This article is adapted from a sermon I preached on 13 January 2019, entitled “Following the Leader.” Video and audio may be found here.
Peter has just made an important confession; that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (Mk 8:27-33). How do you sum up what this office means?1 It’s common to see Christ as the prophet, priest and king. Millard Erickson shifts the emphasis from office to function, and presents Jesus as the revealer, ruler and reconciler.2
Because Jesus does these things; because He reveals God’s message, will rule over all creation and reconciles any and everyone who comes to God through Him, how should you follow Jesus? That’s what this passage (Mk 8:34 – 9:1) is all about.
Then, after Jesus summoned the crowd, along with His disciples, He said to them, (Mk 8:34).
Jesus’ lessons on discipleship aren’t just for “super Christians.” Jesus invited apostles and the crowd to listen. If you’re a Christian, this message is for you!
If someone wishes to be following me, he must deny himself, then pick up his cross, then keep on following me (Mk 8:34).
If you’re a Christian, what does Jesus say a faithful life looks like? What do you have to do to be the kind of Christian Jesus can smile at?
Here it is:
- Deny yourself
- Pick up your cross
- Keep on following Jesus; don’t turn back!
What do these mean!?
This mean God is on the throne in your life; not you. It means you aren’t in charge of your life, God is. Your life isn’t your own (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). If you’re a Christian, then Christ is your Lord (Rom 14:8-9); do you live like it? The issue is motivation and drive; what gives your life meaning and purpose – your status in union with Christ, or something else?
Christ died so that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (2 Cor 5:15). Do you live your life in service to Jesus? The point is that your purpose in life isn’t to please yourself, or to pursue your own goals – it’s to please God!
Does that mean that, in order to be a faithful Christian, you have to sell everything you have and move to Antarctica and preach the Gospel to penguins? Or, does it mean you have to live on top of a mountain alone, with your wi-fi, so you can be close to God?
No! You don’t need to become a monk; you just need to view your life in the proper perspective. What give your life purpose and meaning? This is a question that goes to motivation, and only you and God know what motivates and energizes your life. If you’re a Christian, it ought to be God. If you’re a Christian, your overriding drive should be to please Him, and serve Him with your life – wherever He’s put you. You aren’t your own, He bought you with a price – do you live for yourself, or for the One who for your sake died and was raised?
Does this mean your job is pointless? No! It just means you need to have the proper perspective about your job. There’s honor in working hard to provide for your family, and God gave you the gifts to do the job you do – it’s not an accident you have the job you do, or that you’ll get the next job you’ll get! It just means your job isn’t your life; it doesn’t define you – your relationship with Jesus Christ defines you (1 Pet 2:9-10). That’s the inspired blueprint for how you ought to think of yourself, if you’re a Christian. You’re a priest for God, saved so you can show and tell the message of the Gospel to the people God has put you around.
Who is on the throne in your life?
You must pick up your cross
This was the cruelest, worst form of capitol punishment in the Roman world. People took hours to die. They were often left to die on their crosses along the roadsides, as a warning to others, where birds and dogs would eat and pick at them as they died! So, what did Jesus mean by this?
He meant you had to be ready to be considered the worst of the worst by the same people who would kill Him (Jn 15:18-19). Condemned prisoners were made to carry the cross-beam of their own crucifixion cross to the execution site (Mk 15:21); Jesus meant you had to be willing to figuratively pick up your cross and march to your own death, if need be (1 Pet 4:12-13).
The Roman Emperor Nero infamously blamed Christians for a massive fire in the city of Rome. Contemporary accounts tell us Nero crucified and burnt Christians alive in Rome. These are the same people Mark probably wrote his Gospel to.
Real faith means that, if necessary, you’re willing to suffer and die for your Savior, for the sake of the Gospel. That means Jesus and His Gospel ought to be the most important things; everything else (including your life) fades far into the background (Phil 3:8).
Who is on the throne in your life?
You must keep on following Jesus!
The Christian faith isn’t a once and done event; it’s not something that stops. A faith that isn’t living, active, and bearing fruit is a faith that’s either in serious trouble, or non-existent (read 1 John). You need to keep on denying yourself. You need to keep on carrying your cross
Why does Jesus say all this?
Because, if he keeps desiring to save his life, he’ll lose it. But, if a person would lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, he’ll save it (Mk 8:35).
If a person keeps trying to “save his life,” it means Jesus and the Gospel aren’t the most important things in his life. If that’s you, it means your own desires are more important. You’d rather save your life, then potentially lose it by following Jesus. It means everything about the “here and now” is more serious and more important than the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ
If that’s you, then you’re actually losing your life. You have no spiritual resurrection, the wrath of God abides on you (Jn 3:36), and one day your chance for salvation is gone. One psalmist asked, “what man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol,” (Ps 89:48)?
The answer is that God can, through Jesus, and you frittered it away because you valued the things of this world over the things of eternity; the temporary over the permanent, the fleeting over the transcendent.
Is this you? Do you desire to save your life? Solomon said everything in this world is transitory, momentary, fleeting, impermeant – there’s of lasting significance there to hold onto! Wisdom, great possessions, sex, money, living for pleasure, your work and career – all of them are fleeting and transitory. Whatever you’re holding onto instead of Jesus, whatever you’re not willing to let go of for Jesus, that thing will not be there for you in the end.
The only way you can save your soul is to be willing to lose it for Jesus and His Good News. If you’re a Christian, this means your rescue from sin your reconciliation with God, Jesus’ perfect, substitutionary life and death, His miraculous resurrection, your adoption into God’s family from the kingdom of darkness, your status as a brother or sister whom Jesus is not ashamed to call by name – all of these should be the most important things in the world to you. How can wisdom, sex, possessions, money, living for pleasure, or the idol of a career compare to these things?
Whose stamp do you bear and what’re you going to do about it?3 Is your faith the driving, motivating factor in your life, the thing that gives you purpose and fuels you? Or, is it an add-on; something affixed to the tail-end of your life with dollar store scotch-tape?
Who is on the throne in your life?
For, how does it benefit a man to be gaining the whole world and be losing his life!? (Mk 8:36)
After all, what would a man give in exchange for his life (Mk 8:37)?
Everything! Anything! The moon! So, have you? Have you made the decision to deny yourself? Have you made the decision that Jesus and the Gospel are worth picking up your cross for? Have you made the decision to keep on following Jesus, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year?
These aren’t things you do to get salvation; they’re things a genuine Christian will want to do because of salvation; they’re the fruit of spiritual life. Apple tree produce apples. Orange tree produce oranges. Mexican restaurants produce nachos. A Christian likewise ought to do the things Jesus said
Now, Jesus backs up and lays it all out for us:
This is what I mean – if someone is embarrassed [about] me and my words in this adulterous and sinful age, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in the Father’s glory, [and] with the holy angels,” (Mk 8:38).
What does this mean? Here’s what it means:
- If you won’t deny yourself for Jesus,
- If you won’t take up your figurative cross and be prepared to suffer and die for His sake and the Gospel’s sake,
- If you won’t keep on following Him, or at least have the honest desire to keep on following Him for the remainder of your life
Then Jesus looks at you and says:
- This guy is embarrassed about me!
- This guy is ashamed of me!
- This guy is embarrassed about my message, about what I said!
- This guy is ashamed about my message and what I said!
It means Jesus looks at you and says:
- This guy isn’t ashamed about his greed, but he is ashamed about me!
- This guy isn’t ashamed about his loving his career more than anything in the world, but he is embarrassed about how nobody comes to the Father, but through me
- This guy isn’t ashamed of the Gospel, as long as it stays a secret part of his life
If that’s you:
- Jesus says, “I’ll be ashamed of you when I come back, full of power and glory, along with the holy angels, to set everything right”
- He’ll look at you and say, “I never knew you!”
- He’ll look at you and say, “I don’t know who you are!”
- He’ll look at you and think, “This is sinful guy; a criminal!”
- He’ll look at you and think, “This guy is unfaithful to the God who created him, just like so many other people – he’s a spiritual adulterer!”
- He’ll look at you and say, “I’m embarrassed that you claim to belong to me!”
- He’ll look at you and think, “I’m ashamed of this guy!”
Consider the contrast. A life lived for yourself, for your own ends, for your own transitory dreams, all so it can go into the trashcan at the end of your life? Or, a life lived in service to God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, using and channeling your gifts and abilities for His glory, having (perhaps) that same career, but with the right motivations, having (perhaps) the same money, but with the proper perspective, willing to suffer loss and perhaps die for the sake of the Gospel,
and seeing Jesus return in power, glory and honor, and welcoming you with open arms and a great smile, by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,” (Mt 25:21).
Jesus will return one day, with power and glory, accompanied by the holy angels – and what value will “whatever else” be for you, then?
Then Jesus said to them, “I’m telling you the solemn truth, that there are some people standing here who will not taste death until they see God’s kingdom coming in power,” (Mk 9:1).
As a way to encourage His disciples to take the longer view, to have the proper perspective, to see Him as he really is and (thus) to count everything as loss compared to Him, Jesus will lift the curtain a bit and show them a taste of His glory, power and honor … in the next passage (Mk 9:2-8)!
If Christian churches expected people to follow Jesus with the same passion and fervor He told us to have, then churches would be smaller, and the people left would be more zealous for Christ and the Gospel. If you’re a Christian, you need to follow Jesus with the same all-consuming passion He said you must have!
Who is on the throne in your life?
Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to put Him on the throne in your life. Choose to keep on following Him, just like He said
1 I addressed this issue in a sermon from Mark 8:27-33, preached on 30 December 2018, entitled “Jesus is the Christ, But What Does That Mean?” You can find the audio, video and sermon notes at https://bit.ly/2R0IZt0.
2 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 780ff.
3 See Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 5:1-5.