Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Way of the Messiah: Deny Yourself, Take up your Cross, and Follow Me

Have you ever seen a star being born? Here we see a picture from the James Webb Space Telescope, of just such an event. From the STSI: “NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is celebrating the first anniversary of its start of science operations with this image of a star-forming region in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex.

Its proximity to Earth at 390 light-years allows Webb to capture it in exquisite detail. Reddish jets bursting from young stars light up molecular hydrogen where they impact interstellar gas. A slightly older and more massive star, S1, is blasting out ultraviolet radiation and carving out a glowing cave in the lower portion of the image.”

The birth of a star, the beginning of a burning light in the heavens, maybe that’s a bit like what happens when a dead sinner lost in their evil ways turn toward Christ and cries out for salvation, for hope, and for a new life. That person at that moment is transformed, from a being of darkness and sorrow, to a being of light, hope, and victory. They are born a second time of the Holy Spirit. They begin a whole new life. They burst to life into great brightness and begin a lifelong journey of glowing ever more brightly with the power of God within.

It's an amazing thing.

We’re going to be looking at four sections of scripture today from Mark chapter 8, and I think we’re going to see the centerpiece of Mark’s gospel, the halfway point, the key moment when the question is answered: “Who is Jesus, really?”

Mark is sixteen chapters, and at chapter eight we find the middle point, the moment that depicts the entire point. It answers the question, "What is this really all about?"

All the healings, the miracles, the masses of crowds, the parables, the angry people, the disciples, what does it all mean?

So today, four sections, the first section is a healing that takes place of a blind man. And I think you'll see it fits right into the concept of spiritual blindness and seeing the truth. 

It says this, verses 22-26: They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

On it’s face, you have a recorded event in history, when Jesus healed a blind man who was then able to see from that day onward. I can’t imagine what a moment that must be in someone’s life, to go from blind to being able to see.

But on a deeper level, this is a moment that is reminding all of us, and those reading the gospel of Mark throughout history, that without Christ we are blind. As humans in our sin, we are blind.

There was a time in my life when I had no interest in knowing God. And slowly but surely as people prayed for me, and I began to encounter the message, slowly but surely I began to grope in the dark toward God.

“Can you see anything?” Jesus asked the man.

What about you? Can you see anything? Do you see who Jesus really is? Do you see God in each moment of your life? When you look around you do you see a world made by God? A universe designed by God? And people made in God’s image, with great value?

Or are you still blind? Or perhaps you’re like the blind man, at first he only sees a blurry picture. Some of us as we begin to approach God, or even after, at first, we only see a blurry picture, but as we draw nearer it becomes more and more clear.

Next, we see a conversation that takes place between Jesus and his disciples.

In verses 27-30: Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.”

Peter is Jesus’ right hand man, the first guy he trusts and the one he appoints to lead his disciples later.

And in this moment, the Holy Spirit reveals to Peter who Jesus really is. And we get the grand answer to the question, who Jesus is: He is the Messiah.

He is not a mere man, or a prophet, or some sort of special person, or a gifted healer, or a wise teacher, no, more than that, much more than that, he is the Jewish messiah. 

Jesus has been keeping it quiet, not telling anyone, because his mission is a very particular one, his mission is to die. Astonishing mission, a mission of death. A mission, not for his own sake, but a mission to give life to billions who are lost.

Just like Peter's declaration, we as well can only by the Holy Spirit say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Only by God can we know and believe that Jesus is our messiah. Only by God’s wisdom. We can’t come to that on our own.

I remember reading the bible many, many times in my life. I never understood it. It took years. And through much prayer, and learning, growth, people praying for me, I began to understand.

Next, Jesus elaborates on what his mission is, as the messiah. They believe he must be here to overthrow the Roman empire, but instead, his mission is very different than what they might expect.

The messiah has come not to deal with the enemies of Israel, or to make us happy, or to take control of the Earth, but instead to deal with our sins.

In verses 31-33 it says, “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. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

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 concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Peter goes from recognizing Jesus as the messiah, to rebuking Jesus for the idea that he would die. And Jesus rebukes him instead and says, “Get behind me Satan!”

How easy it is to go from walking in the Spirit to walking in the flesh! How easy it is to let our own wants get in the way of what God is doing. How easy it is for us to corrupt what God is saying because we want what we want. Or we can’t accept what God is really saying, because maybe it seems too hard.

Jesus explains the way for him as the messiah is the suffering servant. Peter can't fathom the idea of a messiah who is rejected, suffers, and dies. 

Next, Jesus explains what that means for us as Christians. You could call this the way of following the suffering servant. How do we do that? 

It says this, verses 34-38: "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

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

36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Lets break this last statement by the Lord Jesus into four subsections.

First point is self denial. You must deny yourself, your own ways, your own viewpoints, your own perspectives, your own opinions, your own emotions, your own plans, and put them under the control of the living Lord Jesus Christ, today, right now. Begin to live your life being guided in prayer and bible reading by God every day.

That is a huge shift in how we live. We go from chasing what we want, to chasing after what God wants for us.

That takes denying ourselves, denying what we want, and saying no to that selfish voice in our heads saying "me me me." And instead we turn to Jesus, and Jesus guides us through life.

That is not just some vague spiritual truth, it’s practical, for everyday use.

Second point, if your goal is to save your own life, that’s not going to work, instead, make your goal to lose your life for the sake of the gospel, and you’ll find your life that way.

Lose yourself in the work of serving Christ and serving others. Lose your own ideas, perspectives, your own conceptions of life, your own opinions, your own emotions, your own plans and purposes, and lose yourself in embracing the words of the Bible, the way of Christ, and paradoxically, through losing your life as it is right now, and throwing yourself into a whole new path, the path of Christ, jumping in, all the way, you’ll actually find your life that way. But if you chase your own hopes, your own dreams, your own goals, your own plans, you will then lose everything.

It’s a paradox.

Number three, verse 36 is Jesus making a plain statement of fact, because Jesus knows what he just said is challenging, it’s a difficult, it’s a total shift from how we used to think, and he says, here's the point, even if you chase after your own desires, and get super rich, and get everything you’ve ever wanted, romance, travel, knowledge, money, power, influence over people, all of it, what does it matter in the end, if after you die, you lose your soul, because you lived for selfish desires? You’ll lose it all anyway in the end. So it’s logical to say, well, my soul is on the line, so it’s logical to give myself completely over to Jesus, because there is no other way. Any other path leads to destruction.

If I chase my own wants, in the end I’ll lose everything, so why not totally abandon yourself to the path of Christ?

Then in verse 38 Jesus also reminds us, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.””

Jesus says don’t try to hide the hard way of the cross. Don’t be ashamed of my words. Don’t try to sugar coat it with easy-believism, oh just believe in God and then you’re fine. No, understand, that we must give up our own way, turn and pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

The last statement here is a reminder to be bold with the word of Christ, don’t hide it, don’t be ashamed of the way of a suffering servant, which we’re called to as Christians. They were expecting a military leader, a king to rule the Earth, but instead they discover a way of service, of humility, of love. Don’t be ashamed of it, but proclaim it loudly, and Christ will proclaim us before the holy angels, but if we’re ashamed of it and Christ and hide it, then Christ too will be ashamed of us in the presence of God in heaven after we die.

Lastly, I do want to include Mark 9:1, for some reason this last statement by Jesus is placed in chapter 9, which I don’t understand why the editors would do that. It seems to me it belongs with the statements Jesus had just made.

It says this: “And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”–Mark 9:1

Jesus may have been referring to John who would many years later see a vision of the coming of the kingdom of God recorded in the book of Revelation.

But for us today, I think it’s a reminder that if we earnestly seek after God, really want to know who God is, then we will come to an understanding of who Jesus Christ is to us, and how to follow Him successfully in our lives.

Believe, seek God, and God will reveal himself to you. He will give you salvation through Jesus Christ. He will be your Father in heaven. He will place the Holy Spirit within you, to guide you through the trials and difficulties of the Christian life.

And you will live a life where you take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. You’ll live as a servant of God, with great love, and find victory after death.

The goal then, in the end, is to enter the new city of the messiah, where the messiah will reign as King. The goal is to shine in the afterlife, like that star we saw born in the photograph from the telescope. The righteous, the word says, will shine brightly forever in the city of God. A new city, a new reality, a future beyond what we could imagine. A next phase. A new adventure.

But in this life it takes total self denial, total devotion to Christ, denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus.

Then we receive our reward in the city, to glow with the glory of God, as the next adventure begins, in the New Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.