Good morning! Welcome to worship! Over the last 4 months, we’ve been following Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, he was calling them to 3 years of on the job training for the task he was going to give them when he left.
It’s now three months or so before His death on the cross and Jesus has taken His disciples on a field trip to the Roman resort town of Caesarea Philippi. It was situated at the foot of Mount Hermon about 30 miles NE of the Sea of Galilee.
It is a beautiful place, lush and full of life. A giant spring is there that roared out of a great hole in the mountain. This spring was the main source of the Jordan River. The ancient Canaanites had built a temple there to worship the god Pan. The great cave from which the water erupted was known as the gates to the underworld or the “gates of hell”.
Jesus brought his disciples here for a reason. Over the next 12 hours their assumptions about Jesus, themselves, and the world around them will be changed forever.
The first stop on their field trip was to marvel at the power, the wealth, the majesty of this beautiful place with its pagan temple, the priests, the beautiful young prostitutes all devoted to Pan, the god of the underworld. Jesus wanted his disciples to recognize the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.
Once they had seen the marvels of the “gods” of this world, Jesus took them to their second stop. He asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ!” Mk 8:27-29
“Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, 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 hell will not overcome it.” Mt 16:17-18
Just a few hours before they had been standing on the observation deck of the “gates of hell”. It’s important to understand that when Peter and the Jews of that day spoke about the “Christ”, they were thinking of a political figure – a human leader who would deliver them from their Roman occupation. They weren’t thinking spiritually.
This is the reason Jesus rarely used the word “Christ” to describe himself. The word “Christ” means “anointed one”. Jesus wasn’t anointed as a king who would lead a rebellion or organize an army to drive out the Romans. This is why he insisted the disciples keep this quiet. His purpose wasn’t to start a war with Rome, but to enter Jerusalem as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Let’s keep reading. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Mark 8:31
The “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite description of himself. Remember Jesus is God Incarnate. Together with his Father and the Holy Spirit, they created human beings. They put together the plan for our salvation.
The term “Son of Man” comes from Daniel. It foretells a heavenly figure who will appear on earth in the last days. He will be endowed by God with divine power, glory, and authority. This ancient prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.
What was so difficult for the disciples and for many people still today is that Jesus seemed so ordinary - so meek, mild. Dare we say it, so boring and humble compared to the impressive wealth, glory, power, pompous arrogance of Pan and the gods of this world.
The disciples were there when Jesus raised the dead, healed the sick, multiplied the loaves, calmed the storm – but he was so ordinary compared to the glitz of the pagan idols. Now their “Christ” tells them he’s going to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then raised from the dead? How’s that going to accomplish anything?
This may be the most important point in this text. The glitz and glamour of this world will always be seductive for us as disciples of Jesus. But all this glitz and glamour is powerless to save or forgive sin or deliver us from the righteous judgment of God. That power is only found in the cross and the blood of Jesus shed for us there.
Peter takes Jesus aside to straighten him out! “But Jesus turned and looked at his disciples and Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Mk 8:33
After rebuking Peter, Jesus gathered the crowd and said to them “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 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 8:34-35
Jesus never asks us to do something he hasn’t already done. He refuses to simply tell us what we want to hear. He tells us the truth – even when it runs counter to everything the world, our own intuition, and the culture tells us.
So what does it mean “to take up our cross and follow him”? It doesn’t mean we resign ourselves to some kind of masochistic self-pity, “Woe is me. This is my cross to bear.” We will suffer in this world, but that may have nothing to do with bearing the cross of Jesus.
Picking up our cross might be expressed best in the hymn Paul quotes in Phil 2:5-8. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Phil 2:5-8
Note that word “obedient”. Jesus prayed consistently to his Father, “Not my will but your will be done”. When Paul writes that he “made himself nothing” it means Jesus laid down his own ego, he emptied himself of his own pride, his own will, his own ideas of how things ought to be in order to do his Father’s will.
Jesus trusted his Father - even to the point of giving his life on a cross for our salvation. As a result, his Father exalted him to the name that is above every name. Paul puts it this way “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20
To “take up your cross and follow me” means to die to yourself, your own ego, your own will and to trust and follow Jesus in absolute obedience wherever, whatever that may mean. It’s an unconditional surrender to him as Lord. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Luke 9:24-25
When Jesus passed out free bread the crowds flocked to him. But when he began to teach about the cross, they left. The crowds still do the same today. Jesus said there is a wide road that leads to destruction and a narrow road that leads to life. One is the way of the world, the other following Jesus on the way of the cross. Which road are you on today?
After the crowds left, Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to leave, too. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Let me ask you some tough question every would-be disciple must answer.
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends? (That’s what happened to Jesus!)
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family? (That’s what happened to Jesus!)
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation in this world? (That’s what happened …!)
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job? (That’s what happened to Jesus!)
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life? (That’s what happened to Jesus!)
Everyone who decides to respond to Jesus’ call to “pick up your cross and follow me” will face this reality. The Lord doesn’t give us any guarantee of security and prosperity if we follow him. He makes no promise that our wants and desires will be fulfilled. What he does promise us is that following Jesus means our ego must be crucified.
But he also promises us that if we will give up our hopes, dreams, possessions, even our lives to follow Jesus, we will find a joy, a peace, a purpose, the world can’t give and in the end, eternal life. The ultimate reward will be worth the temporary price.
Some might say, “Isn’t that kind of radical? If I do that, people will think I’m some kind of religious nut!” You’re right. But sin is a radical problem. It’s a fatal disease for which there is only one solution and it’s radical. Jesus, in obedience to his Father’s will, radically went to a Roman cross to shed his blood and give his life for the sake of our salvation.
This world will never die on the cross for you. But Jesus did. He ended the field trip at Caesarea Philippi with these words. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mk 8:34-35
Will you pray with me… “Lord Jesus, don’t ever let me stray from you. I want to walk in obedience before you, just as you walked in obedience before your Father, even to the point of suffering on the cross. I trust you to guide me through whatever challenges your will for me might hold. In your name.