True Discipleship

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Mark 8:31-9:1 (Jesus Predicts his Death)

INTRODUCTION: What does it mean to be a Christian? Some people think you’re a Christian if your family is Christian. Others think you’re a Christian if you were baptized when you were a baby. Some people think you’re a Christian if you go to church, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian. As one wise old person once said, “Just because a mouse lives in a cookie jar, doesn’t make him a cookie!” There are some people around the world who think if you live in America, you are a Christian. Imagine that! But what does it mean to be a Christian?

There are different ways of describing Christians in the Bible but one very helpful way is what we find in this passage. A Christian is someone who is following Jesus. Are you following Jesus? Then you are a Christian. Are you not following Jesus? Then you have no right to bear the name.

Now being a follower of Jesus does not mean that you are perfect or that you never sin. We all sin every day. But it means that you have placed your trust in Jesus as God’s Son who died for you, you confess your sin as sin and turn away from it, and you have set your life to follow Christ and his commands. That’s what it means to be a Christian. You are a disciple or a follower of Christ. We sometimes speak of the twelve disciples, but they were only the first. Jesus calls all people to be his disciples, to follow him.

In today’s passage Jesus talks about true discipleship, what it means to be one of his followers. But the passage begins not with our mission but with Jesus’ mission. And that makes sense. If we are to follow Christ, then we need to know about his mission, what his life was all about. So today we are going to answer two questions. What did Jesus have to do to fulfill his mission? And then, what must you do to follow Jesus?

I. What did Jesus have to do to fulfill his mission? (8:31-33)

So we begin with Jesus. What did Jesus have to do to fulfill his mission?

    A. Jesus had to suffer and die. (31)

Look at verse 31:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

If you remember last week’s message, this takes place right after Peter has confessed Jesus as Messiah. And immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach the disciples about his suffering, death and resurrection.

We enter a new phase of Jesus’ teaching after Peter’s confession. Up to this point Jesus has largely been speaking to the crowds. But now in chapters 8-10 Jesus’ teaching is more focused on his disciples. And he is largely preparing them for what is going to happen when they get to Jerusalem. In fact this is the first of three passion predictions in chapters 8-10, three passages where Jesus predicts his suffering and death in Jerusalem. What must Jesus do to fulfill his mission? He must suffer and die.

Notice Jesus says this was necessary. He said he “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law,” and “he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) So why was this necessary? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?

First of all, this was God’s plan from all of eternity. The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) The book of 1 Peter says “he was chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Peter 1:19; see also Ephesians 1:4 and Revelation 17:8) So before God ever created the world, he had already chosen to send Jesus into the world to be our savior. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? First of all, this was God’s plan from all of eternity.

Secondly, this was the Father’s command to the Son. God sent Jesus into the world specifically to suffer and die for our sins. Jesus had to suffer and die, because it is inconceivable that he would disobey his Father’s command. God the Father and Jesus the Son are one. The Father sent the Son, and the Son willingly came and obeyed.

And then a third reason why Jesus had to suffer and die is that it was the only way we could be forgiven for our sins. The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote: “The life I live … I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21) Paul was adamant on this point. If there was any other way we could have been saved, then Christ died for nothing. But there was no other way. And so Jesus started this new phase of teaching, and he began to teach his disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

    B. Jesus’ confrontation with Peter.

        1) Peter rebukes Jesus. (32)

We read in verse 32,

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32)

So Peter wasn’t particularly thrilled about this teaching, and he takes Jesus aside to rebuke him. Now I am sure Peter was concerned about Jesus here, but I believe Peter was also concerned about himself. Back in Mark chapter one when Jesus told Peter, “Follow me,” Peter left everything to follow Christ. (Mark 1:16-18) And he had followed Jesus faithfully all this time. But now if Jesus was going to suffer and die, what did that mean for his followers? It meant that they would possibly suffer and die, too. Peter didn’t like that, so he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.

        2) Jesus rebukes Peter. (33)

How did Jesus respond? Look at verse 33:

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Whoa! That’s about as strong a rebuke as you will find in Scripture. It is even more striking when you recall that Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Peter had just experienced probably the high point of his life. He had confessed Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus had given him the strongest of all affirmations. Jesus told him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:17-18) It doesn’t get much better than that. But now Jesus tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” It doesn’t get much worse than that!

So why such a strong rebuke? Remember, Jesus had to suffer and die. Jesus had to go to the cross. It was God’s plan from all eternity, it was the Father’s command to the Son, and it was the only way we could be saved. And Peter was trying to turn Jesus away from his mission. And so Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah. But he did not yet understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was. Jesus did not come as a political Messiah to deliver the Jews from bondage to Rome. He came as a suffering Messiah to deliver us from the bondage to sin. Peter didn’t truly understand yet what it meant to follow Jesus. So Jesus decides it’s time to set the record straight. And in the next section, Jesus answers the question: “What does it really mean to be a disciple? What must you do to follow Jesus?”

II. What must you do to follow Jesus? (8:34-9:1)

Too many people want the blessings of Christianity without the burdens, success without sacrifice, the promises without the pain. But there is a cost of discipleship, and that’s what Jesus emphasizes here.

    A. The demands of discipleship (34)

Jesus begins by presenting the demands of discipleship. Look at verse 34:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Jesus gives this teaching to both the crowds and his disciples because he wants to make it crystal clear to everyone what it means to follow him. And so he gives three demands of discipleship here: 1) you must deny yourself, 2) you must take up your cross, and 3) you must keep following Jesus. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

        1) Deny yourself.

The first demand of discipleship is that you deny yourself. Before you followed Christ, let’s face it. You were number one. You made decisions in life according to how they would most benefit you. But now you have a new master. You are a disciple of Christ. Your first loyalty is to him, not to yourself. You need to make decisions according to what will bring the most glory to Christ, not the greatest benefit to you. It’s not about you. It’s all about Jesus.

This first demand of discipleship flies in the face of what we sometimes call prosperity theology today. Prosperity theology says it’s all about you. You see a house you like? Claim that house in prayer! You want a bigger paycheck? Claim that promotion! Prosperity theology says God wants you healthy, wealthy, and even more wealthy. And if you just send that check to the man on the TV screen, God will bless you with even more. That’s not denying yourself. That’s all about self. You can either affirm yourself and deny Jesus, or you can affirm Jesus and deny yourself. Jesus says the first demand of discipleship is that you deny yourself.

        2) Take up your cross.

The second demand of discipleship is that you take up your cross. When a man took up a cross in Jesus’ day, that meant only one thing. That man was going to die. You see, the Romans made you carry your own cross to the place of execution. Jesus started out carrying his cross, but he was so exhausted from the beatings and floggings that they made someone else carry it the rest of the way for him.

We sometimes talk about the minor pains and inconveniences of life as a “cross we have to bear.” I don’t like that phrase. It minimizes, it cheapens what Jesus is talking about here. Carrying the cross does not mean suffering the normal frustrations of life that all people suffer whether they are Christians or not. Carrying the cross means suffering for Christ. It means dying to self and living for God. It refers to the sacrifices you make because you are a Christian, including the willingness to suffer the greatest sacrifice of all – the willingness to give up your life rather than deny Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Jesus said, “Take up your cross.”

        3) Keep following Christ.

And then the third demand of discipleship is that you keep following Christ. The first two demands emphasize the actions you take right at the beginning of your walk with Christ. You deny yourself and take up your cross, ready to follow Jesus right to the end. But this third demand emphasizes the continuing nature of discipleship. Following Jesus means that you go the distance. You don’t just start out on the path, but you continue to die daily unto self as you keep following Jesus for the rest of your life.

    B. Reasons for discipleship

You might say, “Wow! Those are some pretty strong demands of discipleship.” And you’re right, they are. Jesus knew that this was a hard saying, so he followed up the demands of discipleship with some reasons for discipleship, three reasons why you should accept these demands and follow Christ.

        1) Your life depends on it. (35)

The first reason is that your life depends on it. Look at verse 35. Jesus says:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

Verse 35 states a paradox. If you try to save your life by living for yourself and for your own goals or desires, you will end up losing it. But if you lose your life for Jesus, if you deny yourself and follow Christ, your life will be saved.

Notice you are to lose your life for Jesus and the gospel. Why did Jesus come to earth? What was his mission? To suffer and die for sin, and to rise from the dead on the third day. That is the gospel. That is the message that we must share with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers. That is the message that we must spread around the world through the work of evangelism and missions. Jesus said if you lose your life for him and the gospel, you will save your life. Why should you accept Jesus’ demands of discipleship? First of all, because your life depends on it.

        2) What is more valuable than your life? (36-37)

The second reason is related to the first. What is more valuable than your life? Look at verses 36-37:

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37)

These are what we call rhetorical questions, in other words, they are left unanswered because the answers are so obvious. What good is it if you gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul? The answer is, “No good at all!” You could gain everything, you could have more money, wealth and power than any other human being who has ever lived, and it means absolutely nothing if you lose your life or your soul in the process. What can you give in exchange for your soul? Nothing! Nothing is as valuable as your soul.

And so our lives need to be focused on Jesus and the gospel, not on the accumulation of money and material things in this life. Contrary to the way so many people live their lives, you can’t take it with you. You never see a hearse towing a U-haul. You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead. If you lose your life for Jesus and the gospel, you will store up treasure in heaven that will never fade away.

        3) Christ will return in power and glory. (8:38-9:1)

So why should you accept Jesus’ demands of discipleship? 1) Your life depends on it. 2) What is more valuable than your life? And 3) Christ will return in power and glory. Look at verse 38 and then the first verse of chapter nine:

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mark 8:38-9:1)

Christ died, Christ rose again, and Christ will return in power and glory. When Christ returns, there will be a judgment. We each will have to give an account of our lives. Did we live for self, or did we live for God? If we were ashamed of Christ and his words, then Christ will be ashamed of us when he returns. If we chose to identify with this adulterous and sinful generation rather than identify with Christ by following him, we will be judged accordingly.

When Christ returns, the time of suffering for his followers will be over. All those who suffered for Christ will now follow him into victory. That is exactly what Peter wanted. He wanted the victory! He just wanted it without the suffering. But you can’t go around the cross. There’s an old song that goes, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, Lord. Nobody wants to die!” Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:31)

Jesus also said that some who were standing there “would not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mark 9:1) We will talk more about that next week when we look at the account of the transfiguration in Mark 9. For now, though, just realize that Christ could return at any time. No one knows the hour of his return, and so we need to be ready at all times.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, let me end with three words of application.

    1) Discipleship is for everyone. There are not two classes of Christians, those who just believe in Jesus and then those who follow him in discipleship. No, discipleship is for everyone. If you are not following Jesus, then you cannot call yourself a Christian.

    2) Not everyone who starts following Jesus keeps following Jesus. The gospels tell us that many who started following Jesus turned back when they realized the demands of discipleship. Did they lose their salvation? No, I don’t believe they were ever really saved to begin with. When you truly believe, when you have truly taken that first step of denying yourself and taking up your cross, you will demonstrate that faith by persevering in your faith. Not everyone who starts following Jesus keeps following Jesus. Starting out is not enough. You know that your faith is genuine when you keep following Christ.

And then finally, 3) Following Jesus is the best decision you will ever make; not following Jesus is the worst decision you will ever make. “If you don’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.” The demands of discipleship may be severe, but the rewards are great. There is nothing that compares with following Jesus. Following yourself is a dead end street. You weren’t made for yourself. You were made for God. You were made for Jesus. When you follow Jesus, you will find peace and joy and meaning in life. But if you don’t follow Jesus, you will miss out on your ultimate purpose. And you will experience God’s fierce judgment for your sin. Following Jesus is the best decision you will ever make; not following Jesus is the worst decision you will ever make. God calls every one of us to true discipleship.

© Ray Fowler

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