by Rev. Doug Gray
A while back, one of my best friends sent me this story and I laughed until my sides hurt. (I should note, that in my family we don’t call people “stupid” but maybe you’ll figure out why as the sermon continues.)
Stupid people should have to wear signs that just say, “I’m Stupid”. That way you wouldn’t rely on them, would you? You wouldn’t ask them anything. It would be like, “Excuse me...oops, never mind. I didn’t see your sign.” It’s like before my wife and I moved. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My friend comes over and says “Hey, you moving?” “Nope. We just pack all our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.” A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy of mine, we pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ‘ol stringer of bass and this idiot on the dock goes, “Hey, y’all catch all them fish?” “Nope - Talked ‘em into giving up. Here’s your sign.” I learned to drive an 18 wheeler in my days of adventure. Wouldn’t ya know I misjudged the height of a bridge. The truck got stuck and I couldn’t get it out no matter how I tried. I radioed in for help and eventually a local cop shows up to take the report. He went through his basic questioning... ok…no problem. I thought sure he was clear of needing a sign...until he asked “So..is your truck stuck?” I couldn’t help myself! I looked at him, looked back at the rig and then back to him and said “No, I’m delivering a bridge...here’s your sign.”
It would be much easier if we all wore signs that told everyone the essential information about us. Some people would wear signs, “I talk a lot” and we would know to talk with them only if we had extra time to spare. Some people would wear signs, “I’m having a bad day” and we would know to be extra nice to them. We like to know the names for people and things. We are uneasy even frightened when we face the unknown, and comforted when we can name it.
This is where I start to be confused anyway. We are so used to wearing the signs everybody else hands us, that we sometimes don’t realize they may not have it right. To draw from our passage, the more we have in mind the things of humankind, the harder it is to see clearly how to live as Christ would. How can Jesus help us live outside the world’s box?
In our text for today, Jesus outlines four primary areas in which our lives can be different.
1. We need Christ’s motives. The world’s signs say, “If you don’t look out
for yourself, no one else will. Grab all the fun you can, because life’s too
short.” Jesus’ sign says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny
himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” One pastor was online with
a soldier getting ready to ship out to Iraq in the Second Gulf War. He writes,
“The problem for this young man was – he didn’t want to go. He explained
that he hadn’t joined the army to go to war...he’d joined because of the
benefits: the pay, the college tuition, the insurance, etc.” Call me crazy, but
if you join the Armed Forces, that may mean going to war, because that’s
what armies do. In the same way, we must put aside our desires for immediate
and selfish gratification and be motivated like Christ, by those who have
greater needs than ourselves, by those who cannot defend themselves, and to
those who will come after us.
2. We need Christ’s aims. The world’s signs say, “Don’t put yourself, your
reputation or your own security at risk.” Jesus’ sign says, “Whoever wants
to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will
save it.” The more tightly we hold onto our lives and our security, the smaller
and smaller our box gets. Hudson Taylor, the Chinese missionary, said, “Unless
there is an element of risk in our exploits for God, there is no need for faith.”
When we take God’s aims as our own, we find ourselves less concerned with
winning, find ourselves enjoying an inner peace only God can offer, and
paradoxically, we win all the more. The great Baptist preacher, EV Hill is famous
for saying, “If God is in it, God will win it.”
3. We need Christ’s values. The world’s signs say, “Success is the only
measure of one’s worth.” Christopher Winans, in his book, Malcolm Forbes:
The Man Who Had Everything, tells of a motorcycle tour that Forbes took
through Egypt with his Capitalist Tool motorcycle team. After seeing the
staggering tombs of pharaohs, Forbes turned to one of his associates and
asked with all sincerity: “Do you think I’ll be remembered after I die?”
Forbes is remembered. He is remembered as the man who coined the
phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That was the wisdom of
Malcolm Forbes, and his ambition. That’s why he collected motorcycles,
magazines, Faberge eggs, castles, hot air balloons and countless other
toys that he can no longer use. There’s a Christian version of once popular
bumper sticker that reads “In the end, the one with the most toys...still dies.”
Jesus asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit
his own soul?”
4. We need Christ’s Ultimate Goal. The world’s signs say, “Image is
everything.” In other words, enhance the way others view you, and success
will follow. Jesus’ says, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will
not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” If we
keep our eyes on the goal—seeking God’s glory, making God’s Kingdom real
on earth—then we will share in it ourselves. The great preacher of
Willowcreek Community Church, Bill Hybels writes in his book,
“I believe that only one power exists on this sorry planet that can do that. It’s the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame and heals wounds and reconciles enemies and patches broken dreams and ultimately changes the world, one life at a time. And what grips my heart everyday is the knowledge that the radical message of that transforming love has been given to the church. That means that in a very real way the future of the world rests in the hands of local congregations like yours and mine. It’s the church or it’s lights out. Without churches so filled with the power of God that they can’t help but spill goodness and peace and love and joy into the world, depravity will win the day; evil will flood the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Strong, growing communities of faith can turn the tide of history.” (p. 21–22)
When we take on Christ’s motives, we move from self-centered to other-centered. When we have Christ’s aims we move from personal worth to God’s will. When we share Christ’s values we move from success to salvation. When we have Christ’s ultimate goal in mind, we turn our focus from self-image to God’s glory. And when Christ becomes our all in all, the tiny box of the world is broken, the world is changed and God’s Kingdom comes
Maybe you’re like me: Excited about the possibilities, but when I look at myself, the gap between how I live and how I could live in Christ seems so vast I despair of ever bridging it. How do we bring them together? We can’t. But Christ can. At any point we can come to God, voicing our need for God’s help in doing what we cannot do all on our own. We can start fresh, with God’s strength. That is the power of who Jesus is. That is the power of the signs Jesus wears—the Christ, the Son of the Living God—and the power of the signs Jesus gives us.
The world’s box is so small, so limited. The world hangs signs on us that are unattainable and sneers at us when we fail. But if we walk with Jesus—seek Christ’s sacrificial motives and aims, have Christ’s values and Ultimate Goal—then one by one, He helps us take off the signs that are not really us, and the signs that hold us back, until we are left with the only ones that help us live outside the world’s box: Child of God. Follower of the Living Lord. And then Jesus turns to us and asks, “But what about you—who do you say I am?” And our answer will determine whether we will continue to live with the world’s signs in its limited box, or become who God made us to be and help others find their true, God-given signs. And then Jesus turns to us and asks, “But what about you—who do you say I am?”
In today’s passage, Jesus asks the disciples just who they think he is. Jesus wants to know if the crowds are really understanding him. But the crowds are off-base. So then Jesus asks the real question, “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks a word, a name, and the whole course of the Gospel of Matthew changes. Peter says, “You are the Christ,” and the world would never be the same.
“And Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him.” Why not? Shouldn’t everyone be told that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One of God? The problem was that though the disciples had figured out that Jesus was the Messiah, they had the wrong idea of what being the Messiah meant. To correct this picture, Jesus “began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
When Peter hears Jesus say these things he decides he’s entitled to be Jesus’ spin doctor. You can almost hear him: “Jesus, buddy, darling, you’re beautiful, really. Alright? I’m you’re biggest fan. You have this great miracle routine and you have amazing insights into the Bible. You gotta gift, you know what I mean. And I have this feelin’ in my bones that you really will sit on the throne of a united Israel. But enough with this suffering stuff. It just doesn’t sell. I mean, you’re the Christ, for crying out loud. Why would people reject you or (God forbid) kill you? I know you mean well, but let’s try something a little more cheerful, huh?”
How often do we echo Peter’s words? How often do we try to limit the power of God by limiting our understanding of Him? We love to hear about how Jesus is our Savior, how he is going to bring justice and peace to the world, and rule with power and love. These are true and important promises we have from knowing Jesus as our Messiah, but they are not the whole story. Without the whole story, we are left with a dangerous half truth—that we can have the promises without the commitment. We are left wondering if maybe Jesus Christ didn’t have to be crucified. We do not want to hear that following Christ means pain and work, struggle and hardship. When we think like this, our minds, as Jesus says to Peter, are filled with limited human thoughts, not with limitless divine vision.
Do you know Jesus Christ? Do you really know Him? There is power in His name signs, the power of promise:
Jesus Christ will always be present,
He will lend you His strength when you are weak,
He will give you a true and lasting inner peace, and
on the Last Day the Lord Almighty raise you up as Christ was raised from the dead.
Jesus’ signs are the best showing forth of who God is and what God is like. In revealing His true nature to us, God has made Himself vulnerable and we face a choice: will we open ourselves before Him, accepting Him? Will we reveal our true nature in return, the signs we wear deep down—hungry, imperfect and hopeful? God will never reject our true selves—He made us!
Renowned theologian Karl Barth was lecturing to a group of students at Princeton when a student asked him, “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” With a modest thunder he stunned the crowd, replying, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
Christopher Winans, in his book, Malcolm Forbes: The Man Who Had Everything, tells of a motorcycle tour that Forbes took through Egypt in 1984 with his Capitalist Tool motorcycle team. After viewing the staggering burial tomb of King Tut, Forbes seemed to be in a reflective mood.As they were returning to the hotel in a shuttle bus, Forbes turned to one of his associates and asked with all sincerity: “Do you think I’ll be remembered after I die?” Forbes is remembered. He is remembered as the man who coined the phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That was the wisdom of Malcolm Forbes. In fact, that was his ambition. That’s why he collected scores of motorcycles. That’s why he would pay over a million dollars for a Faberge egg. That’s why he owned castles, hot air balloons and countless other toys that he can no longer access.
“I am trying to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make a choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 55—56)
Lance Armstrong is a phenomenal cyclist who has won the Tour De France for the last four years--and that after having survived cancer! One of the keys to his success as an athlete has been his single-minded devotion to training, including a willingness to suffer physically, to push his mind and body to the limit to prepare himself to win. Listen to this passage which describes his preparations for the 1999 Tour De France:”I went back to training. I rode, and I rode, and I rode. I rode like I had never ridden, punishing my body up and down every hill I could find. . . . I remember one day in particular, May 3, a raw European spring day, biting cold. I steered my bike into the Alps, with Johan following in a car. By now it was sleeting and 32 degrees. I didn’t care. We stood at the roadside and looked at the view and the weather, and Johan suggested that we skip it. I said, “No. Let’s do it.” I rode for seven straight hours, alone. To win the Tour I had to be willing to ride when no one else would ride.” Just like Lance Armstrong had to be willing to ride when no one else would ride, someone also had to die when no one else was willing to die--when no one else could die for our sins. In Gethsemane, Jesus “fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” He died when no one else would or could die.And He won. SOURCE: Alan Perkins, edited by SermonCentral Staff. Citation: Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike, pp. 221-222.