Winning and Losing

Read Matthew 16.21-28

In order to win, you’ve got to risk losing. The road to success in life and ministry passes through defeat. There are times you have to sacrifice for what you believe in. If you stop when you lose, you’ll never see the glory of success in Christ. Jesus recognizes this truth and attempts to teach it to his disciples.

But they don’t want to hear it. They are on this incredible winning streak. Jesus is healing the sick, the religious leaders are shaking their heads in amazement, the Roman authorities are shaking in their boots. Traveling to Jerusalem, the center of civilization, Jesus and his disciples are on this incredible winning streak that is attracting more followers everyday.

In the midst of this winning streak, Jesus begins to talk about losing. He talks about the suffering he must endure. The disciples don’t what to hear it. Peter speaks up, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 

Peter doesn’t understand God’s plan. Jesus replies sharply, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block for me.” Jesus knows he must suffer. He looks squarely at the face of defeat, trusting that God can snatch victory out of it.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me.” The invitation is not to experience success, wealth or ease, but to take up your cross and follow. Jesus challenges us to get busy investing ourselves in sacrifice and service.

Jesus does not promise immediate rewards if you follow him, but a reward is promised. “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” You will reap everyone for what has been done. You will reap what you sow, maybe not in the present, but in the life to come. Those who are faithful in their commitments, those willing to take risks in their faith, those willing to make sacrifices, to invest themselves in others will see their reward.

Suffering is part of following Christ. As one writer puts it,

The cross of Christ is not an idealistic blueprint for a better world. Jesus’ cross offers, rather, liberating solace to the wounded victims of this world who sigh for a God who cares and for Christians who can share their anguish and alleviate their pain. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his or her own suffering, but by the sufferings of his or her brothers and sisters, for whose sake Christ suffered.

As we become active in mission, sharing in the struggles of our sisters and brothers, we are freed to experience more what life has to offer. We are no longer overwhelmed by our own struggles, but strengthened to face and overcome them. As someone told me recently, “I like to visit nursing homes because the people inspire me by their strength to live each day.” It is more depressing to just think about illness or aging than it is to face it. As we meet people in their own struggles, we receive the power to face our own.

When Jesus said these things to his disciples they didn’t understand. It was only later, much later, after they saw the agony he experienced on the cross, after they saw him risen in glory. After they saw him endure pain, even death, for their sakes, and then rise above it did they know what he meant when he said, “You must lose your life to find it.”

My prayer for us today is that we not have to face death to wake up to the new life God offers. Pray that God lead you to discover ways you can contribute in this faith community, in your homes and work places. Let God’s Spirit inspire you to become more involved. I can promise you that the rewards you will experience, though they may not seem like much at first, will be great in the end.

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