Mark 8:34-38 ~ 20130414 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/14/13 Mark 8:34-38; Following Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130414_follow-jesus.mp3
He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!) He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!) Jesus Christ is still risen. Some of you are wondering if I am confused, and forgot what day it is. I am aware that we celebrated Resurrection Sunday two weeks ago. But I wonder if we are aware that Jesus is still risen. Jesus is really alive. Acts chapter 1 tells us:
We only have a little more than a handful of resurrection appearances recorded for us in the New Testament. Did you realize that Jesus continued to appear to his disciples and to teach them for forty days after his resurrection? My calendar puts ascension day on May 9 this year. The resurrected Jesus ministering among them for 40 days. Do you think that the disciples continued to celebrate the resurrection of their Lord throughout those 40 days, and beyond?
The resurrection is not something we celebrate once a year. The resurrection of Jesus reshapes all of life. Are you living like Jesus is really alive? Are you living like someone was raised from the dead? Imagine with me for a moment that one of your loved ones who died and was buried was resurrected and is now alive and with you. How would that change things for you? Do you think that would make a difference in the way you lived? Do you think you would be eager to spend time with them? Do you think you would treasure your conversations with them? Do you think you'd tell anybody? Do you think that news would shake your friends, your family, your community? As amazing as that would be, that would not change things nearly as much as the fact that Jesus is alive. Death is a reality that we all have to face. Resurrection is a reality that we don't know what to do with; we don't even have a category for it because none of us have ever seen it. But Jesus is really alive. He presented himself alive by many proofs. And he intends that this radically alter the way we now live.
To let this truth grip us, we need to go back and look at what it means for us to be followers of Jesus, and to live life in the power of the resurrection and not our own strength.
Jesus' demands of his followers are high. These demands were not for only a special class of super-dedicated disciples; this was his announcement to the crowd. This call was to anyone who would follow him. To follow Jesus means to deny self and take up your cross. How Jesus describes what it means to follow him makes it clear that this is a matter of eternal life or forfeiting your soul. He says that the one who loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. If you are killed for Jesus' sake, and that means you save your life, the life you save can only be eternal life. If saving your life means losing it, that must mean that tenaciously grasping at life in this world will result in losing your life for eternity. If that is not clear enough, Jesus asks, what profit is there if you gain the whole world and forfeit your soul? The time context is 'when [Jesus] comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels'.
The first thing Jesus demands is that we deny self. We might think that we are denying ourselves when we deny ourselves of something. I think it would be a great sacrifice to deny myself chocolate. But Jesus doesn't tell us to deny ourselves something. He tells us to deny our self. We are to deny, to reject, renounce, or disown, not something, but our very self. Jesus says that if I would save my soul, I will lose it. Denying self means that I give up trying to save my self. I can never be righteous enough to earn favor with God. I cannot dig my way out of the pit of sin I have dug myself into. Denying self means I renounce my own ability to contribute to my own salvation. Denying self also means a change in who we are living for. Denying self means I am no longer living for my own sake. I am no longer living for my own profit. Denying self means I am living for Jesus' sake and for the sake of his gospel.
The next thing Jesus demands is that we take up our cross. This would be easy to misunderstand, because we hear people say things like 'we all have our own cross to bear', and by this, they mean that each of us have our own unique trials or difficulties in life that we need to buck up and persevere through. The people listening to Jesus would never hear Jesus tell them to take up their cross and interpret him as meaning that they need to tough it out through their physical disability or emotional wounds or painful circumstances. Neither would they conclude that they should go to the local hardware store, purchase some lumber and nail it in the form of a cross and carry it around town. Jesus didn't say 'take up my cross'; he said 'take up your cross'. The cross was a Roman instrument of cruel torture and execution reserved for the worst of condemned criminals. The only people in that day who would ever be seen carrying a cross were condemned criminals on their way to die. To take up your cross was a public display that you were guilty of treason and your life was over. When Jesus tells me to take up my cross, he is telling me to publicly admit that I am guilty of treason, not against Rome, but against the King of the universe, and that I deserve to die. I have placed myself at the center of the universe and given my allegiance and worship to myself and not to Jesus. I must renounce self and sit down in my electric chair and die to myself.
Only when I have renounced allegiance to self and owned my rebellion against God as worthy of capital punishment am I ready to really follow Jesus. Many people want to follow Jesus. Some want to follow him because he is a means to political reform. Some want to follow him because he is a great teacher. Some want to follow him because it will look good on a resume. Some want to follow him because they like his strict morality. Some want to follow him because they think he will give them a free ticket to heaven and allow them to live as they please. Some want to follow him because they think he will meet their needs and give them what they want. Jesus demands that we deny self, that we let go of our own life for his sake and the sake of the gospel. Jesus demands that we take up our cross, own our guilt before him, and follow him. To follow him literally means to accompany him where he is going, to be on the road with him, to do life with him and let him set the agenda.
This is what it means to believe in Jesus. We stop believing in self or relying on self and depend on him. We recognize that we have sinned against God and that the wages of our sin is death. We begin to do life with him in control, letting him set the agenda for our lives. We give up our plans and submit to going with him where he is going.
We are so thick-headed that we need a picture of what this looks like in real life. When we watch the disciples we can allow Jesus to shape our idea of what discipleship looks like, what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus meant leaving things behind. It meant joining Jesus and going where he was going. It meant personal cost. But this is not sacrifice. It means leaving behind something of value to gain something of infinitely greater value. But too often, the disciples got discipleship wrong. They misunderstood what it was that they would gain in following Jesus. It seems they envisioned prestige and power and fame, and they were often trying to push their way to the top. James and John even came with their mom to Jesus to try to secure the top positions in the kingdom. When all the other disciples caught wind of this, they became indignant, not because they thought the desire to be first was wrong, but because they all wanted to be first. Luke 22 even records a dispute over who is the greatest at the conclusion of the last supper!
Jesus says that he came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for others. If you are going to follow Jesus, then you need to put aside political maneuverings, serve others for their good, and learn to be a slave to all.
Jesus' words that we looked at in Mark 8 about what it means to follow him come in response to Peter, who thought he had scored some points when he correctly identified Jesus as 'the Christ, the Son of the living God. But Jesus began to adjust their expectations of Messiah.
Peter thought he understood better than Jesus what it meant to be the Messiah, and he attempted to correct Jesus! This is not what being a disciple should look like. Jesus sets the agenda. Peter had his mind set on things of man, not on the things of God. Peter had to be rebuked and put in his place. He needed to learn to deny himself. But this was not an easy lesson to learn.
Peter was self-confident. He was determined. He was unflinchingly settled. He knew what he knew, he knew what was right, and he was purposefully resolved that he would do what was right. He knew this time Jesus was wrong.
When it came down to it, his allegiance to self was deeper than even he knew. His allegiance to self was deeper than his allegiance to his Master. Peter had to learn this the hard way. Peter had to be taught to believe, to trust, to deny self and depend on another. Peter's self-confidence had to be dismantled and destroyed. He broke down and wept. This is such a beautiful scene. Peter had finally come to the end of his pride and self-sufficiency, broken, he realized that he could not rescue Jesus. He needed to be rescued. His self-confidence was so deep seated that Jesus had to be crucified to break its power in his life. Up until this point, when Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost, I don't think Peter ever saw himself as lost. He would never put himself in that category. He was the one who said 'look Jesus, we left everything to follow you' (Lk.18:28). Look what we did for you. Jesus says 'I did not come to be served by you, Peter, not by your good deeds or valiant efforts. I came to serve you, to give my life for you, to die in your place, because you are so self-assured and self-centered that you can't even see your own lostness'. Peter broke down and wept bitterly. We know Peter was truly broken, because of his interaction with the risen Jesus on the beach.
Peter had claimed that even if all the other disciples fell away, he would never fall away. Jesus asks him 'do you love me more than these?' Peter replies that he does love Jesus, but he doesn't claim that his love is any more than any of the others. And the word Peter uses for 'love' is different than the one Jesus used. Jesus asked if Peter loved him with a self-sacrificing love; Peter responds that he loves with the love of a friend. The second time, Jesus again asks if he loves with a self-sacrificial love, but he leaves off the 'more than these'. Peter again responds with the lower friendship love. The third time, Jesus takes the word Peter used and asks if he loves him with a friendship love. Peter, grieved at this, recognizing that Jesus knows his heart better than he himself does, appeals to the omniscience of Christ and again affirms his friendship love. Peter was undone. His self-confidence was broken. He is now broken to the point of being useful. So three times Jesus reinstates him with a task 'feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep'.
Peter is now broken to the point of being useful. But he is not yet ready to be used. Luke records for us Christ's instructions before he ascended to heaven:
And then in Acts:
Is anything more difficult than waiting? Jesus is alive! He is risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven. Jesus has opened their minds to understand the scriptures. You are witnesses. We have the best news ever! But don't do anything yet. You're not ready. Don't post it on facebook. Wait. There's about 10 days from the ascension to Pentecost. We know this was difficult for Peter, because in the mean time, right or wrong, he decided to pick a new apostle to replace Judas. He just couldn't wait!
But he had learned not to trust himself, not to depend on himself. He learned to deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus. And when Pentecost had fully come, and the Holy Spirit was poured out, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached a crucified and resurrected Jesus, and his hearers were cut to the heart and 3,000 repented, received his word, and were baptized.
So are you living like someone was raised from the dead? Have you learned what it means to follow Jesus? Have you taken up your cross, acknowledging that you deserve eternal death? Are you denying yourself, refusing to rely on self, depending completely on God to rescue you and to live his life through you? Are you living no longer for own sake, but for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Jesus? Is Jesus setting your agenda? Have you died to yourself? Have you been broken so that you can be useful? You must die to your self before you can be raised to newness of life.