, and asked him, ‘Is that pastor over there (referring to Markquart) a good pastor?’
“Markquart says it bothered him that Orlie paused before his answer. Finally, Orlie answered, ‘Yes.’ Wurmbrand asked another question, ‘Why is he a good pastor?’ Orlie responded, ‘Well, he makes good sermons.’
“Then, says Markquart, Wurmbrand looked right at him and asked Orlie, ‘Yes, but does he make good disciples?’
“‘In that moment,’ says Markquart, ‘there was a pause, a flash of embarrassment, and a little dagger went into my soul. He didn’t say it but he could have said that the purpose of the church is not to make good sermons or good music or good youth programs or good sanctuaries, but the purpose of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, does he make disciples?
“‘In that moment,’ Markquart continues, ‘Wurmbrand was the angel of the Lord to me . . . The purpose of God for all pastors and in all sermons is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. People who love Jesus Christ, who follow Jesus Christ, who call Jesus Christ their Lord. That is what we are all called to be: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Not make church members. Not make Sunday schools. Not make buildings. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is what it is all about.’”
I want you to know that it is a privilege for me to stand here week after week. Thank you for listening to me all these years. So you know I like to make you laugh. And I know that sometimes I can make you cry. Sometimes I make me cry! But the worst thing that I or any preacher can do – is to be boring. But neither is it my job to entertain just for the sake of entertainment. No. It is my job to encourage you to walk in the footsteps of Jesus; to encourage you to be and to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
So I suppose that this is one of those sermons that you might not want to hear. But I’m just going to come right out and say it. Because Jesus said it. Discipleship is about self-denial. Jesus turned to his disciples and to the crowd around them and said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
This past week, we remembered the tragic events of 9/11. “Many beautiful stories came out of the tragedy of the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 stories of sacrifice and heroism. Let me share with you the story of Ron Fazio of Closter, New Jersey.
“Fazio was Vice President of a company with offices on the 99th floor of Tower Two. When the plane slammed into Tower One, Ron Fazio made one of the best decisions of his life. He ordered his employees to evacuate the building. Even though the South Tower where their offices were had not been hit by the second plane, he insisted that employees get away from the windows, leave their desks and get out of the building. He stood there and held the door, yelling for everyone to hurry, and held the door open until everyone from his company had started down the stairs. They all made it down. So did he. But he remained outside Tower Two, helping others out of the building, talking on his cell phone. The last anyone saw of him, he was giving his cell phone to someone else, after which the tower collapsed and no one ever heard from Ron Fazio again.
“Ron’s wife Janet and their kids have started a foundation to honor their father’s heroism. It’s called “Hold the Door for Others, Inc.” In son Rob’s words, ‘My Dad was a quiet, humble man who died after holding the door open for others. As a family, we’re trying to do the same thing, to help people move through the pain so they can begin to dream again.’”
I shared with you a year ago that I had a college fraternity brother – Kenny Cubas – who rushed back into one of the towers after bringing out a woman to safety. He didn’t make it back out either. Now – these certainly are examples of unselfish love for others. And it is highly unlikely we will ever be asked to make those kinds of sacrifices. But then again – you never know. The bottom line is that discipleship leads to self-denial.
It begins when we realize who Jesus is. Martin Luther, that great German theologian after whom the Lutheran Church is named, once wrote: "I care not whether he be Christ, but that he be Christ for you."
The fact that Jesus is the Christ means nothing until – until you confess that Jesus is Savior – and God – and Lord. That He is Christ for you. Have you done just that? I can’t think of a more important question for me to ask of you this [morning] [evening] than this.
And if you can honestly say about Jesus, “Yes – this I believe,” then let me invite you to come and follow Him. If my preaching does not encourage you to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ – then I’m not doing my job – and you should fire me! I guess what I’m asking you to do is to make the connection between what we value here – and what you value on Monday morning. In other words, are you willing to take up your cross to follow Him? Are you opening doors for others?