Let us pray: Dear Savior, although all of us are by nature competitive and view life in terms of what we attain, human success and human “things” really don’t buy happiness. Likewise, they don’t buy eternal life, either. Today teach us to value our lives in spiritual terms. Teach us that when we lose our definition of human success, and embrace Your definition of eternal success—only then will we find true peace. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR SACRIFICIAL SAVIOR!
TEXT: Mark 8: 31-38
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
It runs directly counter to the human definition of success. It runs directly opposite to what is taught in our schools, our businesses, and most of our homes today. It is the truth of our lesson: You win by losing. Let me explain.
America is sports crazy. From grade school on kids are involved and enrolled in sports programs. And although they pay lip service to “character building” by losing, they really preach: win, win, win, for no one likes to be labeled “a loser.” American business ethics are basically: win at all costs. Otherwise you’ll be out of a job. Today there is even a buzz word for that attitude. It is: competitiveness. Likewise, we define and characterize people we meet as either “winners” or “losers” depending on their income and wealth.
The Las Vegas gambler goes with one thing in mind: win! Some do, more don’t. The winners are held in high esteem, the losers aren’t even talked about for fear of transferring their “bad luck.” Lest you think I’m picking only on Americans, be reminded that such a simplistic view of life is native to all humans. The bottom line is that our sinful nature always causes pride shown by a competitive streak to reveal itself in all we do. We just cannot get our head around the concept that anything good can come from losing.
I suppose that’s why our lesson is so jarring. Indeed, it is a paradox. A mystery to mortal man. And yet, we all know, down deep, that it is true. For we’ve all been “losers” in our lives, and learned from it for the better. Yes, for the Christian:
YOU WIN BY LOSING
Jesus has just elicited a wonderful confession of faith from Peter. Just prior to this lesson, Peter said of Him: “You are the Christ, the Son of living God.” Now, to prepare the disciples for the heart-wrenching sacrifice that would soon come in Jerusalem, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Up until now it appeared to the disciples that they had backed a winner. The crowds adored Christ. His miracles astounded them. But now, Jesus talks about losing it all. He talks of impending death and yes, resurrection, but they do not key in on that fact for they cannot get beyond their loss with His death. None of them like this kind of talk. It seems like defeatism measured in human terms. And so Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. You can almost hear his words: “Don’t talk that way. Everything will work out. You have almighty power. They’ll never lay a hand on You.”
By this response we see that Peter doesn’t understand the truth that You win by losing. He doesn’t understand that true love and true joy stem from self-sacrifice. From giving up the worldly attitude of success. Satan only understands pride-filled competitiveness. In fact, he’s the source of such an earth-bound attitude. But Christ is God. Christ understands that life is really about those Godly intangibles such as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.—All born of losing. All born of knowing that life is more than winning a football game, winning a big contract, or winning a lot of money playing roulette. Life is really about character-building through handling loss and rising above the pettiness of this life. Life is eternal and therefore must be played by God’s eternal rules. That’s why Jesus says: “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
How do you run your life? What rules do you play by? What defines how you live?—The things of God, or the things of men?
Well, the paradox continues. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Then to put it even more bluntly, Christ continues: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
You win by losing. That is a paradoxical truth of Christianity. It is also a truth that, like you, I’m still struggling with. When I was a fresh-faced pastor I really thought that my ministry could be defined by the worldly definition of success or failure. That is, the more people you bring in, the more money the church has, the more grandiose the building, the more humanly beautiful it is—the more I was “winning.” However, I still recall Bill Stark, our elder chairman at the time, reminding me: “Pastor it’s not about numbers, it’s about faithfulness to God’s Word.” That is, my ministry is really about being honest and truthful in applying God’s truths to hurting souls. Some take them to heart. Others walk away. But, in the end, only Christ gives the increase, and only Christ is glorified—not my flesh.
By human definitions of success, I’m a loser. I’m not rich. I don’t have a “big” church. Our building is adequate not wowie-zowie. And I’ve had to learn that in the end none of that matters. That’s because I’m happy! I’ve got a clear conscience, through God’s grace. I’m able to serve God by attending to your spiritual needs. I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives. What more to life is there?
Along the way I’ve had to learn the hard way that the true meaning to life is embracing and living those fruits of the Spirit I mentioned earlier. And the only way to possess them is to deny my flesh, get rid of the “winner vs. loser mentality,” take up my cross of reliance on God’s ways instead of my own, and follow Jesus wherever He leads. True happiness is found by faithfully embracing God’s Word: “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” It is found by embracing His truth: “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” It is in acknowledging our “loser” status and clinging to His victory on the cross instead of trumpeting our own minor achievements.
You Win By Losing. I’ve had to learn and re-learn that truth the hard way. And all of you are in the same boat.—That’s life. But, instead of complaining about it and turning into whiners, give all your crosses to Christ. After all, He’s ready to carry them and already has! All of life’s “winners” will eventually lose it all in death. But not you, dear Christian. For Jesus won the ultimate victory over death just for you. Yes, in the end it is the “losers” who will become “winners.” That is the Christian hope that does not disappoint! Amen