Date: Sunday February 23, 1997
NT Text: Mark 8:31-38
Sermon Title: Having God's Things in Mind
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Having God's Things in Mind
Today is the second Sunday in the Lent season. As we contemplate Christ's act of salvation on the cross of Calvary, we are called to do a reality check on our Christian lives. We are challenged to look at our lives through the lens of God's values. We are invited to pause and reflect on God's will for our lives.
Our scripture text from Mark 8:31-38 tells us that Jesus was teaching his disciples about a Messiah who had to suffer. Understandably, the disciples thought that Jesus had lost his mind. Peter's protest expressed the sentiments and hopes not only of the disciples, but of the entire nation of Israel. "Come on, Jesus, You've got all the power in the world. What do you mean... suffer!? We won't let that happen to you. We've got to fight those Romans."
When Jesus spoke of the suffering and death of the Messiah his disciples could not believe what they were hearing. All their lives they had connected the Messiah with a power-figure who would save God's people from their oppressors. Therefore the idea of a suffering Messiah just did not make any sense.
Did you notice how Jesus became rather abrupt when Peter tried to talk "some sense" into him? Jesus recognized the voice of the tempter, who had come to him in the dessert. Jesus did not want to suffer and die. He knew that he possessed the strength and power from God to bring down the angelic hosts and destroy Israel's enemies once for all. In the concerned words of his friend Peter Jesus recognized the temptation of the devil. The devil was tempting him again to fall down and worship him, to take the road of least resistance rather than God's way.
Isn't it interesting how the devil tries to persuade us through the words of a well-meaning friend to play it safe in our lives. Sometimes, an opportunity for Christian service, or an opportunity to stand up for justice and peace comes our way. In our hearts we are absolutely convinced that this is from God, and that he is calling us to obey His will. We know that it will cost us a lot in terms of "losing" some of the comforts that we have grown used to. However, we are at peace with our decision, knowing that it is God's will. As we share our decision with family and friends, they raise one red flag after another... Has this ever happened to you?
You see, the Devil is very clever. Without our knowledge he uses the people who are closest to us to break our spirits and our obedience to God. Peter was that special friend, who just a little while earlier had received a revelation from God when he confessed, "You are Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter's good intentions and his dedication to his Master kept him from seeing God's divine plan of salvation for humankind.
Jesus saw through the well-meaning words of his disciple. He caught the devil in the act, and called him on the carpet. Jesus was fully focused on God's agenda, not his own.
Then Jesus spoke of the seriousness of concentrating on God's agenda. 34 he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me". We are almost startled by the brutal honesty with which Jesus confronts his would-be followers. No one can ever say that they were not warned of the consequences of following Jesus.
In our "clean and neat" westernized Christian culture this almost sounds like an oxymoron. Someone switched the price tags. You see, at every turn our culture screams at us: "You must be yourself! You must actualize yourself! Be Numero Uno and bump off as many as you can on your way up the success ladder."
Jesus says, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself. Instead we must let Christ shine through us. The apostle Paul says, "It is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me." Self-denial doesn't imply a poor self-image that says, "poor me - I'm a nobody." Rather self-denial in the Christian sense implies knowing exactly who we are in relationship to God. He is the King of the universe - we are his servants, Princes, Children of God. We have everything to gain by denying ourselves.
Christ's challenge goes on, "He must take up his cross." In Jesus' day, to carry a cross was more than a personal hardship, or some aches and pains that the chiropractor can't help you with. (I'm not trying to make light of those crosses, that many of our people carry with them). However, in Jesus' day, the cross was the method of execution for criminals. Christ, in fact is saying, that his followers must be willing to suffer as criminals for his name's sake.
How does that sound for an incentive to follow Jesus in a day and age where we work as hard as we can in our early years, so that we can kick up our legs and relax in our retirement years? Jesus promises no instant gratification, but rather hardship. He gives us next no hope of winning a popularity contest, either. In Christ's service there is no room for playing King of the castle.
We may ask why? Why does Jesus make things so hard and complicated for us? We find the answer in verse 36 where Jesus says, 36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and lose your soul? 37 What can you give or possess in exchange for your soul? 38 If you are ashamed of me and my words in this corrupt generation I will disown you when you stand before my Father's throne. Therefore spend your life for God and you will live.
We are often tempted to fall down and worship the deceiver for a little bit of instant gratification. Sometimes we may be tempted to sacrifice our honor for personal gain or profit. We may put a higher value on material things than on spiritual growth and integrity.
Or we may be tempted to sacrifice our moral principles in exchange for popularity. We can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we always agree with everyone on controversial issues. Let us keep in mind that the question we will all need to face one day is not "What are the people going to think of me?" but, "What does God think of me?" It is not the verdict of public opinion, but the verdict of God that will determine our final destiny.
We may also be tempted to lower our standards and to settle for cheap rewards as long as we don't have to work to hard to earn them. So easily we become indifferent about things that go on around us. We find it too time-consuming and too much of a hassle to get involved in social, political, and even congregational matters. It's easier to keep our nose out of it and live with the decisions that others make for us. And so we sacrifice the best that could be for a cheap substitute.
We are also tempted to sacrifice eternity for the moment. There are many things in life - today more than ever before - that offer pleasure and success instantly, but that ruin our vision for eternity. Our real test in life is to seek the things that are from God. Our greatest mission in life is to have God's things in mind. ...to check ourselves against the life of the suffering Christ and measure our lives according to God's will.
All our efforts to actualize ourselves only pull us farther away from God. When we look out to be number one we risk leaving God out of our lives, to the point of cutting ourselves off entirely from the grace of God.
Jesus spells out the full extent of the price that we have to pay if we want to be his disciples. Jesus came, not to offer us an easy life, but to teach us the way to God. And in so doing, Jesus never expects anything from his followers that he isn't willing to do himself. He denied himself and followed God's will. He took up his cross and was crucified as a criminal.
Therefore, if we chose to follow Jesus in our lives we must ever deny ourselves and ask him to rule our every thought and action. God gave us LIFE in Jesus Christ, that we may offer it up to him as a living sacrifice.
God gave us life to spend and not to keep for ourselves. If we live carefully, always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort and security... if our sole aim is to make life as long and trouble-free as possible... if we make no effort except for ourselves, we will loose our life. But if we spend our life for others... if we disregard our health, our wealth, our time and comfort in an honest desire to do spend our life for God and our neighbor... then we are making a mark for eternity. There is nothing less than our very soul at stake here.
The question that each one of us has to answer before God is: Whose values are we representing? God's or our own? Whose agenda are we following in our lives? What matters the most to us?
The Lent season is a time in which we are encouraged to evaluate our lives in light of God's reconciling love for us. Jesus Christ spent his life that we may live. God's intervention in our lives requires a response from each of us. We must consider the what God has done for us. We must also consider the cost of discipleship. And we must decide.
Maybe you have already decided to be Christ's disciple, but have lost some of the vigor that moved you in the beginning. This is a good time to bring your life back in order with God, and to ask him to renew your life for him.
Maybe you're at a point in your life for the first time where Christ is asking you to consider the cost and to follow him. If that is the case, may God give you the strength of conviction to give your entire life to him.
Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Consider what Christ has done for you and give your life to him.