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08.31.14 Setting Our Minds on Earthly Things? Matthew 16.21-28 Sermon Summary

by on September 3, 2014

It’s hard to imagine so abrupt a reversal in the spiritual life, except when we realize it happens all the time to everyone.

Summary Points

  • What will your funeral look like?
  • Five sentences of Jesus that can transform your life
  • A list of small next steps
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

In last week’s reading, Peter the spokesperson declared that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. For this, he is renamed the “Rock” and the truth of his confession becomes the foundation of the Christian church. Now this week, Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct him on what it means to be Messiah, and Jesus renames him yet again as “Satan.” Bam!

Stephen Covey in his Seven Habits book invites us to the following exercise. Fast forward to your funeral where four people will speak: a family member, a professional co-worker, someone who shares your hobby, and a member of your church or spiritual community. Each of these people can offer a unique perspective on your life. The question, of course, is, “What do you want them to be able to say?”

We do this vision exercise to help us prepare for the abrupt reversal. Everyone experiences abrupt reversals, and not just at the end of their lives. New parents are warned, “It goes so fast! Enjoy it while it lasts. You blink and they’re leaving for college.” That’s true.

As a pastor, I witness abrupt reversals on the threshold of death. In hospital rooms and gravesites, I see the abrupt reversal manifest sometimes in a yearning nostalgia, sometimes in guilt-racked regret. Every life faces reversals, because every life faces the same question: “What did you do with your life?”

In this brief scene from Matthew’ Gospel, Jesus gives us insight on how to live so that we can go with the flow when life reverses. In verse 23 he says, “Set your minds on the things of God, not human things.” This is what Peter didn’t get. But in another reading for the day, Jeremiah did get it. He was honest in his complaints, but God promised to deliver him through the prophetic task.

Jesus goes on in verse 24: “Whoever wants to be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” By saying “whoever” Jesus is saying that anyone can do this. Being Christ’s disciple can be boiled down to simply denying oneself and following Christ, even at the risk of taking up a cross. The “cross” is a critical part of following Jesus because of the difficulty of ego-sacrifice.

Our biological imperative is self-preservation. Our cultural messaging is self-promotion. All these powerful forces set our minds on human things, not divine things. So like Jesus, we need God’s help to sacrifice ourselves.

Jesus explains in verse 25, “Those who want to save their life will lose it; those who lose their life will find it.” We have so many ways we try to “save” our lives. When we are children, it is being the winner. When we are older, it is having the most. When we reach middle age and we realize we’re not going to win or have the most, we save ourselves by saying, “Well, at least I’m better than . . .”

These things don’t save because they are part of the human mindset. They are the “stumbling blocks” Peter tried to put before Jesus and which Jesus had to avoid. We have to avoid them also because they distract us from God’s path.

For Jesus said in verse 26, “What will it profit you to gain the whole world, but lose your life? What will you exchange for your life?” This is THE question of the abrupt reversal. What are you exchanging for your life? That exchange is happening right now: this day, this week, this year. We received life as a gift; every day we are exchanging it. And someday we will face a judgment on our exchange.

In this passage Jesus is inviting us to face that judgment now, so that we can survive the final judgment later. For Jesus, the time is now because, “Some standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (verse 28)

Jesus wants us to live now in such a way to survive the abrupt reversal later—the abrupt reversal at the end of your career or marriage, at the death of a loved one, and finally at your own death.

So how do we set our minds on the things of God? The litany from Romans 12 provides a great place to start. Just pick one imperative, one direction, and turn it into a concrete step: add a name or an activity and a deadline. Then take that step this week, and pray over the rest of the list. Little by little, one step at a time, you’ll retrain your mind to be set on the things of God, and you’ll have fewer stumbling blocks on the pathway to divinity.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • Share some of the abrupt reversals in your own life—times when you thought you knew what you were doing only to find out later you didn’t. What did you learn from those experiences? What can you learn from the abrupt reversals of others?
  • Did you do the Covey exercise? Who spoke at your funeral? What did they say? What do you need to do today to make that possible?
  • What are some of the “human things” you have your mind set on? What are some “divine things” God is calling you to focus on?
  • In what ways are you “taking up a cross” and sacrificing your ego in order to follow Christ?
  • What concrete step from Romans 12 are you taking this week? What’s the next step going to be?



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