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A Lesson In Life And in Death

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TITLE:  A Lesson in Life and in Death                Mark 8:31-38


      Jesus "began to teach (his disciples)

      that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering,

      and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,

      and be killed, and after three days rise again" (v. 31).

      "And Peter took (Jesus) aside

      and began to rebuke him" (v. 32b).

Listen to that one more time.  After Jesus said that he must suffer and die, "Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him."

Isn't that surprising!  Isn't it surprising that Peter would rebuke Jesus?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Shouldn't Jesus be the one to do the rebuking -- not Peter?  Who is Peter to be rebuking Jesus?  What right does a disciple have to rebuke the rabbi?  What right has the student to rebuke the teacher?

As you would expect, Jesus did not take Peter's rebuke lying down.  "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. 

"Get behind me!"  That's where a disciple belongs isn't it -- behind the teacher, not in front -- following, not leading.

"Get behind me, SATAN!"  Peter had been Jesus' disciple, but he had become Jesus' tempter.  Jesus said, "For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (v. 33). 

Peter was surprised at the sharp nature of Jesus' rebuke.  He had intended to help Jesus -- to "buck him up" -- to get him back into a positive frame of mind.  But Jesus had his own agenda.  He had come to save the world -- how could you have a more positive frame of mind than that -- but Jesus didn't intend to do it by promising people a bed of roses.  He came to save the world by dying on a cross and by rising on the third day -- by embracing death and then conquering it.

That was Jesus' plan.  That was God's plan.  Jesus needed Peter to quit tempting him to take the easy way out.  He needed Peter to get on board with God's plan -- death and resurrection. 

Jesus needs us to get on board too.  He needs us to embrace the cross.  That isn't easy.  Jesus says:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them deny themselves

      and take up their cross

      and follow me" (v. 34).

We don't want to hear that any more than Peter did.  We want Jesus to tell us that he will make it easy for those who follow him.  We want to "Believe and Grow Rich." 

Some years ago, Napoleon Hill wrote a popular book entitled "THINK and Grow Rich."  That book has been in print for over seventy years and has sold millions of copies.  The result!  Napoleon Hill grew rich!  Whether it helped anyone else is hard to tell.

Some preachers have borrowed Napoleon Hill's idea.  They preach "BELIEVE and Grow Rich" sermons.  They tell people that Jesus wants his disciples to prosper -- to drive Mercedes -- to live in McMansions -- to wear Rolex watches.  But that isn't what Jesus said.  Listen to what Jesus said:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them DENY themselves

      and take up their CROSS

      and FOLLOW me" (v. 34).

So why would a preacher say that Jesus wants his followers to drive a Mercedes and live in a McMansion?  Because it sells!  That is called the Prosperity Gospel, and people eat it up.  They want to hear that there is an easy path to wealth, so they flock to Prosperity Gospel churches and send money to Prosperity Gospel TV preachers.  The result!  The result is that Prosperity Gospel preachers drive Mercedes and live in McMansions and wear Rolexes.  Whether they help anyone else is hard to tell.

So if you want to grow rich, write a book entitled "Believe and Grow Rich."

And if you want to grow REALLY rich, write a book entitled, "Believe and Grow THIN." 

But if you want to be rich through eternity, take up your cross and follow Jesus.

In a conversation with a friend recently.  He told me that he had found a wonderful church.  He said that the sermons were very practical -- advice for everyday living. 

That sounded good, but I wondered if they might be leaving out something -- something important.  I asked, "What about the cross and resurrection?  Do they ever mention the cross and resurrection?"  The cross and resurrection are, after all, the heart of the Gospel -- the heart of the Good News.  My friend said, "I think they would generally agree with those things, but you probably won't hear them in the sermon.

I attended my friend's church.  He was right.  The preacher never mentioned the cross or resurrection.  He read one verse of scripture, but didn't spend any time helping us to understand it.  He never said anything about taking up our crosses and following Jesus.  In fact, he never mentioned Jesus -- not once.  He spoke at length about kindness.  He had some good thoughts -- but nothing that you couldn't get from the pages of Reader's Digest.  The problem wasn't what the preacher was saying.  It was what he chose not to say.  It was what he was leaving out.

Most Christian churches talk about Word and Sacrament.  The church's mission is Word and Sacrament.  By Word, we mean the Word of God -- the scriptures and the preached Word.  By Sacraments, we mean baptism and the Lord's supper. 

In the service that I attended with my friend, there was neither Word nor Sacrament.  They had cut out the heart of the Gospel -- and deliberately so.  Why!  Why would you cut the heart out of the Gospel!  Because they believe that people want easy answers!  And, to some extent that is true.  People do want easy answers.  But trying to preach without the cross is like trying to build a house without hammer or saw.  After all, nails might hurt the wood.  The saw might amputate a board. 

But I want a house built with lots of nails, because that house is more likely to withstand the storms of life.  And a cross-centered church is more likely to prepare me to survive the ups and downs of life.  It is more likely to prepare me for this life and for eternity.

Jesus says:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them deny themselves

      and take up their cross

      and follow me."

Let me tell you a story.  Michael Card is a contemporary Christian musician.  When I say "contemporary," I don't mean young.  Card was born in 1957, which means that he has passed the half century mark.  He is middle-aged and bald, but he still sings his music and witnesses to his Lord.  You can see him on YouTube, if you are so inclined.  In fact, I recommend it.  Just go to Google and type in Michael Card.  That will bring up several YouTube links where Card sings his beautiful music.  I think you will like it.

When Card was young, he attended Western Kentucky University, where he pursued studies in physics, astronomy, and the Bible.  That's an interesting combination, isn't it -- physics, astronomy, and the Bible. 

One of his professors was Dr. William Lane, a New Testament scholar.  One of his young friends was Randy Scruggs -- the son of the great Bluegrass artist, Earl Scruggs.  In later years, Randy became a great country singer in his own right. 

Card always enjoyed music, but had never considered being a professional musician -- but one thing led to another.  Dr. Lane asked him to write songs to accompany the worship at their church, and Card did so.  Then Scruggs, who wanted to be a music producer, asked Card to make some demo tapes.  When Scruggs sent those tapes to a record label, they agreed to hire Scruggs as a producer if he would produce a record of Card's music. 

In the years since, Card has written and sung such popular songs as "El Shaddai" and "Immanuel" and "Heal Our Land."  He has had an enduring Christian witness through his music and his life.

Some years after Card graduated from college, he got a phone call from Dr. Lane -- the Biblical scholar who started Card on his musical career.  Lane had been told that he was dying of cancer.  He asked if it would be all right if he moved to Franklin, Tennessee, where Card and his family lived.  He said, "I want to show you how a Christian man dies."

Dr. Lane did that.  He showed Card how a Christian man dies.  Throughout his life he had lived for Christ, and he determined to make even his death a witness to Christ.  He wasted nothing -- neither life nor death.  Both became holy in the hands of this devoted Christian man.  He fashioned both his life and his death into gifts that blessed all who knew him.  He did more than to teach Michael Card how to die.  He taught him -- and all who knew him -- both how to live and how to die.

Let's be clear here.  Dr. Lane did not choose to die.  He didn't commit suicide.  He had cancer for which there was no treatment.  He was going to die -- and soon.  That was a fact -- a fact over which Dr. Lane seemingly had no power. 

But, because he had much earlier committed his life to Christ, this dying man knew that he still had something to live for -- something to give.  As he had lived to the glory of God, he knew that he could also die to the glory of God.  And that's what he did.  He died in the firm hope that death is not the end.  He died believing in the resurrection.

Jesus says:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them deny themselves

      and take up their cross

      and follow me."

If you will do that --if you will deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus -- nothing in your life will be wasted -- nothing.  Both in life and in death, you will bless those who know you.  Both in life and in death, you will be blessed by the one in whose hands you have placed your life.

It doesn't matter whether you are young or old.  It is never too early to start your journey with Jesus -- and it is never too late.  Even if you have just a few days left to live, give those days to Jesus.  He will bless those days for you, and he will make it possible for you to bless others during those days.  Nothing that you give Jesus will ever be wasted.

Let me conclude by repeating Jesus' words one more time.  Listen carefully.  Jesus says:

      "If any want to become my followers,

      let them deny themselves

      and take up their cross

      and follow me."

(Pause: Give that verse a moment of silence to do its work.) Amen.

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