Taking Up the Holy Cross, by Pastor Martin Noland

Sermon based on the text: Matthew 10:34-42 [2nd Sunday after Pentecost] for June 26, 2011:

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus talks about something that separates the mere church-goer from the true believer in Christ.  I am warning you ahead of time.  Some of you may be offended by what Jesus has to say here, once you understand what it means.  If you are offended, it is probably because you come to church in order to solve your problems or to make your life happier or to socialize with a bunch of nice people.  Our Gospel lesson tells you that being a true believer in Christ may cause you more problems, may make your life more unhappy, and may result in inexplicable misfortune.  You have been warned!

We are talking about “your cross.”  A cross doesn’t look very pretty, especially if there is a body hanging there with blood and gore.  In our Gospel, Jesus said, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  That means that, if you are a real follower of Jesus, and not just a hanger-on, then you will have your own cross to carry.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But you will get one someday.  It will be heavy.  It will be painful.  It may cause you to stumble.  And it may cause many people, whom you thought were friends, to abandon you.  This is not a pretty picture at all!

What does Jesus mean when he talks about “your cross”?  I don’t think that the disciples understood what he meant, because Jesus spoke the words in our Gospel before his arrest and crucifixion.  The disciples did not believe Jesus would be crucified.  When Jesus told them clearly about his crucifixion, Peter protested and argued that Jesus would never be killed by the religious authorities (Matthew 16:21-22). That proves that Peter and the apostles didn’t understand what this “cross” was, and it still isn’t easy to understand today.

What does “your cross” mean?  In the history of the church, Matthew 16:24 has been the verse more commonly remembered.  There Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  These are all things that you do, that you initiate.  So Christians often understand “your cross” to be a matter of self-chosen self-denial.  As early as the fourth century, Christians voluntarily began living in the wilderness in rough clothes, eating off the land, and denying themselves the benefits of human society and family.

“Take up your cross” eventually became the marching orders for the monastic movement, in various types.  Some of the greatest Christians in history have been monks, friars, nuns, and ascetics.  They were people who denied themselves adequate food, adequate clothes, adequate shelter, human society, family, spouses, and children.  They thought this self-denial was in obedience to Jesus orders to “take up your cross.”  Although they were great and admirable people, they were all wrong, because asceticism and monasticism is not “taking up your cross for Jesus.”


The last great friar was a man named Martin Luther.  Luther talks frequently in his writings about the “holy cross.”  He also lambasted the monk, friars, nuns, and ascetics for getting it all wrong.  He would know.  Luther took self-denial to the nth degree, almost killing himself through fasting, whippings, self-torture, and poor diet.

What did Luther say about the “holy cross” after abandoning the life of a friar?  In the Large Catechism, under the Third Petition to the Lord’s Prayer, Luther said this:

We who would be Christians must surely count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies and must count on their inflicting every possible misfortune and grief upon us.  For where God’s Word is preached, accepted, and believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away.  Let no one think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth–possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.  Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam, for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us. (LC 3rd Part, 65).

So you see, the “cross,” or the “holy cross” as Luther calls it, has nothing to do with self-denial.  It has everything to do with our enemies: the devil, all his angels, and the world.  They are the ones who inflict “every possible misfortune and grief upon us.”  They don’t do this to other religious people; and they don’t do it to all people in Christian churches.  The devil, all his angels, and the world are on attack only “where God’s Word is preached, accepted, and believed, and bears fruit.” That only happens to congregations, pastors, and Christians who preach and believe that the entire Bible is God’s Word and who put that Word into practice in their daily life.

Why do the devil and his allies in the world go on the attack?  Luther explains brilliantly why this is so, also in the Large Catechism, Third Petition:

The devil cannot bear to have anyone teach or believe rightly.  It pains him beyond measure when his lies and abominations, honored under the most specious pretexts of God’s name, are disclosed and exposed in all their shame, when he himself is driven out of a men’s hearts and a breach is made in his kingdom.  Therefore, like a furious foe, he raves and rages with all his power and might, marshaling all his subjects and even enlisting the world and own flesh as his allies.  For our flesh is in itself vile and inclined to evil, even when we have accepted and believe God’s Word.  The world, too, is perverse and wicked. (LC 3rd Part, 62-63).

According to Luther, “your cross” is the misfortune and grief you experience because you hear the Word of God, and because you learn it, hold on to it, and put it into practice.  This can happen in any number of ways, as most of you know.  A teenager refuses to smoke pot at a party, politely declining, but inwardly remembering the Bible verse “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19).  Thereafter that teen is ostracized by that group and teased for being a “square.”  The loss of friends, which may be significant, is the “holy cross” for that teenager.

A young woman finds the man of her dreams, and he is getting close to proposing, when she shares with him how important Jesus is in her life.  That is the end of their dating, and she might never find a man as good as him in so many ways.   That is the “holy cross” for that woman.  A man at work finds that his life-long friends are cheating the company.  Realizing that God holds him accountable in his vocation, he reports them in the manner he is supposed to, loses his best friends, and suffers recrimination from them for the rest of his life.  That is the “holy cross” for that man.  In every case, a Christian suffers loss, misfortune, and grief solely because he or she believes the Word of God and puts it into practice.  That is “your cross.”

Jesus says, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.”  Are you worthy of Jesus?  In His name.  Amen.



Taking Up the Holy Cross, by Pastor Martin Noland — 35 Comments

  1. Rev Noland, so many people Christians included have lost jobs and homes due to this depression we are in. Is that part of the cross bearing? I’m sure that as a pastor you have parishsioners in this boat and see the turmoil it causes.

  2. Pr. Noland, We heard a similar sermon this morning re: taking up our cross. I think in both cases the message ended too soon. We needed to hear next Sunday’s gospel lesson, where Jesus encourages us to come to Him for the rest we must have when we are burdened by trying to take up our cross. We can’t do that by ourselves. We simply end up angry: at ourselves as Paul says in Romans 7 because we don’t do the good we want to do, and, perhaps at God, for giving us our cross in the first place. Who will deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  3. In every case, a Christian suffers loss, misfortune, and grief solely because he or she believes the Word of God and puts it into practice. That is “your cross.” –M. Noland

    Like rain, a good many of the misfortunes of this life fall on the just and the unjust, and have no relation to the “crosses” which arise out of a faithful confession.

    One hopes that the church family is cognizant of those who face trouble in this world and helps as it can. (Sadly it sometimes doesn’t.)

  4. @helen #3


    I’m not certain what your point is. Pastor Noland rightly stated that Christians will suffer because of their faith or obedience to God’s Word. He did not say that every misfortune of life was a cross.

  5. Is this the entire sermon which the congregatoin heard? If so, I am horrified with the conclusion of this sermon. Where is the Gospel? Where is Jesus’ cross, which is the reason I have the honor to bear my cross, and by which my cross has meaning, by which I am forgiven and saved when I drop my cross?

    He concludes, “Are you worthy of Jesus?” No, I am not! Are you kidding me? How can a Lutheran pastor end a sermon like that, leaving me stuck in my sins, with a Law ending? Has not Christ taken the Law for me?

    Sadly, I hear and read way too many sermons among our LCMS pastors in which there is either no Gospel, little Gospel, or the sermon ends on the Law. I am so very saddened. I hope my comments spur great debate.

  6. @mcp #4
    I’m not certain what your point is.

    “Ready to lose it” asked a question. I tried to answer it. Probably I didn’t do a good job. But a lot of our troubles are not related to our faith, but to sin (and not always/entirely our own sin.) Greed has hurt a lot of people, Christians and unbelievers, who may have been ‘innocent bystanders’ to the actions of a relative few. (Friends who were unemployed or had their wages cut were not kiting houses.)

    I tend to agree that more Gospel in the end might have improved this sermon.

  7. @Greg Eilers #5
    I’m not trying to spar, however, I’m not so sure that Pastor Noland was saying what you heard … although I could be wrong about this. I don’t think that the context of the message was to those not of faith but to those “of” faith, hence, those “of” faith have already heard and have responded to the Gospel. Subsequent to this is where [I believe] this message picks up – with the bearing of our cross. In my mind this lesson has the same conceptual feel as the book of James -> “this is what saving faith looks like” not “this is what saving faith is.” Also, this past Sunday my own Pastor led a message from this same Gospel passage [i.e., Matthew 10], however, chose to focus on a strictly Gospel message [i.e., no law at all] … and I can away with the ole cliché running through my head: easy … peasy … lemon … squeezy! Again, I’m not attempting to spar with anyone but just pointing out there’s several ways to look at this one.

  8. Greg Eilers :

    He concludes, “Are you worthy of Jesus?” No, I am not! Are you kidding me? How can a Lutheran pastor end a sermon like that, leaving me stuck in my sins, with a Law ending? Has not Christ taken the Law for me?

    This is an exact reference to Jesus’ own words.

    The sermon as a whole is a challenge to make righteous choices, to costly discipleship, rather than to useless self-denial. It is derived directly from the Gospel text. Surely this is biblical.

  9. @Ed #7

    I have no problem with the sermon, as far as it goes. I have a problem in that it doesn’t go far enough – it proclaims the Law and neglects the Gospel.

    We pastors preach to the Church, to saints in Christ. (Walther’s exhortation, in “Law and Gospel” always rings in my ears.) Thus, every sermon shall be a proclamation of both the Law and the Gospel. An all-Law sermon leaves the sinner in his sins. (An all-Gospel sermon provides no need for the Gospel.)

    But, we are not stuck in our sins. Christ carried THE cross in our stead, so that we, who so very often refuse to carry our little crosses in His shadow, receive the forgiveness that we need. To leave a sermon at “are you worthy?” is to leave the hearer – even the Christian – searching his life for his worthiness. Well, he will never find it in his life; he will only find it in Christ’s life.

    I preached the same text. Law and Gospel.

    Every sermon simply must take the Christian back to Christ, our righteousness. Generally, the pastor will proclaim all of the Means of Grace (which is my practice), so that the sinner hears where he receives the benefits of Christ’s cross.

    If I don’t hear the Gospel in the sermon, why did I come to church?

  10. Old Time St. John’s

    Your post came up while I was typing. I’m not arguing that Pastor Noland wasn’t biblical. I have a problem comparing our sermons to Christ’s. We are in church, in Divine Service, for the express purpose of proclaiming Christ.

    Christ is God and knew what was to be said in a given situation. Our given situation is to proclaim Him. Period. When we do not, we err, and err terrribly.

    Otherwise, what are we trying to do – change people with the Law, more Law, and even more Law? Will we never learn?

  11. Greg Eilers :

    Otherwise, what are we trying to do – change people with the Law, more Law, and even more Law? Will we never learn?

    Respectfully, I don’t believe that you know the context of this sermon. And neither do I.

    Is it a church that is tilting toward a works-righteousness centered on useless self-denial, out of sincere but misapplied piety? If so, this type of sermon provides a great deal of relief, as well as a mid-course correction.

    Is it a church where members have had to make some very difficult, self-sacrificial choices recently, and for whom hearing that this is exactly what Christ would have them do in the face of tremendous temptation that arises from the teaching of the pure, complete Word of God would actually be the most salutary, healing preaching of the Gospel? In that case the sermon would have been taken as more congratulatory or soothing than judgmental, in context.

    Is it a church where just about everyone comes every week, so the pastor has the luxury of being able to confidently preach sermons that ‘continue’ from one week to the next, knowing that over a few weeks’ time they will be absorbed in their entirety?

  12. Pr. Noland,

    Thank you for this great sermon. I, for one, need to be consistently reminded that bearing my cross and suffering for Christ is not something like having a Barista forget to put the chocolate in my double tall mocha!

    In the Large Catechism Martin Luther writes,

    “If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies [Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:9]. They will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted, or believed and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be missing [Acts 14:22]. And let no one think that he shall have peace [Matthew 10:34]. He must risk whatever he has upon earth—possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam [Ephesians 4:22]. The test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience [James 5:7-8] in whatever way we are assaulted, and to let go whatever is taken from us [1 Peter 2:20-21].” —Large Catechism III 65

  13. Come on, pastors, tell me: when, in seminary, were you taught that you should ever ascend the pulpit and preach an only-Law sermon? When were you taught anything different than Law AND Gospel?

    It matters not what the circumstances are in the church, and it matters not how one might be carrying over a theme from week to week, the Church exists to proclaim Christ. He is the fulfiller of the Law for me. If you won’t preach Christ to me, then I will go where I will find Him.

    My congregation hears the Gospel proclaimed in all its fullness – and, most Sundays, after some terribly bloody Law – as the cure for our sins. Every sermon. It’s why we exist as a church; it’s how we exist as Christians.

    All of my sermons are public. Here is yesterday’s, if anyone is interested. http://stjohnporthope.org/Sermons/Sermon%20-%20June%2026,%202011.htm

  14. @Greg Eilers #9

    Like you, I think a sermon usually should present both law and gospel.

    On the text, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” how would you conclude a sermon with gospel? Do we say that grace and faith make us worthy regardless whether we take up our cross and follow Jesus? Probably. But then, that being the case, doesn’t the refusal of the cross and following evidence a lack of grace and faith? If not, what is left of the text? When is there unworthiness if not even in the case of gracelessness and faithlessness. And, if that is so, then we’re still ending the exposition of the text on law, by describing a graceless, faithless state. Doctrine and text. Both must be respected. The word must be rightly divided into law and gospel. That’s doctrine. But doctrine should not silence a text, because silencing a text is not a right division of it into law and gospel. Which part of that text is gospel?

  15. @Greg Eilers #13
    I read that sermon. There really was very little more Gospel in it that there was in Pastor Nolan’s

    In all fairness, however, this was a tough week to preach with all 3 texts being pretty heavy law. In fact most protestant denominations assigned only the last 4 verses of the Gospel beginning with, “he who receives you receives me.” the Catholics only assigned from 37 “He who loves his father and more more than me is not worthy of me.” Very few had the whole reading about the sword and enemies within the family. In order to get the Gospel in I had to do something I seldom so – pull it in from the Introit.

    It was also a text that lent itself to an us vs them preaching of the Law – ie: pointing out the strife between the Christian and the world and giving the Christian the unintentional message that we are better than those nasty people of the world who are upset with us.

    So, while there is never an excuse to miss the Gospel or to preach the Law so as to accuses those who are not there rather than those who are – I got to give pastors a bit of a break on this one if the sermons this week were not absolutely perfect. It was an amazingly challenging text to deal with and I do think Rev. Nolan’s sermon and the sermon in the link both made valid and important points drawn from the text even though they may not have been as full of Gospel as we might likke.

    Oh – and I had to chuckle that the bulletin cover from CPH said “love, peace, joy, grace – considering the texts.

  16. T. R. Halvorson :
    @Greg Eilers #9
    Like you, I think a sermon usually should present both law and gospel.
    On the text, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” how would you conclude a sermon with gospel? Do we say that grace and faith make us worthy regardless whether we take up our cross and follow Jesus? Probably. But then, that being the case, doesn’t the refusal of the cross and following evidence a lack of grace and faith? If not, what is left of the text? When is there unworthiness if not even in the case of gracelessness and faithlessness. And, if that is so, then we’re still ending the exposition of the text on law, by describing a graceless, faithless state. Doctrine and text. Both must be respected. The word must be rightly divided into law and gospel. That’s doctrine. But doctrine should not silence a text, because silencing a text is not a right division of it into law and gospel. Which part of that text is gospel?

    Well, though I went outside the text and drew in the Introit, the link I used was Christ’s statement – “He who receives you receives Me.” Though Christ does not bring peace but war – even within families and even between the Old man and New within us, nevertheless, we receive Christ through the hearing of the Word and Means of Grace as given to us through the Apostles (whom we have received by the gift of the Holy Spirit and as representatives of Christ)

  17. @helen #6

    You did fine in making your point. It was clear in your first message.

    Adding something to what you were saying, I heard a program on the Table Talk radio broadcast (via podcast) about our crosses, and someone asked about the sufferings common to all regardless of religion, such as a hail storm, getting cancer, being laid off, and the like. While that is not per se a cross, an experience christians can have in such cases could be something like a cross, when the devil attacks telling the christian that God allowed this to happen because he really doesn’t love him, or he is really not a christian, his faith is not genuine, and such. That is an attack the devil makes in an ordinary circumstance of suffering, but which he makes for the special reason that the person is a believer, and faith itself is what he attacks. While that might be cross-like, I still don’t think that is what Jesus was referring to in the text. It is as you say. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, and has no relation to “your cross” in the text.

  18. T. R. Halvorson: no, I don’t think a sermon USUALLY should present both Law and Gospel. A sermon presents Law and Gospel, period. Without any Law, there is no need for the Gospel, and without the Gospel, the hearer is left stuck in his failing of the Law. There will be varying amounts and stresses in every sermon, but both will be there. Again, I ask pastors: who among us was not taught this?

    No matter what a text contains, we use all of God’s Word to bring out both doctrines of Law and Gospel.

    My sermon didn’t have a lot of Gospel, percentage-wise. That’s hardly the point. In my sermon, the Gospel was presented as the cure for our sins, and as the way in which we can bear our own crosses. I presented all three Means of Grace as the way Christ forgives, nourishes, and strengthens us. I concluded with a Gospel proclamation. The Gospel didn’t negate all of the Law that I preached; what it did was set it right in Christ.

  19. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks for all the comments so far! Wow! I didn’t expect such a varied reaction. I won’t be able to respond to all these comments, so I won’t try. But I will let you all know what I was trying to do with this sermon, and my sources.

    First, I was trying to EXPLAIN the Gospel text for the day. That is what I always do. I don’t follow a strictly expository method (i.e., verse by verse), but I always make sure that I have thoroughly explained at least a few key verses in the text. Unlike some preachers, I take my cues and main ideas from the text itself, not from an outline of pious ideas into which I shoehorn the text.

    Second, I preach on the GOSPEL, because my congregation does not bring their Bibles to church and we don’t have pew Bibles. But we do print out the propers published by CPH, which includes the Gospel. If I pick a sermon text that is not printed out, then it is more difficult for my people to follow my sermon and hear it as the Word of God. So I always pick one of the pericopes for the day.

    Third, this sort of STRICT ADHERENCE to the text is not always easy. Some texts have both Law and Gospel, as we Lutherans understand those terms, and then it is easy to preach a properly divided sermon with both Law and Gospel. You just take it from that text. Many pericopes for the day, however, have only Law or Gospel, and then what do you do?

    Fourth, what I generally do, when there is only Law or Gospel in a text, is CONSIDER MY AUDIENCE. If my audience is a group of faithful Lutherans, and they know me and were well-catechized, then a sermon can concentrate on Law or Gospel. It doesn’t ABSOLUTELY need both, because they know both from catechesis; and they know what I say on the subject. It is then part of an ongoing conversation “inter nos.”

    If the audience is likely to have unbelievers, or non-Lutherans, or poorly catechized Lutherans, then I have to make some adjustment in the form of inserted statements just for them. Since I see everyone who comes into church before the service, and can see those “sneaking in” later, I always know EVERYONE in my audience. We have a small attendance right now (ca. 40 a Sunday), because we are meeting in the school cafeteria while our sanctuary ceiling is repaired. Even when we have more in the congregation on Sunday, I know every face.

    Fifth, what I did for this particular Gospel text, which is all Law (vv. 40-42 apply only to the apostles or ministers), was to preface the whole discussion in the first paragraph of my sermon. I warn both the unbeliever and the “Sunday Christian” that they will be offended. I was not kidding. The only folks who will really benefit from this sermon are the “steadfast believers.” And the people in my church yesterday were all that type of person, so I didn’t have to make any interlocutory adjustments.

    Sixth, I will admit that there was a lot more that I could have said. But I condensed as much as I could into ca. 20 minutes, and I will not preach longer than that. The basic Lutheran teaching on the “holy cross” is here, but not much else. The basic problem with teaching about the “theology of the cross” in Lutheran churches is that people don’t really have a clear definition of what the “cross” is in the life of the believer, or why believers experience it. That is all that I had the time to explain.

    Seventh, there is a type of Gospel here (if you define “Gospel” as any type of spoken comfort), but it is unique to the teaching on the cross. It is the comfort that someone receives from the knowledge that their misfortune or grief is “because of Jesus.” If you are in this situation, then you will realize that it is not just bad luck or your own incompetence, but you are suffering “because of Jesus and His Word.” I know it is a small comfort, but it is real. If the audience did not hear THAT, then I failed in my attempt.

    Eighth, Helen’s comment at #3 is correct about the distinction between misfortune and the cross. They are two different things.

    Ninth, another comment above noted how “trying to take up your cross” will end up making you angry at God. Brilliant comment, actually! That is what Luther said above in “Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam.” Same thing, different words. To bear your cross, you have to think, speak, and act contrary to your “flesh” which is angry with God and the world.

    Tenth, another comment questioned my statement about being worthy of Jesus. Well, that comes from verse 38, verbatim from our Lord, who said, “Whoever does not take his cross . . .is not worthy of me.” I am not going to lessen the edge of Jesus’ words. A good sermon will make Jesus’ words hit home. Did these words hit home? If so, then I did my job. If not, then I missed. You all, and my congregation, will have to judge whether I hit or missed. But please understand what I was trying to do, first, before you judge.

    Eleventh, one area that I really wanted to talk about was the relationship between the “cross” and a Christian’s knowledge of their election. But since I have not yet preached on election to this congregation, I avoided this point, so as to avoid confusion. The Formula of Concord states “Paul presents this in a most comforting manner when he points out that before the world began God ordained in his counsel through which specific cross and affliction he would conform each of his elect to the ‘image of his Son’ and that in each case the afflictions should and must ‘work together for good’ since they are ‘called according to his purpose.’ (FC SD XI, 49). This means that Christians can take comfort, not in general misfortune, but specifically in the “holy cross” (as Luther defines it). When they bear with that “cross” and do not abandon the faith or what it demands, this gives evidence they are among the elect.

    So there are two benefits that come from enduring your “cross,” first, you know that the misfortune comes “because of Jesus”, second, it gives evidence of your election. The unbeliever or “Sunday Christian” will say “That’s no comfort!” The believer will say, “That’s all the comfort I need!”

    Finally, my sources. First, I used a concordance to see other uses of “cross” in the New Testament, where it referred to the believer’s cross. Second, I used the indices to the Book of Concord (Tappert, p. 666) on the word “cross”, and read all the cited passages. Very helpful! Third, I read through Luther’s sermon at Coburg, April 16, 1530 in “Luther’s Works” 51:195-208. I commend that sermon to anyone for reading on this subject. It is both meaty and brilliant. One of Luther’s best sermons, in my opinion.

    Thanks to all for reading and commenting!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  20. Pastor Noland,

    Knowing how hard preaching often is and how mediocre my own sermons often are, I am not commenting on your sermon here, but on one comment in your explanation – that you knew all your people who were there, and that they were well-catechized. My question: what if some family members of one of your congregants had come from out of town, or other friends or visitors? Would you have changed or adjusted the sermon “on the fly” for them?

    Blessings, my brother.

  21. Dear Pastor Noland,

    What if I cannot identify personal suffering related directly to my faith such as provided in your examples? Should I be worried that I am not a true believer in Christ?


  22. @Martin R. Noland #21
    I do disagree with you on point 5. There is actually strong Gospel there. While the “you” of vs 40-42 does indeed refer specifically to the apostles and the Word they bear, the subject of each sentence “he who receives you…” obviously refers to the hearers. There is, therefore, an obvious peace of forgiveness between God and the repentant sinner which the hearers received through the Word the Apostles proclaimed. It is, however, only clear when combined with the earlier verses about bringing a sword on the earth. Without those verses, 40-42 become just a mushy preaching of fellowship – “if someone is nice then I will pat them on the back” kind of message. With the earlier verses about sword and cross, however, 40-42 become a powerful call out of the world, in opposition to the world and a restoration of peace with God which is so anathema to human nature that it can only be accomplished by the cross and received through the Spirit working in the Word the apostle are sent to bear.

    Actually this passage is very similar to Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John – which has very strong Gospel but at the same time proclaims that because of the peace of forgiveness which the Gospel has produced, the disciples can expect to be at enmity with the world.

  23. @Rev. J. Douthwaite #22

    I just re-read my comment and want to clarify one thing: it may sound like I am calling my brother’s sermon “mediocre.” I was NOT! I was only using that in reference to my own, knowing for me how difficult a task preaching often is. I was purposefully not judging the sermon, only wanting to ask the question.

    I am sorry if my sloppy writing caused any confusion or hurt.

  24. Greg Eilers :
    Come on, pastors, tell me: when, in seminary, were you taught that you should ever ascend the pulpit and preach an only-Law sermon? When were you taught anything different than Law AND Gospel?/Sermon%20-%20June%2026,%202011.htm

    I enjoyed reading your comments but aren’t you making an assumption that homiletic students are being taught the proper distinction of Law & Gospel at the seminary? What book would a student gain much wisdom by reading on such a subject? Well, of course, “Law & Gospel” by C.F.W. Walther! Only in a few classes the book is actually used. It is sad time when we think that we cannot learn anything new from great LCMS theologians from days gone by.

    (ps, Norm my preview button is not working….)

  25. You know this is one of the reasons I wish pastors would get together every week to go over the texts instead of just once a month (or in the cases of some circuits, never).

    There is so much that is brought out when we critique each others sermons and approach.

    Now I am seeing so much more to say about the Gospel in this text that I did not see in the week I was preparing my sermon. As I look at “he who receives a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward I can’t help but think of Elijah and the widow of Zarpheth. While the Law was doing its killing work in Israel, resulting in drought and the persecution of those who refused to worship Baal, the widow who had welcomed Elijah was receiving the blessing of faith and the miracle of bread and oil to last out the famine. Or the people of Ninevah who received Jonah’s word.

    Part of the problem is that all the Lutherans I spoke to were preaching on the Epistle while the non-Lutheran’s who were preaching on this only covered 40-42 and delivered really empty “fellowship” sermons on welcoming and receiving one another. There is so much to be gained as Lutherans discus a text as opposed to generic evangelicals – I know no one else who goes as deep into the text as Lutheran pastors.

    And by the way – just to emphasize once more – Rev. Nolan’s point about what the cross really is is a very important one. Too many times I hear well meaning Christians speaking about illness or suffering of one kind or another as “the cross I have to bear.” Illness and grief are certainly times in which there is the opportunity to witness. But they are not crosses.

    A cross is given to us only when what we suffer is as a result of our proclamation of the Gospel. The disciples had to be warned that as then went and proclaimed the Word of God, their vision of people listening and jumping to believe was not what would happen, that instead they would most often be rejected. So also we need to know that as we proclaim the Gospel in our families and communities, we can expect crosses instead of welcome. This is especially important in our world today in which popular “pastors” in $5,000 suits tell their audience that they can have their best life now if they will only send some seed money to the “pastor” so-called ministry and when even Lutherans think that numerical growth equals the success of the Word and decline equals failure.

  26. Walter, I hope this sounds like Gospel to you, but at Fort Wayne (I can’t speak for CSL), Law and Gospel is THE text in Homiletics, with daily quizzes on the readings for those who were in Dr. Fickenscher’s section. I assume our brothers at St. Louis receive much the same formation.

  27. @Matt #27
    There is so much that is brought out when we critique each others sermons and approach.

    I’m sure a face to face discussion would accomplish more, but there is a “Sermons” list on CAT41 which is meant to be an opportunity for pastors to read others’ sermons and comment. The comments are private to the individual, not to the list, so I have no knowledge of that end of it or how well it works. But you can read half a dozen sermons on it, most weeks. (Not all of them will be on the same texts, given the one-year and three-year series.)

  28. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks to all of you for your additional comments after my comment #21.

    I appreciate these comments, as it helps me hone my own sermons, although that was not my intent in publishing it on the web. I just thought this sermon might be of some comfort to my fellow “steadfastlutherans” who have, at one time or another, taken their hits because of their love of Jesus and their steadfast commitment to His word. I also thought it might help folks understand Luther’s theology of the cross a little better.

    By my comments in #21, I was not suggesting that pastors should follow my sermon methods or delivery. I was just explaining what I do, in response to the questions and comments I saw. Every pastor has to figure out, for himself, what works best for him and his congregation in the area of methods and delivery, based on his own abilities and limitations.

    In response to Pastor Douthwaite (#22 & 25), who is a good friend and a great pastor, “Yes, I would have made adjustments for visitors” and “I didn’t understand you to be saying the sermon was mediocre; rather that preaching is difficult, for everyone! I agree!”

    In response to DA (#23), the cross as evidence of election, as I described it based on the Book of Concord’s passage, is not a NECESSARY evidence. In other words, if you don’t have a cross to bear, as defined above, it is NOT evidence that you are NOT elect. The logic of evidences makes that clear, if you understand how logic works.

    Maybe this is circular logic, since if you “bear your cross,” as defined, you have “persevered in the faith,” and if you persevere in the faith until death, you are by definition one of the elect. As you can see, discussion of election can be confusing, which is why I did not bring it into the sermon. Election is really off topic, and worthy of another post altogether.

    In response to Matt (#24), I think you are correct, and I overstated when I said “there is no Law.” I think you are right, looking at it again through your comments, that verse 40-42 have some Gospel (again, defined as a word of comfort, not strictly as the “forgiveness of sins”). I agree with you that it should not be strictly limited to “apostles and ministers” but should also include ANYONE who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ in verbal witness. But the “Gospel comfort” here, in these verses, is limited to those who “receive” that witness, prophet, or pastor. It means that they receive the commendation that they are, in fact, receiving Christ himself. I remember thinking about that briefly, when preparing the sermon, and not being able to find a way to incorporate it into the sermon, since this “comfort” does not relate to the person who bears a cross.

    I agree with Chuck Kennell (#2) that next Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 11:25-30 would have been a good Gospel to balance the Law in last Sunday’s sermon. So will my sermon this coming Sunday be all Gospel? Will yours? What does the text say?

    I have thought through all the comments here again, and I don’t want to claim that this is a great sermon, much less that I am a great preacher. I just want you to think about what a believer’s cross really is and why it happens. I think that the knowledge of this doctrine is, in fact, GREAT comfort for anyone who has suffered serious distress, misfortune, or setbacks BECAUSE of their faithfulness to Christ. Whether you call it Gospel, or something else, I don’t care. But it is comforting – and the only comfort for Christians in this particular form of distress.

    After all, I agree with Walther’s Thesis 25 in his “Law and Gospel,” that the Gospel should predominate, and try to make that a major goal of my own preaching.

    A final comment. When preparing their sermons, pastors should not only check the sermon notes in “Concordia Theological Quarterly” and “Concordia Journal” (which should be mailed to you for free), but also should consider subscribing to “Concordia Pulpit Resources” (http://www.cph.org/t-magazines-cpr.aspx).

    Since we have made reference to C. F. W. Walther here, you should know that Concordia Pulpit Resources, vol. 21 #4, will have a sermon about Walther that can be preached before or after his 200th birthday anniversary (he was born October 25, 1811).

    Thanks to everyone for all your comments and suggestions!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  29. Brother Noland,

    Thanks for your good and charitable responses. You and I both know many folks who have taken hits for their commitment to Christ and His Word. The theology of the cross is a most difficult theology for me to learn – I am always learning more and more about it and seeing its depth. Keep posting! Thanks again.

  30. Brother Martin

    Golly, if I didn’t know better, I would think I’ve been ignored. 🙂

    I pray that my comments have been taken in the spirit in which I wrote them, but I fear that, perhaps, they have not. I beg forgiveness, Martin, if you felt that I was attacking you, especially when you did not post the sermon for it to be critiqued.

    I am not known on this list, as so many are. I rarely post – only when I feel tremendously strongly about something. I’m a tiny-village-in-the-Thumb-of-Michigan pastor of a very traditional LCMS parish, with a school.

    I grew up Roman Catholic. I never heard the Gospel. When I became a Lutheran, truly, the Gospel changed my life. (Walter Teske was my first LCMS pastor.)

    I went to Fort Wayne, from 1992 to 1996. I did field work at a church where we got the Gospel in the sermon about once a month, and it drove me nuts. One Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, the pastor, preaching very angrily because we lousy sinners just sit on our hands, ended the sermon asking if we were going to march in the parade that day, or do anything regarding abortion. He concluded, “Well, are you going to do anything!?” and left the pulpit. I was so angry, I wanted to leave the church, that moment.

    Thus, Martin, your conclusion, “Are you worthy?” stung me hard. No way am I worthy. An ending like that would kill me in my spirit.

    I appreciated your listing what goes into your sermons. Thank you. I comment only on this:

    “Fourth, what I generally do, when there is only Law or Gospel in a text, is CONSIDER MY AUDIENCE. If my audience is a group of faithful Lutherans, and they know me and were well-catechized, then a sermon can concentrate on Law or Gospel. It doesn’t ABSOLUTELY need both, because they know both from catechesis; and they know what I say on the subject. It is then part of an ongoing conversation ‘inter nos.'”

    How many times, have I, as pastor, been surprised, even shocked, to learn from my supposedly well-catechised members that they don’t know diddly doctrine (by the questions they ask or comments they make), or, even worse, that some terrible thing is going on in their lives. As they sat in church, on Sunday, there was no way for me to know what they were going through – how their marriage was crumbling, how they were struggling with a sin, what turmoil was in their heart. How well do I truly know them? Usually, I find out: not all that well, though I’ve been here for ten years.

    I have the blessed call to proclaim Christ to them, every time I step into the pulpit. When I discuss their crosses, what better way than to bathe theirs in Christ’s, who makes theirs bearable. Take any Law of any text, after my privilege of hammering them with it, I have the privilege to declare them not-guilty for Christ’s sake and, by the Father’s love in His Son, and the Spirit living in them through the washing of rebirth and renewal and the nourishing of their Savior’s body and blood (which they get at every service, every Sunday), they get to walk out of the Divine Service divinely served; yes, in all parts of the liturgy, but also and always in the one part they understand, perhaps, the easiest because this pastor is no smarter or more crafty than them that he speaks their everyday language.

    I couldn’t imagine them confessing their sins and my not absolving them. Neither can I imagine opening their sinful hearts with my Law preaching and not close the wound with the salve of Christ’s atoning work.

    My wife knows that I love her, yet I tell her – and her, I – every day. I refuse to be the old German temperment which says, “She knows that I lover her; why do I have to keep telling her?”

    Forgive me that this is being spoken in an open forum. I’d much rather sit down with you over beer and an entire evening to talk theology, but I started it here so I’d better say this in public.

    Martin, I read everything you post, here, and elsewhere, and I admire you. I thank you for your work and I value your knowledge, wisdom, and insight. You are of great value to us. So, I pray, you have not found my posts to be snipes, but only from-the-heart concerns about the homeletical task. I’m a wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, fire-in-the-belly sort of guy.

    We have the great work in all the world! What a privilege – WHAT A PRIVILEGE – to give Jesus Christ, the cure for what ails us – to our people, every time we talk to them, in sermon, Bible study, hospital rooms, to shut-ins, you name it.

    The Lord be with you, Martin. Thank you for your patience with me.


  31. @Greg Eilers #32

    Dear Pastor Eilers,

    I was not offended by any of your comments.

    I did not respond to you directly because, first, as a rule, I don’t respond to all comments. I don’t have time for that.

    Second, as a rule, if someone has strongly disagreed with something I have said online, I just let it be. In my experience, responding online to strong disagreement almost always leads to arguments, to which I am averse.

    I would much rather lose an argument and win a friend than the opposite. 🙂

    Third, and maybe most important, I agreed with what you were saying, and I think I understood why you said it. I really appreciate your pastoral approach to homiletics, and your awareness of how Law and Gospel affects people. That is commendable, and I hope readers here have learned from that. I also suspect that if you didn’t hear the Gospel in my sermon, then it was not obvious, so I failed to achieve my goal.

    Fourth, after thinking about this discussion for a couple of days, I think that this genre of theology is related to the question about whether the Beautitudes in Matthew (Matthew 5:3-12) are Law or Gospel. I am beginning to think they are something else. I think they are of the genre of “evils and consolations.” Luther wrote a devotional work in this genre at the illness of Frederick the Wise, with 7 evils and 7 consolations (Luther’s Works 42:119-166). Johann Gerhard also did the same, addressing 46 evils and their consolations (see Johann Gerhard, “Handbook of Consolations,” tr. Carl L. Beckwith [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009).

    Fifth, the next time I do a sermon like this, I think I will need to be more explicit and obvious in talking with the congregation. I will need to say something like: “Here is the evil in your life, i.e., not a sin you are committing, but an evil that is being forced upon you and making you miserable. . . .” Then “Here is the consolation for that particular evil from Scripture.” I think that might be a more productive approach than the tack I took.

    Thanks again to all of you for your comments. I have, indeed, taken them in the spirit in which they were offered.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  32. Dear Pastor Noland

    Thank you for the kind and helpful reply.

    I have shied away from doing much discussing on these forums because, so often, folks get surly, or the discussion goes way afield and I wind up more frustrated than edified. I strive to be civil and fair, and, when it might appear that I’ve not been, to repent.

    I appreciate the discussion about evils. I will make use of this, indeed.


  33. I hate to jump in after everyone became so amicable but I have some thoughts that have been brewing..first about ending with “are you worthy of Jesus?”

    First off we want people to say “no”. We would be in a world of hurt if everyone in the congregation said “yes”. (because if you are worthy of Jesus, you really don’t need Him).

    A good question that really needs to be asked earlier in the sermon.

    As far as someone saying that there is “little gospel in the text”…the word “cross” is right in the text. It’s good friday before good friday.

    Jesus severs us from everything…so that we only have Him. (gospel)

    Jesus gives us a new family…the church. (gospel)

    Jesus identifies with us so that we spread his blessing to those around us (those who give us a cup of coffee won’t lose their reward). We scatter His blessing (from franzmann)

    I like the sermon because it is faithful to the text. This sermon can’t be plugged in anywhere else. The people who heard it can go away knowing the cost of being a disciple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.