2nd Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “No pain, no gain.” Have you ever heard that old adage before? I think we all understand it, but most of us probably don’t like it. Take exercising, for example. I’m guessing that most of us realize that it’s important to be active, to exercise. I try to do that, once in a while. But I’ll tell you that there are days when I’ll absolutely dread it, put it off, come up with every reason not to do it, claim that I’m too busy, have too many important things to do, I think about running and the sweat, the fatigue, the heavy breathing, the struggle- I just don’t want to do it. But what’s interesting, every time that I have worked out, afterwards, there hasn’t been one time when I said, “Well, that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it.” Actually, quite the opposite is true, afterwards I feel better, I’m glad that I did it. So, it’s true, “no pain, no gain.”
But we don’t like that! We’d much rather have it easy! It’d be much easier to sit on my couch and eat ice cream and potato chips, it’d be much easier to sit and relax in an easy chair than to run on a treadmill. But in the long run, that’s far, far worse for me. But there’s a part of each of us that wants things to be easy. There’s a part of us that wants a life of ease, to experience success after success after success. The world in which we live is programmed that way, isn’t it? We couldn’t imagine living in a home without in door plumbing or electricity. In fact, it’s gone way beyond that, technology companies thrive on making life easier. Think of what you can do literally at your finger tips with a smartphone, or how you can sit in your easy chair and tell your voice-controlled Alexa device to turn the lights on, change your tv station, or order you something that will arrive in a package on your door step!
We want things to be easy. We want things to work out. We want success. And perhaps that’s a carry over from how it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Everything was great, everything was easy, there was no difficulty. But that changed when sin entered the world, but that hasn’t stopped us from longing for paradise and perhaps trying to create paradise here on earth.
So, the word of God that we have before us this morning is so counter-cultural, so opposite, so contrary to what we might normally expect or want. It’s likely the final year of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And for the first time Jesus reveals to His disciples the exactly what He came to do. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many thing and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after thee days rise again.” Did you see it? Jesus MUST suffer, MUST be rejected, MUST be killed. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?
Well, to understand that, we need to understand that whenever there is a crime, an offense, a sin there’s a debt that has to be paid. Think about it, if you’re at someone else’s home and you knock over their lamp and it breaks, there’s two things that can happen: either you pay for the lamp or they do. Either you say, “I’m so sorry, here’s 50 dollars for your lamp.” Or, they might say, “No, that’s ok, don’t worry about.” The debt isn’t gone, they are just absorbing the debt themselves. Either they go and buy a new lamp for $50 or they walk around in the dark, they’re absorbing the cost.
That’s the way it is with our crimes, our offenses, our sins against God. There’s a debt that needs to be paid. Either we pay that debt and all suffer forever in hell or God pays that debt. God looks at this world of sinners and His heart of love doesn’t want a single person to have to pay that debt. That’s why Jesus MUST suffer and die. God doesn’t want us to pay the debt of our sins, so He is going to absorb the cost of our sins Himself with His own blood. Jesus must suffer many things.
But Peter doesn’t like what he’s hearing. And so Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Rebukes Jesus! “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” The term “rebuke” is the same term used when Jesus rebuked demons. Jesus had to suffer. If Jesus didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t have a Savior. If Jesus didn’t go to the cross we’d be hopelessly lost and facing eternal death. Jesus had to take up His cross in order to rescue and save us.
Then Jesus called the crowd to himself and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Can you imagine being there and hearing these words for the first time? Notice that Jesus does NOT say, “If you want to follow me, take up your great popularity, your luxury yacht, your calm, peaceful, easy, happy and painless life, and follow me.” Rather, what does He say? If you want to be counted as one of my followers, you must DENY self, deny your wants and your desires and your things, deny that you’re the #1 important thing of your life, and pick up your instrument of torture and follow me.”
Jesus continues, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” If someone loves their earthly life, the pleasures, the things, the toys, an easy life free from being confrontation, free from being attacked for their faith, free from a connection with Jesus, they will lose their eternal life. On the other hand, anyone whose life is crucified with Christ, whoever can say, “‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,’ and there is nothing in this life that can make me deny my faith or deny my Savior, be it death itself,” that person’s life is saved for eternity. How precious is one’s eternal life, their soul? “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Permit the impossible for a second. Even if you could have the whole world, everything in it is yours, all yours; it doesn’t even come near how precious your eternal soul is and how precious eternal life is!
Just as Jesus was serious about His work and was not ashamed to set aside his glory in order to save humans, so He’s dead serious about people not being ashamed to be connected with Him: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” One of the most dreaded things for any person alive is to feel ashamed, to feel dumb, to be looked down on. But this makes sense to even human standards: if someone is ashamed of Jesus, ashamed to be a follower of Jesus, ashamed of what Jesus says, then it makes perfect sense that in the end when Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords that HE be ashamed of them for being so foolish.
These are hard words from our Savior, aren’t they? Just like Jesus went from cross and suffering here to glory hereafter, that’s the pattern for our lives. No pain, no gain. It’s true for many things in life, it’s also true as Christians. But why? Why would Jesus tell us these things? Why would Jesus tell us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him? Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it? What good could possibly come out of all the suffering that we face for being Christian? What good could come out of denying myself and my desires to put God and His Word first in my life and service to my neighbor second? What good could come out of a constant struggle in life not to sin? What good could possibly come out of the difficulties, the problems, the hardships of life?
God knows us better than we know ourselves. You see, if we had everything that we wanted, if our lives were pain-free, trouble-free, if we were continually successful, we would have less and less and less of a need for a Savior, we would have less and less reason to God to the Lord for strength in the midst of difficulty, we would so easily lose sight of Jesus.
But it is in suffering, in bearing the cross, that we begin to doubt our own strength, our own ability to save ourselves, we remember our sin, our frailty, our constant, total, absolute need of our Savior. Our crosses drive us back to Jesus and His cross, His suffering and death for our sins, the salvation He won for us.
Think about all the things that drive us to our knees today, that refocus our attention off of the things in this world, that cause us to look for peace and safety outside of ourselves and rather in our Savior Jesus, are we going to be complaining about them in heaven? Are we going to be upset with those things that caused us to focus on our dear Lord and Savior in heaven? Are we going to be troubled by all of the problems that made us give up our worldly security or self-security for hope and security in Christ alone, when we’re in heaven?
It’s Jesus and His cross that lead us to see that when we have everything, Jesus is all we need. It’s Jesus’ and His cross that also leads us to see that when we have nothing, Jesus is all we need. You see, because you have Jesus, because you have a God who loves you so much that He sent Jesus to suffer your eternal punishment, you have everything! You have eternal life! You have a God who loves you more than you will ever know! That means when you have Him, it doesn’t matter what you lose in this life, because in Him you have everything!
When I know the love of God for me in Christ, that God absorbed in himself the payment for all of my sins on the cross, that my King loved me that much to rescue me eternally, that in him I have life, joy, peace, hope, and heaven, I begin to find my identity, my success, my significance, my security in Him and in His never-ending love for me.
And what happens is that it changes my entire view of this life and the things of this life. Suddenly, I’m ready to give up all, forsake all, lose all things, because in the end, they don’t matter.
When you have it all- the only thing you need is Jesus
When you have nothing – the only thing you need is Jesus