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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Our devotion for today focuses on the Gospel text and comes from Concordia Commentary: Matthew 11:2–20:34.

Scripture Readings

Jeremiah 15:15–21
Psalm 26
Romans 12:9–21
Matthew 16:21–28

Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.

Introduction

What does it mean to bear one’s own cross to follow Jesus? In today’s devotional reading, we learn more about the crosses we may bear and the relief that Jesus brings.

Devotional Reading

In the most general terms, the daily struggle with sin and self-denial is a form of taking up the cross. More specifically, however, as Jesus’ disciples live their lives and speak in his name, they will come up against the trouble and evil in this world. By eschewing the way of power in these situations, Jesus’ disciples will open themselves to various kinds of attack and shame and harm, depending on the context. The Messiah’s cross is inevitable, specific, and necessary to God’s plan for saving people from their sin (16:21). The cross that any given disciple may carry—that is, the suffering that he or she experiences for the sake of Christ—will vary. The point here is not to attempt to determine in advance the kind of difficulty or suffering or even martyrdom that the life of discipleship may bring. The point is to relinquish control from the beginning and in each day that a disciple lives. To take up the cross begins when disciples acknowledge that discipleship will entail hardship precisely because this is God’s way of reigning graciously in a rebellious world—not paying back evil with evil, but evil with good.

Why is it the case that every disciple will (and must) embrace self-denial, cross-bearing, and thus continue to follow Jesus? Mt 16:25 answers that question. To seize control and power and to do so in order to protect oneself from suffering—in other words, to want to save your own life—ultimately results in the loss of everything. The two ways are like oil and water, light and darkness, life and death. Jesus’ disciples cannot calculate and plan ahead to preserve themselves. This desire, if carried through and acted upon, will result in the loss of faith and in eternal destruction. On the other hand and paradoxically, when one loses one’s life—that is, trustingly relinquishes control and power and simply follows Jesus—then one finds life, indeed and forever.

The preceding context (16:21–26) has been full of polar opposites: death and resurrection, God versus Satan, “the things of God” versus “the things of men,” and saving one’s life versus losing it. In light of these black-and-white alternatives, with no gray area or middle ground in between them, it seems virtually certain that the “work” of each person is either discipleship or apostasy. Either a person has taken up the cross or has not, has followed Christ in faith or believes in another, has attempted to save his own life or has lost it for the sake of Christ. This does not involve a sliding scale or a graded comparison. A person does one or the other, just as one either does the will of the Father or not. Jesus’ words here should not be heard as a call to be “faithful enough” or “better” in one’s life of discipleship. They are simply and comprehensively the call to deny oneself, take up the cross, and continue to follow him who is coming again as the Judge of all people and all things.

Devotional reading is adapted from Concordia Commentary: Matthew 11:2–20:34, pages 842–45 © 2010 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Hymn

Hymn is “Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus,” hymn 531 from Lutheran Service Book. Video © 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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