Are you a Christian, a follower of Jesus? If so, what does it mean to you? These two questions are crucial because when people do not fully understand what it means to be a Christian they normally give up on Jesus or live a life that has nothing to do with Jesus. The lack information regarding what it means to follow Jesus is a serious issue in our churches nowadays.
We live in this day of easy believism in which many people are taught on how to make a decision with Jesus in order to be saved but few are taught on how to make a commitment with the one who can save them. They are told that to go to heaven they just need to raise their hands for Jesus, spending the rest of their lives doing whatever they want. But they are not taught that Jesus saved us in order to give a good life in heaven, not on earth. They are not taught that between conversion and resurrection they will face hardship and suffering for following Jesus.
Sadly, when these so-called Christians suffer because of their faith in Jesus, they normally quit reading the Bible, they quit praying, they quit sharing the gospel, they quit repenting, they quit their churches and eventually Christ. However, followers of Jesus never quit their faith in him because they know that everything that matters is not easy but hard, costly but rewarding. It’s all about Jesus.
In this talk, I would like to look at Mark 8, verses 34-38, to help us to understand that salvation costs you nothing but discipleship costs you everything. Salvation occurs in a moment but discipleship takes a lifetime. Salvation is something done to you by God and discipleship is something you do with God. My hope is that by the end of this talk we decide to be
- Deny yourself by loving Jesus (v.34a)
In Mark chapter 1, we see Jesus calling four people to follow him, a small number of disciples, right? In chapter 8, however, Jesus feeds four thousand followers, a growth of 100,000%. By now it seems that he had a successful ministry but in chapter 8, verse 27, Jesus asks a question to his disciples that changes everything. He asks, “Who do people say I am?”. The answer given by them shows that people had no idea of whom he was. Jesus then asks his closest disciples, “Who do you say I am?”. The answer given by Peter is, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then begins to teach that he was going to suffer, be rejected, be killed and rise from the dead after three days. This kind of teaching could mess up Jesus successful ministry, so Peter advises him to stop saying those kinds of things. But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan!”.
Why was Jesus so rude with Peter if he was just trying to help?
Peter and many other disciples were not following Jesus for the right reason. Some followed him because he could give them food, as we can see in John 6:26. Others followed him because he could give them the power to see Israel restored as a great nation again, as we can see in Acts 1:6. And some followed Jesus because of money, as we can see in John 12:6. Many of those who were following Jesus, including some of his closest disciples, were not following him because they love him but because Jesus could give them what they love. However, Jesus says in Mark 8:34 that his disciples should deny themselves if they wanted to follow him.
How can we deny ourselves?
We deny ourselves when we submit to the will of God in everything. When it hurts, when you get ridiculed, when you lose your friends, your family, your job, your possessions and even life for loving God with everything you have.
Jesus himself is the perfect example of self-denial for loving God with everything. When he was in the garden, just before being killed on the cross, he prayed “Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” Why was Jesus able to deny himself? Because he loved His glorious Father in heaven by unloving himself.
Jesus wants to be followed by those who love him more than they love anything else in the world, including themselves. We can only love Jesus with all our hearts when we let go our selfish desires to focus instead on the interests of Jesus. To focus on the interests of Jesus we need to stop thinking like kids. Let me illustrate my point.
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.” Kevin then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
Unfortunately, Kevin was so selfish that he could not understand that the best option was to be Jesus. In the same way, regarding following Jesus, some of us behave like kids sometimes. Instead of loving Jesus with all our hearts, we love ourselves with all our hearts. Instead of giving, we only think about taking. Instead of carrying about the needs of others, we only care about our own needs.
Christians deny themselves by loving Jesus with all their hearts however, fake Christians love themselves so much that they use Jesus to fulfill their desires.
Do you love Jesus more than you love yourself? If not, in what ways can you increase your love for Jesus and in what ways can you deny yourself?
Christians are those who love Jesus by unloving themselves but also those who live for Jesus by dying for themselves…
- Die for the world by living for Jesus (v.34b)
In verse 34, Jesus tells that those who want to be his followers need to deny themselves but also take up their crosses. Although, people wear crosses around their necks to adorn themselves nowadays, crosses were instruments of death during Jesus time. An instrument reserved only for criminals, like the electrical chairs used by Americans nowadays.
What did Jesus mean, practically speaking, when he said we need to carry our crosses?
Jesus wanted them to understand basically two things. One, to be a follower of Jesus means to live. To live a life of rejection, suffering and even death but knowing that all these troubles were going to be temporary because, in the end, they would live again with Jesus in Heaven. Two, to be a follower of Jesus means to die. To die for the things of this world such as possessions, power, pleasures, fame but knowing that they are temporary loses because, in the end, they would gain much more in heaven.
How can I die for this world to live for Jesus in a practical way?
Well, we only have one life to live so let’s not waste it by putting into practice two things.
First, while your feet are on the group keep your eyes to the sky. We don’t belong here but in heaven. In other words, while you are still alive, don’t let the pleasures of this world blind you. Therefore, don’t exchange eternal joy for a few years of pleasures in this world? Put to death what is earthly in you so you can gain real pleasure and joy here and in heaven.
Second, risk is right because it is better to lose your life than to waste it. We are not here on holiday, we have a mission to fulfil. Jesus died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Therefore, don’t be afraid of anything, including death for Jesus. Not even death can separate us from Christ. On the contrary, Paul says in Philippians 1:21 that, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. John Piper explains this verse by saying that, “Death is gain because death means more of Christ. And more of Christ is gain because he is better than anything this life can give you”.
Let me share a real story of a practical example of what it means to carry your own cross.
Jim Elliot was an American. He became a Christian at a young age and after university, he became a missionary in Ecuador, South America. He, with a few other young missionaries, wanted to reach a tribe of Indians who lived in a remote region beyond civilization. The tribe was known for its violence so no-one ventured in their territory but they were people for whom Jesus had died to bring them forgiveness and salvation.
Jim Elliot and his four friends thought the best way was to try to make friends with them. They made contact by flying a small aircraft down their river bank. They made contact from their airplane with the tribe by using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian tribe. There they were approached several times by small groups of Indians and even gave an airplane ride to one curious man. Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the tribe, but then a larger group of Indians arrived who were vicious and they killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. After his death, an entry was found in his diary: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining what he cannot lose.”
Real Christians carry their crosses by dying for the things of this world to live with Christ in heaven while fake Christians work hard to gain the things of this world.
Do you believe that Jesus is worth abandoning everything for? Do you believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying, and so rewarding that we will leave all we have and own an all we are to find fullness in him?
Christians are those who love Jesus by unloving themselves and live for Jesus by dying for the world.
Do you agree with me that there’s something worse than death, and that’s a wasted life? We all, sooner or later, are going to die so make your life count. Spend a few minutes today thinking about what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and then follow Jesus. Think about the consequences of following Jesus in this world and if you are not a Christian yet, don’t wait any longer. I don’t want you to miss this opportunity of following Jesus and wasting your life in vain.