Monday, March 05, 2012

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "Savers become losers, but losers gain a Savior!"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Today’s Gospel, Peter learns what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of Man, God’s chosen Savior. Jesus sets out the way of the cross; suffering, sacrificial living. Peter has a thing or two to say about this, rebuking Jesus. We think very much like Peter most of the time. Peter wants to shape Jesus’ mission to align with his thinking—manmade thoughts, and gets a sharp rebuke. We also have our preconceived ideas of how our life should turn out.
2.      Jesus challenges all of His disciples (us included) to accept the way of the cross both for Himself and His followers. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?”
3.      Peter’s/our view: save Jesus’ skin, a friend/teacher; self-preservation. Jesus dying? What would that accomplish? It sounded like foolish talk to him. Jesus was young, vital, compelling, popular, if somewhat polarizing as a figure. Surely there was much yet to be accomplished! Death couldn’t factor into the plan anywhere, certainly not anytime soon! Jesus’ “career potential”—what would happen if His life were abruptly cut short? Everything would be lost! No, the thoughts of men would not allow such a puzzling and illogical statement as this: “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected...and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
4.      But the foolishness of the cross is the power of God for salvation, and His “foolishness” is wiser than man’s wisdom. The thoughts of men wouldn’t allow it, but the thoughts of God were precisely these—that the Son of Man should suffer, die and rise. This was in fact how Jesus would fully realize His role as Christ. Only at the cross and empty tomb would His work be “clinched” so that the pronouncement: “It is finished” could be made. Only through this death and resurrection would the rightful reign and universal proclamation of the gospel be sealed and established. Suddenly the teachings of a Jewish rabbi with an unlikely following of fishermen-disciples, in a backwater region of the Roman empire would be launched onto the world stage. With incredible speed, and without the benefit of the internet, television, or radio, Jesus’ teachings would be spread to the distant ends of the Roman Empire. Far beyond in the centuries to come. Far from being the event that “ruined Jesus’ messianic prospects”, the death and resurrection was concrete proof that Jesus was no ordinary prophet or rabbi, but a man unlike any the world had seen before or would see since. Turned people to Jesus in remarkable numbers. God used His cross to accomplish His will.
5.      His power to gather followers to Him wasn’t His willingness to please people or give them favors or temporal rewards; not in the easy life it promised; not in military or brute force; not in the allure or deception of secretive teachings for the initiated, but it was through open and public statement of the truth. Even when it ran up against treasured religious traditions, against the pride and presumption of authority, against the lack of morality of the generation, against the selfishness in mankind’s own heart that would pursue personal gain and pleasure instead of God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Despite the fact that He chafed so many because of what they believed, despite the fact that He wielded no earthly power to compel it, His voice rang out with the Truth, and combined with His resurrection from the dead, turned even hardened objectors over to Him.
6.       And the followers who joined themselves to Him, often risking everything, even life—were loyal even till death. The disciples, all but one, were eventually martyred for their faith in Jesus, one by one. None ever renounced what they had heard, what they had seen with their own eyes, what they had looked upon and touched with their own hands concerning the word of life (1 John 1:1), Jesus Christ. Weak and cowardly men were made bold and fearless beyond recognition (Acts 4:13). Far from being ashamed of Jesus and His words, they became His boldest missionaries. God used the cross to accomplish His will.
7.      Peter thought he saw the logical way for Jesus to fulfill His mission, and whatever that was, it didn’t include suffering and a cross. We too sometimes “see” what we understand to be the logical way for God to carry out His will and work in our lives. We’ve got a neatly defined plan where things go according to our wishes, and it doesn’t involve suffering or sacrifice. Certainly almost none of us are planning on martyrdom--dying for our faith. Those thoughts are far from us. We have goals that we aim to accomplish, a future to secure, and objectives along the way. We don’t factor in any sidetracks due to suffering. That’s not part of our personal discipleship plan. But are our plans are not God’s plans, and our ways are not His ways. Taking up the cross and following Jesus means that sacrificial living and even suffering for His sake are part of His discipleship plan for us. They shape His love in us. He will use the cross, both Jesus’ cross and our crosses, to accomplish His will.
8.       It’s worth examination here to consider: what ways has God called us to sacrificial living? Why is sacrificial love the greatest love? What of the danger to define sacrificial living only in terms of the calculated sacrifices that I am willing to make, versus the unexpected, un-calculated sacrifices that God calls me to make? We are learning about Jonah in our Lenten midweek series, how he was called to make a sacrifice, to go to the feared and hated city Nineveh, capital of the military super-terror Assyria. He was not willing to make that sacrifice God called him to. It was more than he was willing to bear. Jonah had “bad-luck” trying to escape this calling, however. But in the end, God worked it out for good.
9.      Sacrificial living is not caught up in trying to save our lives, preserve our goods at all costs, and trust in self rather than God. Sacrificial living is not calculating how much of the cross am I willing to bear--but rather discovers that God has placed a cross on me and asks: “How am I to bear it faithfully?” Even Jesus stumbled and fell on the road while carrying the heavy  beams of His cross, and Simon of Cyrene came to shoulder it with Him. So also Jesus does not leave you crushed under your own cross, but He bears it with you. Lean heavily on Him in faith and you’ll find your burdens relieved, though not gone. Peter’s initial vision was the way of a cross-less life. Jesus’ call was not so. It included a cross. But it included far greater reward than Peter could have imagined. To lose our life, to give it over to Christ in sacrificial living is to find our life in Him. All is lost through trying to keep our life. Yet paradoxically, all is to be gained through losing our life. Those who try to save their life end up as losers. They can’t hold onto it. No matter if it takes 60, 80, or 100 years, there is nothing in this life that we can hold onto that we won’t eventually lose—except this one person—Jesus Christ. If we hold on to Him, all that we lose we gain in greater measure. Those who lose their life for Christ’s sake—letting go to take up our cross and follow Him—they are the ones who gain a Savior. Savers will be losers, but losers gain a Savior! God accomplishes this through His cross as well!
10.  And what do they gain in return? Those who were not ashamed of Jesus or His words, Jesus will not be ashamed of them when He comes in His glory. Jesus stands up and commends us to God the Father, and calls us His faithful disciple. If we are not ashamed to humbly take up His calling and bear our cross, He will not be ashamed to say of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your father’s glory!” Jesus’ glory and His kingdom will be our certain inheritance and reward. Losing everything for Him, we gain all through our Savior. Trading earthly things that spoil for heavenly things that never perish.
11.  Finally, consider how Jesus displayed sacrificial love and forgiveness in the face of death. Hanging on the cross and calling words of forgiveness to His tormentors. We are so easily shaken, unsettled, irritated, provoked by the slightest of troubles. A snappy answer from our spouse or child, an inconvenience that delays us on our way to work or out of the house, a stubbed toe or banged elbow boils our blood and makes us howl out God’s name in vain.
12.  How little tolerance we have for even the thinnest forms of difficulty. And yet how astonishing Jesus’ love from the cross? It seems to us to transcend what is possible for human nature. That it could not possibly be human. And it is very true from the perspective of our sinful nature, that this kind of sacrificial love is beyond what we’re capable of. And yes this truly was Jesus’ divine love, as the very Son of God. By it Jesus purely expressed forgiveness and divine love beyond what we knew as possible. But even more than this, we must know that Jesus’ actions and love, shown here on the cross was the truest and purest expression of humanity as well! Our human behaviors, anger, jealousy, etc are the aberration, not His great love. His sacrificial love is was God intended to live in all of humanity.  
13.   If we want to understand what true humanity is, what God is shaping us to be in Christ—then we should study and know Jesus—because He is true human, in every way as we are, and yet also true God, in every way equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our crosses in life are God’s way of accomplishing His will in us, and transforming us to have the true humanity, the genuine sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. And we will find in this love of Christ a deeper and more satisfying love than any of its poor earthly shadows. Because we are His disciples, His love is alive in us as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What was Peter’s objection to Jesus’ description of His own mission? Cf. Matt. 16:22. What aspect of discipleship (following Jesus) would we like to avoid as well? What does God accomplish in suffering? Rom. 5:1-5

2.      How did God’s seemingly “illogical” plan for Jesus work out for the salvation of all, and the monumental spread of the good news about His salvation? 1 Cor. 1:18-25; Acts 2:41, 47

3.      What compelled people to believe in Jesus, even despite the fact that His teachings often chafed the people? John 6:60-69; 7:25-31; 18:20

4.      How did the disciple’s witness of Jesus’ resurrection transform their fear to boldness and seal their loyalty to Him? Acts 4:13; 1 John 1:1

5.      How has God called you to sacrificial living? What does that look like for you? How are we challenged to sacrifice not only what we are willing, but what God calls us to? Why is sacrificial love the greatest love? John 15:13; Rom. 5:6-10

6.      Even though we lose our lives in Christ, what do we gain in return? Why is it impossible to save our lives here and now? Matt. 6:19-20; 25:23; 1 Pet. 1:3-5.

7.      What is the joy and satisfaction of being embraced in and learning to live a Christ-like, sacrificial love? How does this reflect the “true humanity” that God wills to produce in each of us through the cross?

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