Let us meditate on the subject --
The subject for the morning is not mean to cause anyone uncomfort nor is it meant to be intentionally controversial. Rather, if we take an actual analysis of the ministry of Jesus, it is a question that must be asked.
The ministry of Jesus was not an easy one. It was wrought with problems, disbelief, and questions. Every time Jesus turned around, someone was questioning who he was. Some thought he was crazy. Others thought he was an imposter. And even the ones who followed him the most, the one's who walked with him day in and day out, did not fully believe and trust in what Jesus said.
Maybe it was because of the way that Jesus talked. Sometimes people cannot fully relate to someone who does not come straight out and say what is on their minds or their hearts. I should know, since I am one of those people. I would rather someone tell me exactly what they are thinking than to use metaphors or talk in riddles. To be honest, to me, it's very annoying when people do that.
I do not know if this is how the disciples felt when they tried to get direct answers out of Jesus, but whatever the case, for some strange reason, despite all that Jesus had taught, and all they had seen, even hearing the voice of God for themselves and seeing Moses and Elijah, the disciples did not have full faith in the divinity of Jesus.
During his 3 year ministry, Jesus traveled from place to place, taking the Good News of the kingdom of God with him wherever he went. And despite his loving and gentle nature, he was met with resistance every place he went. Not until the end of his ministry was he received with the fanfare and the accolades that were deserving o the Son of God.
But if we examine the ministry of Jesus closely, despite all of the miracles he performed, despite his words and the lessons he taught and spoke, despite the fulfillment of prophecies, Jesus' ministry was not a successful one. It was a ministry that some could say was doomed to fail.
When I broached this subject to some Christians not too long ago, they all treated me as if I had just seriously committed blasphemy. After going round and round with them, I finally asked the question that no one really had an answer for. If Jesus did not fail, why did he die?
So yes, in a very large sense, in a very particular way, we can say that Jesus failed.
But then again, what defines a failure? In the terms we are talking, we can say that Jesus failed in part because the masses of people did not fully believe in him. We can say in part that Jesus failed because even his own right hand men (and sometimes women) did not always fully follow his words. We can say in part that Jesus might have failed because everyone was so skeptical, thinking he was crazy, or viewing him as a threat to the power structure.
But let's assume for the moment that Jesus did fail in his ministry on earth. What does that truly mean? Does it make Jesus any less of who he was? Does it lessen his role as savior of the whole world just because a case can be made to support the assertion of the subject of this sermon? Does it mean that Jesus is less of a man or a teacher to suggest that he failed? I don't think so.
What is a failure really? Usually it just means that a task or a project was not completed in the way it was hoped or expected it would be. A failure is usually when you look at all of the things that were supposed to happen, and when things did not fall the way you or someone else wanted, you are labeled a failure.
All of us grapple with the concept of failure in our everyday lives. We constantly wonder could we have done certain things in a different manner to achieve a different outcome. We wonder if we had take a different turn, talked to a different person, studied a little harder, loved a little better, if we would have different results.
We live in a success and result oriented society. We are measured by what we produce. We are measured by others standards, not our own. Often our own feelings of satisfaction in a project or a job are thwarted by the unrealistic, or sometimes, unfair expectations of others. When we think we have made a major accomplishment, there is always someone there to tell us we haven't done enough or that we should have done better.
And then, with the words and judgements of others, we began to believe in ourselves that we have truly failed. Sure, we know we could have done things differently, but we did what we could. Often giving our best. But still, we failed. We failed in the sights of others, and even in the sight of ourselves.
And then there are those times when the people around you make you feel as if you have failed. They don't mean to do it. They may not always be aware they are doing. But if you always have someone around you, be it on the job, in your family situation or with your friends, who is always second guessing almost every decision that you have made, you cannot help but to feel that your mission, your calling, your project, your passion, is either a failure, or doomed to failure.
It is our success driven society that leads people to ulcers, high blood pressure, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and a myriad of other mental and physical health problems. It is the society that we live in that demands instant results and a record of success that takes it's toll on us mentally, physically, emotionally, and sometimes, and often more importantly, spiritually.
Then when we do fail, people never let us forget it. Even if someone is a Christian, even if someone has our best interests at heart, they always remind us of what we didn't do, what we did wrong, how bad it was. As if we didn't feel bad enough already, as if our own insecurities hadn't affected us enough, we have someone who comes along and reminds us once again that we were inadequate at something.
And it seems that this is what was going with Jesus. At every turn, at every stop in his travels on this earth, there was someone doubting him, questioning him, looking at him, watching him, waiting for him to make a mistake, by thought, word or deed, and therefore, that would give then reason to say "See, I told you he's not who he said he was."
But Jesus, despite the naysayers, despite the ones who sought to do him harm, never strayed from his purpose, never strayed from his mission. No matter how many times he was rebuked or questioned, or treated like an imposter, the message stayed the same. The qualities of love and forgiveness never left him. Jesus never let those who did him harm, either by accident or on purpose, sway him from his path. He told the truth. He did his job. He followed God. He brought the Holy Spirit. But in the final analysis, he knew something was going to go wrong.
And things started to go wrong in that final week. With the betrayal of Judas, the ministry of Jesus took a very final and unalterable turn. The failure of Judas to look beyond his monetary needs into the spirit of not only Jesus, but of all men, created the greatest injustice this world has ever seen.
But at the end of the week, when all the cards were on the table, when the trial was over and Jesus had been convicted, the final proverbial nail in the proverbial coffin had been driven in. When Jesus was convicted and sentenced to death, the failure of his earthly ministry was nearing it's end.
When Jesus was forced to carry his cross, with the crown of thorns on his head, with people mockingly calling him the King of the Jews as he marched to that hill, the very same people who more than likely cheered him the week before were now all booing him, the failure of Jesus would seem to be complete.
For we must ask ourselves, if Jesus the earthly ministry of Jesus was not a failure, then why was he forced to endure all of the pain and problems that he did? Why, if the earthly ministry was not a failure, was he forced to march along with two common criminals and be killed in a manner that was used by the Romans to make an example what happens to those people who defy the Roman government? Why was his side allowed to be pierced, his blood flowing down to the ground below? Why were the disciples nowhere to be found? And why, despite his admonitions of salvation on the cross, why were these deeds allowed to be carried forth? Why didn't people believe? Why didn't people stand up for the one who preached nothing but love but was the subject of so much hate? Why did this man of faith inspire so much fear? Why did the earthly ministry of Jesus fail?
There is only one answer to these questions, and often, it is not sufficient for most people. And the answer is it had to happen this way. God planned it this way. This was God's way of trying to get people's attention. Adam and Eve didn't understand, so they had to leave the garden. They failed. Then, many, many years later, the people of the earth fell out of disfavor with God, so God had Noah build a boat so he could start all over. But after that, God said he wouldn't do it anymore.
So something had to happen. Something had to give. Then Jesus came along. And he brought with him the ultimate good news. And people were not ready for it. Much like today, the masses of people were not prepared to hear the message that Jesus was bringing. Like today, the people in Jesus' time were a skeptical people. They were a doubtful people. Sometimes given to anger and pettiness. And Jesus did not and would not play into their game. Jesus was a man who spoke like God, and people could not deal with that. Jesus spoke in a manner which made people think, and we know that people do not always like to think. So as a result of the fault of men, Jesus had to die.
In the scriptures that we read, it is the first day of the week following the death of Jesus. The body of Jesus had to be prepared for a proper burial. Spices and oils were being brought to the tomb where Jesus laid in order that they follow the Jewish law at the time. The women rolled away the tomb, but Jesus was not there.
And when the women went into the tomb, two angels appeared to them, in gleaming and dazzling white. They asked the women, who turned their heads from the angles, why the were looking for someone who was alive in the place reserved for the dead.
But as recorded in a different scripture, the women did not believe the angels at first, thinking that they had done something with the body of Jesus. But once they believe, they go and tell the other disciples, who were in hiding, fearing reprisals from the Roman government. But when the disciples hear the news, they do not believe the women. And in fact, the disciples were so non-impressed by this news, not even remembering the words that Jesus said, that only a couple of them went to the tomb to see for themselves.
The main lesson in all of this is simple. Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus fulfilled the promises and prophecies of the prophets. Jesus accomplished a feat that no one before or since had been able to do. Jesus died and then lived.
Through the resurrection of Jesus, we see that not only is he the Son of God and the Son of Man, we see something else. You have got to fail before you succeed. You have got to falter and flounder before you can achieve success. There is no great crime in failure if you take that and use it as a step to succeeding. Why be concerned about losing a battle when you have a war to win? Why worrying about a small step backwards when there is a way to make giant leaps forward? Why worry about the little things that can and do go wrong when there are monumental things that are about to go right?
We worry too much about failure. We worry too much about living up to the expectations of others. We let people infect us too often with what they think we should do or how they think we should be doing it. We can say whatever we want about how someone does something, but until we have lived what they have lived and seen what they have seen and sat where they have sat, we have no conception of what they are going through.
We cannot imagine how Jesus felt when he was hanging on the cross. We cannot imagine what those spikes that went through his wrists and feet felt like. We cannot imagine what Jesus went through in the time that he was dead. We cannot imagine what it was like for him to rise from the dead. But we do know what it is like to fail. We do know what it is like for the ones closest to you to not have full faith in what you do. We do know what it is like to have someone feel that they can always do something better than you. We do know how someone can make you feel like you have failed.
But that is why we have Jesus, because even if he did fail in his earthly ministry, his continuing heavenly ministry was and is a success. His failure to reach the thousands of people on earth pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of people that he has reached from Heaven. His failure to have his own disciples believe him pale in comparison to the millions of people who love him and keep the commandments of God.
Yes, maybe he failed on earth, but that failure did not last long and it is overshadowed by what he does for us now. How he intercedes on our behalf now. How he doesn't fail us now. How he works for us now. How he fights for us now. How he can help us now.
So I tell you this morning, don't worry about the failures in your life. Don't worry about what should have, would have or could have been done. Don't worry about those people who only want to bring up your faults. Don't worry about those people who only serve to remind you of what you haven't done. Don't worry about those people who infect your spirit with negative thoughts and feelings. Don't worry about those people who think they are the only measure of right and wrong.
Instead, do your best. Serve God. Serve Jesus. Don't fail them. Don't fail Jesus by not trying. Don't fail God by not giving your all. Don't fail them by not serving them.
When then stone was rolled away from that tomb, and the garments Jesus was wrapped in were scattered on the ground, that was not a failure, but the ultimate success. The ultimate success of a man who gave his life so that other might live. The ultimate success of the son of God who came down to succeed where others had failed. The ultimate success comes when he said he would defeat death and he did.
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(Charles E. Smoot © 2000-2009, all rights reserved)