To Die For (Sermon 10-16-2022)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was executed on April 9, 1945 because of his opposition to the nationalism of the church by the Nazis. He died just a few weeks before the liberation of Germany by the allied forces. His final words were recorded and are fitting to his theology and teaching. “This is the end-for me, the beginning of life”

He authored many books. Perhaps, the most noted is The Cost of Discipleship. In this book, he talks about the cost of grace. He details some of the dangers of cheap grace. Here are his words on Cheap Grace.

The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! …

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Bonhoeffer contrast the cheap grace with the grace that is costly. He says that grace is the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great price which Jesus talks about. We must actively seek that grace. Again, in his words we read: Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us.

One of the most striking points made by Bonhoeffer is covered in this passage from The Cost of Discipleship.

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship, we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death — we give over our lives to death. Thus, it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise Godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Let’s look at that last sentence again: When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Most of us never associate coming to Christ as an invitation to die. Is this a unique idea from Bonhoeffer or is it based on the teachings of the Bible?

Let’s consider a few verses to see what is really the cost of discipleship. The first passage to consider is found in the 10th chapter of Matthew. In the 9th chapter, Jesus had healed several people and cast out the demon from a mute (Matthew 9:32). The religious leaders accused Him of doing so by the power of the ruler of the demons. We move int the 10th chapter and Jesus is talking with His disciples about the true meaning of discipleship.

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, (Or ruler of demons) how much more will they malign the members of his household! (Matthew 10:24-25 NASB)

As just pointed out, in the 9th chapter, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demon by the power of the ruler of the demons or Satan. Here, Jesus is telling His disciples that they will be treated in similar fashion. This is the ultimate insult to accuse the Messiah, the head of God’s house of being Satan, the ruler of the evil world.

Jesus has warned about the coming treatment of His disciples and then He tells them (and us) to boldly proclaim what His teachings.

“Therefore, do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. (Matthew 10:26-27 NASB)

Next, Jesus prepares His disciples for the fact that this world will not only insult His followers but they will kill the followers of the Christ. Jesus gives an assurance that God’s love and care extends beyond the grave.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So, do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

“Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:28-33 NASB)

Even if we are facing death for our confession of Jesus, God cares for us. Our confession (or denial) will be voiced by Jesus to God. Jesus then turns to the fact that there are times when following Him will have severe cost. It may even lead to physical death. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Jesus calls His disciples to face. The cross is often thought of as a metaphorical burden but it is in fact the instrument of death.

And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39 NASB)

Just as we considered what Bonhoeffer said about coming to Jesus to die, Jesus calls us to lose our life for His sake. This is both literal and spiritual. Some may die as martyrs but all must die to their worldly life.

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to die to this world and be made alive in Christ. He lost everything he had as a “rising star” with the Pharisees (Philippians 3:8).

For Paul, he considered that he was dead to all that was before.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20 NASB)

As Paul took up his cross, he was crucified (figuratively) to his old self and now lives in Christ. Paul uses the images of death to teach us that we too are to become dead to the old self and the things of this world.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11 NASB)

The apostle Peter uses the same image of death to describe our Christian life. Once more, the parallel between Jesus and His crucifixion and our taking up our cross (as Jesus directs).

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds, you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

Sadly, too many people become “Christian” do so to be a part of a social club. There is no true commitment. Certainly, there is never a desire or intent to die to our worldly activities. Many of us have failed to realize that the invitation by Jesus is an invitation to die. Is that an invitation we are ready to accept? Is the call of Christ something that for us a thing to die for?

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