After the first service this past Sunday, someone suggested I file this message as “The Oatmeal Sermon”. So, here it is…
This is a difficult passage of Scripture to tackle this morning. What a quick transition we’ve experienced…We rapidly moved from a scene of joyous celebration to a scene of horrific beauty…Not long before this passage of Scripture, the crowd was heard shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now we encounter a crowd shouting, “Crucify…Crucify” This is a scene of horror because of the amount of pain, suffering, rejection, mocking, torture, and humiliation Jesus endures. This is also a scene of beauty because of the incredible sacrifice and amazing love Jesus displays. For me, the temptation is to simply hit the fast-forward button…to skip over the horror…to avoid the pain endured and hop on over to the Easter celebration. However, I believe we would be doing a huge disservice to the Gospel if we didn’t pause at the scene of Jesus’ death…we’d miss the fullness of the story if we don’t take the time to pause at the cross
Ultimately, this is a story about perseverance. Jesus knew His purpose on earth. Jesus told His followers that these events would take place. Jesus persevered. Jesus is rejected by those He loves, yet he perseveres. Jesus is mocked, yet he perseveres. Jesus is tortured, yet he perseveres. Jesus is humiliated, yet he perseveres. Jesus is hung on a cross, tempted by the crowds to save Himself, yet He perseveres
I wonder how we respond when we face rejection, pain, suffering, loss – how do we respond when we receive bad news? When the test we were praying would be negative is positive? When we hear that there will be more cutbacks at our workplace? When we learn that our spouse or child has made some bad decisions? When the people we love the most let us down? When the people we care about the most reject us? Do we look to God to give the strength and courage to endure? Or do we look for the quickest way out?
I don’t know about you, but I really do not enjoy being put in situations that require me to persevere. I would much rather not face difficult seasons in this life where I am faced with circumstances that challenge me at every level – emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially…
To be totally honest, I prefer not having to endure even the smallest things I face in this life.
Take oatmeal as an example. Yes, plain – old – boring – disgusting oatmeal. I HATE oatmeal. Now, I understand that hate is a strong word. But, I stand by my statement. I absolutely detest the stuff. If you are here this morning and you enjoy oatmeal…Well, I will pray for you…I’ll work you into my counseling schedule this week. If I have failed to make myself clear, let me state again, I hate oatmeal. Don’t even get me started on the variety packs…maple brown sugar, cinnamon and spice, apples and cinnamon, blueberry cream…all of it is simply wrong.
So, wouldn’t you know it…Not too long ago, my family doctor called. He gave me the usually doctor line of, “Due to your family history and some elevated numbers on your last test, I want you to adjust your diet a bit. You need to eat a bowl of oatmeal each morning, eat plenty of vegetables…lots of greens, and exercise 5 times a week for 45 minutes. You know, I am completely fine with eating salads and carrot sticks. And, I enjoy getting outside or hitting the gym for 45 minutes throughout the week. But, I have to draw the line somewhere. And, I draw the line at oatmeal. Oatmeal? Really? This guy must be getting kickbacks from Quaker Oats. Who does he think he is, Wilford Brimley?
The next morning, I sat down with a bowl of plain, boring, disgusting oatmeal. All this accomplished was to affirm the fact that oatmeal is an inappropriate food source.
The following morning, I decided that I would doctor up that bowl…make it a bit more appetizing. I threw in a handful of chocolate chips…and a handful of butterscotch chips. And, you know what? It was awesome. It tasted like a ridiculously soft and mushy cookie.
Sure, I was cutting some corners. But, technically, I was still eating oatmeal. So, when the doctor asks the question, “Have you been eating oatmeal, vegetables, and getting exercise” I can reply, “Yes sir!”
Of course, I am fully aware that cutting corners probably defeats the purpose of eating oatmeal in the first place.
You know, many of us do this with God all the time. He calls us to live our lives in a certain way, and we search for ways to make the uncomfortable comfortable. He calls us to serve, we say “I’m busy, I’ll do it later.” He calls us to give, we say, “Things are tight right now, I’ll do it later.” He calls us to study his word, we say, “I’ll listen to Christian radio.”
Author David Nasser writes that, “In dying on the Cross, Jesus demonstrates that His commitment to obey the Father was greater than His desire for comfort and approval… When he calls us to follow him, we often reply, ‘Lord, you don’t understand. Serving you that way doesn’t fit in with my hopes of being successful and popular. I’ll wait for you to ask me to do something else.’ But ‘something else’ never comes. When we insist on God being on our terms, he refuses to play that game.” (A Call to Die)
Is our desire to follow and obey God greater than our desire for comfort and approval? Do we want to follow God or our own agenda?
If I can’t eat the oatmeal the doctor tells me to, how will I respond when God calls???
The decision to persevere is one about loyalty or disloyalty…Is Christ Lord of all – or just portions of our lives?
To be honest, I believe we reject Jesus (much like the crowd shouting “crucify”)…whenever we put other things before Jesus, whenever we fail to be obedient, whenever we settle for things that are less than what God desires for us, whenever we look for shortcuts rather than enduring, rather than persevering. I don’t know about you, but I want to stop rejecting Jesus.
How do we persevere when we want to throw in the towel?
One way is to come alongside each other – as the church. When I’m down, you encourage me. When life is kicking you in the backside, I encourage you. Sometimes it is difficult to admit that we need one another. After all, in our individualistic society, we are supposed to be able to handle whatever comes our way on our own. Sometimes we learn the hard way that we need to let others help.
A couple of years ago, I had to have my wisdom teeth taken out. It really did not go well. And, it does not help that I am a wimp. I had asked the oral surgeon to give me his best cocktail…I didn’t want to remember a thing. Emily brought me home and did her best to care for me. At one point, well, I had to use the bathroom. The drugs had me in a state where I was not steady on my feet. Emily offered to help. I responded with one of those man statements…”I’m a grown man. I don’t need your help. I can do it myself.” The rest of the story goes like this…I’m in the bathroom for less than a minute and Emily hears a loud crash. She comes in to find part of me on the floor and part of me in the toilet. I needed help. I was too proud to accept the help. Let someone help you before you fall in the toilet. Now, my dad would say, “Well, you should have sat down.” Gee, thanks for the advice, dad! We need each other…from simple things to difficult things.
However, here is the best option. I believe we can find the strength and the courage to press on through whatever life throws at us when we stop and look at Jesus, when we gaze upon the cross, and we put all of our faith, our hope, and our trust in Him. When we remember that His love for the Father and His love for all of us was his ultimate motivation to persevere and endure all that He encountered.
Jesus was rejected, He persevered. Jesus was mocked, He persevered. Jesus was tortured, He persevered. Jesus was humiliated, He persevered. Jesus was hung on a cross, He persevered.
Remembering Christ strengthens our faith and love for Him.
Our love for Christ, and our belief in His love for us, should fill us with the strength, courage, peace, and comfort needed to face whatever comes our way.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened. But, all the cost and pain of the collision was absorbed by the heart of God.” (My Utmost for His Highest)
I believe that God’s heart continues to absorb the cost and the pain of whatever we may face. Let him come alongside you in order to help you persevere. Doing so will help us embody and demonstrate His love, His hope, His grace, His mercy, and His strength in our world.
The story of the cross should fill us with a great sense of hope – not only because we know this is not the end of the story – but because of the great love and beauty displayed by Christ. As tempted as we may be to fast forward to Easter, let us continue to remember the Cross, to remember that is was necessary struggle to gives hope, strength, courage, life, love, joy, and peace to those who choose to believe.
When we encounter the cross, are we filled with awe? Are we encouraged in our belief? Are we filled with hope? Are we filled with the courage necessary to persevere?