Let me encourage you to be prepared to participate in worship in the following ways:
  1. Pray for the worship leaders.
  2. Pray for and encourage the congregation. Welcome and encourage one another as we gather for worship. We are all participants--God is the audience. He welcomes us, so let's show our gratitude and joy.
  3. Pray for our guests. This is the first week that messages have been boradcast on radio and television inviting people to join us at the West-Ark Church of Christ. Pray that people will hear these messages and join us. As you and your family gather for worship, look around you and welcome people, especially those you may not know -- and if they happen to be a West-Ark member, then congratulations -- you've made a new friend! Greet people in the parking lot, the lobby, the classes, and especially in the worship assembly. Let's extend the welcome and invitation that we have from Christ to others.
  4. Read the following Scriptures and pray for yourself and your family. Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 16:13-28; Mark 8:27-9:1; Luke 9:18-27; Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46; John 1:11-13; John 17; Hebrews 1-2

The Passion of the Christ
Order of Worship and Discipleship:


Scene from the Passion of the Christ – Whose son are you?

The questions that Satan asks are consistent with Satan’s tempting of Jesus when he fasted and prayed in the wilderness before his ministry ...

Read Matthew 3 – 4

Read Matthew 16 and note three points ...

1. Who Do You Say That I am? When Jesus asked his disciples "But who do you say that I am?" Peter must have thought, "I know this one." He spoke up – "You’re the Christ! The Son of the living God." Peter was right – wasn’t he? Well of course he was. Jesus was the Son of God. Peter understood that Jesus was who he said he was. But he didn’t understand what that meant – for Jesus and for him.
After his testing, Jesus knows what it means to be the Son of God. It means God defines him and fulfills him – not others and not even himself. And being the Son of God means being tested and opposed by those who are threatened by God. It means a path of suffering, rejection, execution and then – and only then – resurrection.

2. Thinking the things of men, not the things of God This defeatist talk doesn’t seem right to Peter, so he attempts to debate Jesus on the meaning of Son of God. And Peter gets quite a rebuke. Jesus has asked Peter "Who Do You Say that I am?" Not, "Tell me who I am." Because Jesus listens to God for the answer to that. Peter is not qualified to tell Jesus who he is, because he is thinking the things of men, not God.

3. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it ... Jesus asked his disciples the question (Who do you say that I am?), not for his benefit, but for theirs - because their answer to that question will determine who they are. And they will be fulfilled by following the Son of God and learning from his example. They will not be fulfilled by saving their own lives – or even trying to save Jesus’ life. This is the paradoxical nature of the way of the cross. Emptiness is the result of attempts at self-fulfillment, but fulfillment is found by emptying ourselves and following Christ ...

Who Do You Say that I Am?
I remember that Sunday night at Winslow we were singing "Just As I Am – without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me." It was August almost 25 years ago and I had decided to be baptized. Of course I waited until the second verse – not that I was shy, I just thought it good form – the first verse is just warm-up – the thinker verse. But I had been thinking about this for some time. So I would step out into the aisle when we sang . . ."Just As I am and waiting not . . ." well that wasn’t quite true. I had waited all through the sermon for this moment. I knew before the sermon that I would be doing this, but I thought it good form to listen. I thought the preacher might like to think someone responded to his sermon. So in the second stanza I stepped out into the aisle. After our song, the minister and I stood before the congregation. He talked a bit and then placed his hand and my shoulder and asked "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" I know my response was positive, but I don’t remember my exact words, whether I just said "yes," or "I do" or if I got fancy and said "I do believe Jesus is the Son of God." But after I answered I heard an Amen and we went off behind the baptistery to put on our baptism clothes as someone started singing "Trust and Obey."

Do you remember your "good confession?" However your baptism took place – at camp, at church, in a river – at some point someone asked you "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?" And because of that confession of faith you were baptized. That’s a common point that most of us share. And I wonder if any of us really understood the gravity of that confession? Did we grasp the full significance of what we were affirming? Did we realize that when we agreed that Jesus was who he said he was, we also agreed that we were who he said we were? When we gave our good confession, we weren’t just making statement about who Jesus was – we were making a statement about who we were, and whose we were?

I remember back at Winslow how one of our ministers used to respond to the confession of Jesus made by those wanting to be baptized. (He used to call it the "good confession." – How wonderful) And he always blessed the one who made that confession and would say "They crucified Jesus for saying that, but you say it that you may receive eternal life." Not that I disagreed with the statement, but I always wondered "Why does Jesus get crucified for saying that, but not us?" Well, I was probably thinking too hard about something very beautiful and poetic that our minister was saying for the moment – but in time I learned that Jesus indicates that in a sense we do get crucified for confessing that Jesus is the Son of God – because he says we have to take up a cross!

Who Does He Say You Are?
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. When I hear this verse I often wonder if I am doing enough to lose my life. I wonder if I need to sell my possessions or leave my comfort and go to the mission fields. Do you ever think about that? I admit I’m not sure I understand this burden of losing my life. But I do know the burden of trying to save my life. It’s the burden of trying to make my life meaningful to me and affirmed by others ... We all know something about the burden of trying to save our lives –

But it’s not just those who live the wild life who find self-gratification less than fulfilling. ... Some of us feel the emptiness of trying to find fulfillment with more socially acceptable pleasures and achievements. But these are just as unsatisfying – maybe even more so because we don’t intuitively recognize that our noble efforts to "save" our own lives through work, health, reputation, family and even church can leave us just as empty.

From our earliest years we are trained to provide for our future. We must obtain the best education and opportunities. We should invest what we have wisely. Like a precise chemical formula, we must be careful to add the appropriate amount of risk to the appropriate amount of stability to achieve maximum benefit. The years we spend in school and business are our only opportunity to provide for our future as well as the future for our family. The prize is retirement. But even in retirement we know something about the burden of saving our lives. Health becomes more of a concern. Are we eating right? Do we exercise like we should? Did we elect the right people to secure our benefits? Are we seeing the right doctors? We strive to stack up accomplishments to gain identity and affirmation. We join a civic club, serve on city council, the school board, coach little league, teach Sunday School, serve in a soup kitchen. We save ourselves with a makeover. We wonder if we are too fat or too thin? Are we taking care of our skin? Are we wearing the right clothes? Do we have the right hairstyle for our body type? Did we buy the right house? Are we in the right neighborhood? Are we in the right school district? And if we can’t save our lives, maybe our children can? Maybe we can save our lives through them? Are we doing all we can to ensure the health and education of our children? Are they safe? Are they being taught right? If the children are our future, then are they capable of saving it? Even if we give our lives in service to others – our spouse, our children, the church, the needy, we may discover that the emptiness and remains. For others can fail and disappoint us. Here is a most horrible emptiness, for we thought that the emptying of ourselves would result in fulfillment through the lives of others, but we may find we just feel sucked dry. Indeed, we know something about trying to save our lives – we know it doesn’t ultimately work.

The emptiness we feel is that we know that all of our good deeds and efforts to make something of ourselves are a mask for the inner-self that we fear no one will accept or love.
When the human spirit seeks a self in any created thing and makes that thing the ultimate source of life and meaning, then the spirit is trapped and suffocated – cut off from the source of life. The way of the cross is not just a religious twist on self-fulfillment – because the problem with self-fulfillment is "self" part. If you’re empty, you need something greater than you to get filled up. This is why the love of God is good news. He knows the inner-self and can see through our false self-image. His love fulfills to overflowing. He loves us enough to give us a name, to tell us who we are and to show us, in Jesus, what it means to shed the false self-image we are constantly making over and instead reflect the image of God we have as humans he created.
1 Corinthians 4 (MSG) – All of our successes and failures do not get the last word about who we are – not from anyone else or even ourselves. God does. Believing in the Son of God is the real life, because he loves you and believes in you.
God knows who we are – and he shows us in Jesus what we can be. Believing in something greater than ourselves is the way to fulfillment, but we must be willing to set aside that which distracts and deceives and imitate Christ. That can be tough because we are so conditioned to "save" our lives. The way of the cross is difficult for a people who are constantly being told in our self-satisfying secular utopia that we can name a star after ourselves or patent our own personalized cell-phone ring. But if we really want to be fulfilled we have to be willing to learn from the teacher ...

When Jesus was baptized he heard a voice from heaven, "This is my son, whom I love, and with him I am pleased." We hear those words from heaven and they are the words that call us to be baptized. "You are my son, my daughter – I love you." How can we not respond to that love and set aside the name we are trying to make for ourselves and receive the name of our heavenly Father who loves us and believes in us enough that he risks his life so that we might have life.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 March 2004

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