What passages of scripture trouble you the most? Are they the ones that you don’t understand…or the ones that you do understand? Mark Twain once said that the passages he understood the most were the ones that troubled him the most!
Today’s passage can be one of the most troubling of passages in the New Testament. The words of Jesus cut like a sharp knife – and they come after the most revealing passage of the New Testament – the acknowledgement of Jesus as The Messiah by Peter.
Our 2019 Lenten season series of messages is all about how well we see God in our lives and especially for today, how well do we see how God has been and is at work in us, through us and all around us? As we spend time discerning our own faith life identifying our strengths and our weaknesses, we also want to look at the hard aspects of faith too: suffering, wisdom, our calling as a disciple of Jesus and the ways that God is at work in us. Today let’s ponder the mind of God.
Anyone remember the Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff? His tag line was “what a country!” In one routine he was remembering his first visit to an American grocery store. He said, “I saw powdered milk, just add water and you’ve got milk! Then I saw powered orange jusce, just add water and you’ve got orange juice. Then I saw baby powder…and I thought, what a country!”
If not careful, we as modern-day Christians can be tempted to buy into this “instant” mentality when it comes to our own Christian transformation and believe that persons are fully transformed or sanctified instantly at the moment of their salvation.
The truth is that we are placed on a new life-path through faith and acceptance of Jesus where we are given the Holy Spirit and begin the life-long process of being changed or sanctified from the inside out into the person we were always created to be in Christ. As wonderful as it might sound, when we say yes to Jesus, we may experience the water of baptism, but that doesn’t mean we add water to “Christian powder” and get instant sanctification or instant disciples!
Peter and the disciples took Jesus’ words of suffering and death as defeat. They saw the movement of Jesus as leading them to one day “take back” their Jewish kingdom through some victorious revolution and overthrow of the Roman government. But Jesus says “No! You are looking for a spiritual awakening and revolution through earthly eyes – not spiritual eyes!”
Sometimes we do too! We look as circumstances, issues, problems too often through earthly eyes and earthly ways. We are used to obtaining things through force, power, strength and finances. Earthly, human thinking starts with our own resources and how can we leverage enough money, power, votes, etc. so we can “win” or “gain”.
Jesus’ kingdom “power” starts with surrender. He reminds us that to gain spiritually, we must first lose. We gain not by force, but by surrender. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily, he is telling us to surrender ourselves and our motives, our wants our personal kingdoms to Jesus every day – we might be the ones taking up our cross daily but is was Jesus who died on our cross!
Seeing the MIND of God comes first when we recognize Jesus as our Messiah (just as the disciples did) and then recognizing and submitting our total being to Jesus’ leadership. We are never in charge – Jesus, and only Jesus is – everyday!
Our daily commitment to cross-bearing is this: I must surrender my will and die daily to the “me” of me. I must totally give up control; I must give up knowing about all of the “nexts” of my life: and trust Jesus with the next minute, next day, next month…and so on. I must give up my desire to live only in comfort. Being a disciple of Jesus can make us, and place us, in areas of being uncomfortable both physically and spiritually. I must surrender being the king or queen of my time. Being a disciple of Jesus is all about being available, when needed by the real King Jesus, to do what the King needs me to do. Some of those tasks will be difficult, but they are the ones that reveal the King’s power at work in and through me for his glory and not mine!
On the one hand, seeing the mind of God reveals that the Lord wants us all to be a child of God. To daily walk as a child of God can be a very slow, dangerous and frightening walk. It is a walk of surrender and of death – death to me and death to my will.
On the other hand, to walk as a child of God is an exciting walk that is filled with unexpected strength, blessings, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To daily take up our cross leads not just to death, but to resurrection – but it comes one step at a time.
Fred Craddock once told the story of a man who wanted to donate $100,000 to the church. However, the pastor told him that instead of receiving the total amount, he wanted the man to cash it and spend it $1 or even 50¢ at a time. The man replied that it would take him an entire lifetime to spend it that way. “Exactly!” the pastor said.
The same it true for us. To give ourselves for Jesus means we may be called to give only $1 or a few cents each day. There is no such thing as an instant Christian. But there IS such a thing as a life-time Christian. Which are we? Back to the original question, which passages of the Bible gives us the most trouble?