Mark 8:31-38 : How to be a Follower of Jesus

Illustration of watershed from Francis Schaeffer...

Tonight we have come to a warter shed. Marks gospel can be divided into two. Mark 1:1-8:26 is all about answering just one question - who is Jesus Christ? Mark 8:31-16:20 is all about answering a second question - why did Jesus come? Only when we have answered the first, like Peter can we begin to understand the second. Mark 8:27-30 is the peak, the watershed of the gospel of Mark. So tonight, standing as it were on that peak we can look back and discern the journey we have taken through the first eight chapters answering one question - who is this Jesus Christ. Tonight we begin the journey down the other side, toward Jerusalem. We are going to look briefly at three things. The heart of the Gospel, the source of temptation, and then the conditions of discipleship.

1. The Heart of the Gospel 8:31
Jesus had just been declared to be the Christ, the Messiah by his close followers and He had endorsed that confession. But He knew full well that they were far from understanding what such a confession meant. The Old Testament prophets told of a Suffering Messiah, as well as a Sovereign Messiah. The Jews did not yet see these two aspects in one Person. They were wanting a political Messiah to set up an earthly visible kingdom, of temporal power and glory just as many Zionists are tying to achieve today. So what does Jesus do?

"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."

The verb is imperfect, showing continuous action. So this was no quick, short statement. Our Lord repeatedly and in detail told them of three things. His rejection, His crucifixion and His resurrection. Notice Jesus does not say He would die but that He would be rejected and killed. His death would be violent. But after the gloom would come the glory, after the cross, the crown. He would rise again.

Think about this prediction. Jesus did not just tell them what might happen, or even what would happen, but what must happen. We have here not some vague hope that there might be life beyond the grave. This was not only the divinely inspired prediction of future events, but the revelation of the sovereign will of Almighty God. The death of Jesus was no accident but the predetermined will of God. And it all happened. He who forecast it fulfilled it. The Heart of the Gospel.

2. The Distraction of Temptation 8:32-33
He spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Poor Peter! One moment in a blaze of light "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God", then utter darkness the next. What was wrong with Peter? He had,

2.1 Insufficient knowledge

To Peter Jesus was the King but not a suffering King surely? Who is Jesus to you? A great moral teacher? A religious leader who founded the worlds largest religion? Do you have sufficient knowledge to decide? If not read the Gospels. Insufficient knowledge.

2.2 Impulsive thoughtlessness
Peter was a man of impulse. He acted with his feet first, and here they led him astray.

2.3 Immature motivation
The world has many Peter's who would claim to be wiser than Jesus Christ, who would tell of His mistakes, and how Christianity might be made more reasonable and acceptable.

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."

Peter thought to save Jesus the humiliation of an open rebuke by taking Jesus to one side, but Jesus turns around to face the disciples, leaving Peter behind Him. Jesus looks at the other disciples and rebukes the one who had misguided Peter. It was important that they all understand not only who Jesus is but why He had come. In the reasonable advice of a friend, Jesus recognised the source. Jesus spoke directly to the Tempter, branding Peter's words as nothing less than Satanic. The Heart of the Gospel, the Distraction of Temptation,

3. The Conditions of Discipleship 8:34-38
Jesus lays down three conditions. To be a Christian means three things.

3.1 Unconditionally Walking with Christ 8:34
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.

What startling honesty of Jesus. No one can ever say they have followed Jesus under false pretences. Jesus never tried to bribe men by the offer of an easy way. He did not promise peace but glory. Lets look carefully at the qualifications, the terms of discipleship Jesus insists upon. First of all it must be,

3.1.1 Voluntarily "If anyone..."
Discipleship is conditional. No one is a disciple of Christ inevitably or involuntarily, by accident of birth or upbringing. Baptism does not make a baby a Christian, but the service presupposes that the parents are already disciples. Having Christian parents doesn't make you a Christian.
At some specific moment in time we must make a conscious decision to trust Jesus with our lives. It must be voluntary.

3.1.2 Volitional
"If any man would come after me..."
Christianity is not a static, theoretical set of beliefs. Believing in God does not make you a Christian. Following Jesus is the evidence of faith.
Discipleship is about following. We are all disciples of something or someone. Disciples of what ever we choose to follow. You might be a disciple of money, a disciple of popularity, of success. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following Him, following His teaching. Basing your life on his word, on his example.

Jesus did not say go but "come", "come after me". That means "to take the same road". The idea is not of following behind someone, but of accompanying them, taking the same road that he takes and talking with Him along the road. I'm often asked if you can be a Christian and not go to Church. I believe the biblical answer is quite emphatically, 'no'.

Only those who consciously follow Jesus are His disciples. Meeting together with God's people in a local church on a weekly basis is not optional. Attending a youth meeting or a small group in the week is not the same thing. They may be helpful but they are not a substitute for Christ's local church. If not here then somewhere else. A Christian is a Christ follower and a Christ follower will be part of Christ's local flock. There is no such thing as a wild sheep. They survive, grow and multiply only in a flock led by shepherds who care for them. And I am not talking about simply attending church, passively or picking and choosing which church and which service to attend. I mean participating as a full and active member. Following Jesus means investing your time, your gifts, your talents and money to build up his Church and extend his Kingdom. Why? Because the Church is the only hope for the world. Coming together on Sundays is the most obvious way we prove that we have chosen to follow Jesus and want to meet with His family for teaching, for fellowship, for friendship and to learn to be better more effective disciples. If you are serious about being a Christian then think seriously about your unique and valued place within Christ's church. Voluntarily, Volitionally.

3.1.3 Vicariously "he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Jesus is not telling us to deny ourselves anything outside ourselves but to dey "ourselves"

We are not talking about Lent, or a "Self Denial Week" but of a consistent lifestyle of self-denial, of putting my ideas, my ambitions, my expectations, my dreams, my priorities in second place to those of Jesus. Saying "no" to every course of action which is based on self seeking and self will. Saying "no" to the instincts and desires which prompt us to touch, taste and handle forbidden things. It means saying "yes" to the voice and the command of Jesus Christ, finding in His service, perfect freedom. Its what Paul meant when he said "I have been crucified with Christ". If Peter had denied himself he would never have denied his Lord.

"he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." This was tantamount to saying they must be ready to be regarded as a criminal and to die. Each Christian has a cross. It is our own cross and no two are alike. This taking up of our cross must be deliberate and definite. Jesus is not talking about general suffering or things that go wrong in our lives.

He is not talking about being made unemployed or having a disability or handicap. "To carry your cross" means to so identify with Jesus that we suffer the same consequences as He did of speaking for truth, working for peace, standing for justice, being God's mouth piece, His model, His image, His light, in a godless world. "he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." A person carrying a cross is going in only one direction and has only one destination. What a picture, what a procession. The Saviour leading, and his disciples following. Its very important to be clear on this. The "coming after" and "taking up his cross" are to be obeyed at once and are to be once and for all. But these acts are also to be looked upon as permanent attitudes and a practice in life.

We are no longer our own master anymore. We belong to the Lord. As Paul writes to the Corinthians (6:19) "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body". Unconditionally Walking with Christ.

3.2 Unequivocally Sacrificing all for Christ 8:35-36

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What a profound paradox. Jesus is saying that "The man whose aim in life is to secure personal safety and success, loses the higher life of which he is capable, and which is gained by those who sacrifice themselves in the service of Christ.

God has made us to know Him, and we do not find our complete rest and satisfaction until our entire being is dedicated to the sweet will of God. History is full of men and women who threw away worldly wealth, social status, their health, even their lives in serving Christ.

Telemachus is probably one of the most famous...

God gave us a life to spend not to keep. What are you spending yours on? All your possessions were purchased not with money but time, With your life. If it takes you a week to earn £150 and you spend it on a jacket, ask yourself was the jacket worth a week of your life? In what are you investing your life? Over and above the essentials, what are you investing in for eternity, and what is going to rot? or go to someone else when you're gone? Jim Elliott the missionary martyred by Amazon Indians put it like this "He is no fool who give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose".Jesus asks two questions to crystalise the issue.

2.1 Question 1: Is about Profit or Loss Mark 8:36
Mark 8:36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? The first question asks us what we value most? Most people gain none of the world, a few gain some of the world, but no one has ever gained the whole world.

The world is full of temptations towards profitable dishonesty. George MacDonald tells of the draper who used his thumb to shorten each yard measure of cloth by a few inches. In a life time he took from his soul and put it in his pocket.

Shakespeare paints the picture of Wolsey, the great Cardinal, who served Henry the Eighth, with all the ingenuity and wit he possessed, "Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies." The real question, the question that everyone in the end will have to face is not, "What did people think of me?", but "what does God think of me?"

2.2 Question 2: is about Fair Exchange 8:37
Mark 8:37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Answer: Absolutely Nothing. One translation puts it "what can a man give to buy back his life", the idea being that he has already lost it by making a fatal choice. For the soul there is no equivalent. When it has once been lost at death it cannot be relived or recovered. Time travels in one direction. We never get a second go at it. Profit or loss? Fair exchange? Questions we must each answer for ourselves. Unconditionally Walking with Christ, Unequivocally Sacrificing for Christ.

3.3 Unashamedly Identifying with Christ 8:38
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."

Christ's future attitude towards us will be determined by our present attitude towards Him. Time runs into eternity. They are vitally connected. The present determines our future. Jesus is not talking about a single act of failure but to a continuous attitude. Not about our future conduct but about our present attitude toward Jesus. How is this shame manifested? In shrinking from open discipleship. Carrying a cross was a very public affair. The criminal was open to abuse, ridicule, humiliation. In the eyes of the world he was guilty. Last night I went to a friends 40th birthday party. There were many non-Christians there. We were asked to go in fancy dress. I sent as a vicar. Some thought it was fancy dress.

Jesus calls His disciples to make Him known, so that others can find new life, freedom and forgiveness. On another occasion he said,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. Matthew 5:9-12

Our relationship to Jesus and His Kingdom right now is the one thing that matters because it affects our eternal destiny. So let me ask you right now, "

What is your attitude toward Jesus?

Ashamed or honoured to be known as a Christian?

Ashamed or determined to be live believing the Bible is God's Word?

Ashamed or ready to explain why you are a Christian?

Which of these philosophies is yours, Peter's philosophy of "save yourself", or Christ's of "die and live"? The one follows the world the other follows Christ. The one indulges himself the other denies himself. The one cares about outward appearances, the other cares of inward character. The one seeks ease, the other risks the loss of it. The one finds death a loss, the other finds death a gain. The one will be ashamed, and the other exalted in the day of judgement. Which is it to be? You know, and God knows. My prayer is that we will be unconditionally walking with Christ, unequivocally sacrificing for Christ and unashamedly identifying with Christ. Jesus has given us here His non-negotiable conditions for discipleship. He has not softened them to make it easy or popular to be a Christian. Humanly speaking they are impossible. But Jesus is deadly serious, He came to die to make it possible for us not only to be made right with God, but also to walk with us and make us holy. Now its for you to decide. Follow Him or leave Him, its your choice, but decide now if you haven't already done so. Let pray.