Successful Losers

Successful Losers

Mark 8:27-38 ———– Proverbs 1:20-33 —-16th Sunday after Pentecost

September 12, 2021

(Holding up Romex): Do you see this wire?  Anyone who has helped build a house or has done any wiring project will recognize it.  Everybody I know calls it “Romex,” and it makes life as we know it possible!  Without wire like this running through our homes and businesses and even here at church, life would be very different.  Because electricity flows through the wire, amazing things happen. 

(Holding up a resistor): This, on the other hand, is a resistor.  Listen to what John Ortberg has to say about them in God Is Closer than You Think. “The difference between a conductor and a resistor can be put like this: a conductor is willing to let go.  It’s not generating its own power; it is simply a conduit.  It’s open and receptive to the flow of current that can change the world from darkness to light.  Every other desire has to take a back seat to this one absolute quest.  The conductor prays, “As you wish.”

A resistor, by contrast, doesn’t want to let go.  It hangs on to its electrons.  It clings to the status quo.  It’s afraid to let go because it wants to keep its possessions intact.  And so it does.  But the resistor never knows much power.  The resistor prays, “Leave me alone.”

We do not have much power in our wills (John Ortberg continues), but we can choose whether we will be resistors or conductors.  And our prayer will be answered.”

Interesting.  We can choose whether we will be resistors—hanging on to what we have—or conductors, allowing God’s power to flow through us to bring light to a dark world!

This illustration strikes me as an excellent way to understand one of the most difficult sayings of Jesus, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

The Suffering Servant

To really get inside the words of Jesus, we have to acquaint ourselves with a passage from Isaiah, Chapter 53.  This passage refers to the idea of “The Suffering Servant.”  More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, this prophet described God’s Anointed One (called “Meshioc” in Hebrew, meaning Messiah, and called “Christos” in Greek—from which we get the name Christ.)  Isaiah writes, “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.  Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; but he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;  upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

Jesus would have known these passages intimately.  Every Jewish boy would have been trained in the Hebrew scriptures, and Jesus showed that he memorized great portions of it.  When he was being tempted in the wilderness, he had to choose between fame and power and humble servanthood.  He chose to live the life of the Suffering Servant.  And Isaiah continues, “Because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Knowing this passage also helps us to understand when we hear Jesus say, “Whoever would be great in God’s Kingdom must be the servant of all.”

You Are the Messiah

In our Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter, without hesitation, says, “You are the Messiah.”  In Matthew, he is recorded to have added, “The Son of the living God.”  Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was apparently not aware of the “Suffering Servant” model we heard about from Isaiah.  No, Peter expected to be among the great when Jesus came into his Kingdom.  (He was thinking in earthly terms.)

But our text continues, “Then he began to teach them 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.  He said all this quite openly.”

This tells us that Jesus understood what it means to be a conductor!  But Peter was thinking like a resistor, and he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.  We don’t have record of his words, but I imagine him saying something like, “Jesus, Jesus–let’s stop all this crazy talk!  You are the Messiah, and you are going be the new King of Israel—like your ancestor, David!  You are going to restore Israel to its former glory!”  But before he had a chance to finish, Jesus rebuked him with these words, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Don’t set your mind on human ambitions and desires.              Set your mind on divine things.

This is a pointed message for those who try to do a “Sales Job for Christianity.”

  • “Just make a commitment to Jesus Christ, and you can kiss your troubles goodbye!”  (Usually followed by “Just send me $ so we can continue to get the word out!”)
  • Prosperity Gospel proponents who convince people that they are meant to live a life of wealth and self-indulgence, a life without struggles and hardships.

The truth is that Life in Christ is an adventure and is not meant to be easy, but it IS meant to be GOOD!  Jesus declared, “I have come that they might have LIFE, and have it more abundantly!”  He didn’t say “a life free of troubles.”

Get Life by Letting Go

So, how do we get this life that Jesus promises?  He gives us a clue when he says, “Those who want to save their life will lose it.”  He was talking to those who:

  • Always focus on taking care of #1
  • Always ask, “What’s in it for ME?!”
  • Imagine a person in a dim room with lots of curtains on every side.  When they open a curtain to let in some light, they find only a mirror, but never a window!

Jesus asks, “What good will it be if they gain the whole world—and forfeit their lives?”  Think for a moment about what “the world” values:

  1. Wealth
  2. Power
  3. Fame
  4. Beauty
  5. Fill in the blank

Imagine a person who won the lottery and got lots of plastic surgery and did everything in their power to hang on to what they had.  Eventually they would find out that all that stuff is temporary!  Eventually, they would learn what Jesus meant when he warned not to put our heart into that which will perish.

Jesus told his disciples and the crowd that those who let go of their lives for his sake (and for the sake of the gospel) will end up having life.  Letting go is what Jesus did.

I love the way Paul phrases it in Philippians 2: Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped—clutched—greedily clung to—but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.  (Sounds like Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant.”)  Or, in our visual example, Jesus chose to be a conductor, rather than a resistor.

I will finish this morning with a story from one who chose to be “a conductor.”

Ginger Lingo from Fort Lauderdale, FL recalls a moment from her childhood in which she had to make an important decision.

More than anything I wanted a new bike.  I dreamed about it every day while walking to school.  My father was a pastor, so we didn’t have much money.  The only way I was going to get that bike was to earn my own money for it.  So I worked hard, doing odd jobs like babysitting, weeding, and raking leaves.  I stashed every penny I earned from those jobs and my allowance in my piggy bank.

Then one day at Sunday School, our teacher told us of a letter she had received from Chile about a boy who had hepatitis.  His missionary parents said he was recovering, but his spirits were still low.  “Can you think of anything that might cheer him up?” our teacher asked us.

“A new bike!” the whole class exclaimed eagerly, and we agreed we would raise the money.

All week long, I agonized over what to do.  My conscience could only come up with one answer—give up my savings for the boy in Chile.  So I emptied out my piggy bank and brought every cent to Sunday School.  It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and maybe that’s why it felt so right.

In college (years later) I found myself praying for something even harder than I had prayed for the bike—a man meant just for me.  All my friends were dating.  Why wasn’t I?  Was God asking me to wait again?

At last I met someone named Steve.  We had a lot in common.  He went to the college where my father now taught, and my roommate was engaged to his best friend.  He was earnest, smart, and hardworking.  But I couldn’t help wondering, Is he really the one?

One evening, our families got together for dinner, a chance for everybody to get to know each other better.  Over dessert and coffee Steve’s mother talked about some of the places they had lived when they were missionaries.  “Once, when we were in Chile, Steve got hepatitis.  You know what cheered him up?” 

Of course, I knew.  He got a bike—my bike.  And I got the husband I have been married to for 29 years.

Ginger Lingo knows what it means when Jesus says, “Those who let go of their life for my sake will have life!”