Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 20, 2015
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Advent means what? Comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “to arrive” or “to come”. Jesus has come. He has arrived.
Advent being a time - which as early as the 5th century - Christians were setting aside to prepare themselves—to get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth - His arrival.
Anyone recognize this? (Opening screen for Windows 10.)
“Windows 10—We finally fixed everything.”
If you’re not there yet… you will be. It has arrived. Be prepared for what Windows 10 will mean for your life.
This morning we’re getting ready to celebrate. Not the arrival of Windows 10. Thankfully. But Jesus’ arrival. Way more important.
We’re going to be looking together at Mark 8 - starting at verse 31. Reason being - as we head into this last week of preparation - Advent is a great opportunity for us to pause and think about Jesus’ arrival - the reality of that. To prepare. To pause and think about our lives. To be open to what God may show us about how we’re living as followers of Jesus Christ.
The back story of Mark 8:31 - 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 is a pretty impressive miracle. Yes?
A short while later the disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee. They got hungry. Realized that they’d forgotten to bring bread. So they stressed out.
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 get 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 - let’s read together at verse 31: And He 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 said this plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
Let’s pause and unpack that.
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.
“Plainly” meaning there was no way to misunderstand what Jesus was saying. He’s going to be rejected. People are going to listen more to Satan than to God. Satan using their own fears and self-focus against them. As he does with us. And yet, God’s will and purposes will be accomplished. 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.
Going on - read with me verse 33: But turning and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Let’s pause and unpack.
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 - same tactics - coming from Satan. Peter following his fears and self-focus.
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. Just worship me.”
“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 who has arrived. 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 become complacent - we can loose sight of all this being about God and what He wills - not about us. We can be so focused on ourselves - and the stuff of Christmas - that we will miss the opportunities God gives us to be blessed and to participate in the awesomeness of what He’s doing.
It’s one reason why Advent can be so important to us. To open ourselves up to see what God wants to show us about living with Him - following Jesus - not just living by our own 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 - let’s read together: And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
And calling the crowd to Him 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 calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He - Jesus - said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
First: To follow Jesus means that we must 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.
Luke records for us the time 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 - living outside.”
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 who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Point A to point B. To plow a straight furrow across a field means there’s a fixed point across the field that holds our undivided attention. We’re going there. Point A to point B. And nothing is going to distract us from that single minded goal.
Ever try driving forward using only the rearview mirror? Gets messy. We got to keep looking forward.
To deny ourselves is to stop looking back - to stop looking around - and to choose to look forward - to Jesus. Jesus is up ahead. He’s the fixed point. We’re following Him. Life is about Him. Going where He is. Where He leads. Whatever that may mean. He has control. His will. His direction. Period. Any other concern - any other priority for our lives - is secondary. And not even that. There is no secondary. Life is about Jesus. Not us. Period.
What does it mean to follow Jesus. Deny self.
Second: To follow Jesus means that we must 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. What offends our pride. What shames us - exposing the sin in our lives - until we’re totally surrendered to God. And even then...
Paul describes taking up our cross in Galatians 2:20. He writes, “I’ve been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Are we hearing Paul? To take up 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 means to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.
First, Jesus said - Luke 14:28: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)
It would be easy to 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 where he will be put to death. To take up our cross is a commitment of our whole lives to God - the journey of our whole lives - point A to point B - even death if required. Are we that committed?
Second illustration - Luke 14:31 - what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
“Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who come against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” (Luke 14:31,32)
Familiar illustration. Yes?
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 pots and torches.
On and on it goes from one end of Scripture to the other end.
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.
The point of Jesus’ battle illustration is not the odds. “May the odds be ever in your favor.” The point of battle is not the opportunity to wave a white flag. Jesus’ battle illustration point is our commitment to trust God and engage the enemy.
Paul writes, “...we do not wrestle against - what? - flesh and blood, but against the... rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present - what? - darkness, against the spiritual forces of - what? - evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
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, brothers, if the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13)
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
To follow Jesus means there’s a whole lot of hating going on. To follow Jesus means being a target - for Satan - who’s going to use everything at his disposal in this world against us.
Remember how the disciples died? Imprisoned - bound and dragged through the streets - tortured - beaten - run through with swords and spears - shot with arrows - stoned - flayed alive - crucified - beheaded. John gets dropped in a caldron of boiling oil. Miraculously escaped death. Gets exiled to Patmos. John was the only disciple who died 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? Us. 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)
What did God accomplish through these followers of Jesus? The transformation of human history. Infinitely more important: Millions - perhaps billions - will enter eternity to dwell with God forever.
What will God accomplish through you? Want to make an impact in this world - in the lives of those around us - forever? Follower of Jesus - carry your cross with commitment to the finish line.
Now we need a moment of truth. That whole denying self and taking up our cross thing may be just a tad hard for us to go there with. Right? We struggle because we fear just what all that may mean for us. The danger in that is that - as we’re focusing on ourselves - wondering what all that might actually mean for us - Satan can exploit our fears and lead us opposite to what God offers us in Jesus.
Coming to verses 35-38 - Jesus is going to take on three things that we fear.
Fear number one: The Loss of Life.
Verse 35: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
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 who she really wanted? Rhett. But it was too late. In the end she’d lost everything. Holding on to what we think is life isn’t worth it.
Ultimately the desire to save our own life is our 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.
How’s that going? Deep down don’t we know that we ourselves 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? God’s plan for our lives just might not fit our agenda for how we think our lives should go. 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.
Going on - Fear Number Two: The Loss of Control.
Verses 36 and 37: For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?
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 our stuff out of 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. Sometimes we think that giving each other stuff for Christmas is such a valuable thing.
Stuff could be stocks - a bank account - a house - knick knacks around the house - a car - being able to eat out or take trips - an upward mobile life style - a nest egg for the future. A PS4 - an “I” something or other. Some kind of tech toy.
For many people stuff makes us feel secure. Comfort foods. Comfort stuff. Like a security blanket. 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 us to sell everything and give the money to the Creekside. Which might not be such a bad idea. But a topic for another time.
God is not a tame God who fits into our little box of how we think God should operate. No matter how hard we might try to tame Him. If we’re going to follow Jesus we’re going to have give up what we’re trying to control our lives with. That makes us hesitate. What will that mean?
Do you remember these words of Jesus? “...do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can 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 our relationship with who? God. God who secures our entrance into eternity. What is a whole lot more valuable that the stuff we’re hanging on to for security.
John 3:16 - say it with me: “For God so loved the world - that’s us - that He gave His only Son, that whoever - that’s us - believes in Him should 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 of hotel earth 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?
Fear Number Three - comes in verse 38: The Loss of Reputation.
Verse 38: For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Our generation is sinful - immoral - far removed from God - pursuing anything but God.
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’ve 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.
The church has become comfortable with ourselves as end-users of the Gospel. We’ve let go of our mandate to give everything to share that Gospel with others. Many are not even sure what the Gospel is.
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 in America 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.
Well, what will Jesus think if we don’t follow Him? Will He be proud of us? Or ashamed? Who would we rather have proud of us… or ashamed?
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 they missed the implications - the cost - the commitment required - 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 fourth Sunday of getting ready - preparation - we have the opportunity to ask how open is our heart to what God may desire to do in us and through us? 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 quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.