People do start projects they can’t finish. They do it all the time. Maybe due to pride, or maybe out of desperation. Without a lot of forethought or planning, perhaps; or with a naive optimism. Not just other people, but you do it, too. You take on more than you can manage. You make promises that you won’t be able to keep, maybe with the best of intentions, or maybe just to keep the wolves at bay for a little while longer. You write checks that your body can’t cash. And you go into debt buying things you don’t need and can’t afford.
The same spirit of competition and self-advancement that drives you to do such things, beyond your actual capacities and limitations, also puts you into conflict with everyone around you. So that, along with all the rest of it, you take on opponents that you can’t hope to beat or overcome. Eye of the tiger and all that, but this, too, is vanity. And you’re not alone in your bravado. From the playground to the White House, the sons and daughters of Adam pick fights they can’t win.
All of this is foolishness; which is always easier to spot in the choices and decisions of the other guy, than it is to admit in yourself. But you know better, or you should. To tackle more than you can handle is foolish. It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources, all of which could have been, and ought to have been, put to some better use. And, as the Lord Jesus points out, you not only suffer the loss of your investment, but embarrassment and shame in the eyes of all who see it.
The stakes are that much higher in the case at hand, in this Word of our Lord. Be wise, therefore, and consider this: If the war you want to win is the judgement of God’s holy and righteous Law, and if the goal you want to reach is that of real life and genuine prosperity in the heavenly places, there’s only one way to gain that victory, and only one way to arrive at that goal. Only one way, and that, not of yourself, but it is by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by following Him through death and the grave into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.
By the way of the Cross. But what does that mean? To take up the Cross and bear it after Christ is not an exercise program or a disciplined new diet, whereby you would strive to build yourself up and improve your overall health and well-being. There is a place for such discipline in this body and life, and in your spiritual life, as well. But the Cross does not aim at a better you. It’s not a matter of self-improvement. To take up your own cross, is to embrace your own execution.
To be a disciple of Christ Jesus, to take up His Cross and follow after Him, is to renounce yourself; to disavow your collections and trophies, your prizes and scrapbooks; to disregard, not just your possessions, your perishable stuff, but all of the “best” parts of who you are, that is, your wisdom, reason, strength, and achievements. To bear the Cross is to be done with your self-righteousness. And, with that, it redefines all of your relationships, as well, with family, friends, and neighbors.
To be crucified, is not to get stronger and healthier, but to die to yourself and your life in the world.
So, then, give up building your own towers, and stop attempting to fight your own battles; because the truth is that you can’t reach the heavens nor win the war by any of your own ways and means.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can make it or complete it. You can’t. Think about it. When all the world was united, following the Flood, the descendants of Noah set out to build a mighty tower, in order to make a name for themselves, to achieve their own fame and glory, in disobedience to the Word of God. And it sure seemed like there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do. But the Lord set Himself against them, confused their communications, and terminated their grand building project. They could do nothing, finally, except what the Lord determined and permitted.
The “rich fool,” likewise, as we heard from Jesus a few weeks ago, considered his crops and his storage barns, carefully counted his costs and his profits, and then made his plans to build more and bigger barns for all his grain, to store up his wealth for many years to come. But then his life came to an end, and he wasn’t able to carry out his plans, nor to benefit from all his crops.
When it comes to battles and warfare, consider the history of Moses and the Israelites, of Joshua and the subsequent Judges, especially Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, and then of King Saul and King David: It is the Lord who fights for His people, whether with only a few men, or many men; and, where He has spoken, it doesn’t matter if the enemy has hundreds or thousands of soldiers, chariots and horsemen, weapons of bronze, or nine-foot giants. The battle belongs to the Lord.
By the same token, whenever Israel proceeds apart from the Word and promise of God, then they are soundly defeated and put to flight, like flea-bitten dogs with their tails between their legs.
When it comes right down to it, it’s not the number of people you have lined up on your side, nor the number of dollars in your portfolio, nor the extent of your military savvy, strength, and skill, but the Word and Spirit of God are alone decisive. When you proceed according to His Word, even in great weakness, you will succeed and prosper; and when you follow your own self-chosen path, apart from His Word, you will fail and fall apart. Not according to the measure of the world, but according to the divine Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Which is to say, that, it may look as though you’ve got the bases covered, but you don’t; whereas, again, when you are being crucified and put to death, and you suffer all manner of hardships and major setbacks, it may be precisely that the Lord is bringing you through these trials and tribulations into glory.
The logic of the Cross is not intuitive or rational; you can’t figure it out by instinct or calculation. It is something you are taught by the Word-made-Flesh: You learn from Him as you listen to His preaching, and as you follow after Him, and live with Him, on the paradoxical Way of His Cross.
Thus do you learn, from Christ Jesus, that the wealth and ability by which you live and prosper — the ways and means by which you are completed and preserved, rescued and sustained — these are not your own; neither are they in your own power or possession; but they are found in the fear of the Lord, that is, by repentance and faith in His Word, in His commandments and His promises.
The blessing of the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity — His gift of Life and prosperity — is found in Christ the Crucified, the Incarnate Son; in this foolishness of God, which is wiser than man; in this weakness of God, which is stronger than man; in this death of God for the life of the world.
The Cross and Passion of the Christ is the divine blessing by which you are saved. By contrast, to rely upon your yourself, upon your family and the whole gamut of your possessions, as though to achieve and keep life for yourself by these means, that is the curse of idolatry, sin, and death. You cannot overcome it, but, ironically, the harder that you try, the more you will succumb to it. It is both sinful and self-defeating to rely upon yourself and your own assets; for it puts you at odds with God, and you will not be able to withstand Him or survive when He comes against you.
This does not mean that your body and life, your place in the world, your family and friends, and all the stuff that God has put into your hands, is somehow bad or evil. When the Lord Jesus speaks of “hating” your parents and children, spouse and siblings, for example, He is not describing an emotion or feeling of dislike or disgust, but objective choices and decisions, actions and behaviors, which refuse to worship any other god than the Lord, Yahweh, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The person that you are, the people God has placed around you in the world, and the portion of His creation that He has entrusted to your stewardship in this life on earth, all of this is good and right in its own place. This is the good salt, of which Jesus speaks, with which the Lord has seasoned you along the way; and it is meant to season the sacrifice that you are to offer unto Him by faith. Here is what I mean by that: You receive all that you are and have from God’s gracious hand, and you render it all back to Him, to the glory, honor, and praise of His Holy Name.
You should not despise what God has given to you; but neither should you worship and depend upon the creature in the place that belongs to the Creator. You should neither demonize nor idolize the good gifts of God, but receive them in faith, and sanctify their use by His Word and prayer. Then the good salt is put to its godly purpose, and your sacrifice is seasoned with thanksgiving.
Attempting to use the salt, instead, to buy or build or battle your way into heaven, is worthless. Not only does it do you no good, but it also robs the salt of its good worth, and of its saltiness, so that it becomes useless and even detrimental: Not in itself, that is, but in your use of it, or misuse.
The salt is rightly used, as I have said, when it accompanies the sacrifice of yourself unto God; whereby you renounce all reliance on yourself, and you relinquish yourself and all your things to the Lord your God, in the confidence that all good things are from Him, both for now and for ever.
Such is the sacrifice and salt of Jesus Christ, who sets an example for you to follow in His steps. For in Him is the Way of discipleship, that is, the way of the Cross, of repentance, faith, and love, by which He obtains life and prosperity for you, and for all of His disciples.
He relies not on Himself, but on His Father. He looks to His Father in faith, and receives all things from Him; and yet, He does not cling to anything, but offers it all up with Himself as a sacrifice. Indeed, He renounces Himself entirely, and gives Himself up to the Cross, in order to be honored by His Father. So, He stakes everything on the Glory of God, on the promise of the Resurrection; not for His own advantage or benefit, but for the good of His neighbor, for your sake, in holy love.
He is the one Man who is willing and actually able to pay the cost, to finish the work that He has been given to do, to establish, build, and complete the tower that reaches to the Father in heaven. But, notice that He finishes the task and pays the price, not with cash or credit, paper or plastic, but with His own holy and precious Blood. Rather than avoiding embarrassment and the ridicule of the world, He humbles Himself and bears the shame of sinners, in favor of God’s vindication.
He appears to be undone, outnumbered, and overcome: He saved others, and yet, or so it seems, He cannot save Himself. More to the point, He chooses not to save Himself, nor to exalt Himself, but waits upon the Father to save Him out of death, and to exalt Him in the highest. He does not build a tower to make a Name for Himself, but He is lifted up on the Cross to the glory of God. He willingly submits to death, and He suffers Himself to be laughed at, mocked, and made fun of, in order to rely 100% upon the Word and promise of His Father.
Although He has 10,000 angels at His command, any one of which could take out His enemies; and even though He is the “stronger Man,” indeed, the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made; still, He defeats the ruler of this world, and He reconciles the world to God, by the voluntary sacrifice of Himself: contrary to every wisdom and strategy of this mortal world.
Rather than crushing His enemies and establishing justice by brute force and raw violence against those who oppose Him, He makes for Peace and Righteousness by His Cross and Resurrection.
And this same Peace and Righteousness is what He gives to you, by His grace, by the delegation of His Gospel: by the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and forgiveness of sins.
As Philemon owed his very life to the Apostle, St. Paul, on account of the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, so does your whole life derive from and depend upon the Gospel of the same Lord. For as you are crucified with His Cross by the preaching of repentance, so are you raised up with His Resurrection by His free forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life and prosperity forever.
By His preaching, the dear Lord Jesus seasons you with the salt of His own sacrifice, so as to preserve you in Himself, and to bring you to His Father in perfect peace and joy; as He Himself has returned to the right hand of the Father in righteousness and holiness, blessedness and glory.
Here, then, receive these holy things, which make for Peace with God: the Word of the Gospel, which absolves you of all your sins, and the Body and Blood of your Savior, Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for your life and salvation.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.