“Embracing Change: God is Leading..Are You Following?” – September 10, 2017
Rev. Bruce Lamb
September 10, 2017
14A – Mark 8:34-37
Embracing Change Sermon Series
God Is Leading….Are You Following?
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Today we are talking about following Jesus. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? We are in our embracing change sermon series and our reading today from Mark’s gospel looks at three ways Jesus calls us to completely change our lives and become a disciple.
Recently I was asked, “pastor can a person be a Christian and not be a disciple?” In one way or another we are all disciples already. We may not necessarily be disciples of Christ, be we are disciples of something. Maybe you have a favorite writer or a sports fan that you are trying to emulate. Perhaps, there’s a person you work with that you are trying to learn from. But whatever it is each of us is already a disciple. In the Bible, Christ’s final commandment to his followers is, “Therefore go make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
But, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ much less go make disciples?
We are called not only to learn the teachings of Christ but to live them. When we declare that we will live our life for Christ and live out his teachings he will begin changing us from the inside, giving us the ability to understand His word and the desire to live it.
There’s a lot of people in the world that love the Lord, but are not serious about their walk with God.
As disciples the Bible says we are supposed to wear the fruits of the Spirit. You will know them by their fruit. Kindness is so amazing. Patience is so amazing. I’ve got a ways to go with that. I’ve got it in me. I’m planting seeds for patience, but am still watering them.
Set your mind and keep it set. Ephesians 4:22 says, “strip yourself of your former nature, put off and discard your old unrenewed self, which characterized your previous manner of life and becomes corrupt through lusts and desires that spring from delusion; and be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind.
We cannot do it without God’s help. We have to want it and we do have to be willing to sacrifice and go through some things that are not easy.
Peter thought in our reading today that being identified with Jesus was going to be a glorious thing. The disciples thought it was an incredible gift to be identified with Jesus. Jesus has been giving sight to the blind and feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of fish and doing all of these incredible miraculous things. As the disciples are watching this take place they are beginning to realize we’ve heard about this before from the profit Isaiah that said the savior would come and do these very things.
If we want to see who Jesus really is then we join him. Jesus is calling us to separate ourselves from what defines us. A person in Jesus’ culture was defined by those whom he belonged – usually household or family. Jesus calls people to embrace new understandings of identity, because our identity is in Jesus.
Jesus outlines the way of the cross and this is the outline of the process of discipleship.
3 steps to discipleship:
1 – First, he says, “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves…”
What does it mean to deny ourselves? Self-denial is saying no to the self and yes to God. We deny ourselves and acknowledge that there are two selves. The old self and the new self.
This is the paradox of self-denial and what it means is there are two selves and the old self is put to death and denied and there is a new self and that new self chooses life. It chooses Christ, it chooses the gospel and it chooses unity and salvation.
He is not asking us to deny or basic humanity or personhood. If you take it that way you have missed the point. Jesus is not telling us that so that we are to abandon ourselves. So we must understand what Jesus means by “deny ourselves.” This is the first step of discipleship. The word “deny” means to “disavow any connection with something, to state that you are not connected in any way with whatever is in view.”
It is important also to understand that he does not mean what we usually mean by “self-denial.” By this we usually mean that we are giving up something. Many people feel it is only right to deny themselves something during Lent, to give up various bad habits, like wearing overshoes in bed. But Jesus is not talking about this kind of “self-denial.” He is never concerned about what we do so much as with what we are. Therefore he is not talking about giving up luxuries, or even necessities, but about denying self, which is entirely different.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price,” We die to ourselves every single day, to our selfish ambitions. This is what Jesus is talking about. He is not talking about giving up this or that, but about giving up our selves and giving our lives over to him.
2 – Second, “Let him deny himself and take up thy cross.” What does it mean to take up thy cross?
During this time, to “take up thy cross” meant to be identified with a criminal who was being tortured. The cross was a terrifying thing for them and it was not a comforting thing for them to hear to take up thy cross. In the mind of the disciples for Jesus to say this it’s something big – How can anyone have the strength to carry the cross? How can one do that? The reality is that one can’t and neither can I, not alone anyways, but through God’s help we can take up thy cross.
This is God’s part in the work of discipleship. Jesus did not come to call us to ultimate barrenness, weakness, darkness, and death. He called us to life, to richness, to enjoyment, to fulfillment. Discipleship ends in life, not in death. It ends in fulfillment and satisfaction. But the only way that we can find it is by means of a cross, by taking up thy cross
The third Step to discipleship– Jesus says, “Follow Me.”
This really means, “obey me.” It means choosing to do and say what Jesus commands us to do and say.
This is what Christianity is all about. The Christian life is following Jesus doing what he says like:
- “Love your enemy.”
- “Pray for those who hurt you.” And…
- “Forgive those who offend you.” Those are not merely wise and helpful words, but they represent a way of life that Jesus calls us to live as disciples. When we do not feel like forgiving or praying he tells us to do it anyway.
Luke 6:35 says, to be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. I struggle with that one. I do not want to be kind to those that are ungrateful and selfish but the Lord says to do it anyways.
“Follow me,” means obeying these and all the many other commands of scripture.
In the original Greek these steps are stated in the present tense. It means “keep on denying yourself, keep on taking up your cross, keep on following me.” This is not the decision of a moment, but the program of a lifetime to be repeated again and again. This is what it means to be a disciple.
Being a disciple is saying yes to the way of Jesus and no to our ways, taking up the cross, and following God.
What is your aim? What do you really want of your life? Do you want to live it for yourself or do you want to live your life for God? That really is the question.
In the book Mere Christianity author C.S. Lewis says, “There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back, to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”
This is what Jesus said to the men of his day. Becoming a Christian is not easy. It is radical. But it is the only way to life.
I want to encourage you to step out on faith and do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Let’s have a passion for the renewal of the church spreading the gospel to new generations for Christ.
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