A new way to win and lose

Matthew 16:21-28

August 30th & 31st, 2008


            In an interview on Larry King after the end of a 10 year run on Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray Ramono was talking about a note his brother gave him just before he began shooting his sitcom.  It said “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?  Or what shall man give in return for his life?   After incredible fame, and unbelievable wealth this scripture given to him by his brother helped him keep his perspective after seemingly “gaining the world” through a successful career.  The reality is, few sitting here today will gain the money, prestige and fame, that accompanies “gaining the world”, but we to can win in the world’s eyes but lose in the eyes of Christ.  What is about losing ones life,  that allows one to find it?   

             It seemed that Peter and the disciples had figured this Jesus out.  When asked who he was, Peter responded with the winning statement.  You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.  This God given statement meant that the keys of the kingdom were given to the disciples, whatever sins they forgave they were forgiven.  If you were to end Peter’s biography with a great ending this was it, following his Messiah his Savior, and gaining great power and influence as his follower.  He was latched on to a winning Savior, and a winning combination.  Then Jesus, seemed to have changed the rules of the game.  He was, from Peter’s perspective putting forward a losing strategy.  A strategy no one likes, suffering, dying and being killed and on the third day raised.  Imagine this, you get a job working for a fortune 500 company, you earn the big bucks.   Your employers pleads with you to sign a 10 year contract, and warns you that in year 3 the company is going to go belly up, lots of people are going to leave, but hang with me things will turn around, and around year 9 and 10 things will be better than ever before.  Now it is one thing if the company goes under, but if one has to go down with it, it might be time to hitch ones ride to another wagon.  Peter, scolds Jesus, and says never, Jesus even stronger says “Get behind me Satan”.  If I don’t suffer, if I don’t die, then Satan will win, it’s the only way….it’s the only way. 

            While still reeling from this rebuke, Jesus shows them what looks like a losing strategy.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.   The ancient Greeks had a legend that Narcissus, the son of the river god, had fallen in love with himself after seeing his image in a pool of water.  A seer had told his mother that her son must never see himself if he was to mature into manhood.  For this reason everything that three off a reflection, such as metal was removed.  Btu one day he found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water.  As Narcissus stooped to drink, he saw his reflection in the pool.  He fell desperately in love with himself, and seeking to embrace himself, he fell into the water and drowned.   Today we live in a society that says the self is the most important thing we have.  In a sense that is nothing new, for the temptation to elevate self to godhood status comes to us since the fall.  Mark 7 says “Out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy slander, pride, and foolishness.  Jesus ss saying the enemy is not just out there, but he is in here.  Left to ourselves, we will be destroyed.  The wages of (our sin) is death. 

            So to win, ourselves, our old nature, but be done away with, it must die.  This is where the next phrase is oh so very important.  “Take up your cross, and follow me”.  To take up ones cross is more than to deal with a difficult relative, a disability, something in life that doesn’t’ seem fair.  Rather to carry ones cross means to die.  Crosses weren’t there for decoration, to carry ones cross means to die.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer a German Pastor in WW 2 who died for his faith, said “that when Christ calls us to follow, he calls us to die.”   Sometimes I have noticed that when people are at the end of life, they talk about dying in a positive way, in the sense of relief from pain.  To die to self, which seems like a losing proposition.  Why, because self is all we have.  If we don’t have our abilities, ourselves, what have we got?  Yet, dying in Christ, dying to sin through faith in the one who died on our behalf is in fact a winning deal.  It is through is cross we can take up our cross, for he doesn’t leave us alone in the deathly grip of sin, he doesn’t leave us alone in the debilitating effects of illness and death, rather he brings us through it, because he came through it.  Follow me, because only in me can you really die, and still live to tell the world about it.  Folks, through the water and word of baptism, we have been buried with Christ, and so shall be raised with him.  Romans 6 says if we died with him we shall also be raised with him.  So with that in mind he say follow him, why, because only he will lead us to the end and bring us everlasting life.  In the mean time he may lead us through some tough things, times when we look like we’ve lost.  Remember, we are not lost, for even if we have lost all things, having Christ, the suffering servant on our side means we have gained everything.  Paul writes to the Philippians “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. 

            There is a very real sense that as people who trust in the full work of Jesus, our life is now lost in his life.  This side of heaven it may look, it may even feel that we are not going to get out as winners.  Jesus has another idea, and his way always wins out.  Amen.