|WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Six
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 21, 2018
If you’re able, would you please stand with me as we come before God’s word - and read with me Mark 8:31-38.
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 begin to rebuke Him.
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.”
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. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 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? 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.”
Three Sunday’s ago - when we were in Mark 8:22-30 - three Sundays ago we left Jesus and His disciples where?
Caesarea Philippi is about 26 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. What today is in the far north of Israel tucked into a corner of land bordered by Lebanon and Syria.
Which today looks like this. Springs and streams and very beautiful.
This is a picture looking at the cave which is where one of the springs was located. These springs were centers of pagan worship.
Three Sundays ago we talked about why Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi for their midterm exam.
The Canaanites had worshipped Baal there. The Greeks had worshipped Pan. The Romans were there worshipping Caesar. And it was the capitol of the area Herod Philippi ruled over. Which - looking at the picture - is what all that may have looked liked.
In this beautiful location are tied together the religious and political systems and man centered - humanist - world view that had plagued God’s people since they were God’s people on the Promised Land. A fitting backdrop of peoples and beliefs that Jesus had been leading His disciples through since Day One of His ministry - in a succession of miracles and teaching moments leading up to the midterm questions that Jesus asks His disciples.
What were the two Midterm Questions? “Who do the people say that I am?” And second: “Who do you say that I am?”
The answer to question one was about the crowds of people that were following Jesus who were enthralled with Jesus because of the miracles and the teaching and what their expectations of Jesus were all about.
They were looking for someone who would usher in a new age in the life of Israel. Someone who would open the door for the coming Messiah. Or perhaps even be the Messiah Himself who would kick the Romans back to Rome and usher in a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and prestige - an unprecedented golden age in the life of God’s people.
We know that while the crowd - the paparazzi and the religious leadership - while the people didn’t get Jesus - Peter, answering midterm Question #2 “Who do you say that I am?” - Peter knocks the answer out of the park.
“You are the Christ.” Matthew’s account gives us a fuller record of Peter’s answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Meaning that Peter - in contrast to whatever anyone else may think of Jesus - Peter is not only declaring that Jesus is the One promised by God to be the One uniquely appointed by God to be the Christ - the Messiah. Peter is declaring that Jesus is God Himself. Whatever is true of God is true of Jesus. Whatever God is, and all that God is, Jesus is.
Let’s be clear.
What Jesus has been announcing since Day One of His ministry - what is at the core of what Jesus is all about - what’s recorded for us in Mark 1:15 - Jesus’ message is that: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
What Jesus has been teaching - first quarter - leading up to the midterm - Jesus has been teaching what it means that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
Jesus is the Christ - the Son of God - Who is the Kingdom of God - all of that incomprehensible divinity - at hand. God - Who is unknowable - taking on the flesh and blood of our created humanity and dwelling with us. The time for anticipating all that is fulfilled. Jesus is here.
Which is Peter’s mic drop answer to the midterm exam: “You are the Christ.”
What we’re coming to today is what happens after the midterm. Same place. Same backdrop. Caesarea Philippi and Jesus introducing what will be the curriculum for the second half of the class.
Jesus teaching His disciples what it means that He is the Christ. What it means to follow Him. What it means to repent and believe in the gospel.
We kind of seeing that?
There are two parts to what Jesus is teaching. Even to what Jesus is teaching us. We first need to have an understanding of Who Jesus is. And then we need to choose how we will respond to that truth.
Let’s be careful. It’s not that we’ll know everything there is to know about Jesus. But as God reveals Himself to us - as God comes to us and by grace reveals enough of Who He is - we need to respond to that truth. Each of us needs to choose to trust Him and learn what it means to follow Him through life - even in the man-centered humanist backdrop of the world that we live in today.
So - coming to verse 31 - What Jesus said and what Peter missed:
And [after the midterm] He [Jesus] began to teach them [the disciples] 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 begin to rebuke Him.
The title “Son of Man” - as its used in Scripture - that title focuses on Jesus being born in the flesh and blood of our humanity. Jesus being fully man. Our celebration of Jesus’ incarnation - Christmas - is only 9 Sundays away. Just saying.
The title “Son of Man” also means the One who - in the end times - future history - 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 - rise again - 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 the Who. He just hadn’t yet gotten the what.
Going on in verse 33: But [Jesus] turning and seeing His disciples - who probably were agreeing with Peter “Jesus - iksnay on the dyingneh” (This is the Roman Empire. They spoke pig-Latin.)
He [Jesus] 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.”
Is Peter Satan? No.
But Peter’s rebuke - “Jesus, the Messiah comes to rule and reign not to be rejected and killed. Don’t talk like that.” Peter’s rebuke mirrors the same opposition - same tactics - coming from Satan that’s influenced the crowds. Peter following his fears and self-focus falls into the same trap as the people following after their version of who the Messiah is and what the Messiah is suppose to do. How God is suppose to do things.
Let’s be clear.
Would Satan have loved for Jesus to be a popular Messiah? Sure.
Maybe even Jesus getting set-up as king of Israel? Living out His days leading God’s people in righteousness? Would Satan be good with that? 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.”
Jesus to Peter: “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 like the crowd following for the miracles and missing the message.”
Which is a danger we face even as those who believe in Jesus Who is the Christ and seeing how all this comes down at the cross.
We know the right answer. We “get” Who Jesus is. We know that God has chosen to love us and to call us into relationship with Him. We understand what God has done for us. What He gives to us now and forever.
We should bask in that. Marinate in it. Because there is a huge blessing in knowing the reality of Who Jesus is.
But also there’s a danger we face that - even knowing Who Jesus is - that we might be trying to follow Jesus on our terms not His.
We know and we’ve talked about this - that one of the great failures of the church in America is that we’ve reduced God - Jesus - to a god of our understanding. A God who is somehow dependent on us. Someone up there Who likes us - or at least most of us - people who need Him and that He needs us to need Him so that somehow He gets glorified when we decide to trust Him or to serve Him. Someplace in all that we’ve reduced Jesus to being our buddy - a friend - who desires to care for us.
So we can serve in the church and participate in ministries and come to Sunday worship gatherings and do Christianity in our homes and work places and focus on God’s coming to us and God’s love for us - and slip into a complacent status quo - Christianity - kind of half-listening to messages about what we think we already know - where all this becomes about our understanding of what it means that Jesus is the Christ.
The danger is that it’s way too easy for us to slip into living out a kind of Christianity where living for God is based on what we think God expects of us and what we think God will do for us and loose sight of the life God actually calls us to. What it really means that Jesus is the Christ.
Which is why what comes after the midterm - the second quarter - is so crucially important for Peter - for the disciples - for us to pay attention to. To make sure that we’re not just living by our own assumptions about Who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. But to be actually living as God desires for us to live - according to what He wills and for His glory alone.
In verse 34 Jesus clarifies what it really means to follow Him.
And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples - meaning that this teaching isn’t just for the Twelve - but for all of 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” ourselves.
Think about Peter - in the courtyard - the night Jesus was betrayed.
“Jesus? I never knew the man!” That’s denial.
To “deny” translates 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, it’s as 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 and 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.
Can you imagine that today when so many Christians are focused on property values and all the toys we just have to have? All the little things and comforts we surround ourselves with? The choices we make in how we invest our time, talent, and treasure?
“I’ll follow you anywhere.” “Well, you’re going to be homeless - living outside.”
Let’s be honest - at that point 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.” The third mans says, “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 qualify their following: “I’ll follow you but my family comes first.” Or something else - name it - qualifies our following. Not that we’d actually say it. But, actions speak louder than… words. Our actions always demonstrate what we really believe.
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)
The shortest distance between two points is what? 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.
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. It’s 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. What breaks us. What robs of us everything. What forces us to let go of ourselves until we really are “all in” totally surrendered to God.
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 by letting die anything that is not of God. By putting it to death regardless of what that is. So that we live only as God graciously allows us to live for Him in deepening openness and surrender to Him for His glory alone.
In another time and place when Jesus was teaching about what it means to “take up our cross and follow Me” - recorded in Luke 14 - Jesus gives two illustrations about what that looks like in real time.
First, Jesus said - Luke 14:28-30: “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 hear that 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 the “cost” of the commitment required to carry 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 knowing that death is required. Are we that committed?
Jesus’ second illustration:
“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 comes 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. He asks the questions, “What am I up against? Can I win?”
The enemy is marching towards him. He’s outnumbered. Defeat is certain. When the 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 the battle is not the opportunity to wave a white flag.
Jesus’ illustration isn’t our ability or inability to engage the enemy. Jesus’ point is that the strength and ability to engage victoriously doesn’t come from us. It comes from God.
We need crucify our over inflated estimation of our abilities and acknowledge our inadequacy and trust God if we’re ever going to live follow Him. Taking up our cross means total commitment to God and total trust in God. Period.
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.
Peter’s midterm exam correct answer: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…” - “You are the Christ.”
Part two - what that means - Jesus’ introduction to the 2nd quarter: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” That’s a 180 degree change of life direction - a total refocusing of our lives. What it means to be “all in” denying self - taking up our cross - being committed to following Jesus - the Christ Who is Himself crucified.
Thinking about that for ourselves. The “what it means” part of what Jesus is teaching. The implications can - and should - make us take a step back and think through what it really means to respond to Who Jesus is. The implications can be a tad fear inducing. Just maybe.
Maybe some of that fear was behind Peter’s response. His rebuke. Peter fearing what that might mean for Peter.
Coming to verses 35-38 Jesus is going to focus on three things that we fear. Three areas where we might struggle with in being “all in” denying self and taking up our cross.
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 she really wanted who? Rhett. But it was too late. In the end she’d lost everything.
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 that we’re actually preserving our lives. That somehow there’s going to be fulfillment in all of that.
But 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 somehow we’re afraid to let go of all that. 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.
Jesus - addressing our fear - is also giving us promise.
To lose our lives - for the sake of Jesus and the gospel - is to give up our right to define our lives by our empty versions of what life is - to give that right to Jesus - and when we do that - God will give to us the life we really long for now and forever.
Fear number two is the loss of security.
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?
Gaining the whole world is an exaggeration beyond what most of us are thinking about here in Merced. What Jesus is focused on is what we’re filling our lives with and why.
On a smaller scale - most of us have way too much stuff. The reason we have so much stuff is pretty simple. We like having stuff.
Filling our lives with the stuff of the world is like telling ourselves that we have the ability to fill the empty spaces of our lives - to provide for our needs - to deal with the circumstances of our lives.
But what if following Jesus means Jesus telling us to give everything away and move to Firebaugh?
Is our security in gaining the stuff of the world or is our security in God?
Jesus - addressing our fear - is also giving us promise.
There never is enough stuff. You can gain it all and still come up empty. The security you’re craving is only found in God. And God’s security is for today and forever.
Fear number three is 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.
Follow Jesus and we’re going to live 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.
Which on a “where we live our lives” level is about the decisions we make and how we live our lives that our family and neighbors and the people we go to school with or work with - they just don’t get. They mean even pull away from us. Which hurts. And most of us - push comes to shove - most of us would like to avoid.
Jesus is saying we need to weigh public opinion against what God thinks. When we enter into eternity what’s going to be really really really eternally infinitely more important is what God thinks of us.
Jesus - addressing our fear - is also giving us promise.
When Jesus comes back in all of the indescribable awesomeness of His divine glory at the head of the angelic armies of heaven to rule and reign in all of His sovereign majesty those who have lived for Jesus will be with Jesus.
Processing all that...
There are people who are “into” Jesus and there are people who are “in” Jesus.
“Into” Jesus meaning they get enough about Jesus to follow - on their terms - not His. For the miracles and morals and message. To be a Christian with qualified commitment. Churches are full of people who are into Jesus.
Those who are “in” Jesus are “all in” committed to what Jesus says it means to follow Him. That’s Second Quarter following.
Jesus calls us to follow Him into what is a life with meaning and purpose and fulfillment. To live secure in our relationship with Him - now and forever. To know His approval. Life where we’re being continually transformed to be like Him and we’re continually growing closer to Him - knowing Him more deeply. Life where God works in us and through us in ways that are beyond our wildest imaginations. Using us for His glory now and forever.
That life isn’t about living in fear but living in the reality of what Jesus promises us. It’s what God gives to us as we choose to be “all in” committed to follow Jesus on His terms not ours.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
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.