Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 13, 2009
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Advent being a time - which as early as the 5th century - Christians were setting aside to prepare themselves to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Jesus has come. What does that mean for us in the way we’re living our lives? Advent - getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth - Advent is a time to think about our lives - to be open to what God may show us about how we’re living as followers of Jesus Christ. Whether we’re living naughty or nice.
“Are you ready for Windows 7?”
“Maybe. Will it run my DOS programs any faster?”
Some of us are back on Windows 3.1.
This morning - as we’re getting ready - thinking about our lives and what God may show us - how we’re living as followers of Jesus Christ - I’d like to have us look together at Mark 8 - starting at verse 31 - where Jesus is teaching His disciples about what it means to follow Him.
In the Bible under the chair in front of you you’ll find Mark 8 on page 34. As you’re turning let me bring us up to speed on what’s going on with these verses.
If we were to back up a bit from Mark 8:31 - to what’s been going on previously - a large crowd of people - 4,000 plus - had been following Jesus around for 3 days without being fed. Jesus takes 7 loaves of bread and some small fish and feeds this huge crowd to the point where they’re satisfied and there’s 7 baskets of bread left over. Which was a pretty impressive miracle. Yes?
A short while - the disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee - they got hungry and realized that they’d forgotten to bring bread. So that stressed them out. And Jesus reminds them, “When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000 how many baskets of bread were left over?” 12. “When I broke the 7 loaves for the 4,000 how many baskets were left over?” 7. “So do you get it? I’m here. You don’t need anything else. I got it covered. Trust Me.”
When they got to Bethsaida a blind man was brought to Jesus and people were begging Jesus to touch the blind man to heal him. Jesus takes the blind man by the hand - takes him out of town - and spits on his eyes - yuk - lays hands on his eyes - and the blind man sees.
We know this - there’s this crowd of people that was enthralled with Jesus because of the miracles - because of what they could get from Jesus. They got the miracles. But they didn’t get Jesus. They didn’t get the “I’ve got it covered. Trust Me with your life.” part. Its like getting Christmas - all the stuff we get - the presents - Jesus has come for us. But not getting Jesus. The implications of His presence with us.
In Mark 8:27 - in response to the attitude of the crowd - Jesus starts this dialogue with the disciples. He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples give Jesus the standard answers that were floating around in the crowd: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter says, “You are the Christ.” “You’re the Messiah. The Anointed Holy One of God. The One we’ve all been waiting for.” Talk about nailing the answer to a test question. Peter hits this one out of the park.
Mark 8 - join me at verse 31: And He - Jesus - began to teach them - the disciples - that the Son of Man - that title “Son of Man” meaning Jesus born in the flesh - fully man - Christmas - and also meaning the One who - in the end times - will bring God’s kingdom to earth. It’s a title that covers a lot of territory in the hopes of God’s people. Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly - meaning there was no way to misunderstand what Jesus was saying. He’s going to be rejected by men - because of the spiritual nature of His work - because it is within God’s will and purposes - Jesus is going to be killed. And then 3 days later - live.
And Peter took Him - Jesus - aside and began to rebuke Him. Literally the idea is that Peter tried to shut Jesus up. “Jesus are you nuts? What is this suffering business? This being killed thing? This nutso talk about coming back from death? The Messiah is a symbol of strength - not weakness. Shut up about all that.”
Peter had gotten the right answer. Knocked it out of the park. He gotten Christmas. He just didn’t get Christ.
Verse 33 - Jesus’ rebuke. Let’s say that together: “Jesus’ rebuke.”
But turning around and seeing His disciples - who probably were agreeing with Peter - He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
Is Peter Satan? No. But Peter’s rebuke - “Jesus You’re the Messiah. You don’t have to go to the cross.” - mirrors the same opposition coming from Satan.
Would Satan have loved for Jesus to be a popular Messiah? Maybe even get set-up as king of Israel? Living out His days leading God’s people in righteousness? Sure. Big time. Satan even promised Jesus that - and more. Remember the temptations in Matthew 4? “All the kingdoms of the world are mine and I’ll give them to you. Just do things my way.”
“Peter what you’re focused on - what you’ve set your mind and heart on - what you’re hanging on to - is Satan’s agenda not God’s. You’re at cross purposes with God. You’re like the crowd following for the miracles and missing the message.”
That’s a danger we face - even as those who believe in Jesus as the Christ - because we know the right answers we can do church on autopilot. We can serve in the church - participate in ministries - come to Sunday services - when its convenient - for what benefits us - what satisfies our wants. We can be so focused on God’s love for us - Jesus being born for us - that we forget that all this is about God and what He wills - not us. We can be so focused on ourselves that we will miss the opportunities God gives us to be blessed and to participate in the awesomeness of what He’s doing.
Its why Advent is so important. To open ourselves up to see what God wants to show us about living with Him - following Jesus - not just living by our assumptions about what it means that Jesus has come. But making sure that we’re following God’s purposes for our lives not our own.
In verse 34 Jesus focuses on what it really means to follow Him. Let’s try this together: What it means to follow Jesus. “What it means to follow Jesus.”
Verse 34: And He - Jesus - summoned the crowd with His disciples - meaning that this teaching isn’t just for the Twelve - but for all Christians - the Jesus groupies tagging along - for us - and - Jesus - said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
First: To follow Jesus means that we must Deny Self. Try that with me, “Deny Self.”
Think about Peter in the courtyard - the night Jesus was betrayed. “Jesus? I never knew the man!” That’s denial. To “deny” is a Greek word that means swearing on a stack Bibles that we have no connection with someone. To deny ourselves is to reject any association with our former selves - who we were apart from Jesus.
Whatever we were addicted to. Whatever controlled us. Whatever we were devoted to or focused on or captivated by. Whatever associations. Whatever attitudes. Whatever was not of God - we no longer have any association with.
And, its if we never did. We don’t go back to dwell on what once was. To rehearse old relationships and habits and hang-ups. For the follower of Jesus they don’t exist. What does exist is our relationship with Jesus.
- when Jesus was heading to
Jerusalem He was confronted by three men. The
first man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow
You wherever you go.” Jesus tells him
that to follow
means never having a home.
“I’ll follow you anywhere.” “Well, you’re going to be homeless.”
Let’s be honest - many of us would qualify our following: “I’ll follow you as long as it doesn’t too severely impact my lifestyle.”
The next two men put conditions on following Jesus. “First, I need to go bury my father.” “First, I need to say goodbye to my family.”
Have you heard this? “We couldn’t make it for church because we had family from out of town and they don’t go to church.” “We had a family gathering.” “We had to go camping.” “We had a bar-mitzvah.”
Let’s be honest - many Christians would qualify their following: “I’ll follow you but my family comes first.” Or something else - name it - qualifies our following.
Jesus said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Ever try driving forward using only the rearview mirror? Try that sometime. But not in our neighborhood.
To deny ourselves is stop looking back and to choose to look forward - to our relationship with Jesus. To deny to associate with any part of our lives that isn’t of Jesus. To give Jesus complete control of our lives. His will for us. Not ours.
Second: To follow Jesus means that we must Take Up Our Cross. Try that with me, “Take up our cross.”
The cross - for Jesus - stood for shame - humiliation - degradation. He was hung on a criminal’s cross. On the cross Jesus was demeaned and debased.
The cross we carry isn’t just inconvenience or hardship - something we have to “endure” because we’re Christians - its not a difficulty or a trial. “We tithed instead of buying a plasma TV. We’re suffering for Jesus.”
The cross is symbolic of what reduces us to humility - offends our pride - shames us - exposing the sin in our lives - until we’re totally surrendered to God.
Paul describes this in Galatians 2:20. He writes, “I’ve been crucified with Christ; its no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
Hear this: “Carrying our cross” is the day-to-day living of the Christian life as God allows us to live it for Him - a painful process of daily living - before others - in deepening openness to God.
In Luke 14 - Jesus gives two illustrations about what it meant to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.
First, Jesus said - Luke 14:28: “For which of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30)
Many people look at these verses and think about what? Building projects and budgets and giving estimates. A wise builder should calculate the financial cost of his project before he begins to build - to make sure he has the resources necessary to complete the project.
But, the point here is not about “cost” - the financial bottom line. The point here is about commitment - carrying our cross. Jesus’ point can be expressed in a question, “Are you committed to finishing what you start - to see the commitment you make through to the end?”
The person carrying the cross is already condemned. His life is already forfeit. He’s required to carry the cross to the place of execution. To take up our cross is a commitment of our whole lives to God - even death if required. Are we that committed?
“Or what King, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” (Luke 14:31,32)
A king is confronted with a battle - the enemy is marching towards him. He’s outnumbered. Defeat is certain. The wise king seeks council - how to approach the battle. He asks the questions, “What am I up against? Can I win?”
When the Godly king sees that He can’t win He waves the white flag and gives up - surrenders. So as Christians - when we realize what we’re up against - Jesus is teaching us that we should just give up.
Wait. That can’t be right.
Against Goliath - the battle hardened Giant - scourge of Israel - God sends the boy David and a slingshot. Against the Midianites and Amalekites - their armies as numerous as locusts - God pares down Gideon’s 32,000 men to a group of 300 guys armed with water pitchers and torches. God takes a handful of relatively uneducated fishermen - a tax collector - and a prostitute and commissions them to share the Gospel with the world. Same God who calls us to follow.
Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against - what? - flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of - what? - darkness, against the spiritual forces of - what? - wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 5:12)
The Bible describes our enemy - Satan - as a roaring lion - constantly seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) The Apostle John writes, “Do not be surprised if the people of the world hate you.” (1 John 3:13) Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before you.” (John 15:18) To follow Jesus means being a target - for Satan - who’s going to use everything at his disposal in this world against us.
Remember the disciples? How they died? Imprisoned - they were bound and dragged through the streets - tortured - beaten - run through with swords and spears - shot with arrows - stoned - flayed alive - crucified - beheaded. John after being dropped in a caldron of boiling oil - miraculously escaped death and was exiled to Patmos. The only one to die of natural causes.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer - in his book, The Cost of Discipleship - writes about “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves… the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate… Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” (1)
Our greatest possession? Ourselves. Jesus says, think about what you’re getting yourself into. Do you really want to follow Me? To follow Me costs you everything so that all that’s left is the visible life of Jesus lived out in us and through us to God’s glory.
Ray Stedman - in his sermon “The Way of the Cross” shares this perspective… “Imagine the scene when the Apostle Paul appeared before Nero, the Roman emperor, to give answer to the charges against him...imagine the emperor, in his royal robes, seated upon a throne. His name was known throughout the empire. But few knew of Paul. Here was this obscure little Jew, bald-headed, big-nosed, bandy-legged, totally unimpressive in his physical appearance - he says so himself in his letters. And he was a leader of an obscure, heretical little sect that was known only as troublemakers. Few had heard of Paul, while everybody had heard of Nero. But the interesting thing is that now, two thousand years later, we name our sons Paul, and our dogs Nero.” (2)
In verses 35-38 Jesus touches on what we struggle with in following Him - what holds us back from denying ourselves and taking up our cross. What we fear. Let’s say that together, “What we fear.” See if these relate to how you feel.
Verse 35: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Fear Number One: Loss of Life.
Remember Scarlett O’Hara? Gone With The Wind? She spent years fawning over who? Ashley. “Oh Ashley, Ashley. Say that you love me Ashley. Kiss me Ashley and I shall carry it with me forever.” At the end she realized that it was Rhett who she really wanted. But it was too late. In the end she’d lost everything. Holding on to what we think is life isn’t worth it.
The desire to save our own life is the desire to preserve our version of what we think our lives should be like - our goals - our dreams - our plans. We think that if we can hang on to how we think our lives should lived we’re actually preserving our lives.
But deep down we know we can’t achieve the fulfillment of our desires. Life - people and circumstances - always get in the way. We’re trying to live freely the way we want and all we end up with is fear - fear of loss - fear of failure - fear of inadequacy.
And yet we’re afraid to let go. What will happen? What will God require of us? But the more we cling on to our cherished version of life the more we choke it to death.
To lose our lives - for the sake of Jesus and the gospel - is to give up our right to define our lives - to give that right to Jesus - to align ourselves with Him - to follow Him wherever He leads - even if it means a cross. It means trusting God because God alone is trustworthy.
Verse 36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man exchange for His soul?”
Fear Number Two: Loss Of Control.
We have so much stuff. The amount of stuff we have is directly proportional to the amount of space we have for stuff. Right? If we clean out the garage what happens? It fills up with more stuff.
The reason we have so much stuff is pretty simple. We like having stuff. Otherwise we’d get rid of all our stuff and it wouldn’t matter to us. But it does.
Stuff could be stocks - a bank account - a house - knick knacks around the house - a car - being able to eat out or take trips - a upward mobile life style - a nest egg for the future. For many people stuff makes us feel secure. Comfort foods. Comfort stuff. If we have familiar things around us we’re okay. Like we have some kind of control over the destiny of our lives.
When it comes to following Jesus we hesitate. What stuff will He want? What if following Jesus means being poor? Or driving a Yugo? Or moving to Firebaugh? He might want me to sell everything and give the money to the Creekside. Which would be a great idea. But that’s another subject. If I follow Jesus I’ve got to give up control.
Do you remember these words of Jesus? “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him - God - who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
We usually reverse this. We fear what kills the body and miss the value of the soul - the value of Who - God - Who secures our entrance into eternity.
John 3:16 - say it with me: For God so loved the world - that’s us - that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever - that’s us - believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. That’s a promise.
The one who dies with the most toys is still dead. Jesus said, “When you check out what stuff is going to be valuable enough to exchange for an entrance ticket to heaven? Even if you have all the stuff in the whole world it isn’t going to be enough.”
Is our security in stuff or Jesus?
The third fear comes in verse 38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation - a generation that is far removed from God - pursuing anything but God - which has set itself up as God - with their own perverse immorality - the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Fear Number Three Is The Loss of Reputation.
What will others around us - our neighbors or family or co-workers - or people we go to school with - what will they think? What will it mean? If I follow Jesus.
One major reason the church in America today is in serious trouble is because the church in America is focused on itself and not God. We have replaced serving Jesus with serving ourselves. Commitment is convenient. Worship is optional. Sacrifice is subjective. Attendance is an alternative. Study is selective. Prayer is not a priority. And if it is, its about us not God.
What is true of the church is true of those claiming to be a part of the church. Those claiming to be followers of Jesus.
Which sounds harsh. But consider the evidence around us.
The church doesn’t run counter culture - it follows culture. Rather than infecting culture, the church is infested by culture. In many ways the church in America has marginalized itself because it is not following Jesus.
As the culture of this adulterous and sinful generation moves farther from God if we really follow Jesus - with all that that means - we’re going to stick out like sore thumbs. We’re going to run counter-culture. We will be ostracized. We’ll be misunderstood and ridiculed. Public opinion will be against us. Legislation will be leveled against us We’ll be thrown in jail. We will be persecuted. And like Jesus it may mean even mean martyrdom.
There was this crowd of people that were enthralled with Jesus because of the miracles - because of what they could get from Jesus. Peter was impressed with the Messiah - a child born in a manger - who is the Holy One of God - the Christ.
They got Christmas - Jesus has come for us - the presents. But not implications of His presence with us. The “I’ve got it covered. Trust Me with your life.” part.
God didn’t call us to emptiness and uselessness and a life of following after worthless trivial pursuits. He called us to know Him more deeply - to serve Him - to lose ourselves in Him - to allow Him to mold us and move us and use us - to do what is beyond what is in our wildest imaginations. To bring glory to the King of Kings - the God of all creation. All that begins when choose to follow Jesus - to deny ourselves - to take up our cross - and to follow.
On this third Sunday of getting ready - preparation - how open is your heart to what God may desire to do in you and through you. As you follow Jesus - what needs to be denied and what needs to be taken up?
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
2. Ray Stedman, from the sermon “The Way Of The Cross”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.