Do you like riddles? Most of the time, they are a fun little diversion, right? Most of the time, they get your mind working a little bit but don't mean a whole lot. You know, like "What do you call a man who's always wiring for money? (An electrician.)"
But today, the riddle I want us to think about is one that does more than get your mind working. It touches your soul. It's a riddle Jesus gives us, recorded in Matthew 10:39. "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Jesus says this in the closing section of the instructions he is giving to the disciples he is sending out on a mission trip. He has already told them what they are to be doing (Preaching the Kingdom of God), the blessings they would see (People accepting their message), the troubles they would come up against (People rejecting their message), and now, in verses 34-42, he's letting them know how serious an issue it is to be his followers.
If you know your Bible history, you can probably remember a dozen stories of people who had to decide between following God and what appeared to be certain death. Remember the three men in the fiery furnace? Or Daniel in the Lion's Den? How about Stephen, Paul, Moses, Elijah? ...and the list could go on and on. All of those stories just testify to the point that Jesus made leading up to the riddle in our text. There is a price for following Jesus. In verse 38, he calls it a cross. Those who do not know Jesus, those who do not follow Jesus, will not like what you are all about - and so, even when you have peace with God himself and you put him first in your heart and life, you may not always have peace with those around us in this world. Because this world has a whole different set of priorities.
So Jesus gives his riddle. Let's break it up. He starts by saying: "Whoever finds his life will lose it." Our world is all about this life - making today great. Who cares about tomorrow? We live in the era of instant gratification, and if tomorrow isn't on the radar, eternity certainly isn't. So Jesus says that if we're all about finding our best life now, if my decisions are first for here - I lose real life. My faith needs God's word and worship to grow - and if I keep choosing work or family or "fun" over my time feeding on God's word - ultimately, I'll lose my connection to my Savior. Without that, eternal life is gone.
But the irony of it is that living for this life, for your best life now, really destroys your chances of your "best life now." Think about it, when was the last time that the things this world chases after (money, power, family, fun, fame) actually produced lasting happiness? They don't. How many times do those things have to disappoint us before we figure out that it is a lie of the devil to expect everything here to be constantly peachy keen?
"Whoever finds his life will lose it," Jesus says. But then he goes on: "But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." When the things of this life are lost to us (when they aren't what we live for and prioritize and worship) and our thoughts are focused on God's love for us and the good we see in others that comes from God and the opportunities God gives us to live in and live out that love of his.
Think about it. A couple weeks ago, our congregation put on a Vacation Bible School. Some people put in countless hours preparing, the work crew shed so much sweat, there were so many donations given - basically, a ton of work went into that week. But when those volunteers saw the kids hearing about their Savior and smiling... when they heard those children confess that "Yes, Jesus loves me"... when they heard them sing out God's praises on Sunday - do you think a single one of those volunteers wanted a refund on their sweat, effort, or money?
When we put the things of this life in service of our Savior, when we "lose our lives," we find real life. And ultimately, we find eternal life, because when we prioritize God's word and worship, we see Jesus. We see the one who took up his cross first, and when we were not worthy of him, he made us worthy. He carried our guilt and was slaughtered for our crimes. He was abandoned by God for our abandoning of him. He died as the wages for our sins.
And then, he rose. And with that, he gave us life, real life, eternal life. That is the solution to every riddle.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.