Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
February 25, 2018
There once was a wealthy oilman who was speeding down the highway in his brand-new Ferrari. As he came around a corner, he approached a bridge over a deep gorge. He lost control of his car. He hit the side of the bridge and was thrown out of the car on to the edge of the gorge. The car went careening into the river far below. As he was thrown out of the car, the last arm was severely mangled. Now a trucker was following and saw what had happened. The trucker jumped out of his truck and rushed over to the injured man. The man was regaining consciousness and asked, “what happened?” The trucker explained that there had been a crash and that the car had fallen into the gorge. The oilman cried out, “oh no, my Ferrari!” The trucker said, “What! dude, you are so lucky to have your life…even though you did seriously hurt…” and the trucker looked down to the man’s left arm. The oilman looks down to his crushed left arm and screamed, “Oh no! not my gold Rolex!”
Unfortunately, the wealthy oilman’s set of warped values are not uncommon. We hold fast to our hard-won treasures. After all, don’t we deserve it? We’ve earned it! However, Jesus today asks us a hard question: do we value the Ferraris, the gold Rolexes, our earthly treasures, over life itself?
There is only one Bible verve in the New Testament that is repeated six times on the lips of Jesus. It is one of Jesus’ hardest teaching, and it is at the core of what it means to follow Jesus:
“If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me; whoever finds their life, loses it; whoever loses their life finds it. What does it profit you, if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”
Jesus’ saying is a paradox of faithful living. Yet, we are indeed taught early on what makes a good, successful life. Study hard. Get good grades. Get a great paying job. Get a home, a car and a family. These are all worthy things to have. But they don’t constitute a life. Sir. Winston Churchill defined it well when he observed, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
Jesus encourages us to think along similar lines. We make a life by what we give. It is a fundamental spiritual principle. If we lose ourselves in giving and sacrificial caring, we gain the world. If we find ourselves wrapped up in making a living, in getting, getting, getting – the latest, the most fashionable, in being number one – we lose out on what truly matters. We lose our soul when we become obsessed and too attached to the things of the world – the latest gadgets, the fattest bank accounts, beating out everyone with whatever it takes to gain prominence and renown in our fields of work. Jesus warns us elsewhere in the gospel: we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:19-21).
Jesus tells us plainly if we want to be his followers, we must take up the cross. We all know the purpose of the cross. The cross is an instrument of execution of the worst kind. For centuries in the Roman world it was the favored form of execution for foreigners. It was a painful, slow agonizing death. No doubt Jesus and his disciples saw crucifixions throughout the land. They were a common sight. But the impact of the symbol of the cross has been blurred for us. We wear beautiful, sometimes gem-encrusted, gold or silver crosses around our necks. Celebrities parade fancy crosses along with provocative dress, as if they were the latest accessory craze. The cross bas become a chic logo, a brand name.
The cross should hit with the brute force of seeing a miniature electric chair or an AR-15 assault rifle or some variety thereof, hanging around someone’s neck. It hits us in the gut. So, we are called to the cross with the knowledge that Jesus was brutally murdered on one, and because of his sacrifice has taken something ugly, something harsh, and transformed it into a symbol of salvation, a beacon to leading a loving, generous, self-emptying life, which blesses the world and blesses ourselves in the process. The evangelist Billy Graham, who died this past week at age 99, put it this way: “God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.”
The Greek word translated as “deny” means “to refuse to give any thought to, to express concern for, or to pay attention to.” The cross for us at its heart is a symbol of self-denial and the choice to choose other-centeredness over selfish pursuits. Jesus put his own desires aside, went to the cross and died for us. Jesus didn’t want to die. He begged the Father to let that cup pass from him. Jesus accepted his Father’s will and surrendered his life for our sake. So, the process of spiritual crucifixion is to daily deny ourselves, to risk, in order to improve the life of others, and shape ourselves into Christ-centered, other-focused people.
We think of the sacrifice of young Peter Wong, who at age 15 years died serving his fellow students at the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. We remember his teachers Scott Siegel, Chris Hixon and Aaron Feis, who also died protecting students. No matter what we think of gun violence issues, we see the uprising of students the past few weeks across the nation on behalf of their dead friends, we have seen the youth of the country organizing to create a better, safer life for us all. In their pain they have been led to learn self-sacrifice.
It all reminds me of another student, Sophie Scholl, who was executed 75 years ago in Germany for taking part in a student resistance movement. Her final words were, “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
We may not be called to die on behalf of someone else. However, we are called to give deeply of ourselves to improve the life of others. To live the faith the cross symbolizes – a life like that of Jesus, who confronted sin, consoled the despairing, ate with outcasts and sinners. Abraham and Sarah, they too are an example of ordinary people called out retirement, to leave the familiar and comforts behind, to trust a God who said, “I shall build nations from you,” “from you others shall be blessed (Gen. 12:2).”
So, everyday God says to us, you are a part of the great plan of centuries. Come out from behind you desk. Turn off the TV. Come out from your comfort zone. Let me bless you so you can serve. Let your faith come alive as you care and protect. You are meant for a life rooted with overflowing treasures in heaven. A life characterized by Christlike faith. A life overflowing in service. A life rooted in hope that is inspired by the Lord Jesus, a life inspired by his sacrifice on the cross – so we dare to proclaim like the apostle Paul:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).”
You see, at the close of life, the question to us will not be, “How much have you gotten?” but “How much have you given?” Not, “How much have you won?” but “How much have you done?” Not “How much have you saved?” but “How much have you sacrificed? It will be “How much have you loved and served?” not “How much were you honored?” It’s time to lose—so all can live. For there is nothing we can give in turn for the gift of our life. Nothing.
It is time. Throw away the Ferraris and Rolexes. Throw away the fear. Throw away the doubt. Let seek the righteousness of the kingdom. Let us pick up the cross and follow Messiah Jesus – so together we can live life to its fullest. Amen.
Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24 And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me.
Mark 8:34 And when he had called the people to him with his disciples also, …
Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said to him, One thing you …
Luke 9:23-27 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny …
Luke 14:27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/billy_graham