Imagine that someone comes to visit our church. You greet them as they enter and then they ask you if there is any coffee. You could point them in the direction of the Fellowship Hall and say, “It’s over there.” A better way would be to say, “We sure do! Follow me and I’ll help you get some.” They simply walk behind you and follow you. It’s easy. In this passage we look at this morning, Jesus invites people to follow him. And that invitation to follow him is far more involved than simply walking behind him. Let’s look at what is involved in following Jesus as it is described in Mark 8:31-9:1.
I. Let’s look first at Jesus’ hard teaching about his work in verses 31-32.
Jesus said he must suffer many things, be rejected by the Jewish leaders and be killed. The disciples likely weren’t surprised by Jesus having to suffer since political leaders often have to pay a harsh price for their actions. But they must have been puzzled by his being rejected by the Jewish leaders. They thought that the Messiah would have the support of the Jewish leaders since he would be rescuing them as well. What kind of a Messiah would Jesus be? Then when Jesus says that He must also be killed, they were likely very confused. How can a Messiah lead a nation if he is dead? And why would the Jewish leaders want him killed?
Then Jesus also goes on to say that He will also rise from the dead after three days. The disciples all believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. However, no ordinary person rises from the dead. Jesus would clearly not be the kind of Messiah they were hoping for. Yet Jesus wanted them to realize what he would have to do to be the Messiah. If they were going to claim Him as the Christ, the Messiah, they would have to accept it on Jesus’ terms and not based on their own dreams and expectations. But very simply the kind of Christ or Messiah that they needed was One who would really save them from the effects of sin.
Jesus as the “Christ” would suffer, die and rise again so that we could have our relationship with God be restored. J. Allen Peterson tells of a small boy who was always consistently late coming home from school. His parents warned him one day that he must be home on time that afternoon, but nevertheless he arrived later than ever. His mother met him at the door and said nothing. His father met him and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was a slice of bread and a glass of water. He looked at his father’s full plate and then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed. The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy and smiled at his son. When that boy grew to be a man, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.” Jesus, the Christ is the one who communicated God’s love to us and took our punishment for our disobedience on Himself.
II. Let’s look next at the call to follow Jesus.
Jesus had just said he would be arrested, suffer many things and ultimately be killed. Mark says that Jesus “spoke plainly about this” but Peter didn’t like it one bit. He wanted to follow Jesus but wanted Jesus to be the Messiah on Peter’s terms. Jesus sternly rebukes Peter but knows it is Satan who is prompting this. It is at this point that Jesus then turns to the crowd following Him and says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” By speaking to the crowd Jesus is saying that the conditions for following him are for all believers and not for the disciples alone.
We need to learn to deny ourselves and we can do that by reminding ourselves of two things. It’s grace that gives us God’s favor, not what we do. We humbly recognize and accept that nothing we do is good enough. We admit that the only way we can find favor in God’s eyes is through the perfect obedience and death of Christ on the cross.
Second, because God has saved us we must remember that it’s God’s life, not ours. In Romans 14:7-8, Paul writes, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” We live for God and God alone because He claimed and bought us.
III. Moreover, Jesus says that we must take up your cross.
Now we have turned this phrase it into a way to say we all have problems in life. Our crosses are viewed as ranging from anywhere from inconveniences to tragic things that we have to somehow get underneath and push on through. We have a bad job or poor health, but “we all have our crosses to bear.” When Jesus said this to His disciples they had no such understanding at all. They had been around the Romans long enough to know that a cross meant a brutal and horrible death for that is how the Romans would execute their criminals. To take up one’s cross meant only one thing to them: Jesus is calling them to die!
IV. And then we must be willing to lose ourselves for Jesus.
Next, in verse 35 Jesus envisions a time when a person may stand in front of a court. If a person denies Jesus, he will be released and if he affirms Jesus he may lose his life. However, the one who gives up his life in loyalty to Jesus will end up saving it in a much deeper sense. In fact, one can only guarantee eternal life by sacrificing it now in this life. You see, Jesus demands an unyielding allegiance to him and also to the gospel. The “gospel” always means the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection as announced by the Church. In Mark’s day some had abandoned all they had, even their lives, for the gospel. In fact, a saying found in the early church said: “For Christ and for the Gospel.”
In verses 36-37, Jesus says that if we gain the whole world, it will cost us real life. The difference in the value of these things is staggering. When a person has forfeited eternal life, he experiences absolute loss. Even though he may have won the approval of the whole world, he loses everything with his denial of Jesus and the gospel.
Verse 38 takes this to the natural conclusion. People may deny Jesus to avoid being viewed with contempt in the world. However, if we are ashamed of Jesus, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when Jesus comes to bring the final judgment. This is the only time Jesus uses the title “Son of Man” publically prior to his arraignment before the High Priest. The denial of Jesus means the denial of the “Son of Man,” the Judge himself.
The Father’s glory and the accompanying train of angels are interesting to note. Jesus was sent to reveal the glory of God and Jesus can accomplish this only if his own glory means nothing to him and his Father’s glory means everything. For Jesus this required submission to the contempt and shame of the cross. But the hour is coming when the Son of Man will be glorified by the Father. This had immediate meaning for the persecuted Christians in Rome. Jesus’ own commitment to the Father was a model for their commitment to Jesus and to the gospel. His vindication and coming triumph provided assurance that they would share in his glory if they remained true to their commitment to him.
Jesus concludes by giving beautiful comforting words to those who remain faithful. Those who are faithful to Jesus and the gospel will “taste death” and lose their lives. But they are given the solid assurance that this situation is only for a limited time and they will see God’s kingdom come “with power.” I say to you” indicates that Jesus’ promise is based on absolute certainty. When the kingdom comes with power, all of the threats or death that we face will be taken care of at this time. Those who stand with Jesus will stand with God in his kingdom and with power! There is great reward for those who are faithful!
He knew, in the words of Paul’s letter to Titus, that God’s Spirit is “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (vv. 6-7). We will face hardships but listen to Jesus’ words and know that he will be with us when we face trials and even when we taste death.