Recently I was reading a post on my friend Alan Hirsch’s blog ‘The Forgotten Ways’ titled ‘Consumption as Spirituality’. A fellow reader named Penny made a moving comment with regards to her friend in the hospital. I won’t share much of the comment however, I feel the pain that I think we humans all feel with the perplexities and paradoxical understandings we have with regards to the issue of death. I must admit to being reminded of a sermon I did in regards to the practices of euthanasia several years ago called ‘The Million Dollar Message’. It was a sermon I wrote after Bonnie and I had blindly rented and watched Clint Eastwood's film ‘The Million Dollar Baby’. For those of you that know me… this was deeply a personal attack and I felt overly compelled to respond. That said, I realize that the doorway we see as “death” is shrouded in things we don’t necessarily understand. Things that I don’t understand. Looking back… maybe… I was wrong. Then again… maybe not.
The Million Dollar Message!
How many of you have seen the movie “Million Dollar Baby”?
Well that’s great because today I want to share with you the “Million Dollar Message”! And to begin I am going to use a quote that Eddy “Scrap Iron” Dupris said in the film.
He said “If there is any magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys, and detached retina’s. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”
What battles do you face in life? What struggle is it that you find that keeps getting right up there in front of your face and seems to make life just impossible? And after you’ve got it there, what are you supposed to do with it?
Jesus too faced these questions and he addresses them in the passage that I want to explore with you. Turn back to today’s reading in Mark 8:31.
“GET BEHIND ME…”
This is a passage where Jesus is spending some time with his disciples, probably in the evening while sitting around the fire, and Jesus is telling them about the coming events that would be happening soon.
As he explains that these events will be a hard time and he himself would be facing great suffering and pain, Peter quickly pipes up saying “No Lord, don’t say that.” “Don’t say that you will have to suffer in anguish!”
I mean think about it! Jesus isn’t just saying poor me, he’s saying every person of worldly leadership, the government, the religious leaders, and educator’s of his country and culture will despise him and murder him. Probably on a cross. And Peter who has seen the horrific anguish and torture of people dieing on the cross is saying to his friend “Please Jesus, there has to be another way?”
Jesus responds “Get away from me Satan!” That’s pretty powerful words to use. So why would Jesus say this?
If we look back at Matthew 4:1-11 we can see that earlier Satan also tempted Jesus three times. One of which where he offers Jesus all the nations of the world if he would just bow down and worship him. He was offering Jesus a way to gain the whole world without having to suffer on the cross.
In the same way Peter, although motivated by a different purpose (the purpose of love for his master and not wanting to see him in pain), was still asking Jesus to avoid the cross. He was asking for another way in which Jesus could be King without having to suffer. Whether Peter knew it or not, the temptation was directed by the works of Satan.
By saying that Peter was looking at things from a human perspective, Jesus was pointing to the fact that Peter was quick to see the promise of glory and worship that come at the end of the road but he was blind to the path that Jesus had to walk in order to reach the end of the road.
Likewise, Satan is more then willing to let us see the promises that Jesus has for us but his illusion is to blind us from seeing the road in which we need to travel in order to receive those promises. We stumble around asking ourselves why must I go through this, why do “I” have to suffer.
With God’s vision though Jesus recognizes the fact that power and glory comes after hard work, persecution, deprivation, and suffering.
Jesus gives us to results for Peter in these first few verses.
First is the command “Get away from me Satan!” “Get out of my sight!” Recognize that his temptation is a lie. Recognize that it is a feeble attempt to cloud our focus from the truth that we have to first travel the road of hardship before we can receive the riches of heaven.
Secondly he says in the same words to Peter as we see in other translations “Get behind me…” Jesus is placing Peter back into the proper position of authority to which he belongs. Jesus is the master, he is our leader, the one who is holding the white towel, and Peter is the disciple. Plain and simple, we can’t follow what we can’t see!
Jesus is reminding us of the same thing. He is the one with the vision, the one who sees the invisible dream, and if we are going to be able to follow him we have to see him in front of us!
THREE STEPS OF TRAINING
Do you remember the scene in the movie were Frankie Dunn is taking Maggie Fitzgerald as his next fighter. Maggie is spilling guts out about all the hard work she’s doing and all the suffering and persecution she’s had to endure and wondering what it’s all for. Frankie finally concedes to training her under some specific conditions. He say’s “If I take you on you don’t say anything, you don’t question me, you don’t ask why, you don’t say anything except maybe yes Frankie.”
That’s exactly what Jesus does in the next few verses. Now that Peter is in the proper position to which he should be, Jesus gives three quick points, three conditions as to how we can follow him as his disciples.
First he says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”
Jesus was aware of the persecution that the church would later face and he also knew the purposes the Romans had for there acts in crucifying people. See the Romans would not only whip the people they were crucifying to dull the pain of the crucifixion itself but they would also tie the cross beam of the cross to the shoulders of there victims and make them carry it to the site of execution. This cross beam which would weigh in excess of 60 pounds or more would cut and scrap the raw backs of their victims and was meant to be a representation to the people of their submission to Roman authority.
Jesus is asking for that same allegiance. That we would submit inspite of pain and anguish all our authority to him right down to the place and time of our death. He was saying that the promises he has for us are greater then even death itself and they were worth sacrificing every part of our self desire for. We begin living our lives with an attitude that says “What I want is irrelevant!”
Maltbie Babdcock once wrote that “Present suffering is not enjoyable, but life would be worth little without it. The difference between iron and steel is fire, but steel is worth all it costs. Iron ore may think itself senselessly tortured in the furnace, but when the watch-spring looks back, it knows better. David enjoyed pain and trouble no more than we do, but the time came when he admitted that they had been good for him. Though the aspect of suffering is hard, the prospect is hopeful, and the retrospect will start a song, if we are "the called according to his purpose," in suffering.”
Jesus’ second condition is that “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.”
In the early parts of the movie do you remember the scene where the character Big Willie Little is in the fight of his life and he gets a shot to the side of the head where he gets cut under the eye. Stopping the fight and sending the fighters to their corners, the ref tells Frankie (Eastwood) that he had to stop the bleeding or he would stop the fight. Not wanting to loose, Willie asks his trainer “What should I do?” And Frankie responds “You got to let him hit you?”
Although a little perplexed Willie follows his advice and just like those old Rocky movies we can see the slow motion of Willie dropping his guard as the fighter gives him a shot to the head and then those cool CSI special effects when we see the close up of all the blood vessels in his check seizing up and stopping the bleeding. It was after that when Willie could go in and give the knock out blow and claim victory.
Willie is the picture of what Jesus is asking of us. That if we persist of guarding our own lives with our own wisdom we will loose it and be unable to continue the fight. But, if we just place our faith in him, allow ourselves to drop our guard and endure the shots of suffering we receive in this world, we will begin to experience the path to victory and rejoice with the final knock out blow. That is what “real life is about”.
The third condition Jesus gives us is a series of rhetorical questions. “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?
I’ll add to these questions; “What is your life worth?” “Can you truly understand the value of your life and how it affects everyone around you?” These are very personal questions that I have asked myself and to be truthful with myself, I cannot answer them with any certainty not because I can’t see what has happened in the past but because I cannot see the future! Who am I to judge and determine the people I may speak to, hear, comfort, or come in contact with in future? I cannot judge! I have no authority to do so!
There is a very clear point at which the movie Million Dollar Baby changes direction and for those of you who have seen it you know what I am referring too! It is at the point where Maggie after having broke her neck and becoming paralyzed, asks Frankie to help her commit suicide. I want you to think about it for a moment and the power of her statement. She says “I can’t be like this Frankie, not after what I’ve done, I’ve seen the world, People chanted my name, not some damn name you gave me, they were chanting for me. I was in magazines. You think I ever dreamed that would happen. I was born 2 pounds 1 and a half ounces, Daddy use to tell me I fought to get into this world. You know if I had my way out, that’s all I want to do Frankie. I just don’t want to fight you to do it. I got what I needed. I got it all. Don’t keep letting them take it away from me. Don’t let me lie here till I can’t hear those people chanting no more.”
Compare it again to Jesus’ words “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
At what point did Maggie become disillusioned to the fact that here soul was measured by the fight for life, the fight of celebrating 33 years of life and still punching that speed bag and not just for the simple chants of a crowd.
Titles are won and titles are lost, champions come and champions go, but in the eternity of life there is only one Maggie Fitzgerald. There is only one Erik Freiburger. There is only one you.
With this in mind I give you a quote from G.K. Chesterton. “In everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon.”
It is true that some of us endure suffering here on earth whether it be physical or not however in the face of eternity this lifetime is a mere moment before the riches of heaven.
Likewise, our soul is not set to the riches of this world but through Christ it is intently focused on the Kingdom of God making the value of this life a journey of preparation planned out by our heavenly Father for the coming of the next life. It’s value immeasurable in the hands of God!
If you can’t tell I am very emotionally attached to this message and moving into the conclusion I want to share with you why.
Bonnie and I watched this movie a few weeks ago. Sitting down we thought we where going to watch a movie about boxing, about over coming adversity. Instead we were flooded with images of fear, worry, doubt, self-pity, and ultimately the glorification of murder. It hurt and it cut deeply as it attacked us personally in our lifestyle.
The producer called it a work of genius and the general public would seem to agree giving it 4 Academy Awards out of 7 one of which being Best Picture. It floors me that, that same public would earlier have just rejected ‘The Passion of Christ’ film from any possibility of award for its implied message content of hatred and instead embraces the message content of a film comparing human life being worth that of putting a dog down.
Work of genius? Absolutely! Great direction, superb acting, fantastic screen writing but, orchestrated by an unseen entity to which millions will be affected which geniusely is far greater then anyone man. The film deceivingly does not allow the public to understand the message of euthanasia prior to viewing and instead hides behind the mask of Actors names and a beaming picture of the awards it has received.
At the same time bringing a message of comparing euthanasia to justifiable homicide in a society that struggles with the very question of assisted suicide. We have states like Oregon passing bills making euthanasia legal, husbands denying communion to the wives as they starve to death such as the court ordered murder of Terry Schiavo, and human beings laughing as they crack a joke about Dr. Kavorkian.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the height of the Nazi’s campaign for euthanasia wrote that “In a Christian community, everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship.”
He was not advocating euthanasia but instead was pointing to the fact that each and every individual is vital to the community of faith despite any physical fight they may have or physiological struggle.
Jesus tells us in verse 38 of Mark 8 that we are not to be ashamed of his message. We’re not to be ashamed of his life because the life he gives us is not a life of shame. It’s a life of power and influence, of love, and compassion, and generosity to all of his creation in the midst of adversity! I know its true because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen it in the life of my wife’s friend Katie and her passion for friendship and sailing. I’ve seen it in my friend Mike Zunic’s life with his love of racing and race cars while expressing his faith through those experiences. I’ve seen it in the lives of Henry and Geraldine Eckert with the joy that they have in sharing stories about there grandson Nathan. And I see it in the life of my wife Bonnie and the inspiration she gives me as we share life together.
I began this message saying I wanted to share with you the million dollar message and shared with you the words of Eddy “Scrap Iron” Dupris. “If there is any magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys, and detached retina’s. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”
It’s more then the magic of boxing. It’s the magic of life. The power of the Holy Spirit taking us beyond the physical pain and suffering of this world, beyond the psychological struggles of depression and anguish, beyond the spiritual attacks of sin and unseen enemies. It’s the power of each one of us risking everything and submitting to the dream that nobody sees but the Son of God. Jesus Christ. And when we get there we won't hear the applauses of human hands but the choruses of Angels singing. And we will all raise our arms in victory not with the closed fists of self accomplishment but with open hands of praise and worship to an awesome God!
I’m going to close in prayer but while I do that would you do something with me. I want you to all stand up, grab the wrist of the person next to you and lift their hands in victory. We are all champions in Christ!