How to Pray (Luke 10:38-11:13)

Today we're going to be talking about how to pray. Next Sunday we want to pray together about our community, but before praying we should spend some time asking how to pray.

Here's what I would love to be able to tell you. I would love to tell you that prayer is easy. I would love to get up here and tell you that anybody can pray, and we don't need to spend time asking how, but it's not true. If I told you that I'd be setting you up for failure and discouragement.

In a way, prayer is easy. Somebody's said that it's impossible for a Christian to pray poorly, just like it's impossible for a child to draw a picture that mom or dad won't like. God always delights when his children come to him. The fact that we don't know what to say or how to say it doesn't matter. Prayer is so easy a new Christian can do it without instruction, and children can probably pray better than adults. So, in a way, prayer is easy.

But prayer is also hard, much harder than people think, and if you don't know this then you're setting yourself up for failure and discouragement. We all know this by experience. Over a hundred years ago, a man named Samuel Chadwick captured this tension about prayer being both easy and hard at the same time:

Prayer is full of apparent contradictions. It is so simple that a child can pray, and it is so profound that the wisest cannot explain its mystery. It is so easy that those who have no strength can pray, and it is so strenuous that it taxes every resource of energy, intelligence, and power. It is so natural that it need not be taught, and it is so far beyond nature that it cannot be learned in the school of this world's wisdom. Prayer is a world in itself, and no one aspect of life's similes can explain it.

I heard one preacher say that it's much easier to preach for thirty minutes than to pray for thirty minutes. He admitted that he's preached some bad sermons. He's rambled, he's lost his place. But never have they been so bad that he forgot that he was preaching. But he's been on his knees many times before the king of the universe and he's forgotten that he's praying. He said, "Try and focus on the loving king of the universe for thirty minutes and you will find out how weak you are" (Tim Keller). John Newton, the hymn writer who wrote Amazing Grace, said that praying is so hard that sometimes the buzzing of a fly in the room is an overmatch for his strength. Prayer is incredibly hard, and it's important that we recognize this so we're not surprised.

If prayer is hard, we need to learn how to pray. One time, the disciples of Jesus once asked him this very question. They came and said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Jesus answered, and we're going to look at some of what he said. There's more to learn, but if you only learned what Jesus said here, you'd have enough for a lifetime of prayer.

He teaches us to pray like it matters, to pray relationally, and to pray audaciously. Let's look together at each of these, beginning at the end of Luke 10 and the first part of Luke 11.

1. Pray like it matters

You wouldn't expect to learn about prayer at a dinner party, but that's exactly where we start in learning how to pray. The story is about a dinner party in which Jesus is the guest at the home of Mary and Martha, who are good friends with Jesus. They're facing the same challenges that we all face when we have guests over for dinner: getting the house clean in time, getting all the dishes ready at the same time, and looking relaxed while this is all going on. It's not easy. We've had dinner parties that have gone well; we've actually had one in which we had to extinguish a fire in the oven and stand outside while the smoke cleared while we thought about what else we could have for dinner that didn't have fire extinguisher chemicals on it. You know the stress of pulling a dinner party together.

In this party, things kind of spilled over because the one sister, Mary, didn't pull her weight. The other sister, Martha, finally lost it and came out to complain to Jesus, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" She had a point. Dinners don't cook themselves.

Not only that, but she was breaking social convention by sitting with Jesus. Back then men met in the public room. Women worked in the kitchen, and if the work was done there they retired to the other private quarters. Men and women never mixed together in that day inside; they never sat together in the living room or the public rooms together. They certainly never sat at the feet of a rabbi and learn as a disciple, because this would imply that you were hoping to become a rabbi yourself one day. It wasn't seen as being sexist or about superiority or inferiority; it was just how people thought it was appropriate for the two sexes to mingle in that day.

So you would expect Jesus to agree with Martha and send Mary to help out and go where she should have been along. But Jesus says instead in verses 41-42:

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Let's look at what Jesus wasn't saying. Jesus wasn't saying that spending time with him is better than serving. For centuries people have piled on Martha as if she's the villain, and praised Mary. But Jesus never condemns Martha for her work in the kitchen. Think how much trouble we'd be in if we didn't have people like Martha. Our church would have to shut down if we all stopped being like Martha.

Right before this incident, Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrificial service. At the end of the parable Jesus says, "Go and do likewise!" So obviously Jesus isn't putting down what he just commanded. The problem isn't that serving Jesus is bad.

We need Martha, but the problem is if we're only like Martha and we're never like Mary. The problem is that we think that what Martha does is important and it's work, but what Mary does isn't as important and should only happen when you're done working. We think that when we're like Martha we're doing something, and when we're like Mary we're not getting anything done.

One of the reasons that I love this story is because of its layers. At first glance, it's about valuing our time with Jesus. There's a whole other layer here though. Mary completely broke conventions by sitting and listening to Jesus. You just don't do that if you're a woman in Mary's day.

I think that we have to break just as many conventions today to slow down and sit at Jesus' feet. They're not conventions about gender. They're conventions about productivity and busyness and getting things done. In a culture that says that you're not worth anything if you're accomplishing something, it takes courage to stop and to think that sitting at the feet of Jesus accomplishes something. It accomplishes more than we could ever think, and yet it looks like we're getting nothing done.

A pastor friend of mine e-mailed me this week. I was telling him about what we're doing in praying before we act, and he wrote this:

I spend Wednesday mornings in prayer these days, convicted that I am the worst offender for running ahead of God, or maybe not running at all even when He calls. I have a growing sense of desperation that all my busyness is fruitless if God is not the Author of it, and a growing sense of desperation for God to come down and really do something. Maybe we could pray together after our luncheons.

Just a few ideas. It is now 8:45 and I need to get to prayer.

When I read that e-mail, I realized how much of Martha I have in me. I also have to admit that this cartoon came into my mind [a woman interrupts a pastor in prayer - "Oh good...you're not busy!"]

cartoon

To spend a morning each week in prayer seems like such a luxury, so passive, that it's foreign to us - even to pastors. It illustrates how prayer-less we've become.

Then I read a commentator, who talked about serving as an elder at his church. The elders made a commitment to be leaders of prayer at that church. They meet every Tuesday morning from 6:30 to 8:00 to pray for the needs of the church. He calculated that they spend three times the amount of time together praying or getting prepared to pray as they do tackling issues directly. They spend most of their time praying, only about a quarter of the time doing. But even then there's a twist. "Even the way I have put this is misleading, " he says, "for when we pray, we are doing the work of leadership for the church. Before activity can be meaningful and done with sensitivity, it should be bathed in prayer. I suspect that many of us could use a little more Mary and a little less Martha in our lives."

Oswald Chambers wrote:

The job of every Christian is to pray. Plain and simple. Yet we want to do more than simply pray. We want to do something important for God; we want to be someone important to Him. We want to build; we want to mobilize; we want to show our strength and exert our influence. Prayer seems like such a small thing to do - next to nothing at all in fact...Most of us would rather spend our time doing something that will get immediate results...

Prayer is our business, our only business. Prayer is our holy occupation. Plain and simple.

The first how-to on how to pray hardly seems like a how-to at all. It's to pray like it matters, because it does. You are never more effective, never more productive, then when you spend time in prayer. Again, Oswald Chambers wrote, "We use prayer as a last resort; Jesus wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do; Jesus wants us to pray before we do anything at all."

Next week we're going to pray this way, believing that praying for our community is just as important as serving our community. I'm going to invite Dave Cook to come and pray that God would teach our church the importance of prayer - to go against the grain of culture and pray like it really matters, because it does.

2. Pray relationally

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus gave them a version of what we usually call The Lord's Prayer. I'm a little intimidated to look at the Lord's prayer as just part of a sermon, because there's so much here. We could spend weeks on this. I tried to think of what Luke's version teaches us. We obviously can't explore everything, but I think there is something here that we need to focus on.

I don't think it's the wording. You'll notice as you read Luke 11:2-4 that it's different than the version that you normally pray, which we get from Matthew 6. This was a different occasion, and Jesus gave the same prayer but in not exactly the same words. The content, the framework of this prayer is what we should be praying, but it goes beyond the exact words.

You know what I think we learn most of all from this prayer? That it's relational.

Jesus begins by teaching us to pray, "Father." Jesus was the first person to ever address God this way, and he teaches us to do the same. In other words, the whole basis of prayer is our relationship to God as adopted children. We come to him not as King, although he is our King. We come to him not as Creator, even though he is our Creator. Jesus says that we come to him based on the relationship that Christ made possible through the cross. It's the relationship that matters.

Like all good relationships, we begin focusing on the other. When you have a healthy relationship, it's because you are focused on the other first. Being self-centered doesn't work for relationships. This is even more so when the other person in the relationship is God. So Jesus teaches us to pray, "Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." When we focus on ourselves, we get disoriented. In the book of Job, Job is complaining - understandably so - because his life is such a mess. God revealed himself, and nothing else changed, but that was enough. Job was transformed because he focused on God, even though his circumstances hadn't changed. So Jesus teaches us to focus on God first in our relationship.

Then we give him the ordinary details of our lives. We talk to him about our lives. "Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation." This is just talking to him about everything that is part of our lives. The key is relationship.

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. He could have answered by giving them a lecture about proper prayer techniques and approaches. Instead, he tells them to pray relationally. The relationship is the point. How do we pray? We pray by focusing not on techniques or approaches. We pray by reestablishing our relationship with God and talking to him on the basis that we are adopted children, and we can give him every part of our lives.

George MacDonald wrote that prayer gives us what we need most, and the thing we need most isn't what he think we need. The thing that we need most is God himself. Prayer brings us into communion with God - "a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer." The relationship is the point.

Next week we'll be tempted to pray according to techniques or to impress God or others. Jesus says not to do this. Simply come and pray as a child would come to his father and talk about life. Jon McMurray is going to come and pray now that we will learn how to pray with God relationally.

3. Pray audaciously

There's one more lesson that I want to look at. Jesus teaches us to recognize the importance of prayer and then to pray relationally. But then he invites us to pray in a way that's going to seem strange to us. It's going to seem like this is exactly the wrong way to pray, but Jesus tells us to do it.

Do you ever go out and see a couple who look like they've been married for years sitting at a restaurant? There's something about some of them. They don't talk. They sit there at dinner, and you get the impression that they've said everything there is to say to each other. Their relationship is stale. It's become dull over the years. What Jesus says here helps us avoid ever having this type of relationship with God.

There's a word that Jesus used in verse 8 that's hard to translate. Some translate it persistence, audacity, impudence, tenacity, or shamelessness. It's a word that describes someone who overlooks what's proper or possible and is almost insolent and reckless. It's about persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable, and refusing to take a denial. It's a combination of being bold and shameless. And Jesus says that this is the way that we should pray. Why would he say this?

Jesus tells us a story of someone who acted with shameless persistence in a real life situation. Late at night, a friend arrives at his house. The laws of hospitality dictated that if somebody arrived needing food and shelter, you were under obligation to provide it. But he didn't have bread, and there's no 24-hour Sobeys, so he bangs on his neighbor's door. On the other side of that door is a family that sleeps side by side on the floor, like we do when we go tent camping.

Jesus poses the dilemma. If you were in that spot, would you wake up your neighbor and his whole family? If you do, what if your neighbor refuses? Do you keep on knocking? If so, Jesus says, that neighbor will get up and give you what you need - not out of friendship but to get rid of you. In other words, because you are shamelessly bold, audacious, shameless in what you ask for.

Jesus says that this is exactly how we should pray - boldly banging on the door. God isn't like the sleepy friend; Jesus actually says that he's ready to answer prayer. It's not that God is like the sleepy neighbor; we're supposed to be like the shamelessly bold guy knocking at the door. N.T. Wright says:

[Jesus] is encouraging a kind of holy boldness, a sharp knocking on the door, an insistent asking, a search that refuses to give up. That's what our prayer should be like. This isn't just a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness, and those who have glimpsed the light are called to struggle in prayer...

God desires prayer that is bold, even shameless, in coming to him. When you read the prayers of the Bible, they're bold. They argue with God.

Alexander the Great supposedly had a leading general whose daughter was getting married. Alexander the Great said that he'd be happy to contribute to the wedding. He said that he knew it would be expensive, so just ask for something.

The general wrote out out a request for an enormous sum, a ridiculous sum. When Alexander's treasurer saw it, he brought it to Alexander and said, "I'm sure you're going to be cutting this man's head off now for what he's done. The audacity of asking for something like this! Who does he think you are?"

Alexander said, "Give it to him. By such an outlandish request, he shows that he believes that I am both rich and generous." He was flattered by it.

John Newton wrote a hymn with these words: "Thou art coming to a king; large petitions with thee bring; for his grace and power are such, none can never ask too much."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

I commend to you the reading of biographies of men who have been used by God in the church throughout the centuries, especially in revival. And you will find this same holy boldness, this argumentation, this reasoning, this putting the case to God, pleading his own promises. Oh, that is the whole secret of prayer, I sometimes think. Thomas Goodwin uses a wonderful term. He says, "Sue him for it, sue him for it." Do not leave him alone. Pester him, as it were, with his own promises. Quote the Scripture to him. And, you know, God delights to hear us doing it, as a father likes to see this element in his own child who has obviously been listening to what his father has been saying.

Samuel Chadwick said, "There are blessings of the kingdom that are only yielded to the violence of the vehement soul." One of the most prolific writers on prayer (E.M. Bounds) says that "Prayer in its highest form...assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God." Someone else (William Wink) says, "Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It's more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the church."

So let's pray, and let's not be polite about it. Let's sue God for his promises. Let's grab hold and refuse to let go. I'm going to invite Charlene to come and pray that God would teach us how to pray.

These are the three lessons Jesus teaches us on how to pray. There's lots more that we could say, but if you just do these three things - recognize the importance of prayer, pray relationally, and pray audaciously - it will be enough to keep you going for years. It's certainly going to be enough to keep us going next week.

But most of all, pray. Philip Yancey observes that when he travels, he notes that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer, and more time actually praying. We rely on talent and resources to solve our immediate problems, and insurance polices and RRSPs to secure the future. They pray.

We need to know a few things to get praying, but most of all we just need to pray. If you know that prayer is hard, that we are to pray relationally and audaciously and like it really matters, then you know enough. So let's pray individually this week, and in groups. And I'm looking forward to praying with all of you next Sunday morning. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10).

Why Pray? (Psalm 131)

I'm both excited and a little scared about these next couple of weeks.

Earlier this year, our church board met to talk about our priorities for the coming year. A funny thing happened when we got to talking about serving our community. We really have all kinds of ideas about what we could be doing to serve our community, but instead of picking one and running with it, the board's taken a different direction. They've suggested that we hold a church-wide time of prayer to ask for God's direction. In other words, we'd like to ask God to direct us as we serve our community. We want to pray before we act.

This isn't a way to avoid having to choose to do something. Prayer isn't an excuse for inaction. I think it's a realization, though, of how much we need God. We don't just need him to direct us to what he wants us to do. We also need him to prepare us for what he wants to do through us.

It's always important to pray before we go out and do something, even though our natural inclination is to skip the prayer and go out there and do something. Jesus prayed before the major events of his life. The early church prayed and waited on God between the Ascension and Pentecost. The church that we encounter in Scripture is a praying church. Throughout church history, major movements of God among his people always seem to be tied to people crying out to God in prayer. Someone has studied all the great revivals and concluded, "Every spiritual awakening of significance from the beginning of Acts to the powerful Welsh revival early in [last] century had its roots in prayer."

So, it's very important that we spend this time in prayer as we ask for God's direction and help as we serve our community.

Two weeks from today, in our morning service on April 29, we're going to devote almost our entire morning service to prayer. This sounds scary, but I'm looking forward to it. You're not going to be put on the spot and be made to pray aloud. We'll do it in such a way that everybody can participate. Somebody's said that prayer is one of the few things that everybody can do, and we're going to practice this in a couple of weeks. So I'm excited. I think this is going to be an important moment for our church.

But let's be honest. It's also a bit scary. If I'm completely honest, I feel like I'm just a beginner when it comes to prayer. I feel like I'm in prayer kindergarten, and I really wish I was in prayer graduate school.

Very few of us feel like we're praying the way we should. A Christian book publisher conducted a website poll and discovered that only 3% of respondents felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. We know that prayer is important, but many of us experience it not as a pleasure, but as a burden. Pastors and non-pastors alike rank prayer as high in importance - and also high in frustration.

For lots of us, prayer is a source of guilt. One of the books I read to prepare for today said, "Rather than being the source of feelings of joy and victory that it is intended to be, for most of us prayer triggers a sense of guilt and defeat!" (Stanley J. Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom)

We don't even really understand prayer. A student at Princeton asked, "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" Supposedly, Albert Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer." Whatever we know about prayer, we have all kinds of unanswered questions.

The late British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way: "Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer."

So prayer is a great opportunity - but it's also scary for a lot of us. It's something that we're not doing as well as we would like.

I want to ask one simple question today: why pray? Next week, I want to ask a second question: how do we pray? Then, the week after, we're going to actually come together to pray.

But this morning I want to simply ask: why pray?

We need to eliminate the wrong answers first. We don't pray to tell God something he doesn't already know. Jesus taught us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8).

We also don't pray to give God advice. If God took advice from us, we'd all be in a heap of trouble. God already knows everything we're going to tell him, and he certainly doesn't need help from us in taking care of the world.

We do understand that prayer does something. James 5:16 tells us, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." We don't understand how this works, but it is one of the reasons that we pray.

We also pray because of the possibility that prayer changes us, although we're not really clear how that works.

This morning, though, I'd like to suggest one of the most important reasons why we pray. It's probably not something that we think about often, but this is huge. But I'm convinced it's one of the most important reasons why we must pray. It's a huge potential blind spot for all of us, and prayer is exactly what we need if we are going to avoid this danger which will literally wreck our lives if we don't deal with it.

I'd like to look at one of the shortest chapters in the Bible. It's attributed to King David, the king by which all other kings were measured in Israel, and was likely used by pilgrims as they came to Jerusalem to worship. This psalm is only three verses long, but it's packed with meaning. Charles Spurgeon wrote that it's "one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn."

This psalm puts its fingers on one of our greatest problems, and it also tells us why we need to pray. Please open your Bibles and read it with me. It's Psalm 131.

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions. I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

I think this psalm is almost like getting a diagnosis from the doctor of what's wrong with us. It identifies one of our greatest problems, but it also tells us how we can move from how we normally operate to a more appropriate way.

Let's look at what this psalm says about the way we normally operate, about how prayer helps to move us to how we should operate, and then what this means for our church.

The way we normally operate

A group of senior corporate executives were picked. The criteria was that they had to have a net worth of $1 million or more not including their primary residence. They were asked what what they credited for their current financial status. Listen to what they said:

Hard Work — 99%
Intelligence and good sense — 97%
Higher-than-average I.Q. — 83%
Being the best in every situation — 62%
Luck — 32%

Do you notice anything about this list? What do the top four have in common? They're about the qualities and accomplishments of the senior executive - what they had accomplished themselves. They only identified one factor that they couldn't attribute to their own personal qualities, and that's blind luck. Success comes from being good and from being lucky. This is the way that we normally operate.

Eugene Peterson writes in every culture, Christians face a stumbling block that's put before them, but it's decorated as a monument and we don't even realize it's there. In other words, he says that we have a huge blind spot, and in our society, this is it: ambition. And, I would add to this, self-reliance. "Our culture encourages and rewards ambition without qualification," he writes. "We are surrounded by a way of life in which...everyone wants to get more. To be on top, no matter what it is the top of, is admired."

What's wrong with this? Peterson writes:

There is nothing recent about the temptation. It is the oldest sin in the book, the one that got Adam thrown out of the garden and Lucifer tossed out of heaven. What is fairly new about it is the general admiration and approval that it receives...

What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the taking of things into your own hands, being your own god, grabbing what there is while you can get it, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you are able; get ahead regardless of the price, take care of me first. For a limited time it works. But at the end the devil has his due.

Don't get him wrong. He's not saying that we should coast through life and settle for mediocrity. But in this psalm, David puts his finger on a very real danger that we face: of becoming self-reliant and proud, forgetting who's God and who's not. We'll try to run our own lives and take on a role that really belongs to God.

David writes in verse 1, "My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me." The Message paraphrases this verse, "God, I'm not trying to rule the roost, I don't want to be king of the mountain. I haven't meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans."

Here is the condition that David diagnoses: our tendency towards self-reliance and pride. We have this tendency to think that we are in control, that we can aspire to great things. Some interpreters think that the "great matters" and "things too wonderful for me" that David talks about are the things that are the mighty works of God. In other words, we start to take on God's role and control our own worlds. The flip side is that we slowly edge God out of our lives and take over his role. We forget how much we need God - that God is God and we're not.

Here's the thing: we don't even realize that this is wrong. The real danger is what somebody's said: "Humility is the obverse side of confidence in God, whereas pride is the obverse side of confidence in self" (John Baillie). In other words, we have a choice. We can be self-confident and self-reliant and in control of our lives - but then we remove ourselves from God's blessing, because "God opposes the proud" (James 4:6). Or we can place our confidence in God and receive the grace that God gives to the humble. We normally live the first way - full of self-confidence and pride. Prayer moves us to the second way of living, in which we trust in God alone.

This could be the greatest reason why we pray. Prayer moves us from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God. Prayer is, in large part, the struggle to admit that we are not self-sufficient. E.M. Bounds wrote:

Prayer is the language of a [person] burdened with a sense of need. It is the voice of a beggar, conscious of his poverty, asking of another the thing that he needs...Not to pray is not only to declare that there is nothing needed, but to admit a non-realization of that need.

Jim Cymbala puts it this way: "When we don't pray, it's primarily because we don't sense our need for God." The power of God won't get released in our lives until we give up being in control.

Where prayer moves us

Here's where prayer moves us: Prayer moves us from self-reliance to prayerful dependance on God. David gives us a beautiful picture of who we are when we come to God as we ought. In verse 2, he writes, "But I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions. I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content." Peterson writes:

I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others; that is God's business. I will not pretend to invent the meaning of the universe; I will accept what God has shown its meaning to be. I will not noisily strut about demanding that I be treated as the center of my family or my neighborhood or my work, but seek to discover where I fit and what I am good at. The soul, clamorously crying out for attention and arrogantly parading its importance, is calmed and quieted so it can be itself, truly.

In other words, prayer moves us not to inaction but something far better: childlike trust. "Faith is an area where growing up means we must become more like a child" (Colleen Townsend Evans). The picture that David gives us is of a child who is too old to want to nurse, too young to be completely independent - just that right age when the child loves resting at his mother's side, happy just to be with her. It's a picture of us desiring God for himself, not for what he can give us. We no longer rest in ourselves or try to direct our own paths. Instead, we rest in God and trust him to direct our paths.

What an amazing way to live. Instead of trying to run our own lives, we become willing to be led, to be taught, and also to be blessed. We give up all the pressures of trying to run our own lives and let God run them instead. Prayer moves us to acknowledge our deep need of God, and acknowledging that need is exactly what "taps into and releases God's resources" (Stanley Grenz).

I think I've mentioned to you that last year, I was putting myself under a lot of pressure to make things happen at Richview. It got frustrating, because I have a role to play, but I have no business trying to take on what only God can do. At one point, I realized that my heart was proud, my eyes were haughty, that I was taking on things too wonderful for myself. God began to teach me how to move to quiet, prayerful dependence on him to do what only he can do. In other words, he began to teach me to pray again.

Spurgeon wasn't kidding when he said that this is one of the shortest psalms to read, and one of the longest psalms to learn. We all need to learn - and re-learn - what only prayer can teach us: to stop trying to run things ourselves, and instead trust God to do what only he can do, which leads us into quiet confidence and rest in him.

What this means for all of us

Remember what Jim Cymbala said: "When we don't pray, it's primarily because we don't sense our need for God." This morning, I'm going to invite you to quit being God. There's stuff in your life that you're carrying in your own strength, that you're trying to manage yourself. You haven't prayed about it. Today I'm inviting you to move that over and to come to God as a weaned child. I invite you to turn over the running of your life and the universe to God, who can do it a lot better than you can, and instead to draw into God's presence and enjoy a relationship with him. I'm going to invite you to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God.

But this isn't just a message for us individually. David ends the psalm in verse 3 with this: "Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore." David is saying that if this is good enough for us individually, it's good enough for the whole nation. If a person can give up self-reliance and move to prayerful dependence on God, a church can also move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God and contentment in him. "If you remain in me and I in you," Jesus said, "you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Let's commit to being a church that thinks we have to rely on our own strength and strategies, and instead become a church that taps into God's powers and to learn the contentment and joy of resting in him.

So would you stand with me and let me pray for you.

Lord, I pray for these people whom you know and you love.

I pray that you would help them to give up the pride that seems to be our natural default. Give us eyes to see that you are God and that we're not. Help us resign this morning from thinking that we have to have all the answers, that we are responsible for running the universe. This morning we hand in our resignation notice. We're going to stop pretending that we're a god, and instead we're going to let God be God in our lives.

We come to you, individually and as a church, as children, content just to be with you. We need you, not for what you can do for us. More than anything, we just need you.

Teach us the contentment of quieting our souls and relying on your strength, and not our own. May we learn through prayer what it means to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependance on God. Why pray? Because we need to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God. Teach us this, we pray. In Jesus' name, Amen.

The Promise of the Cross - Strength to Get Through Anything (2 Timothy 1:6-12)

This morning I want to look at the life of an old man. This man had almost nothing going for him. He was cold, in prison, literally chained to a guard. He was about to be killed. He had gone from being well-respected and successful to being an outcast. His life had been full of hardship, and, according to tradition, he was about to be beheaded.

Yet you get a sense that this old man was full of confidence and joy, that he could take anything that you could throw his way. He knew that he was about to die, yet you get the sense that he really didn't care. This man had been transformed so that he could handle anything that life threw his way.

He's not the only one either. If he was the only one, you could say that he possessed an unusual strength of character, or was one of these unusual people who are better than the rest of us. But he wasn't the only one. You look around, and you see that there are a whole bunch of people you could only call cowards who were transformed into people who were willing to stare death in the face without flinching. What changed in these people?

Maybe a better question is, how can we get what they got? What did they have, and how can we get it? To find out, I'd like to read the words of this old man, written to a younger man who didn't quite have the same courage. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn them to 2 Timothy 1 as we look what exactly this man had that allowed him to face anything.

2 Timothy 1:6-12 says:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

You see what this old man, Paul, had? He not only had confidence and joy in the face of death, but he invited his young protege Timothy to join him and to have the same confidence, so he could face whatever came his way. By extension, I think we could say that we are invited to embrace what Paul did, so that we can face whatever comes our way with complete joy and confidence.

What is it, and how can we have the same strength to get through anything that life throws our way?

According to Paul, it's because of something that has been true for a long time, but has been hidden. Verses 9 and 10 say that whatever it is has been present for as long as the world existed, but it's only been revealed in the life of Jesus.

You know, some people were able to figure this out even before and they had the same confidence that Paul did. Hebrews 11 lists a number of people who lived the way that Paul did. A lot of the stories are ones of faith in which everything turns out well. Near the end of the chapter, though, the writer lists some stories where things didn't turn out well:

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38)

One of the most moving stories actually took place between our Old and New Testaments in the Apocrypha in 2 Maccabees. A mother and her seven sons were arrested and tortured unless they disobeyed God. They replied, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." So one by one the king brought the brothers out, and in front of the mother he cut off their tongues, scalped them, and cut off their hands and their feet while the mother looked on. He then burned them in a pan until they died. It's a horrible chapter to read.

But as each of her sons was tortured, the mother said to them, "The LORD God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us." She encouraged each one of them to stay faithful even as they were being tortured.

When she only had one son left, they tried to get her to talk that son into giving in so his life could be spared. They promised to give him riches and a powerful position if he turned his back on God. His mother instead said this:

My son...I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you...Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers. (2 Maccabees 7:27-29)

As they were about to torture one of the brothers, he stuck his tongue out and stretched his hands out for them to cut, and he said, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again" (2 Maccabees 7:11).

This is gory and hard to read. What gave them such courage? The writer to the Hebrews says that they refused "to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35). In other words, they believed that God would raise them from the dead if they put their trust in him.

But then the writer to the Hebrews has the audacity to say that we have something even better than they did. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). In other words, we have even greater reason for courage in our lives, because we have what they only hoped for. What do we have that will give us the strength and the courage to get through anything?

Paul tells us in verses 9-10 of 2 Timothy 1. He says, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." Paul is saying that God has revealed something through Jesus Christ that was there all along, but is now there for everyone to see. The apostle Peter says it's something that the prophets searched for "intently and with the greatest care," and that "even angels long to look into these things" (1 Peter 1:10-12).

So there's something that this old man had that gave him courage and strength to get through anything. It's something that some people caught a glimpse of even before it was fully revealed, but even a glimpse was enough to give them the courage they needed to get through torture and to stay faithful to God. It's something that all the prophets strained to see, and even angels long to look into it. And if we have it, it will give us the grace to get through anything.

What is it? Verses 9 and 10 say, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

In other words, the thing that can give us the strength to stay faithful and true to God, the thing that will give us the strength to get through anything, is the grace that is revealed to us at Easter. If we really get what happened at Easter, we'll have the courage and the strength to get through anything. It's what kept Paul going, it's what Paul told Timothy he needed to remember. It's what we need, because if we really get it we'll have the strength to get through anything.

Paul says that it's been "revealed through the appearing of our Savior." At my house, we have this battle about turning off the lights. Can you relate? I think I'm the worst. I'm always trying to get the kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. The problem is that sometimes they listen, and I'm in one end of the basement and have to make it through to the other with the lights turned off. I end up tripping everything because it's there, even if you can't see it.

Paul says that there is something that has been there all along, but for most of history people couldn't see it. It was still there; it was just hidden. What is it? It is the grace given in Christ Jesus. Throughout all of history, the grace of Jesus Christ has been the only thing that has kept us going. I love what Tozer writes in The Radical Cross:

No one ever was saved, no one is now saved, and no one will ever be saved except by grace. Before Moses nobody was ever saved except by grace. During Moses' time nobody was ever saved except by grace. After Moses...anywhere, any time...nobody was ever saved in any other way than by grace.

"God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us," he says, "for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world."

So the grace of Jesus Christ has been there all along, and even a glimpse of it was enough to give someone the courage to deal with anything.

But now, Paul says, the lights have been turned on, and what was hidden all along is now revealed for everyone to see. What is it that has revealed the grace that we need to get through anything?

Paul says in verse 10 that it's "been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." In other words, Jesus coming to earth flipped the lights on so that we could all see the grace that was there all along. And if you want to look where the light shines brightest, you have to look at Easter weekend. Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.

If you get just a glimpse of what Jesus did for us at Easter, it will change your life. You won't have to fear anything anymore. Take a look at the cross and all that it did:

  • Relationally, at the cross, Jesus changed us from being enemies of God. He reconciled us so we could enjoy a relationship with him.
  • Legally, at the cross, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin so that the verdict of condemnation no longer applies to us.
  • Cosmically, at the cross, Jesus freed us from our bondage to the powers of evil - from principalities and powers, sin, the devil, and death.
  • Ethically, at the cross, Jesus gave us an example of how to stand up under injustice. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21).

If you get just a glimpse of the cross, just a glimpse of what he did for us relationally, legally, cosmically, and ethically, it will give you the strength to get through anything.

But it doesn't end at the cross. There's more. Tozer said, "It should be remembered that He could not save us by the cross alone...A dead Christ would be as helpless as the ones He tried to save." You see, there's not just the cross. There's also Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead. And if you really get a glimpse of what Jesus did on Easter Sunday, it will give us the strength to get through anything.

What did Jesus do on Easter Sunday? Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death..." Would you agree that death is a problem? Of course it is! Hebrews 2 says that the devil holds the power of death, and that all of humanity is "held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death is number seven on the top list of things Americans are afraid of. The only reason it's not higher is because we all think it's a problem we won't have to deal with today.

Epicurus, the great Greek philosopher, said that he could die happy if he was absolutely sure that death was the end. We could die happy if we were sure that death is just peaceful oblivion. But because nobody is sure that death is the end, nobody can die happy.

People sometimes say that it's better to die if you're suffering. It's better to pull the plug so people can be at peace. Epicurus says, "What are you talking about? How do you know what happens after death?" We could die happy if death was the end, but what if we don't know what happens after we die? So death is a big problem for all of us.

But Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus "shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). Paul says in verse 10 that Jesus has destroyed death. Let me tell you what happened on Easter weekend. Jesus and death went toe to toe, and Jesus won. He defeated death. As a result, the Christian can face death, because we know that death isn't the end. Jesus has defeated death, and we no longer have anything to fear.

Now listen. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about this - about how Christ has overcome death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), and he said, "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection - that is what Easter means." If you and I really got a glimpse of the victory over death that took place at Easter, it would change us. We'd no longer have to fear anything. Paul was in prison and was about to be beheaded, but he didn't care. Desmond Tutu was under scrutiny by the South African apartheid government, but he said, "There is nothing the government can do to me that will stop me...what is it that they can ultimately do? The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian." When you see the grace that is revealed to us at Easter, you don't have to be afraid of death anymore. Easter reveals the grace that can give you the strength to get through anything - even through death.

But that's not all. Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In Paul's day, the Greeks believed that only the gods like Zeus, and a few extraordinary heroes, were immortal. Everyone else is mortal. Paul says that Jesus has turned the lights on to life and immortality. We have eternal life through his resurrection, and that life begins now. The resurrection life now belongs to everyone who has trusted in Christ, because "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be raised from the dead as well.

So Paul could sit in that dungeon in Rome and be full of courage and strength. He could face his own death. He could face anything, because Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.

And Paul could say in verse 12, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." It's not that Paul had a great faith. It's that he had a great Savior. His confidence wasn't in himself. Because of the grace revealed to us at Easter, he knew that God would never let us down.

At Easter, God revealed to us the nature of the resurrection life which can now be ours. If we really understand what Christ did for us at the cross and in rising from the dead - if we really get a glimpse of the grace that was revealed for us at Easter - we'll have the strength to get through anything. Remember what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection - that is what Easter means."

And so this old, dying man wrote to a younger guy who lacked courage and said, "Timothy, if you want to have courage in your life, look to Easter. It's given me courage and it can give you courage too. Because Easter reveals the grace that will give you the strength you need to get through anything."

Father, thank you for the example of these seven sons, who only got a glimpse of grace, but it was enough for them to get through torture, because they wanted to gain a better resurrection.

Thank you that what they only got a glimpse of has now been illuminated and revealed to us, so that it's plain for us to see. Now may we not only believe it - believe that Christ has conquered death and given us eternal life - but may we also act on it in our daily life, so we'll have the strength to get through anything. Give us the confidence that comes from knowing whom we have believed, and being convinced that he is able to guard what we have entrusted to him until that day. Help us to live in light of the resurrection. In the name of the risen Christ we pray. Amen.

The Paradox of the Cross (John 12:20-36)

Well, the Christian life is a paradox. We almost never get it right. How do you ever figure out how to live in an economy that's exactly opposite to the way this world operates, in which:

  • The way up is down
  • The first are last and the last are first
  • The poor are rich and the rich are poor
  • The weak are strong
  • To find our life we have to lose it

We never quite figure this out, do we?

I've been married for over 16 years now. I know that for some of you, that's nothing - you're way ahead of me. There are times that I look at my wife and think that I know her fairly well, that I understand how she thinks and I'm not surprised by the things that she does. Then there are times that I realize I don't understand her at all! My only consolation is that I've heard couples who have been married for fifty years say that they are still, at some levels, mysteries to each other.

That's how I feel with God sometimes. I've been a follower of Jesus Christ for years. There are times that I feel like I know Jesus and his ways very well. Then there are days that I feel like I don't understand a thing about the way that God operates. I feel like I'm in Christian kindergarten at times. If there's any consolation, it's that I know I'm not alone. The disciples never seemed to be able to figure him out, and I think I've talked to saints who have followed Christ for years who feel like they're just beginning to really understand a few things about the way that God operates.

There isn't a better day to talk about this than today, Palm Sunday. It is a very paradoxical day, and it introduces us to a paradoxical week, the most important week in the life and ministry of Jesus.

So here's what I want to do today. I want to look at the events surrounding Palm Sunday. Then I want to look below the surface at the paradox of Palm Sunday and Easter. Then I want to look at what all of this means for our lives today.

I invite you to open your Bibles to John 12 and follow along as we look at what happened, what really happened, and what this means for us today.

So first, what happened? Let's first look at the events of Palm Sunday.

It was one of those times that the air was crackling with electricity. Everybody that was with Jesus could feel the tension.

It was days before Passover. At Passover, the population of Jerusalem would swell from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Insurrection was in the air. If you've ever been somewhere where the government fears insurrection, you know what I'm talking about. Everybody was on edge. Anything could happen.

And there's Jesus. Jesus was on the list of Israel's Most Wanted. I don't know what they had in place of a no fly list, but whatever they had, Jesus was on it. Jesus had done something which had created a lot of buzz. He had raised a dead man. If you're trying to fly under the radar and not attract a lot of attention, that isn't the way to go. Everybody knew that Lazarus was dead, and now he was alive again. People wanted Lazarus dead, and they had their sights on Jesus too.

Let's look at three events that shape our understanding of what Palm Sunday was all about.

Event One: The day before Palm Sunday at the house of Lazarus in Bethany, just two miles away, something bizarre happens. Mary, brother of Lazarus, did something completely unexpected. You can understand why - Jesus had just brought her brother back from the dead. Mary took half a liter of imported nard and poured it at Jesus' feet and wiped it with her hair. It was unbelievable.

They've tried to figure out what Mary's gesture would have cost her. This much nard would have cost about a year's worth of salary. This could have represented her entire life's savings.

She unbound her hair, which was not proper behavior for a Jewish female. The fragrance of her offering filled the house and told everybody about her sacrificial gift.

There's a word that I think of when I think of what Mary did. The word is glory. Mary was giving glory to Jesus in an extravagant gesture that caught everyone's attention and was criticized by some as being way over the top.

Event Two: The next day, Jesus entered Jerusalem.

When Jesus had come to Jerusalem before, he hadn't always drawn much attention to himself. Whenever somebody wanted to go public with who Jesus was, Jesus always resisted. When people had tried to make him king before, Jesus disappeared. John 6:15 says, "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." Whenever somebody wanted to reveal who Jesus was, he always told them not to tell anyone. Jesus was not into public displays of affection or worship.

But look at what happened this time. Read verses 12-15:

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

"Hosanna!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the king of Israel!"

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

"Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."

Four hundred years before this day, the prophet Zechariah had written, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus arrived that day in Jerusalem just the way that Zechariah had prophesied, in humility, riding on a donkey. The crowds quoted Psalm 118 with an addition: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" (John 12:13). Hosanna means, "Save now!" It was a cry for Jesus to do something. They were acclaiming Jesus as ruler over Israel.

They threw down palm branches. Palms were symbols of peace and victory, symbols of Jewish nationalism. The crowd - filled with people who had witnessed or heard about the raising of Lazarus and Jesus' other miracles - were welcoming Jesus as king and deliverer. They expected something to happen and for Jesus to do it.

You've heard of PDAs, or public displays of affection. This was the only time in the life of Jesus that our Lord allowed while he was on earth. Jesus was allowing them to announce that he indeed is the king of Israel. Here, for the first time, Jesus allows them to declare that he is king. He lets them go public with his praise.

The same word comes to mind again: glory. Jesus is glorified as the crowds praise him and praise him as king, and as he finally gets the glory that he deserves.

Event Three: There's one more story. John 12:20-21 says, "Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. 'Sir,' they said, 'we would like to see Jesus.'"

Up until that point, Jesus had made it very clear that he had only come for the Jewish nation. At this moment, when some non-Jews come and want to see Jesus, Jesus is reminded of why he came. He didn't just come to be a king over Israel. He came to deliver the world as well.

When these Greeks approach the disciples and ask to meet Jesus, Jesus is reminded of why he came to this earth. Jesus responds by saying something unusual. Jesus responds by saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23). What in the world does this mean?

All throughout John's gospel, Jesus and John have stated that it wasn't Jesus' hour or Jesus' time. In John 2:4, when Jesus' mother told him that they had run out of wine at the wedding, Jesus said, "My hour has not yet come." In John 7, Jesus' brothers encouraged him to go to Jerusalem publicly, and Jesus said, "My time is not yet here." Soon after, Jesus went to Jerusalem secretly. The Jewish authorities tried to arrest him, but John records, "No one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come." Jesus later taught in the Temple that he is the light of the world. John records, "Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come" (John 8:20). Jesus knew that there was a right time, and he wasn't prepared to rush. The hour would come. That hour would be the focal point of his ministry, the time toward which all of his energies would be focused. So it's really significant that Jesus says, "The hour has come."

The hour has come for what in verse 23? "For the Son of man to be glorified." Here's the key word, the theme of what Palm Sunday is all about: the glory of Jesus.

So we're here. Everything has been building up to this. Jesus is anointed, finally goes public as king, and he says that the hour has come. He says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." That's what Palm Sunday is all about. In one word, it's about this: glory. Jesus finally receives the public glory that should be his. Jesus is recognized and praised and given honor. That's what Palm Sunday is all about: glory, specifically that Jesus receives the glory that's due to him.

The same word comes to mind again: glory. Jesus is glorified as a grateful women anoints him with an extravagant gift, as the crowds praise him and recognize him as king, and as those from other nations come to worship him. That's what the events of Palm Sunday tell us.

Let me ask you a question. When is Jesus Christ most glorified? If we stop here, we'd have to say that it's when people praise him. That sounds good, but it also presents a bit of a problem. In a way, we end up with a statement like this: Jesus is most glorified when he is most popular.

The problem with this statement is this: how often is Jesus really popular? The answer: not very often. if you look at history, we have a pretty bad record of being consistent in how well we honor Jesus. Look at our own lives. We gather on Sunday and worship, and we really mean it, don't we? But then Monday comes along, and life gets going, and the priority that Jesus held on Sunday disappears for a long time - maybe until the next Sunday.

That's the problem if we stop here. Please don't misunderstand me. God is glorified when we worship him and seek him and offer gifts to him. But if this is the way that God is most glorified, then God is in trouble most of the time, because most of the time we're pretty fickle. The path to real glory isn't the path of recognition and praise.

So let's look just a little below the surface, at the paradox of Palm Sunday and Easter, before looking at what this means for us today.

Look at what Jesus says in verses 23-24. "Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.'"

Then again in verses 27-33:

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

What is Jesus talking about here? His death. And what is he saying? He's saying that he is most glorified, not when people praise him although that's nice. Jesus is most glorified at the very moment that everybody has turned their back, as they spat at him and cursed him, as they took nails and killed the one they called a king.

Jesus wasn't most glorified when the crowds praised him. He was most glorified as the crowds rejected him, and he offered nothing but love anyway.

We tend to draw a dividing line between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We think, "It's too bad that Jesus received glory on Palm Sunday but not on Good Friday." That's not at all the way that Jesus sees it. It was nice for the people to praise him on Sunday, but the moment that he received most glory was when he went to the cross. The moment of his greatest humiliation and suffering was also the moment of his greatest glory.

Look at what this passage says Jesus' death accomplished at great cost on the cross. Jesus' death produced lasting growth, he says in verse 24. He uses the parable of a seed that dies. "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." The church throughout the ages is the result of this single seed dying. Because of Jesus' death, hundreds millions of disciples have lived as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven for over two thousand years. That is a direct result of what Jesus did at the cross, and it brings Jesus glory.

In verse 28, a voice from heaven says, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." You can see that going to the cross was not easy for Jesus. Almost a week before Good Friday, Jesus is in anguish as he considers what lies before him. In going to the cross at such cost, the Father himself promises to glorify Christ. Jesus' obedience to the cross brings him glory.

Jesus also wins victory over Satan at the cross. Verse 31 says, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." We looked at this last week. At the cross, Jesus won a decisive victory over Satan. What looked like Satan's greatest moment instead became the moment of his defeat. Jesus conquered Satan at the cross.

Jesus also draws people to himself to the cross. He says in verse 32, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." For two thousand years, countless people have been drawn to the one who created this world, but chose to humble himself to the point of dying to set this world right and to bring us back into relationship with him. How could you not love a king who dies for his people like this?

Jesus is not most glorified when we praise him, although our worship is fitting and right. Jesus is most glorified as he accomplishes his work at the cross.

If you only hear one thing today, it's this: The path to true glory isn't the path of accomplishment or praise. The path to true glory is the path that leads to the cross.

Well, let me ask what this means for us today.

Does anybody here like glory? You're going to be too scared to raise your hand, but the answer is: of course we do. Glory comes from a word that originally meant weight. The closest English word that carries this concept is matter. We all want our lives to matter, to have that sense of weight and significance. Don't we? We all like glory.

When do we receive glory? Usually on the field of competition, or when we accomplish something. Yesterday, my son played in the championship of a hockey league. When the winners skate around the ice with the cup of victory, that's glory. If the Leafs ever won the Stanley Cup, that would be glory. When somebody comes up and tells me they like the sermon, that's glory! When we get a promotion or earn a degree or accomplish something significant, that's glory. But that's more like the glory we looked at in the first part of the sermon, when things are going well and people are praising us. We all know that's a pretty rare thing, not the normal state of affairs. Most of us don't go around accomplishing great things all the time and being carried on people's backs while people call out our name. That's not real life, and that's not the best kind of glory.

Jesus said in verses 25-26: "Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."

What is Jesus saying? He's saying that if we want to experience real glory, real significance, the path is not found in accomplishing great things or from being popular and receiving praise. Glory is found in taking the same path that Jesus took, the path that lead him to the cross - the path in which we give our lives away for the sake of the gospel and for the good of others. You want your life to really matter? Then give your life away. Paul wrote, "Have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had..." (Philippians 2:5). That is the path to true glory - dying to self-reliance, self-assertiveness, and self-centered living. The path to glory is the path of giving our lives away in service and love.

What happens when we live this way? Four things, according to Jesus in this passage. Our lives will bear much fruit. We will keep our lives for eternal life. "Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life," he says in verse 25. We will join Jesus where he is. Jesus says in verse 26, "Where I am, my servant also will be." And the Father will honor us. Verse 26 continues, "My Father will honor the one who serves me."

Our lives will count; we'll have eternal life; we'll join Jesus; and God will honor us. This is the path to fruitful living. The path to true glory isn't one of praise and accomplishment. The path to true glory is the path to the cross - the path in which we see what Jesus has done, stop living for ourselves, and give our lives up in service to him.

If we're not careful this week, we'll think that the real glory comes when we're at the top of our game and life is going well. Jesus teaches us that real glory comes not at the moments that we think it does. Real glory comes when we give our lives away, just as Christ did at the cross. The path to true glory is the path to the cross.

Father, we're going to be tempted this week to live in exactly the wrong way. We're going to be tempted to live for the praise of the crowds and to prize our accomplishments and our victories. But Jesus shows us here that real life comes when we take the same path that Jesus did - the path that took him to the cross.

So first, Father, thank you. Thank you that Jesus took this path. Thank you that as he was lifted up, he produced life that will last for eternity. He won victory over Satan, and he is drawing all kinds of people to himself. Thank you that you brought glory to your Son at the cross. We glorify him and we praise his mighty name.

Help us, Father, to live the same way. Help us to have the same attitude of mind that Jesus did, who "made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:2-8)

And by taking this path, may we experience true glory - the kind of glory that can only come as we lose our lives in love and service. May we experience all that you've promised as we live that way. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.