I can’t decide whether to buy the T shirt that says “I’m not fat; I’m just fluffy” or “I’m in shape – round is a shape.” But I also like the one that says “I’m not a complete idiot – some parts are missing” or “I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory.” Maybe I should wait just a bit longer until the one that is right for me is “God made only a few great heads – on the others he put hair.”
Three weeks ago I was in Shoppingworld, and saw a 10 or 12 year-old girl whose T-shirt said “It’s all about me, myself and I”. Within 10 minutes of that, I saw two tantrums.
One was thrown by a 3 year old in the aisle in Woolworths because she couldn’t have the lollies she wanted. The second was thrown by a 40-something man in the Post Office because the lady serving him had made a mistake. Though the man stayed on his feet, they were both pretty spectacular.
It was obvious for both of them, that “It’s all about me, myself and I”.
It’s obvious in teenagers who refuse to clean up their rooms, or do their homework, because they’d rather be with friends.
It’s obvious in vandals who smash shop windows for fun, or who recklessly speed down Peel Street just to show off.
It’s obvious when parents insist that their kids get more marks for tests, or are chosen for roles in musicals, or a place on the team.
It’s obvious when we evaluate what people say and do by the way it affects us, or the light in which it puts us.
That girl was wearing the T-shirt that said “It’s all about me, myself and I”. But that’s a slogan that we see displayed a hundred times ago … and not least of all when we look in the mirror.
It’s serious. The more we believe that, the uglier we get, and the more we destroy.
The more I play my radio as loudly as I like or leave the dirty dishes where I want … the more I say “It’s all about me, myself and I” the more I am helping to bust the family where I belong.
The more I think that being at school is about my place in the class, or playing cricket or netball is about the points I score, or being at church is about what I get out of it … the more I say “It’s all about me, myself and I” … the more I will help destroy them all.
My commitment to my enjoyment, and feeling good about myself, will almost certainly lead me into vandalism, or a drunken brawl, or adultery, or neglecting the helpless … the more I believe “It’s all about me, myself and I”, the more I will destroy families, friendships and community.
Not everyone is like that are they? Some people really put themselves out for family members and friends. Some people give up so much to improve our community. Some people turn their back on career and money and all that that to give themselves to people in the backblocks who are in serious need. Why? Because those things matter most.
Who says? Who decided that loyalty and friendship and generosity and looking after others is what matters most? If I decided that, then that’s another form of “It’s all about me, myself and I”. It’s a much better form, but that’s what it still is.
How can I say that? Because Jesus says that life is not about being good, or kind, or generous or loyal. When we read his words earlier, it sounded as though he believes life is not about me and what I want, or other people and what they need … but that it is all about him.
He tells us not to be most afraid of men who can kill your body … but to be most afraid of him. Why? Because “he can destroy both body and soul in hell” (v28b)
He tells us that his opinion of us is the only one that matters … if we are valuable to him, even as something as insignificant as the number of hairs on our heads matters to him (29,30).
He tells us that whether we go to heaven or hell for all eternity depends on our attitude and relationship to him (32,33).
He tells us that being in relationship with him matters more than any other relationship … better to be at odds with your father or daughter, than to be at odds with Jesus. His claim on our love and our lives is absolute: “Whoever loves father or mother … son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.” (37)
He tells us that if we want to find out what life is all about, we’ll do that only as we follow him … “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (39b).
This is staggering, and shocking. Jesus, who is the picture of humble love for others, says that he is at the centre of everything. That he alone decides our future – now, and in the life to come. That he alone is strong enough to care for us. That he alone has top claims on our love and loyalty – even over what we have for our parents, or for our children. That we find life, real life, only when we belong to him.
Jesus is not saying it’s wrong to love your parents, or your kids, or to work or play with passion. Jesus is all for that – more than anyone else who has ever lived.
His point is that they can’t be first in your passion or the focus of your life. Because, if they are, then he isn’t. I don’t stand at the heart of the universe. Nor do my kinds, or anything else. Only Jesus stands there. That’s why he claims first place.
If you find yourself arguing with that, or thinking it’s a bit over the top, what that proves is that you’re wearing the wrong T-shirt – the one that says “It’s all about me, myself and I”. You may not be a vandal or an adulterer or a proud person, but you are putting what you think above what he thinks.
That leaves us with two vitally important questions:
Question 1. What should I do?
If Jesus is coming this way, saying that life is all about him … and I am going that way, saying it is all about me, or the people in my life, or something I own, or enjoy … what then should I do?
In verse 38, Jesus says “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
If you saw a man in Jesus’ day carrying a cross, you knew that he had been condemned to die. In the minds of people who saw him, he was as good as dead. That’s why they sometimes threw rocks at a man carrying a cross. He was a dead man walking.
When Jesus says I must take up a cross if I want to find life, he is saying I must regard the old way of living as dead – the way that says it is all about me, myself and I. Most people might live like that, but I can’t if I want to find life.
That’s the negative side. But there is a positive half to it. Jesus says “Whoever does not take his cross, and follow me, is not worthy of me.”
It’s not enough to say “It’s not about me” … I need to say in addition “but it is all about Jesus”. As well as stopping going this way, I need to start going this way. Following Jesus … putting my feet where he puts his. Loving what he loves and hating what he hates. Falling more in love with him than even with people to whom I am rightly obligated.
Jesus is not talking about a fuzzy feeling. But a change of direction that happens in the mind and in the will and in the heart.
It makes great sense to make that change, doesn’t it? If Jesus really is God, and I am not? If he is more important and more precious than anyone in the world, or everyone in the world.
It wouldn’t make any sense, to say I believe he is God and I am not … but then to fall short of saying no to the old life, and yes to Jesus as the direction of my life and the passion of my heart.
Question 2. What about my past?
Your past might be quite different from mine. You may have been a pleasant, generous, loyal friend to all. My history may be one of vandalism, marriage-breaking, gossip or pride. The detail might be quite different. But the big picture is the same.
You’ve been a great friend to others, and I’ve been a traitor and a hater. But go deep enough, and there’s not much difference between us. The details change … but we’ve both been living as though someone or something other than Jesus matters more than he does.
That’s a seriously bad record. How can God just ignore the way we have treated the one he has made to be the focus of everything?
He can’t pretend about that. But he can forgive it. And he does … for every man and woman, boy and girl, who changes sides, and changes direction.
A few months ago, 57 people were murdered in an election-related incident in the Philippines. As a result, the National Police declared a two-month amnesty period when owners of unregistered guns could hand them over, and there would be no record of their ever having had them. About 300,000 people brought in their guns, and their illegal past was written off.
God’s amnesty period is right now. Today, you could lay down your arms, and affirm with your heart and your head and your life that “It’s all about Jesus”. And your past will be forgiven, and forgotten. Jesus says “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
While 300,000 took advantage of the amnesty in the Philippines, it is estimated that about 800,000 have not. And if they are discovered? They will pay.
And those who do not lay down their arms before Jesus? They will pay, and they will pay big. Jesus also says “whoever denies me before men , I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
I am sure you won’t mind if I ask you which way you’re heading right now. Along the path where it’s about you, or what you think matters … or the other way where Jesus is the passion of your heart and the focus of your head?
You might think there is life this way, but there isn’t. This is the way to life now, and to an end when Jesus will stand up before his Father in heaven, all the angels and everyone who has ever lived, and in a loud voice name you as his dear friend and brother.
We think the big questions in life are “Who will I marry?”, “What job will I get?”, “How will we raise our kids?” They are big. But not as big as this one.
If I were an unregistered gun owner in the Philippines I reckon I’d have been giving up my arms before the amnesty was done. I reckon if I were not carrying a cross and following Jesus, I’d be making sure I was before the offer of the amnesty was finished.
And if there were some things I wasn’t sure about, I’d be talking to me or one of the other men leading church this morning, to make sure I was sure.
A man asked a preacher which day he should turn to Jesus, to follow him and enjoy his mercy? The preacher said “The day before you die.” “But I don’t know which day I will die,” he replied. “Then you had better do it today.”
Is Jesus King and Lord today? Is he worthy of your love and your passion today? Is his mercy good today? Then why don’t you come to him today? You will never do anything more important in your whole life.