Last week we looked at two questions Jesus posed in Mark 8, “Who do men say that I am?” They gave several responses, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, or another prophet.”
Jesus then asks Peter and the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ!” You are the Messiah. You are the one, foretold by the prophets, who would lead Israel into a national revival of holiness and back to true worship of Yahweh. The miracles declare that you are the Messiah. Peter’s revelation of Jesus is profound.
BUT, Peter’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah is limited—he couldn’t see the fullness of the Kingdom mission Jesus was on. The cross was Jesus’ destination, and as I will explain today, the cross is our destination as well.
Paul wrote regarding his “death,” “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 NKJV)
Our lives begin at the cross, where we are identified with Jesus—His death, resurrection, and ascension. We are living as dead, yet fully alive in Christ! But are we prepared to follow the “actual Jesus” at all costs?
Deny Yourself and Follow Me! Mark 8:34-38
Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples to himself and makes this bold statement:
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” For the first-century hearer of these words, it would have stunned them!
A criminal convicted to die by crucifixion would carry their crossbeam to the place of their execution. It was a death march! The cross represented your life was over, you no longer had any say as to where you were going—you had to obediently follow.
Jesus is speaking plainly to the disciples; there is no parable here! Jesus outlines his radical demands for Christian discipleship—die to self and follow him obediently—in 5 important sayings or points in this passage.
The first saying, Mark 8:34 “Whoever desires …” is a strong statement that sums the rest
Whoever desires indicates that to be a Christian is not by chance. It is not a result of cultural heritage or being born into a Christian family—it is a personal decision to follow Jesus in seriousness and commitment, understanding it costs everything!
The conditions that Jesus is about to outline apply not only to those first-century Christian but to all who follow him without exception. To follow Jesus is a key phrase. As Mark has recorded throughout his gospel,
To follow Jesus means something more than passive spectatorship of his life, teachings, healings and miracles.
To truly follow Jesus, the disciple is participating with Jesus in what he has done and taught. It also meant to follow him to his destination—the cross. Discipleship is living from the ascension life of Christ—by following him obediently at all cost!
The Greek word for disciple is mathetes, meaning: a student or follower who attaches himself personally to a teacher to learn from both his doctrine and his example. This model of mentoring meant that the learner would become like the teacher—both in word and deed.
Christian discipleship involves the character, teaching, and ministry of Jesus
To deny yourself (Mark 8:34), was a legal phrase signifying complete disownment. The meaning is much deeper than casual references to self-denial, it implies a radical abandonment to following Jesus with no regard to one’s attachments or agendas.
The 2nd saying underscores the first, Mark 8:35 “Whoever desires to save his life…”
Christian discipleship is not merely radical self-denial or fatalism to suffering, but rather Jesus is saying that death to oneself is a pathway to true life and salvation.
The English word life in this passage is translated from psyche and can also be translated soul or self. This means more than avoiding physical death, it means not allowing personal self to rule—to allow soulish ambitions, desires, and attachments to govern one’s life.
Conversely, whoever loses their life for Jesus and the gospel will save it. The only way to really live is to surrender all to Jesus, follow him, and give yourself away. This is contrary to human reasoning and instinct!
Jesus is asking for a radical, personal allegiance to himself! This is the very thing he did for you and me on the cross.
This leads to the 3rd and 4th sayings,
Mark 8:36-37 “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but lose his own soul?” Next, “or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Both questions underscore the value of your eternal soul—your eternal self—you are priceless!
Any earthly gain of wealth, power, promotion or pleasure, is totally useless to someone whose soul has been forfeited in the process—which is to say, their eternal life in God has been lost.
Jesus is asking those who follow him to be willing to accept short-term loss in exchange for abundant life in him both now and eternally.
Jesus’ 5th saying deals with one’s motive in turning away from him and the gospel
When fear of man and concern for reputation governs oneself, it becomes easier to stop following Jesus. (see Mark 8:38)
Keep in mind, in the first-century church, they were ridiculed and mocked for following a “dead carpenter” from Galilee. Worse, forced to recant their faith or die horrible deaths. These words meant something—they still do today!
21st Century: How can a disciple fully follow Jesus and partake of new life?
In one sense, true discipleship is a result of regeneration by the Holy Spirit and his presence effecting grace in our lives. Regeneration begins with complete surrender to Jesus, then choosing to follow!
Justification by faith sets us apart in Christ and begins the transformation to become more like Jesus. But you must also participate in following Jesus to become more like him. Grace is at work, but your participation in the life of Jesus is required!
Principle 1: Embrace problems and suffering with patient endurance
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)
By enduring problems and suffering with patience, we are following Jesus in his sufferings for a greater glory. Not a passive fatalism, or a refusal to use practical wisdom and knowledge to solve problems or change situations, but an understanding in our souls that difficulties, beyond our control, occur in life.
Stay close to Jesus, don’t become angry or bitter, but patiently endure with your heart and mind focused on who God is and what God has promised. After the cross and suffering came the resurrection! You have a glorious inheritance that won’t fade!
Principle 2: Live and walk in the Spirit
Jesus promised in John 14 that the paraclete, Holy Spirit, who is our comforter, guide, and friend would help us. Holy Spirit awaits our invitation to him to act upon us, with us, and for us.
Paul wrote to “live in the Spirit” which enables us to “walk in the Spirit.” Gal. 5:25.
Inwardly, Holy Spirit helps mold us into the image of Jesus, and the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives. Outwardly, Holy Spirit empowers us through the gifts of the Spirit to do the works that Jesus did (John 14:12).
Principle 3: Develop spiritual disciplines
Holy Spirit is at work in you to become more like Christ and to grow in grace, but your participation to develop spiritually is also required. Christian discipleship is evidenced by growth!
Paul wrote in Col. 3:12-14 CEB “…put on compassion, kindness, humility, love…” you are to “be making plans to become so.” We put on our new life in Christ, our new person, by regular spiritual activities that are in our power to do so and we become, by Holy Spirit, what we could not by direct effort.
Holy Spirit is effecting grace in our lives!
Pursue the reading and study of God’s word, learn the art of prayer and communion with God, live a life of worship (your very life pursuits), and value solitude with God.
Kingdom evangelism is a Christian discipline and aids your spiritual growth by following Jesus as a radical disciple of truth.
“Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 CEB)
This passage is relevant for today! Go and make disciples as Jesus did!