Summary: What is our commitment to following Christ. i) Is it some of the time, ii) most of the time or iii) all then time. The choice is yours
Mt 16:21-28 Take up your cross and follow me
Story: One man I admire greatly is Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941).
Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest, who was put in a Nazi concentration camp for his faith.
On May 28, 1941, he was transferred to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
One day a man in Kolbe’s block escaped. All of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day with no food or drink.
At the end of the day, the man that had escaped was not found. So the Nazi commandant told the prisoners that ten men would be selected to die in the starvation cell in place of the one that had escaped.
One man, a polish sergeant was one of those selected.
He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.
As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward and stood before the commandant.
The commandant turned to him and asked him what he wanted.
Kolbe pointed to the polish sergeant and said,
"I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children."
The commandant stood silent for a moment in disbelief. He then allowed the sergeant to go back to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.
In the starvation bunker, the guards who removed the bodies of those who had died, were used to the sounds of cursing and screaming.
However when Kolbe and the nine others were put in the bunker, all they could hear was the sounds of Kolbe and his companions in the bunker singing hymns and praying.
When Kolbe couldn’t speak any longer due to hunger and lack of energy, he would whisper his prayers.
After two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners to be thrown in.
Only four prisoners were left alive by then and Kolbe was one of them. So the guards came in and gave each a lethal injection.
On August 14, 1941, Kolbe paid the ultimate price for following the call of his Master – “to take up his Cross and follow him.”
Today’s Gospel reading follows on from the momentous statement that Peter made - when Jesus asked him the question: “Who do people say that I am.”
It was a watershed event in the lives of the apostles – when
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And this wasn’t just an intellectual answer.
Rather, the fact that Jesus is the Messiah impacted both then lives of Peter and the other apostles so that they gave their lives preaching the message that there Jesus is the only person, through whose death we can be reconciled to God.
So what does it mean today to us if Jesus is “the Christ, the son on the living God”
I believe Jesus answered that question in our Gospel reading today when he said
24…….."If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mt 16:24-26).
Being a Christian will bring you into conflict.
Jim Eliot the famous missionary killed in Ecuador in 1955 paraphased it like this
"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Jim Elliot.....
I doubt any of us will be ask to pay the ultimate price - as Maximilian Kolbe did- for being a Christian.
But I do wonder how “taking up one’s cross” might be relevant to us today.
We live in a post Christian culture.
Choosing to lead a Christian life is not easy. It runs contrary to our culture.
Jesus recognised this when he said in Mt. 7:13
13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Most, if not all, of us here today are Christians and so, in some way or another we have chosen to follow the Christian way of life.
So I would like to ask the question:
Having decided to follow Christ, what is the level of our commitment?
In other words, what does it mean to “take up our Cross and follow Him”