“That’s Fair!”.

Matthew 20:1-16
“That’s Fair!”

If you follow any code of football, you will know that it’s the season for the finals – and usually there is also a ‘best and fairest’ medal count.  During the medal count, fans watch in suspense as points are tallied up, match-by-match, until finally a winner is declared.  Occasionally there is some big news in the weeks leading up to the medal count when the favourite for the ‘best and fairest’ medal is penalized by the tribunal for rough conduct and is rubbed out of contention for the medal. “It’s not fair!” the fans will complain.

If that’s not fair, then try and imagine the complaints there would be if a footballer who had played only a few games at the end of the season was also awarded top points and the ‘best and fairest’ medal.    “It’s not fair!” the fans would complain. The ‘best and fairest’ medal is awarded on the basis of a match-by-match accumulation of points.  You have to play the games – and play well in all the games – to get the prize. 

That may be a situation very much like Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. In Jesus parable, workers were hired at different times during the day and therefore expected to be paid for the hours they worked, but when pay time came, all the workers received the same amount.  The ones who had worked only one hour received as much as those who had worked all day in the heat of the sun.

It is not surprising that they accused the boss of being unfair.  These workers were operating with the common assumption that people must get what they deserve; the wages must match the work.  At one stage, even Jesus had said to his disciples, “A worker should be given his pay” (Luke 10:7), but here is the same Jesus telling a story that seems totally unfair.  He’s using it as an example of how the Heavenly Father rewards people who come into his kingdom at different stages of their life.  He rewards them all with the same gift, regardless of their time in his kingdom.

Hearing such things may appeal to our inner sense of justice, especially in matters where our own welfare is concerned.  We see it in children when they compare what they have received with what others have received and say, “That’s not fair!”  We see it in adults who cast an envious eye over what others have and say, either openly or inwardly, “That’s not fair!”

Maybe you’ve felt it also in your life as a Child of God.  Hearing this parable may even invoke feelings of “That’s not fair!” How fair is it to think of a person who has lived a wicked or wayward life, making a deathbed repentance and receiving the same gifts from God as the faithful church member who has ‘borne the heat of the day’, serving God all his life, sacrificing himself, taking up his cross and following Jesus? “How come he gets the same reward?” you may ask. “That’s not fair!”

To understand Jesus parable properly we need to see beyond what seems to be the injustice of God and understand that it is also a parable about the generosity or amazing grace of God which is available to all people.

If we human beings really want to take up the matter of the justice of God, then we’re in for a rude shock.  If God really did what was fair or just, no one would receive any reward for God.  We are all sinners and none of us deserve his love, his forgiveness or his gift of eternal life.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23).  What we rightly or justly deserve is his punishment, not his reward.  If we’re interested in justice, that would be fair.

But God is interested in more than justice.  He is also very loving and generous.  That’s why he sent his only Son Jesus Christ to live a perfectly good life in our place and to die, also in our place, for our sins.  Jesus did that to satisfy the demands of God’s justice.  He did it so we could be ‘justified’, put back into a right relationship with God. I don’t think too many Christians would say, “That’s not fair!” to that.

That’s because everything we receive from God is a gift.  The spiritual blessings we receive are never to be considered a wage, but a free gift.  As Paul also wrote to the Romans: The only wage we deserve is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.6:23).  We have received God’s gift of love, forgiveness and eternal life, not because we have worked for it, but because God is so generous.  It is not something we earn like ‘best and fairest medal’ points, or wages.

In Jesus’ parable, the employer said that he gave the workers whom he had hired last the same amount because he wanted to and because he had a right to do as he wished with his own money.  In God’s kingdom, he gives all people his love, forgiveness, and eternal life simply because he is generous.  He wants to and has a right to hand out his grace and love as freely as he wishes.

No one in God’s kingdom should ever need to feel cheated because they have worked harder for their spiritual blessings than another.  Instead we should learn to rejoice that God’s love and forgiveness is great enough to give even the worst of sinners who have lived the wickedest of lives, the gift of eternal life.  We should learn to rejoice that God’s gifts of forgiveness, life and eternal salvation are available to all who are led to trust in Jesus, right up ’til their dying breath.  We should learn to rejoice because we have received those gifts, even though we don’t deserve them.

It is good news that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for sinners was big enough to save the worst of sinners in the latest of deathbed repentances.  Like the angels in heaven, we should learn to rejoice at their salvation rather than falling into the trap of thinking, “That’s not fair!”

Whether we were baptised as an infant and led a faithful Christian life for 80 years or more, or whether we repent on our deathbed after a shameful life, we still have reason to rejoice in the generosity of God and in his gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Just as the workers hired first had agreed on their reward when hired (v.13), we who become Christians early in our life also know what Christ offers us.  At the end of our life he gives us no less than he had promised and he will give us no more because he has promised us all he has to give.  He has held nothing back.

So, instead of feeling, “That’s not fair!” or seeing the Christian life as some sort of medal count, let’s learn to rejoice, first of all, in what Christ has promised us in our baptismal covenant right at the beginning of our Christian life:  his free gift of forgiveness, new life and eternal salvation.  Let’s treasure and nurture that gift as we ‘bear the heat of the day’ – offering our lives as living sacrifices in service of God and others.

Let’s also learn to rejoice that God’s love is generous enough, and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is big enough, to offer that love and forgiveness to anyone who turns away from their sin and puts their trust in Jesus, at whatever stage in their life. 

It wasn’t really fair that Jesus, who did no wrong, should have been punished for what we did, but he did it for us.  Now he gives freely and generously of his love and forgiveness to all who turn from sin and put their trust in him. I think we all have to admit, “That’s fair!” and praise God for his glorious grace.  Amen.

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

7 Strikes and you’re out?

Joseph Stalin’s biographer said this of his subject. ‘Stalin never forgot nor forgave an injury done to him. He bided his time and, in the end, always hit back.’ The death of countless millions can testify to the murderous intent of Stalin’s unforgiving heart. He turned the energy of a grudge nursed into the fullness of evil.

 A Christian GP ran a workshop on the topic of forgiveness. She began the workshop by quoting this statistic from a Christian psychologist in the US: “Non-forgiveness, resentment or bitterness is the leading cause of death in the U.S.A.” She went on to explore the physical effects of not forgiving others: depression, which can sometimes be internalized anger, and anxiety, for which people may resort to drugs or alcohol in order to cope. Resentment requires energy, and this comes via the adrenal gland, which pumps out hormones. We know it as the fight or flight response, but when it’s perpetually primed, it can suppress the white blood cells and the antibodies which fight illness.

I’m certain that each of us knows in our own lives the heartache of an issue that remains unresolved. Perhaps it’s a long estrangement between family members. Or a simple dispute with a neighbour which has taken the form of an ongoing, unresolved border dispute. Or perhaps someone we trusted has passed on something we told them in trust, and now we refuse to have anything to do with them.

Suggesting that the solution to all these issues is forgiveness is seen by many people to be the easy way out, featherbedding people who deserve to suffer for what they’ve done wrong. Witness the ‘law and order’ debate which comes around every election time. Some states have what is called ‘mandatory detention’ of defenders after a third offence; ‘three strikes and you’re in’ legislation. The third conviction places a person in jail, no matter what the crime.

Perhaps this is the origin of Peter’s proposal to Jesus. “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? (Matthew 18:21, NIV) Seven is more practical than three, given how much we offend against each other, but it still involves keeping tally of people’s faults. It just requires better accounting and a more powerful memory. Then I wipe them out of my life.

Jesus replies: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22 NIV) Peter does the maths and rocks back on his heels, and we wonder whether Jesus is another one of these do-gooders, blind to the potential of human beings to hurt each other. That’s when Jesus decides to tell a story about kingdom accounting. The numbers in this parable are mind-blowing. A slave comes to the king owing the equivalent of a middle-size country’s gross national product. His debt is enormous. A talent was the largest coinage known at the time. And ten thousand was the largest number conceivable.

Amazingly, unbelievably, the king is moved by his servant’s plea for mercy. There’s nothing in it for the king. The debt will never be repaid, but in his compassion, he forgives it. He throws the abacus out of the window. What to do now that life has opened up again. Aren’t you shocked that the freed servant chooses the way he has just escaped from? How could he continue to account for other people’s wrongs against him, when he has been forgiven so much? Our anger begins to rise at his audacious behaviour. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. (Matthew 18:28, NIV) A big debt, no doubt, 100 day’s wages, but minuscule in proportion to the one he had blithely walked away from.

What was he thinking? Forgiveness might be good for God, and the do-gooders around the place, but it doesn’t work in the real world. You can’t let people take advantage of you. You’ve got to show them who’s boss. But the king, the one has just pardoned him, gets to hear about what he’s done, and is shocked, and mightily angered too:  33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (Matthew 18:33-34, NIV)

Do you and I get stuck in accounting mode? Even though we know that we have been forgiven by God, do we transfer this grace across to the way we treat those who have wronged us?  This is where Peter starts this conversation: he asks Jesus for a number. He wants to know just how much is reasonable. And so he suggests what he thinks is a more-than-sufficient amount of forgiveness.  

In turning forgiveness into a transaction, we dismiss grace. And we leave people locked in the prison of our hate. Who have you imprisoned? Who do you still want to punish because they hurt you? What can’t you let go of because it seems unfair that your hurt will be forgotten and therefore not validated?

We’ve all been stuck in a place like this, and these thoughts and emotions become a prison which entraps us. An unforgiving and unrepentant attitude causes harm to us as much as it does to other. It’s corrosive to faith and it sets us on a collision course with God who has treated us so graciously in the forgiving way He has embraced us through our Baptism and blessed us with a living relationship with Himself.

“The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.” (Matthew 18:27, NIV)

This word “pity” is used by Matthew to refer only to God’s love. God was wiped the slate clean. In the words of Psalm 103:as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12, NIV) But in choosing to remember and account for each wrong, we are rewriting our history. We are throwing back in God’s face the fact that He has rescued us from spiritual bankruptcy. And if that’s what we want from God, then sadly that’s what He will give us. “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35, NIV) If you and I want to keep count, so will God. And He has a far better memory than us.

But this is not the way of full life which Jesus promises those who trust in His love and grace. God is ready and waiting for us to return to Him to seek His forgiveness, and to pray to Him for strength to forgive those who have hurt us. And this can be immensely difficult, for forgiveness is not the easy way out. It is much easier to ignore other people’s hurts, our underestimate the pain they’ve caused us. But when we do that, we file the hurt away, and we brood on it. It grows and develops a life of its own, and we can’t resist the desire for revenge. But this isn’t love in the name of Christ. Remember what Paul says in the famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Love … keeps no record of wrongs.” (13:5, NIV)

Forgiveness is powerful. It’s not a cop out, nor a helpless acceptance of what happened to us.

In his book, The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes outlines the process of forgiveness. It has four steps, if you’re counting:

Acknowledge the hurt.

Blame the person who has hurt you; something has happened that makes it impossible to carry on relationship as if nothing has happened. “Forgiveness is not saying, ‘What you did I understand and it’s all right with me…Forgiving is going to a person and saying, ‘I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. And it wasn’t OK, and it isn’t OK. But I forgive.”

Decide you are going to live with the scales of justice unbalanced. It means not engaging in the cycle of revenge. It means that you choose to live the prayer that you daily pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” You also choose to live in obedience to God’s Word through Paul: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Begin to revise your feelings toward the person who has wronged you. The person who hurt you gradually rejoins the human race. God has dealt with both your sin, and the sin of the person who has hurt you through the cross of Jesus. You stand on the same ground.

Forgiveness is not delayed retribution. It’s not a strategy to bide our time. It’s bringing our rightful hurt and pain into God’s heart, and seeking the healing that He wants to bring, to us and for the person who has wronged us. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates the wheel of Christian community. Forgiveness is a human need, but a divine endowment. In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Ephesians 1:7, NIV84) And in our forgiving, “we set a prisoner free.  We discover that the prisoner we set free is ourselves.” Free as God intended us to be in Christ.


Father, give us the power to do what You have done for us, so that we might live in harmony with one another, and at peace with You and ourselves. Amen.


Imagine your clasic sofa

The Text: Matthew 18:15-20

Imagine in your minds a picture of your classic sofa. Now I am interested to know from you, what things come into your mind when you imagine it? What things do you associate with the classic sofa? Obviously, there are very many things we use the sofa for such as watching TV, gaming, iPads, and phones, reading, lounging on, sleeping on when tired, eating on it, talking, sharing with a loved one. It has all the associations with comfort doesn’t it? But it also has another very useful function which can be both good and bad, depending on what you are going through. Young people might really love the sofa for some other interesting reasons especially when Mum or Dad ask you to do some chores; like the dishes, or dishwasher, tidying your room and all those things.

It’s other very important function is escape! It is the place where we want to stay when we don’t wish to go somewhere else. It is the place of comfort to get away from everything, we don’t like. It is the classic place to go to if we’ve had an argument with a loved one, coupled with the famous TV remote to truly hide ourselves away from our problems. It also curiously has that mesmerising effect on both adults and children where you just cannot seem to get up from it when someone asked you to do something, to which we cry: ‘Oh, do I have to?!  And of course, for men and especially older men, the sofa is can also be the classic ‘grandpa snoring’ chair. Once he’s sat down, he‘s fast asleep in no time.

Now friends, if the sofa has some strong associations with the need for ‘escape’ or withdrawing ourselves away for things we don’t like, then today’s Gospel reading in Matthew 18 is going to be quite a challenge to that. Today’s reading is Jesus’ instructions on how to reconcile and make peace with people who’ve wronged us, or we have wronged.

You see, the sofa or comfy chair is a symbolic place we tend to lounge around on, when there is a long-term problem with someone else. So when we have had a bad argument with a friend, spouse, family member or loved one, to comfort ourselves we try and find an emotional sofa for comfort and protection from all the pain of the fall out that we’ve suffered. Now that is okay at the start to find forms of comfort and strength to cope with something traumatic, but you know sometimes we can stay just a little too long on our emotional sofas, feeling the initial comfort and protection but then choosing not to get up from them. We may know people who have stayed put on their sofa’s for over thirty years, holding a grudge, always feeling like the poor victim who needs special treatment. They distract themselves with all sorts of comforts and treats, but they never feel the need to get off the chair to go and speak to someone they love deep down, but who they just can’t forgive.

Jesus knows our human nature very well and indeed the hurt we can inflict on others as well as the hurt we receive. He knows our tendency to sweep sin under the carpet, so we don’t have to face anything too difficult. Which is why he gives in today’s text a helpful step-by-step process for reconciliation.

The good news is that it starts small and simple but has potential for stumbles along the way. Jesus first says: ‘If your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you’. In other words, keep it private, in person and it is recommended to do it quickly. I strongly recommend not to write an email or send a text message. In most cases they can backfire and cause more hurt. In the isolation of our own private world we can too easily become fixated upon our own thoughts and prejudices and fail to see the neighbour for whom Christ was crucified to save.

No one can see your face when you write, and so your words, although carefully worded, can still get misunderstood and taken the wrong way. So go to the unreconciled brother or sister in person, rather than ‘stewing’  or mulling over it from the comfy sofa.

Now if the one-to-one experience goes wrong, and nothing you say seems to be taken the right way, then get one or two others to help mediate your discussion. Third parties can hear and see things that the heat of argument blinds you from seeing, and often it can be very helpful and make both hurt parties to feel safer to discuss things. 

Each of these steps so far has the potential for forgiveness and the matter to be over with, but occasionally you’ll argue with people who always have to be right about everything, who can’t tolerate any form of negative feedback. These types of people need Jesus’ third step; the church or the ‘ekklesia’ or wider gathering of believers to help sort the problem. In this setting the stubbornness to resolve things in someone who does not even listen to his pastor or his/her church elders, is now verging on something much bigger and more problematic. For if the person despises the counsel and advice of elders and pastors of the faith who have spiritual authority and giftings to discipline and reconcile people who become so bitter and enraged, then the person needs ‘time out’. Jesus says: 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The translation here isn’t the clearest in English because Jesus is definitely not saying to intentionally be unkind, reject or persecute someone just like a pagan or Gentile, but he is using the analogy to say that sometimes we need to put people in ‘time out’ (put someone outside our social circles) so that we cannot not be continually hurt by someone trapped in bitterness. Also, it is done this way, so the other person has space to come to their senses and repent. In these situations, the door is always open for an angry brother or sister to come back, as the church is certainly not in the business of excluding people unless a person is a distinct threat to themselves or others. But in these times too it gives the wider church time and focus to pray for the person and break the power of the enemy.

The procedure in Matthew 18 is wonderfully helpful and truly healing when we wish to abide by it. We have a spiritual tool to sort out our problems as they arise, but the power of the emotional sofa of avoidance can stifle the process from its very beginning. It can make something, that could have been solved in a matter of hours, to sadly last all of one’s lifetime. And sadly too, many people die without resolving issues with their friends and loved ones, and these will be some key matters that Jesus will address with them when they meet him at the end of time face to face. 

But the comfort through all of this is that we do have access to God’s help! It’s not a situation of sinful human beings trying to find their own way through it all, but often a case of a spiritual battle taking place too. The benefit of having others involved in reconciliation is that the matter can attract powerful prayer. Jesus says this in verse 19:  “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Some powerful things can happen when people agree on something in prayer. The original word here is ‘symphoneo’ meaning to resound together in agreement or ‘singing the same tune together’.  So when there is a serious argument between two people our prayers can resound with the song of healing and repair, and we pray for the hurt parties to pick up the tune and pray too for their bitterness to fade away. In these moments of prayer and repair, Jesus says he is there among them.

Finally friends, we remember also, that Jesus did not offer himself the comfy chair or sofa to cope with us as human beings. He took on our horrible treatment of turning against him head on. He sacrificed himself on the cross to reconcile the world, even though the world was not willing to reconcile with him. As it says in Romans 5:8: ‘Whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. Christ died for us even though we as human beings were sitting there bitter on our sofas scoffing at him and hating him.

No longer do we remain isolated from each other in sin, or isolated from God in his judgement against our mistreatment of our neighbour. The Good News is that Christ has come to mend broken relationships and put back together again our messed-up lives. Through the church, his body of baptised believers, he comes to us in his absolving word which declares to the broken-hearted and the sorrowful that you are forgiven, you are free. For those locked up in their sin, not desiring forgiveness, they remain bound to their sin because they refuse the victory that Jesus has won for them. If we distant ourselves from God and his love it is not God’s fault but our own.

Jesus knows those here today or those you know who have a humble and forgiving heart who are still receiving the hurts, isolation, rejection of someone unwilling to get off their sofas and make peace with you.

The only thing you feel able to do is pray. Prayer is the thing to do to make doors open, and even if it takes a long time for someone’s heart to soften, we pray too for patience for that to happen.

We pray for our amazing and Holy God to encourage anyone of us be reconciled with that brother or sister we have hurt or who has caused hurt. For we not only have a God who helps us and gives us his power to heal and repair we have a Holy God who will help us to give unconditional love even if we don’t receive it in return. 

Jesus says, ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34).


What is the price of life?

The text: Matthew 16:21–28

Well, I suppose that might depend on the context of the question.

If you were asked by a life insurance salesman what the price of life is, he would usually value it as the sum of your financial commitments and the price of setting your loved ones up without those commitments; therefore, the price of life will vary by age.

For example, if you were 10 years old, you wouldn’t have any financial commitments, so, therefore, you wouldn’t need very much life insurance cover, if any at all.

But if you were 40 years old, with a mortgage and car loan, and have a spouse and two children, then your life insurance cover should be for at least these commitments, plus a very generous amount so that your family could live comfortably without any need to take out any other loans etc.

Yet if you were 70 years old, and no longer have any financial commitments or family to support, then your need for life insurance reduces again.

So, what is the price of life according to a life insurance salesman? It is the calculated cost of liabilities and perceived needs to cover any loss of life.

But what if a mother dies in an accident? What is the price of life then? How is it measured?

Well, the family may receive a payment from a life insurance company, but no matter how much money they receive, it never makes up for the life of a wife and mother. The same could be said for the loss of a father or the loss of a child. The price of life in this case can’t be calculated financially. Money, property or anything else is almost useless and empty of comfort and meaning.

The Beatles sang that ‘money can’t buy me love’, but it also can’t buy or replace life. It’s strange that at the time of death, the value of life suddenly crystallises: family is important, relationships are important, people are important. A lifetime chasing after money, property, fame or other worldly attractions is suddenly put into perspective. None of these things are important when a life is lost. Any time spent chasing after these things is seen as time wasted.

What if a death was the result of an accident or a murder?

Then the price of life will often change, and it becomes possible to calculate the price of life again. The price of life is justice or revenge. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life!

If someone hurts us, then we want to hurt them back with interest. If someone takes away a loved one, then we want them to receive the same punishment, or worse, if possible!

But even if we were to have someone receive every punishment we wished them to receive, would that really make things better? Would revenge bring our loved one back? Would we ever be truly happy with the payment? Would the price of revenge or justice be payment enough for our loved one’s life? We often discover that even with revenge, the price of life still remains immeasurable.

So, even though the cost of life for insurance is often calculated financially, and the cost of life when someone has taken away a loved one is often justice or revenge, the price of life often can’t be calculated.

Knowing the price of your life can’t be estimated or valued by any earthly measurements, how much would your eternal life be worth? If you struggle to name a large enough price for the life of your loved ones who you have known for only a few years, then how on earth do you calculate the price for their eternal life, or even your own eternal life? If, at the time of death, you suddenly realise all things on earth are almost worthless when compared with the life of loved ones, then how much are you willing to pay or give up to ensure you will receive that eternal life with Jesus and your loved ones in faith?

Your eternal life is beyond price. Even if you were to give up your whole life and everything you have, it wouldn’t be enough. Nothing you say, think or do will pay for or measure the cost of your eternal life. Even if you gave up everything you have, it still wouldn’t be enough. The price for your life, especially for your eternal life, is too high … at least for you.

But the price of your life, even your eternal life, has been measured. Your price is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is how much your life is worth. It’s a price you can’t pay; yet Jesus has willingly paid the full price. The suffering and death of God’s own beloved Son is your price for life. It was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, to suffer many things, to die and rise again so that your relationship with God would be restored. It was necessary he did these things, because this is the price of your lives and the price for God’s justice.

Yet what many people misunderstand is that even though Jesus has paid the full price for their lives, there is a cost involved for us. The cost is your obedience, yet don’t think that the price you pay in your obedience actually contributes or makes up for the suffering and death of Jesus, or that what you do actually earns you ‘brownie’ points before God.

Jesus has paid the full price for your eternal life. There is nothing more to pay. Your obedience doesn’t pay for your lives or the lives of others in any way, shape or form, but there is a danger you can exchange this undeserving gift for other fleeting worldly things through your disobedience.

For example, if you try to deny Jesus and what he has done for you by living according to the world’s thinking, then you will forfeit your eternal life. You can’t gain eternal life by your obedience, but you can lose it by your disobedience, because your disobedience shows your rejection of Christ and the life-price he paid for you. You can live as if worldly things are more important and more valuable, or you can live as if your eternal life is more important and more valuable. There is no in-between.

If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, dedicate yourselves to following him, deny the deceptive advice of this world, follow God’s guiding word, and obey his instructions for life, then you will enjoy the blessings of eternal life in heaven.

Since the payment for your life involved sacrifice on the cross, your own life of following Jesus also involves a cross. The crosses you bear as you follow Jesus are the crosses of sacrifice and suffering on account of your following Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us an example of what this means. He says hate what is evil; hold onto what is good; be patient in your troubles; pray at all times; share your belongings with needy believers; open your homes to strangers; bless those who persecute you; weep with those who weep; don’t be proud but accept humble duties; don’t pay back wrong for wrong; don’t take revenge; and so on.

Following Jesus into eternal life is not easy and glorious. It often means living in a way that is different from others around you. It means being obedient to God’s word, even if you don’t fully understand the reasons for his instructions. It means giving up precious time on earth to listen to Jesus speak to you. It means giving up your need to satisfy yourselves with money, possessions, fame and other wants. It means giving up living the way you want to for your own pleasure, and trying to live Jesus’ way of service and sacrifice.

Following Jesus also means you will be persecuted and insulted for living according to Jesus’ way and not the world’s. You will not always ‘fit in’. The world will try to set the agenda as to what is acceptable and right, but this will not be the same as what Jesus says. The people of this world will continue to gain a name or a profit for themselves, but you will live unselfishly and in humbleness as you follow Jesus. You must obey God and not the world; after all, the things of the world will not last and will actually lead you away from Jesus and the life he has gained for you.

Therefore, let us heed the words of hymn 336 in the Lutheran Hymnal, which says:

Then let us follow Christ, our Lord,

Bearing the cross appointed,

And, firmly clinging to His Word,

In suffering be undaunted.

Who will not bear the battle’s strain

The crown of life shall ne’er obtain.

What is the price of life? The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The price for your life has been measured and paid in full. Even though you do not measure up, Jesus willingly allowed himself to suffer and die for you. Jesus paid the price of your disobedience by his obedience. He remained sinless to save those who are sinful. In other words, he suffered and died for your life.

Your own journey as you follow Jesus will also involve suffering and a dying to your own selfish desires, but it will also lead to eternal life with Jesus and all others who follow in faith.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.