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Tuesday
Apr032018

The Victory of the Cross

Mark 8:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Easter Sunday, April 01, 2018.

It is no secret that Christians see the cross of Jesus as a moment of incredible victory for Him and for us.  It is that moment of overturning what looks like sure defeat.  It is truly a snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.  However, it is easier to get excited about His victory at the cross than it is to think about what that victory would mean in my life.

In this life it is ingrained into us by our own thoughts and desires that winning looks a particular way.  Young people who want a particular yummy item and continue to whine and beg for it are filled with the elation of victory when an adult finally surrenders and gives them what they want.  When that special someone agrees to go on a date, a young person feels that joy of success.  When our job application is accepted for that job we have wanted so badly, we are pumped and on cloud nine.  Marriage, children, cars and houses, all of these things are arenas in which our mind and body seek to be victorious and feel the joys of winning.  In all of these, we fall into the trap of believing that success is getting what our flesh desires and wants.  But Jesus taught us that to live for such a purpose, and to “win” by such a definition, is no victory at all.  It is only a deeper and deeper entrapment of our soul into a prison cell from which we will never escape, that is unless we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could rejoice when he said, “Now thanks to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”  2 Corinthians 2:14.  When Christians actually pick up their cross and follow Jesus, it brings forth a different kind of victory that has little to do with how our flesh “feels” about things.  So as we think about the victory that Christ obtained at the cross during Easter weekend, let us recognize that Jesus is asking us to walk with him in this new, strange victory that He is giving us.

Jesus has called you to Himself.

Verse 34 opens with the phrase that Jesus called the people to Himself.  Now the story of Jesus and His coming into the world is a miraculous story all the way around.  But the biggest miracle is not the virgin birth, or a resurrection from the dead, although these are amazingly great.  The greatest miracle is that the Creator steps down into our world and comes to our side as someone that we can see and with whom we can identify.  Yes, I can’t identify with a virgin birth.  But, I can identify with a child who is under the threat of people who hate his existence and call him an illegitimate child.  I can’t identify with a resurrected Lord, but I can identify with the man who was hated, pilloried, and publicly crucified by those around him.  Maybe I cannot identify at the same level of experience, but definitely I can identify with the same level of vulnerability. 

Having stepped into our world, Jesus calls us to Himself.  He draws us to Himself.  This is the heart of God.  It may appear that He has not cared about you and has given all the gifts to others.  But the reality of Jesus and the cross forever calls us away from envy, jealousy, and the striving of this world.  In Jesus God is calling us to Himself.  But, why does He call us to Himself?

First we see Jesus giving those who came to him teaching or understanding.  God is a teacher at heart.  In Jesus He has stepped into a world of people who keep striving to win, but have little understanding about how to truly win in life.  He steps in and offers us teaching, understanding, and wisdom.  But God wants to do more than download information into our heads.  There are many who only see the teachings of Christ as a kind of ideological virus.  Yet, being a Christian is about more than a particular understanding about life.

Jesus calls us to Himself because He also wants to have a relationship with us.  We were not created by God to live in isolation of Him.  When we live our lives only to please ourselves, we become like a little child with our head down at Christmas playing with the toys and ignoring the parents who sacrificed to buy those toys.  God has created a world full of pleasures and joys.  But it is our selfishness and lack of relationship with The One who created it all that fills such a world with pain and suffering.  Come and have a relationship with The One who redefined what it means to win, The One who took the things of this life to a whole new level, a level that included The Creator who made it all.  You were not intended to go through life alone, and that is why The Creator is calling you to Himself.  He wants you to know His love for you.

Jesus has called you to follow Him.

Relationship is not just emotions and feelings.  It is also a continual, living connection.  Our relationship with God through Jesus is not intended to be a once a year thing at Easter, or a once a week thing on Sunday.  Jesus is calling us to become followers of Him, to follow Him to a particular destination.  Such a connection will affect the physical places to which you go throughout the week, but it is more than that.  Jesus is going on to victory, and he invites us to join Him on this journey.  Last week I said that Jesus offered Himself as the King of Israel, but not in a way that satisfied their fleshly desires.  The same is true in this situation.  Jesus offers Himself as a captain or leader who will take us on to victory, but not in a way that satisfies our fleshly desires.  He says that He will lead us to victory, but He marches towards a cross.  Can you trust such a leader?  Your flesh can’t and won’t.  Are you more than your fleshly desires?  It is as if Jesus walks through a cross-shaped doorway and then beckons you to follow Him through it.  Every part of your flesh shrinks back, not because it doesn’t want victory, but because it cannot conceive of such a doorway leading to any victory that it wants.

Jesus tells the people gathered that if they want to follow Him then they are going to have to do some things first.  They will have to deny themselves in order to follow Him.  It would be appropriate to use the situation where the disciple Peter denied Jesus to analyze this statement.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter followed the soldiers to the High Priest’s compound.  He stayed out in the courtyard trying to find out what would happen to Jesus.  Someone recognizes Peter as a follower of Jesus, which leads him to declare that he did not know the man.  Remember that earlier Peter had boasted that if everyone left Jesus, Peter alone would stand beside him.  Here was his moment.  The moment where the dreams of Peter’s flesh (to be the faithful disciple that is better than all the rest) meets the hard reality of what it really takes to be such a person.  Such a person has to make a hard choice about what desire to satisfy.  Yes, the flesh wants fame and glory, but it doesn’t want suffering, hardship, and crucifixion.  Denying ourselves is seeing Jesus and the desire of our flesh side by side and choosing to stand with Jesus, not our fleshly desire.  Denying ourselves is to allow the desire that we want so badly to be drug off and crucified, instead of Jesus.  In life, when I encounter a problem in following Jesus, like when my flesh want to choose the easy path, but Jesus is telling me that victory lies on another path, precisely at that point is where I will either deny Jesus or myself.  It is not enough to agree with Jesus on 99 points, but refuse to follow on 1.  It is not a denial of our flesh to follow Jesus in the areas where we agree with Him.  No, it is only a denial when my flesh pulls the other direction and tempts me to say that we are done with the man Jesus.  I can’t have both Jesus and the desires of my flesh.  When Jesus says to love your enemy, my flesh laughs and calls such things foolishness.  My flesh says that I can’t win by going that direction.  To follow Jesus and live by His principles or mindset is to say no to ourselves and to say yes to Him.  It is to take our place beside Him and say, “Crucify me too.”

This is why Jesus adds that we will need to pick up our cross in order to follow Him.  This image was literal for Him and many disciples in that first century.  However, the cross is a metaphor for our own personal death to self.  Each person will have to pick up their personal cross (notice he does not say that we will need to pick up his cross).  Denying yourself is not some kind of asceticism where we remove all sensory pleasures from our life.  Rather, it is about picking up that particular cross that has our name on it.  It is about denying those things that are standing in the way of following Jesus and obeying Him.  So what was standing in the way of Jesus’ victory?  Perhaps the desire to raise up a mob and throw out the corrupt religious leaders.  He would also need to raise up an army and miraculously lead it to victory over the Romans so that Herod could be deposed, and Jesus take his place.  He had to die to taking over the world and becoming its emperor and forcing the world into His thinking underneath a boot to the face.  Jesus had crucified such fleshly desires internally before He was ever nailed to the cross.  He had to die to all those natural desires to stay alive, vindicate yourself, and strike down your enemies.  Instead he loved his enemies and blessed them even as He was dying (Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.)

But the real question for each one of us is this.  What is standing in the way of me following Jesus?  Clearly it is not a Roman oppression and worldly-minded Pharisees/Sadducees.  Perhaps it is your reputation that you will have to die to.  Perhaps the things that you know you will have to quit doing or even start doing that are standing in the way of following Him.  Is it forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply?  Your flesh tells you that victory in these areas cannot possibly be found in following the cross-path which Jesus has blazed.  If you are trying to hold on to both Jesus and these conflicting desires then you will find that the tension will increase until you are about to be pulled in two.  At some point you will choose one master and hate the other.  Which will you deny?  Can I choose the path that looks like losing, simply because Jesus is going there?  That is the challenge.

Jesus has called you to victory.

Even though we are called to follow Jesus to our own particular cross, the cross is not our final destination.  It is only a critical waypoint.  Jesus does have a real victory that He is offering us, both in this life and in the life to come.  Thus one of the favorite descriptions used of Christians in the book of Revelation is “overcomer.”  To deny ourselves, pick up our cross and persevere in following Jesus throughout this life is called overcoming the world.  Yes, our victory is mainly a spiritual victory over the lies of our flesh and the lies of this world.  However, it leads to something much more.

But, let’s look at the spiritual part first.  Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man to obtain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Think about what he is implying.  Every time that a person chooses the path of pleasing the flesh over the top of pleasing our Creator, we lose a little piece of our soul.  We were not designed to have “pleasing the flesh” as our purpose in life.  The body was to be a tool that our soul used in this life, rather than our soul becoming a tool of the body.  When we live that way, we little by little give up a piece of our soul.  Something inside of us dies and we lose the freedom and authority that we had over ourselves.  We find ourselves, little by little, coming under the tyranny of this body that is slowly wasting away.

Another way to think of this is to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 21:19.  “By your perseverance, take possession of your souls.”  Jesus uses terminology that hints at Israel coming into the Promised Land.  It had giants that had taken over the territory.  If they wanted it, they would have to trust God to help them win the battles.  Similarly, we have lost territory in our souls by serving the flesh.  When we come to Christ, He challenges us to fight these giant strongholds of fleshly desires by His Spirit.  By persevering with our faith in Christ, we will have the victory, which is to have back our own soul.  The truth will set you free.  Now, even when the teacher has taught you how to win, it is not easy to follow through.   Perseverance is that part that keeps going when every other part wants to quit.  It is easy to start following Jesus, but it is difficult to stay with Him all the way.  Yet, in so doing, you will find that God gives you back your soul.  There will be a life within you that replaces the deadness inside.  This is a true victory that we can have in this life.

But the victory is not just a spiritual or unseen victory.  Jesus has called us to receive glory and honor at the day of Judgment.  Jesus actually rose up out of the grave, presented himself to over 500 people at various times over the course of 40 days, and then ascended into heaven in front of their eyes.  In verse 38 Jesus puts the stakes in a negative light.  If we choose to satisfy our flesh then there is a day of judgment when Jesus returns with His holy angels.  Those who lived for their flesh and denied Jesus will find shame and disgrace.  But those who picked up their cross and followed Him will find glory and victory.

The cynic will reply that Jesus hasn’t come back yet, and chances increasingly are that He never will.  But life teaches us that there is always a day of reckoning.  You can avoid it your whole life, but eventually the truth catches up with you.  Only a fool tells themselves that they can cut the corners, serve only their self, and get away with it (i.e. be victorious).  Jesus stands on the other side of the cross and beckons us to walk through it to victory.  This strange door causes our flesh to fear, but it is the path to true victory.

Victory of the Cross Audio