Palm Sunday – B LSB #680
Text – John 12:25
Whoever loves his life loses it, & whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
BEING A LOSER
A 1st grade teacher was explaining to her class what Holy Week was & why we call it holy. She explained Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & finally Easter. When she thought she’d made her point, she asked the students if any of them had questions. A curious young boy raised his hand & asked, “What happens if you don’t want to be holy all week?”
How we struggle with being holy! Yet we struggle more with being a loser! That’s the bottom of the barrel – the lowest of the low. The Detroit Lions have been losers for longer than I’ve been alive, & I’m not a teenager anymore. It’s being predicted the Detroit Tigers will lose over 100 games this season, & I was told; don’t even bring up the MSU men’s basketball team.
In popular culture, Charlie Brown is a lovable loser, but no one strives to imitate or to be like him. Instead, “We’re number one” is the rallying cry of the human race. It’s for that reason that so many people have a problem with following Jesus. The Man who saved the human race gets to set the priorities for those who follow Him.
Do you want to be number one, or do you want to receive the gift of eternal life? That is the dilemma which lingers behind our each & every decision. Completely mundane choices, like buying a new microwave instead of worshipping God with an offering, are the type of decisions I’m talking about.
It’s not that buying a microwave is wrong, but the motive for choosing that over giving an offering could be wrong. That’s where those mundane choices can go off track. Then, there’s the stewardship of our time. You can use your time cleaning the house or keeping up the yard, but maybe God had prepared, in advance, for you to spend time with your children, or visiting someone who lives in a nursing home. Again, cleaning the house & keeping up the yard are not sinful activities, unless your heavenly Father had other plans for your time. Working overtime may seem like the logical thing to do, especially if money is tight. On the other hand, if that interferes with the Bible study you were going to attend, which is more important for eternity?
I could go on & on with a never ending set of comparisons, but the point should be clear. There are so many possible ways for us to love our lives. All of them can be perfectly harmless & mundane. All of them could be a choice that costs you a small part of your life; eventually even losing all of it. The words of Jesus are clear: “Whoever loves his life loses it…”
The real danger is that we can lose our spiritual life without even realizing it & the author of the book of Hebrews gives a very stern warning about that:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, & have shared in the Holy Spirit, & have tasted the goodness of the word of God & the powers of the age to come, & then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…” (6:4-6 ESV) By loving his earthly life a man destroys it.
The faith we have in Jesus Christ as Savior from sin is something we should not take lightly. Granted, in our sinful weakness, there will be many times when we do, & Jesus promises to protect us, but the danger is so great we should beware & always be ready to run back to Jesus. To do so takes willingness to suffer humiliation in the eyes of the world.
If our reputation among our worldly acquaintances means more to us than Jesus does then we are loving life in a way that leads on the path to losing it. The prophet Isaiah shared these words from Yahweh, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (55:8 ESV)
To our natural self, this seems like a contradiction, but the best way to end up as a loser is
to love your life. If you remember last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus had just announced, again, that He was going to die in service to the human race. So James & John come to Him asking Jesus to do for them anything they ask. The Son of God is on His way to suffer & die while His disciples are only thinking about power & glory.
Jesus knows of our tendencies to sin, to love our life, to seek 1st the things of this world rather than the kingdom of God. The Savior of the world knows that without Him dead on the cross of Golgotha, there is no hope for you or me. All we are capable of doing is looking out for #1. Without Jesus, all we are capable of doing is dying.
Without Jesus, the ultimate loss is death, because no one would ever recover. Without Jesus, there would be a sign by every cemetery across the land – THE END. The law of self-preservation is also the law of self-destruction, & Satan knows it. Loving this life is a self-defeating process. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (16:25 ESV) The 2nd person of the Holy Trinity became a human being so He could understand where you & I are coming from. We come from a place of weakness, suffering & death. In order for us to have life, Jesus must bury the old & bring forth the new.
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus uses the simple analogy of a grain of wheat to explain what He was doing here on earth: “…I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth & dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (12:24 ESV) The human flesh of Jesus had to die so that your flesh & mine could be recreated at the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus is like a grain of wheat. If you don’t bury the seed you won’t be able to harvest a crop. God’s only-begotten Son must die so that His brothers & sisters may be given the new life that Jesus has already brought into this world. That new life is not complete yet, but it will be, come the Last Day of time. The season of Lent is about preparing ourselves for a funeral. It’s about being a loser. It’s about confessing, “I, a poor miserable sinner…” All of the Christian life is about how to be a loser for Jesus’ sake in order to find the everlasting life that our Lord is bringing through His own flesh & blood. Lent is a most solemn time but a time of solemn glory.
That probably sounds like a contradiction. The full, unhindered, eternal glory will come after the suffering of this life, yet by the power of the Holy Spirit, working through faith, we can see it & taste it already in this world. How do we know that? Do you remember the crucifixion & the words of the Roman soldier standing guard there?
“And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way [Jesus] breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39 ESV) That centurion finally saw the glory of God in the suffering, dying & death of Jesus. Many people who have suffered in the name of Jesus have reported that same sort of ‘seeing.’
In looking out for number one I minimize my daily opportunities to die to self. And I also thereby minimize my opportunities to rise to newness of life. In that way I end up being a loser. The Gospel of John gave us a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus so would we realize that He does understand our fears of suffering & death.
His crucifixion was not some kind of elaborate charade. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27 ESV) Jesus debated with Himself as to whether He should ask the Father to save Him from the awful struggle with Satan that the hour of His passion involved.
Like us, Jesus struggled with being a loser. He shrank back from death as ordinary men, women & children do. Maybe we’re facing cancer or heart disease. Maybe we’re facing the loss of a job & income. Maybe we’re moving to a new city & don’t know anyone there. Each of those occasions, & many others like them, cause us to fear. Yet, Jesus was not deterred. He did not succumb to the temptation. As Philippians 2 stated: “…though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (2:6-7 ESV)
That is the story of Christmas in a nutshell, but it continues with His death & resurrection:
“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him & bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven & on earth & under the earth, & every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)
Many hard working people are good at making sacrifices of their time & body to earn money, but not to receive spiritual rewards. Being a loser is not pleasant or well thought of, even if Jesus did it. The Good News is that Jesus did it out of love for all of His creation. Our sins have been forgiven, even though we are poor, miserable sinners.
As we think of being losers, maybe we need to take these words of a song to heart:
“All Star” by Smash Mouth
Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger & her thumb
In the shape of an ‘L’ on her forehead. Amen.
Thine the life eternally Thine the promise let there be Thine the vision Thine the tree all the earth on bended knee gone the nailing gone the railing gone the pleading gone the cry gone the sighing gone the dying what was loss lifted high. Thine the kingdom Thine the prize Thine the wonderful surprise Thine the banquet then the praise then the justice of Thy ways Thine the glory Thine the story then the welcome to the least then the wonder all increasing at Thy feast at Thy feast. Thine the glory in the night no more dying only light Thine the river Thine the tree then the Lamb eternally then the holy holy holy celebration jubilee Thine the splendor Thine the brightness only Thee only Thee. Amen. LSB 680:2, 4-5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet