Invested for life

“So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’

“When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” (John 11:3-4)

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21)

I used to live in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. My last residence was about 35 minutes from Watkins Glen International, at one time a venue for Formula 1 racing (Indy-style cars) that later expanded to include NASCAR races.

Formula 1 racing was invisible to me growing up except for occasional glimpses on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But when NASCAR came to Watkins Glen, I realized it was no regional phenomenon. Just a glance at the license plates as the myriad cars, trucks, vans and RVs rolled into the small town nearby was evidence that this was a big deal.

Later, I lived near Dover, DE, another big NASCAR venue. Someone I worked with told me what it was like to be there: when you emerged onto the mezzanine and looked up, all you saw was a wall of people wearing sunglasses and earplugs and all you heard was the roar of the car’s engines.

If you’re a NASCAR fan, you may already be impatient with my description. No, you just don’t get it. There’s more to it than that. The crowds, the excitement, the action changing constantly.

Exactly. But your description doesn’t really light a fire in me, either. There’s a simple reason for that. You love it, I don’t. There’s no value judgment trailing behind that statement. It’s just a fact. I can read your love in the tone of your voice. That much I get: You love NASCAR.

When I became a believer as a college freshman, I realized there were certain things that I ought to stop doing. Previously, I used to spend Friday and Saturday nights going to a bar with friends. I dropped that.

It’s a piece of Christian boilerplate to say, “Jesus changed my life.” And I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s confession of that, regardless of the particulars of what changed. You may have been an addict. I’m glad you’re free, though probably not as much as you are.

And there’s a reason for that, too. If you developed a love for things that were in fact destroying your life, to be released from their grip is liberation in a way that my non-participation in bar crawls wasn’t.

I enjoyed my friends’ company, but I hated the bar culture. I thought it was a waste of time and money. So giving it up was like giving up getting headaches from sitting in the sun too long. To call this “dying to self” would have been pretty much a vain religious boast. Big deal. So you were “delivered” from something you didn’t even enjoy.

Most people who have read the Bible for any length of time can tell you the story of the rich young man—up to a point. They know he “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mk. 10:22). He loved his great wealth.

But do you remember what Jesus offered him in return for obedience? “You will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mk. 10:21). If you think that’s limited to “pie in the sky when you die (by and by),” you’re mistaken. It’s really about the verse in my blog’s header photo: you find your life—a much different sort of life–when you lose yours.

I don’t know if the young man had heard that specific teaching in Mt 16:25, but all he knew about what Jesus was offering at the moment was that it was “treasure” of a different sort (“in heaven”). The word probably piqued his curiosity, but it wouldn’t have moved the needle much. Treasure in heaven?  

He already had a religious life when he came to Jesus. He might have been just a little too proud of it. But Jesus didn’t take issue with his sterling devotion to the commandments. That wasn’t what was lacking.

He told him he had to, in effect, “lose his life,” not peripheral, minor things which the young man may have assumed were the minor spiritual adjustments he needed to make. Your wealth, which you love. Let go of it.

As I’ve tried to explain in The Greatest Love, when the Lord requires a big cost you can be sure it’s attached to a great love. Love is powerful. The things we love are the things we invest in—financially, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. (One of the reasons NASCAR memorabilia is a big business, for example.)

One of the reasons Peter drew such a sharp rebuke from Jesus about suffering was not just the “things of men” that would have skirted the cross, but what Peter’s identification of him as Messiah represented (Mt 16:13-28).

The people of God had waited for centuries for the restoration of the kingdom promised by the prophets. By all accounts, it would be glorious. Many had invested great hope in the notion that they would no longer be a subject people. And here, not a cubit away, was the Messiah to usher it in.

Yes, the kingdom was at hand, but not in the form a lot of people imagined it would be. So the popular concept of the Messiah had to be replaced with the way things were going to be. New wine, new wineskins.

Jesus wasn’t interested in throwing a wet blanket on what the Father had revealed to Peter and the other disciples. But it had to be divested of the idea of an earthly kingdom with all its attendant glory–and maybe fringe benefits for the disciples who were his closest followers. This wasn’t just popular; the people loved it, longed for it, hoped and prayed for it.

Instead this kingdom would involve his suffering and death, but also being “raised to life.” ‘Raised to life’? Never heard that before. His disciples—each and every one, with no exceptions—would have to lose their life to find it. Lose my life? Does that mean I’m going to die? Sell everything like the rich young man was commanded? Won’t ever marry?

When conventional wisdom about religious things is flushed from your system, such as Jesus was doing with this “new” teaching about the kingdom, there’s spare room in your mind that a capricious, overactive imagination can decorate with unpleasant images and possibilities.

This is where fear picks the lock and moves in–carrying doubts, greater fears, suspicions, foreboding, wondering if this is a threat to what we love and hold dear.

At this point, I am obliged to tell you that what we love and hold dear is on the block. When Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick, he said, “This sickness will not end in death.”

But Lazarus died. So isn’t that answer misleading? No, he said end in death, not wouldn’t involve death.

This is only misleading if you can’t see beyond loss or its possibility to “another life,” which, I believe, is what the kingdom is all about. Treasure in heaven.

To invest, you’ll want a prospectus. Jesus provided it in Matthew 16, and you’ll get the addenda as you learn to trust him. As for the treasure, the promise to the rich young man is transferable to you: you will have treasure in heaven, and a lifetime of following ahead of you. Don’t forfeit it. Invest for life.

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