Would you have been a follower of Jesus Christ if you had lived in the first century? We live 2000 years after the time of Christ, and we see him on the pages of Scripture, and we hear about him in chapel services like this one. We learn about him in religion classes, we hear about him in church. And we say to ourselves, “Well, of course I would have been a follower of Jesus Christ in the first century. I wouldn’t have been so proud, like the Pharisees. I wouldn’t have been so worldly, like the people who would get healed and forget to thank him. I wouldn’t have been so scared like the disciples, who ran away when he was arrested. I would have been humble. I would have been grateful. I would have been brave, and followed him, if I was born in the first century.”
There was something about Jesus in the first century that turned people away from him, something that still today causes people to turn away from him. Do you know what it was? It was something that confused people. For awhile, Jesus would look so great to those who followed him – he would perform a miracle – he would heal someone, he would make thousands of dollars worth of food, he would stop storms, he would walk on water, raise people from the dead – he would look so great.
But there was something about him that would cause people to lose interest and turn away from him. Do you know what it was? It was the fact that he didn’t use his power for earthly purposes. He didn’t cure world hunger. He didn’t get rid of poverty. He didn’t get rid of the corrupt Roman government and become the earthly king of Israel. He didn’t produce a medicine that could be used by doctors to cure people. He didn’t put a stop to all natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes. He didn’t use his power for earthly purposes.
Instead, he told his disciples that he wasn’t going to use any of his power. He was going to be his power on a shelf, and become really humble. Even though he could do all kinds of amazing things, he told his disciples that he was going to be betrayed, and condemned, and mocked and flogged and crucified. And then he would use his power again, and be raised to life.
The disciples didn’t listen. They didn’t pay attention. How many times did Jesus tell them that he was going to rise from the dead? And yet, they still were surprised when he did! Why? Because they weren’t paying attention.
Have you ever seen that happen in class? A teacher says, “On Friday, we will be having a test on this section of material.” 5 minutes later, one of your classmates raises his hand and asks the teacher, “Is there an assignment for Friday? When is the test?” You look at that student, and you’re wondering, “Are you joking, or are you really that dense?”
The disciples were dense. Right after Jesus talked about dying and rising from the dead, two of his best students, James and John, showed that they weren’t really paying attention. They asked if they could be number one and two in his kingdom. They thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans. How could they miss what Jesus was trying to tell them? Their minds were on something else - they were so focused on earthly stuff, earthly problems, earthly power, earthly hopes and dreams of overthrowing the Romans, that they weren’t paying attention to why Jesus was really there.
Aren’t you and I sometimes like those disciples? Sometimes we don’t pay attention. We zone out. Why? Just like those disciples, we also can get so wrapped up in our earthly lives. We hear the story Jesus during Lent, we hear about Jesus’ death, and his resurrection. But we don’t really pay attention to it – sometimes, we don’t really care. Why? Just like those disciples, we have other things on our minds – earthly stuff – How does Jesus being so humble help me with my real-life problems at school, my real-life problems with my friends, trying to fit in with other people? How does Jesus, being so humble, dying on a cross, help me with the stress of trying to get good grades, or the disappointment of not making a team? I’m trying to figure out where to go to college, or if I even want to go to college? How does the story of Lent help me when I’m worried about how things are rough at home with my parents. Or how I really don’t like my job. These are the kinds of things that are on our minds, real life problems, real life challenges and worries. And so, when we hear about Jesus, betrayed and condemned and mocked and flogged and crucified and risen – we sometimes don’t hear it – we don’t pay attention. Our minds are on something else – and we miss it. We miss what God is trying to tell us. What is the message of Lent? What is God trying to tell us? You can sum up the message of Lent in three words. Do you know what those words are? Lent is when God says, “I love you.”
Are you paying attention? Lent is a time of the year when we put everything in perspective. Yes, our problems are real, just as real as the problems the disciples faced in the first century. But the earthly problems we have aren’t as big as the problem of sin. To be born with original sin, to keep committing the same sins against God over and over again every day – to be someone who deserves not only to die but to be sent to hell forever – these are the biggest problems we face today, bigger than our earthly problems.
Lent is a time of the year when we put everything in perspective. We ponder this very big problem of sin, and we also ponder God’s reaction to this problem. He says those three words to us – “I love you.” He does something that really is beyond our understanding – as highlighted in this section of the Bible – God becomes the slave of the world. The king becomes the servant. The owner of everything becomes someone who is homeless one who sleeps outside. The one who is worshiped by angels becomes the one who is mocked by men. God lowers himself, humbles himself, to take away our sins and the sins of the whole world – he gives his life as a ransom for all. Why are you doing all this, God? Why? And what does God say? What are those three words? God does all of this because he loves us. There is nothing greater, nothing bigger, than this. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples who weren’t paying attention, and that’s what Jesus is telling us today.
Don’t let the earthly things of life cause you to miss out on what Jesus is saying. Resist the temptation to zone out, to not care, because you are so wrapped up in your earthly life. During this season of Lent, take a moment and think about and ponder the amazing grace of God. He loved you so much that he died for you. And after doing that, he rose again from the dead. The Son of Man comes to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for taking our sins away. Even though we get so wrapped up, sometimes, in our earthly lives, and don’t listen to you, you forgive us. We thank you for being our Savior. Help us, during this season of Lent, to put aside our earthly concerns and to focus on your love for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.