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Matt 16.21-28

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TITLE:  This Is Living! SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 16:21-28

In the Gospel lesson for last week, Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  The disciples said that some of the people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, the great contemporary prophet.  Others thought that Jesus might be Elijah or Jeremiah come back to life.

But then Jesus asked, "But who do YOU say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  Jesus commended Peter for his answer, and said that God had given Peter the right answer.  Then Jesus said:

"And I tell you, you are Peter"

(keep in mind that the Greek word petros means rock)

"And I tell you, you are Rock,

and on this rock I will build my church,

and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

Then, practically in his next breath, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to die –– that the great religious men of the nation were going to kill him. 

Stop and think about that!  Jesus is the Messiah.  He has just let his disciples know that.  And then he says that he must die.

That might not seem crazy to us, because we know the rest of the story.  We know about the cross, but we also know about the resurrection.  We know about Good Friday, but we also know about Easter.

But it sounded crazy to Peter.  He didn't know what to make of this crazy announcement by Jesus –– that he was the Messiah, but that he must die.  Was Jesus just having a bad day?  Jesus had recently been engaged in controversy with the powerful Pharisees.  Did it suddenly occur to him that they might try to kill him?  Was he afraid?  Peter didn't know what was going on.

But that didn't mean that Peter didn't have anything to say.  One thing you could always depend on –– Peter always had an opinion, and he seldom kept his opinion to himself.

So Peter took Jesus aside, and with his voice kept low so the other disciples wouldn't hear, Peter said, "God forbid it Lord!  This must never happen to you."

But Jesus responded, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; and you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  Tough talk!  Peter, who was a rock only a few verses ago, is now a stumbling block.

And then Jesus said this.  Please listen carefully, because what Jesus is about to say affects us –– affects you.  These are words that Jesus intended to be heard by his disciples at that time and through the rest of time.  These words outline what Jesus expects of us ––tell us how Jesus wants us to live.  Listen to what he says.  Jesus says:

"If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves

and take up their cross and follow me.

For those who want to SAVE their life will LOSE it,

and those who LOSE their life for my sake will FIND it.

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world

but forfeit their life?

Or what will they give in return for their life?"

So what does Jesus require of us?  Do we really need to die for Jesus?

For most of us, the answer will be no –– but we shouldn't dismiss the possibility.  Many Christians, beginning with several of the apostles –– have been faced with denying Jesus or being killed.  Many Christians have died at the hands of their persecutors.  That wasn't just true in the first century.  It is also true in the twenty-first century.  Christians are being persecuted and killed today in many places in the world because of their faith.

And many Christians have served Christ in dangerous places –– missionaries in primitive lands come to mind –– and urban missionaries serving in the inner cities –– and chaplains serving on battlefields.

Elisabeth Elliot was one of those missionaries.  She and her husband, Jim, were serving in Ecuador, when Jim and four other men tried to contact members of the Auca tribe.  Unbeknownst to them, tribal members were observing them from the jungle.  They attacked the missionaries suddenly and viciously, killing all five men. 

Elisabeth continued her service in Ecuador, and wrote a book, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, in which she told the story of her husband and the other five men.  The book has been made into a movie by the same name.  In a particularly moving scene, Frank Drown, a missionary pilot, says that the five missionaries had guns, but had vowed not to use them against the Aucas.  They explained, "They're not ready for heaven, and we are."

Isn't that something!  "They're not ready for heaven, and we are."  What a testimony to their faith!

But most Christians die natural deaths –– or deaths unrelated to persecution.  Most of us, hopefully, will not find ourselves in a position in which we have to choose between Jesus and death.

When Jesus talked about his disciples losing their lives on his behalf, he knew that some disciples would, indeed, be martyred for their faith.  But he also knew that some would not.  Jesus requires self-denial, but he tailors that to the individual.  Self-denial will mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person.  But in every case, Christian self-denial will involve some sort of personal sacrifice.  In every case, it will involve some sort of service in Christ's name.

For Hazel Brannon Smith, who owned four weekly newspapers in rural Mississippi, her faith caused her to speak out against racism and injustice in the 1950s and 60s.  It meant enduring opposition, arson, firebombing, and debt.

For Millard Fuller, it meant setting aside a successful business career to start Habitat for Humanity.

For David Timothy, a Christian in Dallas who is known as SoupMan, denying himself meant hearing Jesus' call, "Feed my sheep."  David refitted an old van to serve as a mobile soup kitchen.  He goes out night after night to the streets of Dallas to provide meals for homeless people.  He does that because that is what Christ has called him to do.

For a Christian surgeon who was a member of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California when Louis Evans was the pastor there, it meant giving up his practice to go to Korea to set up practice as a medical missionary.

But let me tell you the rest of that story.  Sometime after the surgeon had moved to Korea, Louis Evans went to Korea to visit him.  He watched as his friend operated on an eight-year-old child.  The operation took three hours, and that was just one of the surgeries that the doctor would perform that day. 

After the surgery was completed and the child was stabilized, the doctor and Louis Evans got together for a few minutes to talk and relax.  Evans asked, "How much would you have received for that operation back in the States?"  The doctor answered, "Oh, $500 to $750 is the going rate, I guess."  That was many years ago, so we are talking about thousand of dollars in today's currency.

So Evans said, "How much for this one."  The doctor said, "Oh, a few cents –– a few cents and the smile of God."

And then the doctor put his hand on Louis Evan's shoulder and said, "But man, this is living!"

"But man, this is living!"  Please hear that!  That surgeon felt so good about what he was doing that he could say, "This is living!"  Jesus said:

"For those who want to save their life will lose it,

and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Let me put it this way.  If you are living for yourself –– if you are focused on what you can get out of life –– your life will prove hollow and unhappy. 

But if you are living for Jesus and for others –– if there is a "giving" dimension –– a "service" dimension –– to your life –– then Jesus will help you to find more satisfaction and happiness than you ever thought possible.

Let me close with a poem that pretty well sums up what I am trying to say.  The author captured the essence of Jesus' statement:

"For those who want to save their life will lose it,

and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

The poem goes this way:

I counted dollars while God counted crosses.

I counted gains while He counted losses.

I counted my worth by the things gained in store,

But He sized me up by the scars that I bore.

I coveted honors and sought for degrees.

He wept as He counted the hours on my knees.

And I never knew 'til one day at a grave

How vain are the things that we spend life to save.

(NOTE:  I was unable to find the author's name.)

Stop and think about it!  We spend much of our lives in vain.  We spend much time and money on things that have little value.  But we can change that.  All we have to do is to spend a little more time centered on God and neighbor –– and a little less time centered on self.  It's as simple as that. 

Who knows where that will take us?  I can't even guess where it might lead you over the next few years.  But I believe this will happen –– if you will lose your life for Jesus' sake, at the end of the day you will be able to say, "But man, this is living!"

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