The Things of Peace
Jesus speaks of hating, cross carrying, being ridiculed, going to war, and giving up. Three times He says "cannot be My disciple," so how do I get from this the theme "The Things of Peace"?
To have the things of peace it is necessary to have sanctification, a holy life. Jesus illustrates this with an impressive tower a person might build. You know in theology sanctification follows justification, good works follow being saved. But Jesus starts here because we think we can do this part. This is the downhill part of Christianity. Justification, being saved, that's the uphill part. Once Jesus gets us to the top of the hill, we can take it from there; going downhill is easy. That's the way we think until we actually sit down and calculate the cost. It's not "estimate" as the insert translates. It's literally to count by means of pebbles; that's the way the ancients counted when they wanted not an estimate but accuracy.
Have a seat. Add things up. What does it take to build a life that everyone can see loves God above all else even, especially, yourself? Luther called self-esteem "the queen of sins" (Koberle, The Quest for Holiness, 28). Can you slay the queen? I find I'm actually pretty good at hating anyone else in my life from parents, to kids, to wife, but myself. As sure as I have a natural instinct to take a breath even when trying to hold my breath, so sure do I naturally prize, love, dote on self, and the things I've accumulated.
"Things I've accumulated," is a good translation of "everything he has." That's what Jesus says is the cost of building the tower of the Christian life. "Who does not give up everything he has accumulated cannot be My disciple." Gone are to be the relationships that come before Jesus, and gone are to be all the things I've accumulated that make me, me. Gone are to be my opinions, ideas, plans, wants, needs, all the things about myself that I secretly take pride in. But I find, it's easier to divest myself of my things than it is to divest myself of self.
But that's the cost, so start counting. Do as Paul does in Philippians. Count everything you have and are as garbage, as literally "dung", compared to knowing Christ. But that's not all. Having paid that cost, go on to picking up your cross and following Jesus. You want a sanctified life? You want a Christian life? There it is. It's your flesh daily dying on the cross and going where Jesus goes not where you want. Let's see; where does Jesus lead you to? To fearing, loving, and trusting God above all else. To loving your neighbor as yourself. To Font, to Bible, to Altar.
The text says "large crowds were travelling with Jesus." His ministry was a success. He was popular. And like other times, Jesus bursts the popularity bubble. "You think it's easy to follow Me? You think this whole crowd of people are disciples of Me? Let Me tell you; apart from a Christian life of self-denial, carrying your cross, and following Me, you cannot be My disciple." I don't know about you, but I cannot be His disciple based on my sanctified life.
But before sanctification comes justification, before the Christian life comes being a Christian. The things of peace don't start with sanctification but justification. Jesus illustrates justification by a battle you cannot win. Forget building a tower; you've got to win the war first and you can't. First, however, you've got to see that there is a battle before you. There is a state of war between God and fallen man. Stop reading Romans 1 in the past or future tense. Paul doesn't say the wrath of God has been revealed or will be revealed. He says that it is being revealed. It's presence tense.
All those things the media would have you fear from natural disasters to economic disasters, from medical ills to society ills, these are indications of God's wrath against sinners. These indicate that God is coming against you with 20,000 accusations that you can't answer. Who has time to build a tower when war is imminent? You still don't get it. You must address this crisis first. Jesus only shows you, you can't build the tower of the Christian life to get to you to see the battle that the Devil, the world and your own flesh don't believe is going on. Take a seat on the heap of stones that is your failed tower. Look in the distance. God is coming at you.
As Job saw, God is running at you like a warrior. God is coming at you with a battle axe in hand. God, as Psalm 21 depicts, has His bow bent and aimed at your face. It will go for you like Amos said. It will be as when a man flees a lion and a bear meets him, and when he outraces both and gets safely home, he puts his hand on the wall to catch his breath and "ouch!" a snake bites him. That's how relentlessly and fearfully is God coming to do battle with you for sins you know, sins you deny, and sins you try to hide.
Jesus says when a king with 10,000 is opposed by a king with 20,000, after calculating, He will send a delegation while the other is a long way off and "ask for the things of peace." Ready to ask? Yes, sanctified living is necessary for things of peace; but a justified life is necessary before that. And no man living is able to justify Himself. No man is able to go to war with God and win. Thanks be to God then that He has a peace plan.
It takes representatives from both warring camps to make peace. Jesus is that representative. As true Man, Jesus entered the camp of the wrathful God with a perfect life. He loved God above all else and His neighbor as Himself. He willingly denied Himself to do His Father's will rather than His own. What in the life of Jesus could God be angry at? What sin? What shortcoming? What wasn't absolutely perfect?
But there's still our sins that have God running at us like a warrior armed with a bent bow aimed at our faces. There's still the matter of God coming at us with the fearsomeness of a lion and a bear and relentlessly pursuing us for our sins. And catch us He will if not today then tomorrow, if not tomorrow then the day we die. We will be made to answer for every lewd thought, angry word, loveless deed we ever did.
God is on the warpath against us. We run this way, dodge that way, run in here but still He is there raging at our real sins, and just as God lets His arrows fly and swings His battleaxe, Jesus steps in front of us. Three arrows pin Jesus to the cross and one battleaxe stabs Him in the heart. Though we deserve to be ridiculed for all the times we tried to build the Christian life and failed, Jesus was ridiculed in our place. This is the first time this Greek word for ridicule is used by Luke. After this, he uses it four other times for Jesus on trial or on the cross. And though Jesus did indeed finish what God gave Him to do, God would make no peace treaty with Him. No, God shed His blood so that as Paul says He could make peace with us. "For God was pleased through Him to reconcile to Himself all thingsby making peace through His blood shed on the cross."
The battle is over. Paul says God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ by not counting men's sins against them. Then Paul goes on to make an appeal in Jesus' name. He implores us on Christ's behalf "Be reconciled to God." The grace of God is revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus. In Him, God has ended His warfare against you. He has spent His anger; He has satisfied His wrath on the Body and Blood of Jesus. Now you put down your weapons.
There's peace in Jesus' Body and Blood. In Baptism, you are clothed with Body of Jesus says Paul in Galatians, and God's at peace with the Body of Jesus. Holy Absolution is the peace of God breathed on you from the risen Body and Blood of Jesus. In the Absolution the Spirit sends your sins away from you never to be seen by God or heard of by you again.
There's peace in the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Communion begins after the Words of Institution with the pastor placing his hand on the altar where the Body and Blood of Jesus now are and saying, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." Even if you can't commune at this altar, still the peace God established through the Body and Blood of His Son can be yours. The Communion goes on with the Agnus Dei where we ask the Lamb of God to "grant us Thy peace." Each Communion table having ate and drank the Body and Blood of Jesus is dismissed with, "Depart in Peace." And the Communion concludes with Simeon's prayer, now made ours, to "lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," and it's answered when the Lord one last time puts His name on you giving "thee peace."
Before you build your tower, have this peace. It is for you, even for you. I translate "the things of peace" in this text to show it's connected to the other time Jesus says those words. In Luke 19, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem for the last time. He says, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things of peace," it wouldn't have come to this judgment. If it wasn't too late for Jerusalem to know the things of peace, it can't be too late for you. If Jerusalem which had killed every prophet and persecuted every messenger of God still could have known the things for peace, then even you can today.
Take that peace and serve God with a quiet mind. That's what the Church has been praying for about 1500 years in today's Collect. "Grant, merciful Lord, to Your faithful people pardon and peace that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve You with a quiet mind." Cleansing comes before serving, having peace with God in Jesus' name before building a life to glorify that name. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20100912)l; Luke 14: 25-33