2nd Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 420:1-2, 6-7, 783, 702
Text – Mark 8:35
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.
DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?
It’s a rather ominous sermon title, so much so that I questioned whether or not I should use it. It’s the kind of question that can make us uncomfortable until we know the motive of the person asking it. A doctor may be asking, “Do you want to live? If so, then you need to carefully control your diet.” That would be a noble motive.
I’m reminded of a member of the church in North Dakota who had juvenile diabetes & still drank as much soda pop as he wanted. When this member was on his death bed, he told me that everything his doctor said had come true, since he did not follow the doctor’s advice.
When someone else asks you, “Do you want to live?” they might be trying to sell you something. “Do you want to live? Then I have a deal for you.” Whatever they’re selling may or may not be in your best interests, but with the money they’ll be making it certainly would be in their best interest. That sort of motive is something you should watch out for.
Another person may ask, “Do you want to live?” with entirely sinister motives, such as in a carjacking. “Do you want to live? Then give me your car!” The motives behind any question can make all the difference in the world. That’s why, when you someone comes to you with a question, before you answer, it’s often wise to ask them a question in return: “Why do you ask?”
Why they are asking that question, at that particular time, usually involves their motive. Once you know their motives you can more helpfully frame your answer. In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is the one asking questions, “Who do people say that I am?” & after the disciples answer that one, Jesus replies, “But who do you say that I am?” It might have been wise for Peter to respond to Jesus with, “Why do you ask?” Every single one of us will always learn more by listening than we ever learn by speaking. But Peter wasn’t known for his listening skills. Yes, he boldly gave his confession, “You are the Christ,” but when Jesus tried to explain what the Christ is – Peter opened his mouth again & revealed his ignorance.
Not that we should look down on Peter, because all of us have been in his shoes, & still are even today. Peter never had a monopoly on ignorance. Many in the Christian church today still have no idea who the Christ is, or what that means for our lives. When Jesus explained that the Christ came to lose His life, He meant that such would be the pattern for our lives as well.
Effectively, Jesus was asking the question, “Do you want to live?” If your answer is yes, then you must lose your life first: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) And that is why the question, or the sermon title, makes us uncomfortable.
Our sinful nature immediately knows where Jesus is going with this. Following Jesus is painful. At times, it is even humiliating, as Peter found out when Jesus pointed out that Peter was at that moment in time following Satan instead of Jesus. Yes, Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, yet Peter wanted nothing to do with following in those footsteps.
He could not even imagine that the Man sent to save the world would die in it. That is not the measure of success that any of us are looking for. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father measures success through what we are willing to lose: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
What are you willing to lose in order to save your life? How much do you really want to live? One struggle we have is in how our Creator defines life. He says things like these words to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart… (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV) And these words to the nation of Israel, “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb & will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one.” (Isaiah 44:2) King David wrote of God in Psalm 139:13, “For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (NIV)
In God’s eyes, & in God’s Word, an embryo is a living human being, created by God. Our current political leadership, the elite levels of our society, & many Christians want nothing to do with our heavenly Father’s definition of life. They do not define it in the same way that our Lord does, & that means they are not respecting Him as their Lord.
They are trying to make their own life better, by ending the life of another human being. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) Losing our life for Jesus’ sake means giving up our own definitions of life. It means giving up our own desires & will.
In our sinful hearts we think we’re alive when we are actually dead. We confuse a false life for the real thing. The member of the church in North Dakota did finally give up his own definitions of life, but it was too late to save his life here on earth. Yet, because Jesus’ gave up His life in our place, that man of a mere 35 years on earth did receive eternal life in heaven.
To all earthly appearances, he had wasted his life here in defiance & suffering. Yet, if we accept that God is ultimately in control of all things, then we must acknowledge that even in our sufferings God’s will is done. We know that’s true, because suffering & death was the will of God for Jesus, born in a manger in Bethlehem & crucified at Golgotha outside Jerusalem.
“…whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospels will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) Under the reign of God, if you want to live you must lose your life. If you do so, the world will label you a fool. When Jesus rebuked Peter for rejecting Messiah’s coming suffering & death, Jesus did so with these words, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33 ESV) The things of man say that an embryo is not human so we can get rid of it guilt free. As part of His suffering, Jesus did carry the guilt of every abortion to the cross.
There is true life waiting if you give up the things of man, the definitions of life that the world gives, if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake. And there are countless ways of losing your life for Jesus’ sake.
You can obey your parents & teachers, even though they are not perfect. You can give up the luxuries of life to provide for your own children, or for other people less fortunate than you. You can work at a career that helps people, even though you may end up earning a lot less money. You can give offerings to the kingdom of God from every dollar you do earn.
To follow Jesus, we must abandon our very selves, not merely our sins. To follow Jesus strikes to the very core of our identity, because at baptism we die to our old identity & Jesus gives us a new one. Taking up our cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise happy life. It meets us instead, at the beginning of our fellowship with Christ.
The call of Christ at baptism sets us in the middle of the daily arena against sin & the devil. Each day we encounter temptations, & must suffer for Christ’s sake, as He suffered. Bearing our cross involves a reevaluation of all that we consider important. It involves struggle, suffering & death while maintaining firm trust & hope in the true life to come.
It means letting go of this poor imitation of life that we live today. It involves realizing that everything in this life is temporary, to put it in the terminology of Ash Wednesday, from dust you came & to dust you shall return. If we refuse to take up our cross, we forfeit our fellowship with the suffering Christ, who alone is the way to the Father. If we refuse to follow Christ in the struggle He calls us to, then we have ceased to follow Jesus. If we lose our lives in service to Him, we then find true life in our fellowship with Him. Only when we have become oblivious to self are we ready to bear the cross for Jesus’ sake.
The modern goal is to work toward self-awareness, self-assertion & self-fulfillment; but Jesus emphasizes self-denial. Many Christians today are trying to find in Jesus an easy way to God, or a sure way to personal fulfillment & happiness. Jesus’ words are directed against the easy & self-indulgent lifestyle that is the goal of the culture in which we live.
Make no mistake; the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically different from what our society is now preaching. The manner in which God defines life is a problem that we, as Christians, constantly struggle to accept. Life in Christ is a life of sacrifice & suffering. Period. We wish it were not so. We wish it would be different, but Jesus is crystal clear.
Following Him faithfully is a life of humble submission, not only to His rule as Lord, but also in a sinful world that rejected Him & His reign. Do not be surprised when life throws you for a loop. Our discomfort with suffering leads us to all manner of unfaithfulness. It leads us to instruct God as to what He should really be doing, & to question Him when he does not obey us.
It leads us to take matters into our own hands, to fudge on His commands, to imitate the world’s deceitful & dishonest ways. It leads us to abuse power, serve ourselves, & plug our ears to the parts of Jesus’ message which do not conveniently fit our program.
Peter’s inability to accept what Jesus said about suffering prevented him from hearing what Jesus said about resurrection & life: “The Son of man must suffer many things & be rejected by the elders & the chief priests & the scribes & be killed, & after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:34)
Death was coming, that is true, and not only for Jesus but also for anyone who follows Him. But that would not be the end. Resurrection is also coming. Those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find it. (Mark 8:35) That is the promise we hold up on this 2nd Sunday in Lent. Resurrection is coming for us. Salvation is coming for us. It is coming for all who, in Christ, lose themselves. It is for all who give up their privilege, who sacrifice their preference, who surrender their position, who relinquish their power.
Resurrection is coming for all who have sinned, whether by ending the life of an embryo, or by refusing to love those who have. Our heavenly Father knows that promoting a cancel culture will only destroy every life in that culture. On the cross, Jesus cancelled each sin that has ever been committed. That has given us a 2nd chance at real living, now & for eternity.
Make no mistake; the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically from what our world preaches. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Do you want to live? At the end of your strength is the beginning of life. So the Holy Spirit will lead you into places of dying because it is there, & only there, that you will find life. That is Jesus’ promise for you, each day of your life here on earth. Amen.
Take my life & let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; take my moments & my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my will & make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine; take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself, & I will be ever, only, all for Thee. Amen.
LSB 783:1, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet