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Living Generously With My Witness

Sharing God's Word, Living His Love
Generosity 1

Mark 8:27-38

February 25, 2024

Several years ago a church in New York City was broken into twice in the same month. In the first break-in, the thieves took a metal moneybox that was mounted on the wall in the sanctuary. Three weeks later, the thieves unbolted a 4-foot long, 200-pound plaster statue of Jesus from a cross on the wall near the altar and took the statue of Jesus, but left behind the wooden cross on the wall. The pastor, upon discovering the theft, was a little confused saying, “We don’t know why they took the statue of Jesus and left the cross, especially since the cross was just hanging on the wall and it would have been easier to simply take the cross, with the statue of Jesus bolted to it, off the wall. In a sense, if you were to apply this situation to our lives, what the pastor was saying was, “If you want Jesus, you have to take His cross, too.”

In one way, we can probably understand the choice of those thieves. We all love the compassionate Jesus and the way He treated people. We love His stories, the way He healed people, and His miracles in providing for people in need. Many people will say how the world would be a better place if more of us lived like Jesus. But the cross of Jesus is a little more complicated. There are times when I look at the cross and I am overwhelmed how Jesus suffered and died for me. The cross fills me with a sense of humility and gratitude. I don’t think we will ever fully understand why Jesus would voluntarily choose to suffer and die for our sins. When we consider all of the reality shows and game shows that exist on television today, we see many people who are willing to suffer and to do all kinds of crazy, embarrassing, and harmful things to themselves. But there is always an incentive: a chance to win some kind of financial prize.

So what was the incentive for Jesus to voluntarily suffer for us? I’m sure Jesus did not enjoy suffering, there was no financial reward waiting for Him. Since He was God, He could have anything, He didn’t have to go to the cross, He didn’t have to allow those religious leaders to arrest Him; He could have done anything He wanted, and yet, He willingly chose to endure tremendous suffering and even death in order to save sinful human beings like us – people who disobey Him, people who turn away from Him, and people who are incredibly selfish.

But if Jesus did not have to go to the cross, then why does it say in verse 31 of our Gospel lesson that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected...and be killed?” The only way to answer that question is with the word, “love.” Jesus had this incredible, indescribable love for us that drove Him to voluntarily suffer an agonizing death on a cross for our sin in order to restore our relationship with God so we could live with Him forever. And that’s the way Jesus describes the Christian life in His Word: voluntary suffering and sacrifice. Living the Christian life is not something that people can force us to do; we do it because we want to, in response to the unconditional sacrificial love that Jesus first showed to us.

Unfortunately, many people look at Christianity more like a job, it’s something they have to do. I remember when I was growing up going out to dinner at a restaurant with friends at this time of the year and hearing my friend’s mom say, “Oh, I would really love to have the special today, but I can’t.” When another adult at the table asked, “Why not?” She replied, “Because it’s Lent and I gave up meat for Lent.” I remember saying to a group of friends when I was a teenager, “I really wish I could go with you guys to the Packers game, but I can’t, I have to go to church.” Do you think God enjoys hearing people talk about sacrifice with that kind of attitude?

Now I think some parents can relate to this. Parents, how happy are you when your children will only clean their room after you have had to ask them over and over again, or will only do it when you threaten punishment? It definitely does not please God when people look at the Christian life as though it is something that is forced on them by others.

We make these sacrifices of time by coming to worship on Sundays, and on Wednesdays during Lent; we give our financial offerings, and we offer ourselves and our abilities to God by volunteering and caring for others in response to what Jesus has done for us. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Leading a Christian life is not to be considered an unpleasant job for us. We should enjoy doing these things for God, even though they are sometimes difficult. Living for God, being a witness for God is something that should permeate every thought we have, every move we make, and every breath we take.

When Jesus came to this earth, His purpose was to do 2 things: Live a perfect life in our place and Die an innocent death in our place. Every decision He made, every miracle He performed, every story He told was done to accomplish that purpose. There were times when His decisions caused Him a lot of pain and suffering; and there were times when He was tired and wanted to be left alone. But when people, who were hurting or suffering, came to see Him, He put aside His needs and willingly took the time to heal, comfort, and teach people. It was more than a job for Him, it was His way of life.

And that’s what the Christian life should be for us, as well. Being a Christian should permeate every area of our lives. Jesus emphasizes this in verse 34 of our text when He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This means that we refuse to make ourselves the sole focus of our lives, and instead we joyfully make God and His will the center of our lives, and this will involve sacrifice. Whenever you deny yourself, you naturally sacrifice and carry a cross.

Sometimes the cross comes from those who want you to do what they want, but you refuse because it’s not what God wants. For example, imagine the pressure a teenager can receive when they choose the church over sports, because the practice times for the sporting event take place during worship or Bible study. Maybe you’ve had the experience of a relative or friend visit you on the weekend and they get upset with you, because you still go to church on Sunday morning instead of spending time with them at home or somewhere else. Or maybe you know someone who received a poor review from their boss at work, because they took an ethical stand on an issue or office procedure. We don’t like those kinds of crosses, they can make the Christian life feel like something we have to do instead of something we want to do.

Peter, the disciples, and many others in our text did not like the idea that Jesus would be rejected by the world, and would suffer and die. When Jesus told them this was going to happen, Peter, the disciples, and this crowd of people who were thrilled to follow Jesus after seeing His amazing miracles faced a real fork in the road in their discipleship. Which way were they going to go? When Jesus said in verse 34, “If anyone would come after me,” I’m sure there were many people who were ready to raise their hand and say, “Pick me! Pick me! I’m ready to follow you!”

But when Jesus went on to say, “Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” I’m sure many who were going to raise their hand then said to each other, “That doesn’t sound fun; it’s getting late, we should probably head home.” The people, including Peter and the disciples, did not understand that such a price, Jesus’ death, was necessary to restore the relationship between us and God. But it happened and as a result, we are forgiven and eternal life is ours by the cross of Jesus, and now there is no price that is demanded of us.

Jesus had a purpose for coming to this world and He fulfilled it. Are you ready to step up as a witness for Jesus in your words, actions, and lifestyle in response to what He has done for you? Take a moment today to look at this orange insert and consider how you can step up in your witness of Jesus, which may involve doing some uncomfortable things or doing some things in a different way. As Christians, our purpose in life is to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because Jesus intentionally chose to suffer and die to give us life and to give us a clear purpose for the lives we live each day.

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