Friday, April 4, 2014

4/4/14 - By John Schroeder

The season of Lent lasts 40 days to commemorate the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness resisting temptation by Satan and preparing himself for public ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11). I find the particulars of the temptations Satan placed before Jesus fascinating. They were not "fleshy" temptations, not wine, women, etc. They were temptations designed to play on Jesus' godly nature. "Show me just who you are - prove that you are God incarnate!" is the theme of what Satan attempts to get Jesus to do. And yet Jesus resists.

Paul put it so well in his letter to the Philippians:
Phil 2:4-9 - do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The theme of this blog is "follow." We always talk about following Jesus, but do we understand what that really means? Are we willing to follow Jesus here? Do we understand that to follow Jesus is not about discovering ourselves, but about denying ourselves? We have just seen two stories in which Jesus flat out denies his very nature.

Jesus even tells us this thing:
Matt 16:24-25 - Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Lee preached a few weeks ago about the cost of following Jesus. Did we listen? Here is that cost laid out for us in no uncertain terms - we are asked to deny ourselves to the point of death. Again, the Apostle Paul:
Gal 2:20-21 - I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
To follow Jesus means to be crucified with him. We have to die!

It is easy to focus on verses like John 10:10 or Matthew 7:7-8, but do we really understand that the promises of those verses lie on the other side of dying with Jesus on the cross? Too often we assume they simply arrive at the doorstep and we can put them in our pocket and go about our merry way. Those promises can only be fulfilled when we allow the Holy Spirit to kill our desire for self gratification. Those promises can only be fulfilled when what we wish for is to be emptied. It is the moment that we take God's grace for granted, that we think ourselves somehow, in any fashion, worthy of it, that it most eludes us.

We talk a lot about worship in the church. Sometimes I wonder if we really understand what that means? Among the lectionary readings for this date is Psalm 22. When was the last time you read that from beginning to end? Some think Christ quoted this Psalm on the cross. Consider just the first three verses:
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
The psalm is in fact a psalm of praise - read the rest of it. Thus if Christ was quoting it when he cried out on the cross, then praise for the Father flowed from the deepest agony imaginable. There was no praise band or organ, no choir or worship leader. I doubt given the physical state he was in Jesus could have even held a tune. It would appear that worship and sacrifice are inseparable - in fact one could conclude that sacrifice IS worship - not a "sacrifice of song," that's too easy. If we are truly to follow Jesus and praise God we are to sacrifice life itself.

The good news of God's grace is not that we do not have to die - it is that death is not final. The good news of God's grace is that when we totally deny ourselves, when we do allow ourselves to die, we wake up to all those wonderful promises of abundance.

The hardest part is that we have to experience that death every day, every moment. We are saved but we are, for now, still sinners. When we experience those little small reminders of the abundance promised to us, it is too easy to think, "Well, I'm through that now!" It is so easy to take those tidbits of the promise fulfilled and assume that we can claim our rightful place. It is too easy to forget that who we follow denied his rightful place in the wilderness and then moved inexorably towards the cross. We have no rightful place - we only have our denial of it.

So what does this mean in practical terms?  We all sacrifice our money and most of us some of our time.  We hunt for the latest cause to pursue in the name of God.   But in the modern age sacrifice of time and talent is not deep enough sacrifice.  Remember, we are to follow Jesus all the way to death.

Dying to self is really about the little stuff not the big stuff.  Non-Christians volunteer and do charity work.  Not that we should not volunteer or do charity work, but it is how we do those things that should separate us from those that do not enjoy life with Christ.  Turning again to Paul:
Gal 5:22-24 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Those "fruits" are the measure of our sacrifice.  Just before Lent, we enjoyed a Wednesday night lecture from author Hugh Hewitt on his book "The Happiest Life."  In his book, Hewitt suggests that happiness is found in giving (not getting mind you) of seven gifts: encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, good humor, graciousness, gratitude, and patience. Notice that some of those gifts, like patience, are common to Paul's list of fruits.  Other gifts are only available to us to give if we have the fruits.

The giving of gifts like these is heart of the sacrifice that is demanded of us to follow Christ on the deepest levels.  Gratitude, when life does not seem gracious.  Encouragement when we are discouraged.  When we set aside our negative feelings to give others positive interaction, then we are finally on the road to the sacrifice of Christ.  By comparison, giving away money is easy.

Joining Christ in His crucifixion is not a "part way" deal.  We have to go all the way.  We can die to "smokin' drinkin' and chewin'," but its not enough.  We have to die to grouchy, grumpy and ill-mannered.  We have to die to self-pity and ill-humor.  We have to die to pride and vanity.  We have to die.

Thankfully, there is the resurrection - but it comes only after death.

1 comment:

  1. John, Since I'm the only person here, I feel pretty dead already. Dave Eagle