Devotional for September 16, 2018

Devotional for September 16, 2018 based upon Mark 8: 27-38

Jesus never calls upon anyone to do anything that He Himself would not do and/or has not done. What He asks us to face, He Himself has already faced. Jesus has the right to challenge us to take up a cross, because He Himself has already taken up His cross.

But all that goes against the grain. The world tells us that anything that bothers us or becomes difficult we should seek to avoid. Jesus said, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” What does it mean to “take up your cross”?

First, TAKING UP A CROSS IS ALWAYS VOLUNTARY. Jesus calls us, and Jesus challenges us, but taking up a cross and following Jesus is always voluntary. A bad medical diagnosis, a personal tragedy, or a severe accident may all be a heavy burden to bear. But they are not a cross that you have taken up for Jesus, because you did not volunteer for them.

Second, TAKING UP A CROSS IS AN ACT OF LOVE. An act of love that we freely choose. It is a price we pay out of love. For Jesus taking up His cross meant going to Calvary to die. He did it because He loves us so much that He could not do otherwise. Taking up a cross means taking the love of God and touching the lives of other people, even those who are very difficult to love. Taking up a cross means denying and sacrificing and paying the price regardless of the hardships that we must endure.

Third, TAKING UP A CROSS IS HARD. In fact, it is so hard that whenever the message of the cross is preached, some people will object. They will say, “You cannot be asking me to do that. That would be too hard.”

Kind of like Peter in our Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, when Jesus was talking about His impending death on the cross. Peter objected. “Lord, that is not the way it is supposed to happen.” A few years later the apostle Paul called the cross “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks.” Not much has changed, has it?

The cross was a stumbling block to Jews because it was not what they were expecting. It was not what they wanted to hear. As an oppressed people they wanted their Christ, their Messiah, their Anointed One to deliver them. It is not what we want to hear either. All of Jesus’ talking about taking up a cross bothers us. We lean back in our chair, wanting to take it easy, but we hear Him say, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

This morning Jesus offers you a cross. Not a life of ease. Not a church that will always make you comfortable and happy. Not a guarantee of success on the job. Not a promise that everything will always go smoothly and exactly as you want for the rest of your life. Rather this morning Jesus offers you a cross. But along with a cross He offers you eternal life. For, as Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

Will you do what Jesus said and take up a cross?

Dennis D. Nelson
Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for Palm Sunday 2018

Devotional for Palm Sunday 2018 based upon Mark 11: 1-11

Several years ago a book was written by a well-known American historian entitled, When the Cheering Stopped. It told the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following World War I. When the war was over, Wilson was an international hero. There was a spirit of great optimism both at home and abroad. And people actually believed that “the war to end all wars” had been fought and that the world had been made safe for democracy.

The cheering lasted for about a year. But then it gradually began to stop. The political leaders in Europe were more concerned about their own agendas than about a lasting peace. At home Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the U. S. Senate. His League of Nations was never ratified. Under the strain of it all, his health began to break. He suffered a stroke. And in the next election his party was defeated. The cheering had stopped.

The same thing happened to Jesus. When He first came upon the scene, He was an overnight sensation. When He tried to get off to be alone, the people would follow Him. The masses lined the streets whenever He would come into town. Great crowds came to hear Him preach. On Palm Sunday they waved palm branches, spread their coats on the road, and shouted, “Hosanna!” “Jesus, save us now!” But the cheering soon stopped, as the tide turned against Him.

Why did the cheering stop? Why did the crowds turn against Him? How could the shouts of “Hosanna!” on Sunday become cries of “Crucify him!” on Friday. In five days it all fell apart. Why? Why did the cheering stop?

I believe that one reason why the cheering stopped is because JESUS BEGAN TO TALK MORE AND MORE ABOUT COMMITMENT. Prior to this time, His message had been mainly about grace. When the five thousand were hungry, He fed them. When they brought their sick, He healed them. When a woman was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned, He came to her rescue.

But now He seems to be saying, “The time for miracles is over. The time for commitment has come.” In all four Gospels – after Jesus enters into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – there is not another miracle recorded as being done for the people. And this is especially significant because near half of the Gospels are devoted to the seven last days of Jesus’ life. But you will find no miracles recorded in those chapters, but there is a persistent call for commitment.

Jesus was no longer talking about grace. He was now talking about commitment. The commitment that should result from accepting God’s grace. So the cheering began to stop.

And then, second, I believe that the cheering began to stop because JESUS DARED TO SUGGEST THAT ALL PEOPLE ARE WORTHY OF LOVE. After Palm Sunday Jesus went into the Temple and drove the money changers out. The Gospel writer Matthew tells us that after the Temple had been cleansed, the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple, and He cured them. He brought into the place of worship those whom we would refer to today as “those people.” And then the chief priests and scribes not only saw the amazing things He was doing, they also heard children crying out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The children’s shouting bugged the Pharisees, so they told Jesus to make those children stop. Time and again it was the powerless in society who recognized Jesus as Messiah, while those in power resisted Him.

Why did the cheering stop? Second, because JESUS OPENED THE DOORS OF THE CHURCH TO EVERYONE. It angered people then, and it will anger people today.

And then, third, I believe the cheering stopped because JESUS BEGAN TO TALK MORE AND MORE ABOUT A CROSS. In the early part of His ministry, He talked about the Kingdom of God. People really liked it when He talked about the Kingdom of God. Especially because they were expecting to have prominent positions in that Kingdom. But increasingly Jesus began to talk about sacrifice – about giving and giving up your life.

A young boy, in a Little League baseball game, got up to the plate. He looked over to the coach, who gave him the signal to hit a sacrifice bunt. The young boy then proceeded to take three big swings and strike out. After he got back to the bench, the coach asked him, “Didn’t you see me give you a signal to sacrifice?” “Yes,” the boy replied, “but I did not think that you really meant it.”

And isn’t that so often what we say to God? “I have heard all Your talk about sacrifice. But I thought You were just kidding. I did not think You really meant it.”

The cross says emphatically, He means it. On this Palm Sunday, when Jesus talks about sacrifice, may we know that He means it. And may our cheering never stop.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE