“The Perfect Trade” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

13th Sunday after Pentecost August 30, 2020

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            Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text is from Matthew 16:21-28, which concludes: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done.”   This is our text. 

If you’re in to it, you probably noticed that this weekend marks the Major League Baseball trade deadline.  The time teams look to improve for the stretch run or build for future and unload salaries.  There have been some blockbuster trades in baseball history.  Babe Ruth was swapped to the Yankees for cash and the Red Sox went 0 for the 20th century.  Lou Brock became a Hall of Famer after Ernie Broglio’s bum arm was sent to Wrigley.  Ryne Sandberg came to the Cubbies as a throw in to get Ivan DeJesus.  Atlanta got John Smoltz for a burned out Doyle Alexander. Boston got ace Pedro Martinez for a very average Montreal Carl Pavano.  Cubbie Ryan Sandberg excepted, most of these future Hall of Famers brought their teams championships and glory.  For the team on the downside, they brought years of indigestion and heartache.  Baseball trades are fun if you’re on the winning side. 

In baseball sometimes there are no trades to be made, so it is with our text: “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  The implied answer is there is nothing you can give in exchange – no trade you can make - for your soul.  There is no profit in gaining even the whole world at the expense of your eternal life. 

The Christian life has two bookends – two essential comings of Jesus that should always be foremost in our minds and thoughts, guiding us in how we live and how we die.  Yet, I fear for myself, and you may find you relate, that it’s easy to remember Jesus’ first coming, His life, death and resurrection – but hard to remember and hold before mind and heart this one certain truth – Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead…  We cherish our American citizenship but forget Philippians 3 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

            Karl Marx thought this was the great weakness of Christianity – that it acted like a drug to focus people on eternity and not act for good in the here and now.  I think it’s just the opposite: that a Christian and a church focused on both Christ’s first and Second Coming will accomplish great things as we serve God by serving our neighbor. 

Truthfully, our greatest failure is that we forget our heavenly citizenship – we forget Christ’s Second Coming.  We get so engrossed and preoccupied with this world stuff and everyday responsibilities that we give little thought to exerting ourselves on behalf of Christ and building His Kingdom.  There is good evidence for that in a poll by Christian pollster George Barna showing that self-professed Christians believe strongly in heaven, greatly fewer believe in hell.

            Life’s responsibilities, work, school, family tear us a million different directions to the effect that we become insular and withdrawn, selfishly hording what little time we’re offered.  Mistaking wants for needs, our priorities shuffle God and neighbor well down the list.  Our families become a rat-race, and we lose eternal perspective.  But true priorities can only be set in our lives and homes when we consider both Jesus’ first coming and His assured return. “Be prepared.  He is coming soon.” 

             “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”  What does it mean to forfeit one’s soul?  Simply put, it is to squander the eternal inheritance Christ won for you by His death and resurrection for the sake of passing, earthly pleasures.  To forfeit one’s soul is to live as if something you’re doing in this world can one day be exchanged for future joy in heaven.

            Hell is not a pleasant topic.  That’s why even too many churches forget to talk about it and so many so-called Christians give it no thought.  But the Bible tells us a lot about Judgment Day.  Jesus described heaven in terms of a great celebration God the Father throws for Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church – and hell is for those who aren’t ready when the Bridegroom comes.  The door of Paradise is shut because they’re thinking about their own things.  Jesus said those who go to hell spend eternity in weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Mark 9 He spoke of hell in terms of a maggot-covered carcass: “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

            Luke 16 portrays hell as an agonizing fire.  In those verses the truly frightening thing about hell isn’t simply the torment and suffering, bad as it is to imagine worm covered flesh. Many people endure excruciating agony, yet such pain can be relieved.  Medicine, or even unconsciousness, can provide a relief from physical suffering.  In Luke 16, the bad thing about hell is it never ends, and there is no lapse into unconsciousness.  It’s the never-ending, conscious torment of awful agony.  No medication brings relief and there’s no hope of an end in sight for those who go to hell.  The Rich Man begged to have Lazarus touch his burning tongue with a drop of water.  It’s this horrible reality of Judgment waiting for those who live to “gain the whole world” that causes God in His Word to sound the warning so strongly and often that there’s nothing you can give in exchange for your soul – no trade you can make.

            You could pout about the injustice of it all, but Scripture says it’s what you’ve earned.  It’s what our misplaced priorities and unanchored lives deserve. Much more pleasant to imagine hell for the likes of Marx or Hitler or Stalin or notorious criminals, yet God’s Law says you and I pile our offenses up to heaven.  What can a man give in exchange for His soul?  That’s the answer the world would like to know.  What trade can we make?  Then we can go our same way, knowing how to store up our treasures so we can be ready when it’s time to “pay the piper.”  The answer in our text is a clear emphatic – nothing.  You have nothing of eternal value to exchange, no resources to meet your debt.

            Before you walk out in despair – I have some good news for you!  While your resources are too puny to exchange for your soul’s salvation, God the Father sent His Son into the world for exactly that reason.  Jesus is God in human flesh.  Only becoming one with you as a true man was Jesus able to carry your failures, sins and poor priorities. 

            At the cross, Jesus made the only exchange for your eternal souls, exchanging His life, even suffering God the Father’s righteous judgment so that you and I wouldn’t have to.  In His agonizing cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?” God gives us a glimpse of the depths of His love… so deep that He willingly laid our sins on Jesus… so deep that Jesus could say, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.  No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down of My own accord. I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”  Isaiah described this great exchange this way: “We considered Jesus stricken by God, smitten and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.”

            What can a man give in exchange for His soul? Nothing.  But Christ, the man who is true God, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-man who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, gave everything for you and for your soul.  And what He gave wasn’t simply enough, it was so super-abundantly enough that His death and resurrection remains the redemptive ransom by which you live, not in holy terror of your eternal future, but watchfully and expectantly. “Because He lives, you will live also,” John wrote. 

Through Spirit-given faith, Jesus’ reward has become your reward.  His Sonship has made you sons and daughters. St. John wrote, “To those who believe on His Name He gives the right to be called children of God.”  His riches have become your own.  At the cross, He made the exchange which erases every debt.  His blood quenches the flames that threaten to burn you to the ground. Through faith, He clothed you in His own holiness, covering your sinful filth, and preparing a perfect place for you. In the very body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, He offers the fire-quenching blood of salvation and the “Bread from Heaven which a man may eat and never die.”

            That’s a good trade.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection enable you to live confidently, joyfully receiving His cross-won victory in His Word and the Lord’s Supper, joyfully clinging in your hearts to His victory, even as you serve Him in the joyous certainty that His work is enough.  His trade is perfect.  His exchange gives you hope for this life and the next when He raises these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. 

Now we’re in the stretch run toward the crown.  Now we have work to do, lives of purpose.  We live not for ourselves but for Him who redeemed us by His blood. Now your today has meaning beyond yourself, but God sets you on a path to living His love toward your neighbor, and all to God’s glory.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.