Monday, March 28, 2011

The Great Paradox

Jesus said some things that seem very hard to understand. One of those statements comes in the form of a paradox, found in Matthew 16:25: "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Hidden in this statement, I believe, is the key to fulfillment in our lives. In order to understand this verse, or any other, we need to look at it in context.

Jesus was preparing to go to the cross. More than that, he was preparing his disciples for the events that would shortly take place. He said that he would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders; he shared that he would ultimately die. The Apostle Peter, always thinking with his mouth, was again the first to speak, and he said what everyone else was likely thinking. He said, "Never Lord, this shall never happen to you." Jesus' response was shocking. He declared that Peter was a stumbling block to him and was actually being used as a tool by Satan.

This was a remarkable scene with deep meaning. The truths represented here in the verses that followed I believe hold the key to truly understanding the Christian life. Jesus understood his purpose: "to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28) Any other plan, while obviously less painful, would have the devastating consequence of leaving the world without a Saviour. Jesus went to the cross, recognizing it was necessary for God's will to be accomplished, and knowing that, in the end, he would be raised up. He was willing to endure whatever cost for the sake of humanity. He chose to lose his life to find it.

He challenges us to do the same. This is that part of Christianity that many (most?) do not understand. It's not about religion, about empty tradition and ritual; it's about following Jesus Christ and joining him in bringing about God's kingdom on earth. It's not about blindly following some ancient symbol of heroic sacrifice either; it's following a living Saviour, who actually indwells his people by the Holy Spirit. It's not about receiving Jesus so that we can get rich and have all of our problems solved; it's about recognizing that God can use everything in our lives - the good and the bad - to bring about ultimate good in our lives.

So here's what he's saying: Jesus is telling us, first of all, that God's priorities must be our priorities. That's why his prayer to his father in the garden of Gethsemane was "Not my will, but yours be done." He was willing to submit his will to his Father's will. He invites each of us, in our own setting, to willingly lay down our priorities and submit them to God's higher purpose. And here's where the guys in the cheap seats start screaming.

How is it that God would ask (expect!) us to lay down selfish pursuits for a higher purpose? Doesn't he know that it's all about us? Haven't we all been told (especially in North America) that we deserve to be waited on hand and foot? Here's a news flash - true Christianity is counter-cultural and also counter-intuitive. Jesus Christ came to be a servant and his followers are called to serve as well. The reasons he can ask this of us are manifold: he created us, he knows us intimately - our individual gifts, talents and abilities. He also knows the purpose for which he created us; how we can fulfill that purpose, and has the power to bring that to pass. With all of that, yes! he calls us to lay down our lives in order that we may live.

Here's the kicker, we really can't grasp this truth without simply surrendering to it, and that is so hard for we who live in this Me-first culture. So what we've tried to do is remake Jesus in our own image: a safe, nice guy, who had tremendous insight into human nature and wants us to behave ourselves. Jesus did not come to make bad people good: he came to make dead people live! (See John 10:10) If you call yourself a Christ-follower, follow. While the sea of humanity muddles around in the valley, he's carrying his own cross up a hill, giving his life for others.

Items of Interest:
Remember My Chains
Unsung Heroes - Sandra Tineo
What have you got to lose?
What Is A Christ-follower?
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