A man dies and arrives at the gates of heaven where he is greeted by St Peter who asks, “what religion were you back on earth. The man thinks for a minute and replies Pentecostal. Peter looks down his list and directs the man down the hall. “Go straight to room 24 (explains Peter), but be very quiet as you pass room 8.” Another man arrives at the gates of heaven and again Peter asks the man what religion he was. The man quickly and proudly proclaims “I was a Baptist”. Peter again looks down the list and directs the man down the hall. “Go to room 18 (directs Peter), but be very quiet as you pass room 8.” A third man arrives at the gates and as usual Peter asks “religion?” Peter then directs the man to go directly to room 11, but he must be very quiet when he passes by room 8. The man is curious about the instruction and says “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions here in heaven, but why must I be quiet when I pass room 8?” Peter tells him, “That’s because the Lutherans are in room 8, and they think they're the only ones up here”.
Regardless of your religious affiliation here on earth, who gets into heaven, and who doesn’t is an important question? It’s kind of like a sporting event, or the Olympics, or a Federal Election. There is going to be a winner and there is going to be a loser. The one who comes in second place is considered the first loser. An ancient expression says finders’ keepers, losers’ weepers. Some people today might use a modern ‘loser’ expression to describe other people who don’t agree with their winning mentality, like a football player might say that ‘soccer is for losers’ while the driver of a Mercedes might say that “Fords are for losers.” Although these types of comments are only being offered in jest, they might still annoy us if we were on the receiving end because no one wants to or likes to be called or to be thought of as a loser.
Although we try to stay on the positive or winning side of everything we do in this world, the gospel teaches us that being a loser isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, what you will discover is that being a loser is essential to our Christian faith and life in the kingdom of God because heaven is only for losers. Let’s begin our journey in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he describes “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-9). The example of Jesus doesn’t do much for describing somebody who is a champion, a winner or the one who came in first.
Now, let’s take a look at the gospel. “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am” (Mark 8:27)? This is a pretty innocent question that doesn’t require too much reflections. Just tell me what you are hearing that others are saying about me. I could ask the same of you today, what gossip are you hearing others say about me? The next question requires a lot more consideration before answering because it involves a personal point of view. “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) asks Jesus. In other words, not just what’s in your mind, but what are you telling other people who ask you about who I am. This is definitely a loaded question! Peter answers succinctly and clearly saying “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Peter spoke it but the Twelve had come to believe that Jesus was divine, but there was another lesson still to be learned. They had to learn what it meant to believe that Jesus was the Christ. The Greek title Christ or Hebrew Messiah has two thousand years of Jewish history behind it. Jesus had come to seek the lost children of Israel. His mission was clearly stated as “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). He told the Twelve that he was going to accomplish his mission as “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and be killed. Today, we are used to hearing how Jesus had to suffer and die for our sin, but let’s be clear - this was the first time his disciples had ever heard Jesus speak so plainly about his upcoming death and they were shocked. We would too if we had been in their shoes! Its like the initial shock you get when you receive a mega- enormous quote for fixing your furnace or your car. You might expect it to cost a few hundred dollars, but not ten of thousands of dollars.
But at this point in time, Jesus’ disciples really didn’t understand the Messiah’s mission or how bad the problem of sin really was. The Pharisees and Sadducees generally taught what the Torah explained and dealing with sin could be easily dealt with by sacrificing a lamb or two.
The disciples couldn’t understand why Jesus would have to go to such lengths as to suffer and die in order to fix the problem of sin. Why wouldn’t Peter or any of the others step in at this point and try to dissuade Jesus. “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32). This is not the time for loser talk! Jesus is beginning to make an impact and people are beginning to follow him. We shouldn’t be talking about suffering and dying when everything is going well. And, if the Messiah is a king and descendant from the line of David, dying at this point is ludicrous. But when Peter took Jesus aside to make this point, the Lord instead rebuked him and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). Ouch – that must have stung! Then Jesus calls the crowd of people following him along with his disciples and says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:34–36)?
Satan was always operating in the background. When Peter insists that there is no need for Jesus to suffer and die in order to accomplish his mission, Peter had unwittingly succumbed to Satan’s temptations to draw us away from a life of discipleship in Christ. From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan had offered him the same temptation when he told Jesus that if he wanted to rule the world, he just had to bow down to him. “The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9). Jesus could have received all the glory and power as the God-man Messiah by taking the easy road, through the wide gate - without any need to suffer and die. But Jesus didn’t and he quickly dismissed Peter’s suggestion for what it was – another temptation to take the easy way out.
In both situations, Jesus teaches how to deal with the temptations that come our way by rebuking the temptation immediately, by not allowing it to get a foot-hold in our lives, like the example of a tennis player who quickly rushes towards the oncoming ball in order to slap it back over to the other side of the net. Temptations come at us in many shapes and forms and from different people – friends and sometimes even people whom we believed to be good Christians. Temptations that come from trusted friends are the most dangerous. The Lord’s words apply to every situation for “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40) is good advice in any situation as we are to be on our toes and we are to awake and remain ready to reject temptation even when it comes from a trusted source.
Now that we are focused on preparedness, readiness and awakeness, let's investigate what Jesus means when he says to Peter and the others “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). For you see here that Jesus is basically saying that Heaven is for losers. What this means is that heaven is for those who have despaired of themselves, who know that God shouldn’t want to be with someone like them because they know that they are a lost and condemned sinner. Heaven is for the poor wretched pastor who has to stand before his congregation trembling with fear every time he thinks about the awesome responsibility God has given him to feed his flock the bread of life. God’s word to Jeremiah is clear. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1). And you thought being a pastor was an easy job! On one hand it is a simple task but on the other it’s impossible to shepherd without some thoughts of pride or to just go through the motions. Heaven is for the child of God who has a difficult time with living up to the commandments. Heaven is for those who keep dishonouring their parents. Heaven is for all those people who have lost pride in themselves and know that they daily and consistently fail to live up to the standards that God has set before us.
The opposite is essentially true. Heaven is not for the Teachers of the Law who condemn Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Heaven is not for those who set traps and stumbling blocks to trip up those who believe. Heaven is not the self-righteous Pharisees who “went up into the temple to pray, … The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:10-11). For you see, heaven is not for those who simply brush away their sins, as if they’re just bothersome flies. No matter what you do your sin stays with you and follows you everywhere you go. If we could get rid of our sin, we could get into heaven without anyone’s help. But that’s not the case “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Heaven is not for anyone who knows that by their own effort, by their own doing, they are capable of getting into heaven.
Notice that Jesus never says “take up my cross and follow me.” That’s because Jesus’ cross is different from the one we are called to carry. The cross of Jesus experienced the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. With his cross Jesus let himself be crushed into dust by God’s righteous anger. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The Messiah carried the cross so that we wouldn’t have to and so that we would not have to experience the same thing – which as condemned sinners – we should. In total and complete honesty, there is no need for us to keep beating ourselves up over our sins and our shortfalls. Confess your sins, be sorry for them, repent and stop living in them, but don’t continue to dwell on them as if God could never forgive you for what you have done. God did forgive you – two thousand years ago to be exact! That’s what Jesus accomplished on the cross which is why he doesn’t ask you to carry his cross now. So put it down. Put down the heavy burden you are carrying and in thankfulness - gratefully praise God for having carried it all for you.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to carry his cross, but he does say that we need to carry our own. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). When we think about our cross, we begin to imagine all the unpleasantries of life, like Covid-19, or cancer or forest fires - but our cross isn’t any of these. Taking up our cross means leaving the winner’s circle by taking second place and denying ourselves every desire to put ourselves before others. Many of us have often complained and looked at the world and said, “If I were in charge, I would make things right.” Maybe you would, but the fact of the matter is that God hasn’t put you in charge of the world, the government, or even your church. What God has done for you is to put you and me in a position to support and encourage others – and to pray for them. The cross you and I are called to carry is put to best use when we are in a position to serve, and not to see how much we can get others to serve us.
The world, as we all know, wants power and society and idolizes those who have it. Living in the world is about being a winner, coming out on top – in first place (because nobody remembers who was in second place). That’s why we are a people who are often fascinated by the annual list of the top ten wealthiest people in the world although our names never appear on those lists. But, notice what Jesus has to say about this. What’s the point of gaining all the power and all the riches in this world if you end up losing an eternal life of happiness? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)? Think about it, would you rather spend an hour in church or an eternity in the throne of God in heaven. Even King David knew the answer to that question. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).
Following Jesus can be inconvenient or a hindrance and it might at times feel painful as we daily take up our cross and deny what we might really want for ourselves so that we can serve others. Christian service done with Christ in mind is a joyful type of service that will make us feel happy to give to others because Jesus continues to joyfully give to us and to serve us, for through his death and suffering we have salvation and life eternal. So then, heaven is truly for losers and this should make you happy. After all, when you think about it, what do you have that God needs. Your possessions – well no, they all belong to God in the first place. Yourself, your praise, your thankfulness? Really, do you or I have anything that we can offer to a holy God that is not tainted or marred by sin? Admit your sinfulness, confess, repent and take up your cross daily and resist the urge to put yourself first. I know it's hard, but it's all we can do to empty our hands so that we die and appear at the gate of heaven, we won’t have anything to boast about because our hands are empty and we can admit that we are sinful losers who have put all our trust in Christ - the winner. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.