April 7, 2019
Message by Michael Talley, Discipleship Pastor
Last week our text in the book of Hebrews ended with a strong command. After reminding the church that Jesus had suffered outside the city in order to sanctify them through his blood, he encouraged the members of the church to go outside the camp and bear the reproach that he endured. I haven’t been able to shake that command this week. If we have given our lives to Christ, according to the book of Hebrews, we must now walk outside the city with Christ and bear the reproach and mocking and scorn that He endured. The call to discipleship is a call to take up our cross and suffer with Christ.
I think most of us know this, but this is a journey that nobody in this room wants to take. We like to think that the cross is an optional element of discipleship. Of course, the Special Forces – the missionaries and martyrs – can suffer the reproach of Christ, but the rest of us can carry our Bibles, go through the motions, and stay at a comfortable distance from the cross. If you’re anything like me, you might look for other ways to live a respectable Christian life. Maybe we can gain influence & power & wealth to serve the kingdom of God. Do we really need to pick up our cross and suffer with Christ? Surely there’s another way.
Jesus asked the same question. He prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane for God to reveal another way. But you remember the response: There is no other way. The cross is where God is working in the world (and it is where he meets his people). And so if we want to experience the wisdom and power and salvation of God, we must stay near the cross and bear the reproach of Christ. My prayer this morning is that God would break our hardened hearts and disrupt our busy lives so that we would go to the cross and experience the power of God. (Especially approaching Good Friday).
This morning, I’d like to look at some of the idols and excuses that prevent us from living a cross-shaped life. It’s a very easy thing to say we’ll bear the reproach of Christ. I imagine that most of us even desire this type of life. But it is extremely difficult in reality. This is one of the main struggles throughout the Bible. Will you trust in your own resources – your money, strength, and intellect – or will you surrender it all and go to the cross? Sometimes we see this struggle embodied in a single person like the rich young ruler. He had too much to lose to follow Christ, so he went away sad. But very often we see this struggle embodied in an entire community. I’d like to study one such community this morning, so if you have your Bible, turn to Jeremiah chapter 9. Jeremiah was sent to prophecy to a very arrogant and proud religious community. On the surface things looked great. They were healthy, religious, educated, and powerful. They had made smart political alliances. But they had rejected God. Jeremiah’s mission was to turn their hearts back to the Lord. Even though Jeremiah lived 600 years before Jesus died on a cross, his message is profound and can teach us how to bear the reproach of Christ. If you’re in Jeremiah 9, look at verses 23 & 24.
 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,  but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
This is a familiar text to many people in the room. (If this is your first time encountering these verses I want to encourage you to underline them in your Bible and even commit them to memory). Before we begin to unpack the brilliance of this text, we need to understand the context. These two verses are the climax of a longer sermon that Jeremiah preached to the citizens of Jerusalem. The entire message spans from chapter 7-10. I want to encourage you to read the entire text this week, but I’ll give you a spoiler alert: it is a strong message. (Some of the lines sound like they’d fit in a Stephen King novel). If you understand the historical context, you will understand why Jeremiah didn’t waste any time. When Jeremiah preached this message, the Babylonians were already marching toward Jerusalem. There is a chilling picture of this in chapter 8:16–17  “The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan; at the sound of the neighing of their stallions the whole land quakes. They come and devour the land and all that fills it, the city and those who dwell in it.  For behold, I am sending among you serpents, adders that cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you,” declares the LORD.
Destruction was imminent. But if you were on the streets of Jerusalem that day, you would have been shocked. Everything was calm. They were like the Brits when the German planes were flying overhead. Keep calm and carry on. Why were they so confident? Chapter 7 tells us. As Jeremiah stood at the temple gate he could hear the people say: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” They were placing all their confidence on the presence of God’s temple – a physical building. They thought they were safe. Yes, we hear the horses snorting up north, but what are they going to do? Do you think God will really abandon his temple? We’re fine!
It sounds foolish looking back because we know what Babylon did to the temple. But we need to remember that their confidence had some justification. It wasn’t too many years before this that the mighty Assyrian horses could be heard from the north. When they had advanced, they easily destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, but do you remember what happened when they got to the gates of Jerusalem? The great king Hezekiah sought the Lord, prayed from the temple, and in a single night, the Assyrians were thwarted. They ran back to Assyria and the threat was over. || And so, once again, the enemy advanced. No big deal. We’re fine. That gave them a false sense of security to live however they wanted.
And as you read through Jeremiah’s sermon, you will be shocked to see how they were living. Like the pagan nations around them, the Israelites had begun to worship the sun, moon, and stars. They were worshipping the queen of heaven. They were crafting small idols out of wood and metal. And worst of all, they were sacrificing their infants to the pagan gods around them. To top it all off, they boldly strutted into the temple thinking that God would never abandon that building. They were an arrogant, godless, and prideful people who had placed self above God with no consideration whatsoever of repentance from their evil ways.
Jeremiah was given the wearisome burden of correcting their bad theology. God is not committed to stack of bricks in the Middle East. He is committed to the hearts of his people. And so at the peak of his sermon, I imagine with tears in his eyes, he proclaimed these powerful truths: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.”
The Israelites looked like a powerful community on the surface. They had the temple, they had strong political alliances, and their false prophets made them feel really good. But they were deceived. Jeremiah reminded them that worldly wisdom, power, and wealth were not worth boasting about.
This is a truth that runs throughout the Bible. Let’s think about wisdom for a moment. (Wisdom can puff you up and make you feel bigger than you really are). I remember feeling the intoxicating rush of knowledge in seminary. I was always a very average student. I wasn’t awful, but I wasn’t great. But things started to come together for me in seminary. The story of the Bible just clicked and I could see things I never had before and I became hungry for information. Now, this is a good thing, but it’s also dangerous because it feels really good to be influential and provide people with answers. I found myself running to books and not to prayer. I began to trust in my own wisdom. What a waste. The Bible reminds us how futile wisdom can be. Think about Solomon’s musings in the book of Ecclesiastes. God had given him unsurpassed wisdom, and so Solomon poured himself into learning. But what happened to him? After years of learning about everything, he lifted up his hands and said – it’s all a waste. It’s like chasing after the wind. The more you know the more pain you have to endure. Wisdom is a wonderful gift, but it is nothing to boast about. True wisdom begins when we learn our limits and fear the Lord.
What about strength? Strength also has a way of covering our flaws. Our world has always valued strength and beauty, but it seems out of control these days. I was traveling through Charlotte a few weeks ago and noticed 7 fitness centers at a single intersection. Is that a sign of a healthy society or is it a symptom of a deeper sickness? If anyone could speak to the power and futility of strength, Samson certainly could. Just as Solomon had been granted supernatural wisdom, Samson had been granted supernatural strength. Because of that, I loved Samson as a kid. He could kill a lion with his bare hands! But as I get older, I feel bad for Samson. He was a weak and flawed man hiding behind a chiseled physique. When his strength was taken away from him, he had nothing left. Isn’t it interesting that the little character he developed was born out of weakness? He finally learned how to pray. Strength & beauty are wonderful gifts, but they are nothing to boast about. True strength comes when we learn our limits and trust in the Lord. Paul reminds us that power is made perfect in weakness. When we are weak, then I am strong.
What about money? Money is the most futile resource of all. Jesus told a story about a rich man that came across a large sum of money. He felt good about his position in life so he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger storehouses. He said to himself: “you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink and be merry.” (He had the life that so many of us are living for). But you remember God’s reply: You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Money is a wonderful resource, but it is definitely not worth boasting about. Someone else will wear your clothes and drive your car and live in your house. Money can’t save you.
I could continue to elaborate on all of these idols, but I would imagine that most of you are familiar with the futility of worldly wisdom, wealth, and power. If you have given any thought to your life, you know that money can’t solve all your problems, power can’t protect you, and wisdom cannot answer all your questions. You know this. But here’s the catch: you don’t know what else to do. These idols are usually ingrained at an early age that it’s difficult to distinguish your idols from you. Maybe you got humiliated on the playground and you decided that you would never let that happen to you again. Maybe some people laughed at you when you tried to read and you made a choice to work harder than everyone else. Maybe your lack of money as a kid is driving you to work hard as an adult. These resources become your identity. What would you have left if you didn’t have your wit or body or influence? Think about it: what would you do if your bank account were emptied? Who would you be if you were fired and lost all of your influence? What would happen to you if your body were struck with a disease? Many of you are dealing with these realities right now, and the rest of us are terrified to consider this outcome. If our idols were destroyed, where would we go?
But here’s where the biblical message is so wonderful. The Bible warns us against boasting in the wrong things, but it doesn’t tell us to stop boasting. Some of you are so scared to face the reality of life without your idols. You think that life would end. But that is where life begins. When you stop boasting in your flesh, you can begin boasting in a God that will never let you down. Let’s finish Jeremiah’s message: But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
We have a reason to boast this morning! God doesn’t love us because he’s interested in our wealth and beauty and power. God loves us – even when we were dead in our sin – because that is who God is! He is committed to practicing love and justice and righteousness in the earth. God is not an angry deity waiting for you to fail. God is a loving Father who is ready to forgive when you do fail. He wants to know you and he wants to be your God. He wants to give you something to boast about.
But here’s the key – you have to come in your brokenness and weakness. You cannot come to him in strength. You cannot reason your way to him. You cannot buy your way to him. Because then you would have reason to boast. You have to come empty handed. I mentioned Hezekiah earlier but he is a good example for us. When the Assyrians were marching toward Jerusalem, Hezekiah knew his limitations. He didn’t boast in his own power and wisdom. Instead he boasted in God’s power. He cried out to God, and God listened (because God love to practice love and justice and righteousness in the earth).
And so if you find yourself out of resources this morning, praise the Lord! That is where God does his best work. We spend our lives trying to gain wealth and status and power, but the Bible reminds us that worldly resources are nothing to boast about. We serve a God that is ready to meet us in our weakness. And the New Testament shows us that God meets us in our weakness most profoundly – where? – at the cross.
I began this message with an appeal to go to the cross. I’d like to close this message with the same appeal, but I hope we can approach it with a new attitude. Instead of begrudgingly going to the cross to bear the reproach of Christ, I want us to embrace our weakness and joyfully go to the cross because the cross is where God demonstrates his wisdom and power and wealth. Let us boast in the cross this morning.
This is exactly the message that Paul wanted to communicate to the Corinthian church. If you remember, this church was in danger of rejecting the gospel for worldly wisdom and power. They were relying on their own strength and rhetoric and power of persuasion and it was dividing the church. I follow Apollos, I follow Peter! How did Paul respond to this? He preached a New Testament version of Jeremiah’s sermon. When I came to you, I did not come with lofty speech or wisdom. I didn’t dress up my message with flowery rhetoric or eloquent words. I came to you in weakness and I preached the power of the cross! Look at 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Paul wanted the church to remember their weakness so they could experience the power of God! And so church, let us boast in the cross of Christ this morning. We might be wise or powerful or wealthy, but those are nothing to boast about. Let us go outside the city (leave our idols and comforts) and bear the reproach of Christ so that we might be exalted with Christ. We have something to boast about.
I’ll close with this. Earlier this week I was scanning through a hymnal at my house and I came across all the songs about the cross. I was blown away by how many songs speak of an attraction toward the cross. (So many of us avoid the shame of the cross, but Christians have always known the strange power in the cross. And so we go out to the cross and we sing). I glory in the cross. I cherish the cross. Oh the wonderful cross! Jesus keep me near the cross. The one that stuck out to me is the song that I have never taken seriously. I sang it a billion times growing up, but I never grasped the brilliance of it. But I sang it in tears this week because it is filled with the power of the gospel. Listen to the fourth verse.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear
Then he’ll call me someday to my home far away
Where his glory forever I’ll share
And I’ll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown
It is fitting that we get to come to the table this morning to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Because on the surface, the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of our weakness. It is a remembrance of our savior’s death. When the Early Church gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the educated Romans would mock them. It made no sense. But that shouldn’t surprise us, should it?
The death of Christ is foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. And so as we come to the table this morning, let us remember the power of the gospel. Let us boast in the God who practices steadfast love and justice and righteousness in the earth!
In just a moment, the men are going to come and pass out the bread. If you are a believer and know the power of the gospel, I want to invite you to take a piece of bread and hold it. We’ll read a passage and eat together. And then we’ll do the same with the juice.
As the elements are being passed, I want to invite you to repent of any idols in your life and find Christ in your weakness. Let’s pray.
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.