In our family, we are now at the stage when our children are able to get their Covid-19 vaccinations and, the other night, Susan and I were talking with one of our sons shortly after he had received his vaccination. Before the shot, he was apprehensive about the needle he was going to get. He is not a big fan of needles and it has been awhile since he had one for a vaccination or a blood test, so he was concerned about how painful it was going to be. But afterwards, he said that he has had mosquito bites that were worse than the needle from the vaccination. So, he was thankful, both because he was able to get vaccinated and because it was not as painful a process as what he feared.
Anything worthwhile in life will involve pain.
There is a principle in life that some of us don’t like to think or talk about, but it is true. And the principle is: Anything worthwhile in life will involve pain. If you want to be a high level athlete, you need to be willing to endure the pain of disciplined training to accomplish your goal. If you want to be a parent, you need to endure the pain of setting aside your wants to deal with the wants of your child. If you want to be a professional tradesperson or teacher, you need to endure the pain of setting aside years of your life to train and to learn. The key is to identify the end goal, then gauge your desire to reach that goal, and if the desire outweighs the pain, then you simply do it. The pain is of no concern to you, because you know that the goal is worth it. The goal makes all the difference in the world.
What is your main goal in life? Is it personal recognition, accomplishment or comfort? If it is, then prepare to be bitterly disappointed. All the famous, accomplished or comfortable people from one hundred years ago are all dead, and many of them weren’t very comfortable as they died. But what if we can aspire to something more? What if it is possible for our life to become so infused with God’s love that our main goal in life is to glorify God with our lives? And as we do that, our hope is that others will experience some of God’s love through us and they are drawn into a forever life with the God of love. If that was our goal in life, then the brief and momentary troubles we experience in this world are not worth comparing to the glory of life with God and all his people in the new heaven and earth to come. The goal makes all the difference in the world.
So let’s take a look at a passage from the Bible that will help us as we reflect on this question of what our main goal in life is, and that is Luke 9:18-27. One thing that is important for you to know as we look at this passage is that it takes place in an out-of-the-way location that Jesus only visited once while he was walking upon this earth. And that location was Caesarea Philippi, which was about 50 km north of the Sea of Galilee. At first glance, it seems very odd that Jesus would lead his disciples away from Galilee, where all of his ministry had happened up to this point, and go on a 14 hour walk up to Caesarea Philippi for a short Q & A and then walk another 14 hours back down to Galilee.
Not only was this location odd because it involved a large detour, it was also odd because it was the kind of place you perhaps would not expect the Son of God to go, for Caesarea Philippi was the main location for the worship of Pan, a Greek god of fertility. Course, uncouth and randy, Pan’s character was the opposite of the character of the one, true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is a God of goodness, greatness and love. What does Jesus have to do with Pan? Both offer answers to the question of what the goal of human life ought to be. “Go and get all the pleasure you can grab hold of,” Pan would say. “Spend your life fulfilling all your lustful desires and you can be vigorous and energetic like I am.”
What is your main goal in life?
Jesus takes his followers to the den of iniquity where Pan was thought to rule, a place that was called the Gates of Hell because Pan was on of the few Greek gods thought to have gone to the place of the dead and returned, and Jesus did that to show that he has the best answer to the biggest question of life even when we are standing in the most sin-soaked, fear-filled, overwhelming situations in life.
As long as you have breath in your lungs you are never beyond Jesus’ redemption, as long as you have life in your soul, you are never beyond Jesus’ protection. No matter how deep, dark and scary is the place that you are in, you can never truthfully say that Jesus is not with you. That is why God the Son set aside all the glory and wonder of heaven to come into this world and become one of us. The God-human, Jesus, lived a perfect human life for us and then went to the cross to suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sin. As Jesus carried our sin for us, he experienced the abandonment by our heavenly Father that we should have suffered. The pain of that separation, something that Jesus had never before experienced, was so great that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was the one perfect sacrifice of infinite worth that more than paid the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people throughout all time. And when all our debts were paid for in full, Father and Son were reconciled once again, and Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” Then he gave up his life and died.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we will never, never, ever be abandoned by God. Not even death will separate us from the love of God we have in Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:38-39). We know that because, on the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead and he is present with us right now.
Jesus’ purpose in leading his followers to a place where his enemy had home ice advantage was to show them, and us, the truth of his promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us. In the area where the Greek god Pan, from whose name we get the word “panic,” was thought to rule, Jesus asks his followers some key questions to draw them closer into life with him.
He first asks them, “Who do people say I am?” (Luke 9:18). They give him a wide variety of answers, much like we would if we were asked that question today. Today, some people would say that Jesus is a great teacher or a wonderful moral example. Others say he was an ordinary man and the God thing was a fabrication that came later. Still others say that Jesus never existed at all.
But then Jesus drills down to the heart of the matter and asks, “But who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20). The way that we answer this question will determine everything for us. Our beliefs about Jesus will reveal who is shaping and moulding our lives. Our default position is to say, “I am. I am going to be both the potter and the clay and my self-creation will be marvelous.” But some honest self-reflection will show us that the results of a self-directed life are similar to what happens when you give a paint set to a 2 year old and expect them to paint the Mona Lisa. There is no way that the results of our self-made life will ever be as good as they could be if we placed our life in the hands of the Master Creator who made the stars in the sky, the great mountain heights and the vast ocean depths, and the microscopic inner workings of a single cell in your body.
With Jesus, the goal of life is love. Jesus’ love in you will change everything for you. So I want to encourage you to believe in Jesus as your Messiah, your Savior, and let him shape and mould your life with his love and make it into something life-giving and beautiful. Amen.