I Must Press On
Take this cup away. It’s the season of Lent. And as a boy, year after year, during our midweek lent services we would hear about Jesus praying alone in the garden of Gethsemane. And one of the strangest expressions Jesus used was when he told his Father, “take this cup away.” I always thought it was weird, since from everything I could tell, he wasn’t even holding any cup. It was only years later, when I had grown up, that I realized that the expression of “drinking a cup” basically meant, You finish what you start. There are some tasks or projects that you take on and there’s no looking back. There is no pit stop. There is no pull off lane. You have to press on. And that’s precisely the point that God’s word makes to us this morning. In Luke 13, we read: “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”” (Luke 13:31 NIV11-GKE)
Notice here in these words how Jesus is opposed. He is opposed sneakily and yet forcefully. The Pharisees do not say that they want to put Jesus to death. Instead, they say that Herod wants to put Jesus to death. It reminds me of when I was a child in 7th grade science class. My public school science teacher knew that I was a Christian. So he aske me once, “Steve, how do you know? How do you know that when it says that God created the world in 6 days a day wasn’t longer than 24 hours? We all know that one day is a rotation of the earth on its axis. What if it took millions of years for the world to rotate. That could be one day, right?’” At that time I didn’t know what to say in response. But I knew two things. First, it was sneaky. Second, it was very forceful. The same is going on with Jesus in these words. How then does Jesus respond to these words? “32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”” (Luke 13:32–35 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how Jesus responds. Jesus presses on. Jesus does not give into fear. He does not lash out. Also, he does not give out. Instead, he patiently presses on. And that makes us ask the vital question: Do we press on? When each of us faces attacks either from the outside of the church or even from within those that call themselves, Christian, do we press on? Do we patiently, pleasantly, and persistently answer them, speaking the truth in love as the bible asks us to? Sadly, if your Christian life is anything like mine, you face the temptation to stop. Instead of pressing on, you stop. First of all, you stop to lash out. Many years ago there was a vicar—a pastor in training. And as part of his vicar duties he would visit the hospital to see if any of his members where there. When he got there the lady at the front desk introduced him to the pastor from the other Lutheran church in town. The pastor was a lady and definitely held to views of the bible that were different than that vicar’s. So what did he do? He panicked. He lashed out against her, accusing her of being a false teacher. And many of the words that the vicar said were true. But what was the problem? He didn’t speak the truth in love. Or to put it in the context of these words, instead of pressing on, he stopped to lash out.
But the opposite can also happen. Instead of pressing on, we are tempted to stop and give out. For a year, I was a resident assistant at our WELS campus ministry house at Mankato State. And there I had the great privilege of getting to know many WELS students from around the US. But, as part of my work, I had to call the students on campus, letting them know what opportunities to grow in God’s word were there for them at the campus ministry center. On any given week there were about a dozen students who came to the campus house. But there were over 200 people on my calling list. And it makes you wonder how many of them grew up in good strong Christian families and churches. And then they went to classes at MSU and for the first time had their faith challenged so that it might be crushed. And it makes you wonder how many of them gave in. Instead of pressing on, staying in God’s word, they gave out.
Each of us faces the same sorts of temptations, don’t we? We face the temptation to lash out and the temptation to give out. And that’s why these words here are so meaningful to us. Jesus doesn’t fall into either trap. Jesus presses on. For all the times we lashed out and gave out, Jesus spoke the truth in love. Jesus presses on. And notice where pressing on led to. Jesus says, “surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:33 NIV11-GKE) Jesus knew what lay at the end of this trail. His own death was what lay at the end. And he did this all for us, to pay for the sins of the entire world. Jesus presses on.
But my dear friends, Jesus isn’t the only one who presses on. He invites us too to press on. For, as the bible says in our second reading from this morning, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Philippians 3:18 NIV11-GKE) And since there are many who live as enemies of Christ, we face opposition throughout our lives. And with that fact firmly set in our minds, Jesus invites us to press on. But he invites us to press on with the following facts in our minds too:
- Jesus promises to us that our sins are forgiven. There is this fear that comes from failure. When we face opposition, we can lash out or give out. And that demoralizes us when we face the same opposition again. Know that your are forgiven. Jesus perfectly pressed on in your place.
- But my dear friends, also know what happens when you do press on. God gives unity, true unity. How wonderful it is to know that any one of us can go down to the road to one of our neighboring sister congregations and there receive the Lord’s Supper, knowing that you confess the same faith as your brothers and sisters in Christ down the road. That’s why we press on. For that is a unity to hold onto.
So my dear friends in Christ, continue to press on. When you face obstacles and opposition, press on. Jesus forgives the times we lash out and give out. And he gives us every reason to continue to press on. Amen.