Theme(s): Discipleship / Being disciples / Cost of discipleship / Abounding grace / Mocked for Jesus' sake?
Sentence: Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39).
Holy God, grant us the beginning of wisdom
and love to cast our every fear:
that we may grow more brace,
more ready to hear,
more ready to obey,
the teaching of Jesus,
doing so through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Readings: (Related, rather than Continuous)
Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17) 18-20
Jeremiah has just been brutally treated, beaten and placed in stocks (20:1-3). After his release Jeremiah has denounced his tormenter, Pashhur (20:4-6). But our verses are at odds with Jeremiah's external confidence in this denunciation. They seem to give us a sense of the internal feelings of Jeremiah. Speaking to the Lord, Jeremiah says that he feels as though he has been enticed and overpowered by the Lord because his words have led to him becoming 'a laughingstock all day long' (7).
Yet, Jeremiah goes on, this painful experience of derision (8) is not able to be stopped by ceasing to preach the word of the Lord. He cannot suppress the word which is burning within him (9a),indeed he has tried but the effort (like all suppression of raging feelings!) is too wearying. It must come out.
Despite the denunciations he experiences, Jeremiah is confident the Lord will see him through (11-13).
Thus Jeremiah is a prototypical disciple for the kind of 'tough' commitment Jesus expects of his own disciples in today's gospel reading.
Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17) 18-20
The psalmist (likely David, according to the superscription) seems to be in a similar mood to the prophet Jeremiah! He too has 'borne reproach' (7). Thus our passage begins in v. 8 with the psalmist feeling that his zeal for the Lord's house (9) has become the occasion for alienation from his own family.
David is bowed down (9-11), even broken (19-20). He cries to the Lord for help (13-18). As with many prayers in the Old Testament, his hope for answered prayer rests on the character of the Lord: 'your steadfast love ... your abundant mercy' (16).
In the unfolding argument of Paul in Romans, on the nature of the gospel of grace, logic requires Paul to take up some inevitable questions. In this case, if the grace of God is so abundant as to forgive all sin (see, e.g. 5:20-21) then 'Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?' (6:1b).
That question might not quite be our question today, but we may - at least implicitly - have similar questions: God doesn't want me to be perfect does he? A few little sins don't matter, do they? Oh, well (as we succumb to a tasty temptation) God forgives us, doesn't he?
Paul is decisive in his summary answer - I will print it in caps for effect: BY NO MEANS! Even shorter would be, 'NO!'
But implicitly his readers press him to give a reason - parents experience this with their children, 'But why?' So Paul - as a spiritual father to his Roman children - sets out his case for answering, 'By no means!' It goes like this:
1. A Christian is a changed person who has died to sin through baptism in order to walk in newness of life (2b-4). To sin now, for a Christian, is a form of ignorance. It betrays a misunderstanding of what being a Christian is all about.
2. Expanding on 1, a Christian is a dead person walking, dead people are free from sin (7) and so a Christian is to live 'no longer enslaved to sin' (6b). To continue sinning, for a Christian, is to live oppositely to the work of Christ which sets us free from such slavery.
3. Lest any Christian think, perversely, 'Well, I will just keep dying and being set free,' Christ died only once ('The death he died, he died to sin, once for all' (10) and thus we are to 'consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus' (11). That is, our baptism into Christ's death (4) is a once and for all experience, a death we are to live out for all time. We by no means keep on sinning, and certainly not to invoke the abundance of God's grace, because we are dead to sin.
(Although beyond the scope of this week's passage - in fact part of next week's passage, 6:12-14 acknowledges the dual reality of Christian life: spiritually we are dead to sin, physically and mentally we remain prone to sin so we are not to let 'sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies' (12) nor to continue presenting 'your members to sin as instruments of wickedness' (12).)
This is a challenging compendium on discipleship for preachers.
Challenge (1) is the painful cost of discipleship in this life.
Challenge (2) is choosing whether to say something about each topic within the passage, attend to just one or two verses, or attempt to generally speak about the cost of discipleship.
The context (see the beginning of Matthew 10) is sending out the Twelve to 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (6). In this mission they are to travel lightly (9-10), efficiently (11-15), wisely and bravely (16-23).
Now Jesus reminds them that he asks nothing of them which he has not experienced himself (24-25), to have no fear save for fear of God (26-31), to never be ashamed of him (32-33), to recognise the divisive nature of the gospel they bear (34-36), to belong exclusively to Jesus with relativised family ties (37), to be willing to die, knowing that life is found when it is lost for the sake of Jesus (38-39).
Within this compendium of instruction and advice, note the value placed on the disciples (30-31).