Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are you sure you want to follow...

Mark 8:31- 9:1
Jesus starts to talk about the cross.
Up to this point, Jesus had some guys following him around.  He’d showed them lots of the power of the kingdom.  He’d taught them in riddles and parables that they often didn’t understand, but knew there was something different about what he was teaching.  He gained a reputation for what he did and said so that people came from everywhere because they’d heard he could heal them.  He’d given the disciples the power and authority to do the same things he’d been doing (even though they didn’t have anything figured out, their lives weren’t perfect, and they weren’t quite sure what they’d signed up for yet).  Peter was even starting get revelations direct from God about who Jesus really was.

Then Jesus drops this bomb on them.  Get ready, here’s what is coming next.  No parables here, no cute stories, no allegory, no cryptic statements.  “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He laid out the plan, what it actually meant for him to be the Messiah.  Peter had just confessed public in front of all the guys, “you are the Messiah, the son of God” and Jesus confirmed it and said his father in heaven had revealed that to him; had given him the faith to know it, believe it and say it out loud.  Jesus had shared with them that believing that was true meant they would get full access to heaven and that they would be an unstoppable force to bring that good news and reality to others.

Now Jesus starts to tell them how it’s all going to go down.  I wish I could see the looks on their faces.  “What the what” is going to happen.  These were young guys who’d been raised with a cultural and religious history of exile, defeat, rejection, and failure but were promised something different.  As messed up as the religion was, they held to the promise that someone was going to rescue them and restore. They mostly saw this restoration as being about power and prestige in the world.  That’s what they were expecting, that’s what they were looking for in Jesus.  When Peter got his glimpse that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, his mind almost certainly went to something like, “I’m going to get to be a governor somewhere” or maybe I’ll be get to be a General, maybe I’ll get one of those palaces in Rome.”  I say that because that’s what I would have thought, it’s what you would have thought too.  And because Peter and Jesus have a very interesting exchange in this passage.

Peter hears what Jesus is saying, he sees the terrified and bewildered look on the faces of his friends.  Pete being a leader and a little older than most of the guys takes Jesus aside and says what are you doing Jesus, you’re freaking the boys out, How the heck are we going to take over the world if you’re humiliated, and you let these sell out religious leaders and these Roman goons kill you.  Dead leaders don’t get much done. 
Jesus looks at the boys, looks back at Peter, and says “get behind me Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human point of view.”  Ouch.  That’s got to sting a little, especially after Jesus had just given Pete his sweet new nick name, “the Rock.”  How could Peter see things so clearly earlier, but suddenly, his vision is clouded.  Because he hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet, his mind had not been renewed, he’d only seen a glimpse of what the kingdom actually was.  The same is true for us.  If we’ve not be made new by the Holy Spirit, we don’t yet have the mind of Christ that is promised in scripture.  Everything we see and hear is tainted by the falleness of the world.  We can’t understand things from God’s perspective.

Then Jesus lays it out for them, what it’s going to mean if they want to keep following him.  They’ll have to put their own ambitions aside, put their own selfish ideals down, give up everything, even their life to follow him.  Jesus brings it back to the idea he tried to teach them after the feast with the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.  Jesus says what if you gain the whole world (Herod) but you lose your soul.  The yeast example didn’t get through, they were fishermen not bakers after all, but I think this hooked them.  Now, Jesus wasn’t just talking about earthy temporal things, like what are we going to eat, or what are we going to gain from this.  Now he’s getting, spiritual, now he’s getting eternal.  There’s something bigger than your bellies, there’s something bigger than you career, there’s something bigger than your position or the social circles you’re connected with.  We’re talking about your life, what’s really important.  If you try to keep it for yourself you’ll lose it.  If you put yourself first you’ll lose it.  But if you make Jesus first, you’ll find true life.
Well what does that mean; if I sacrifice lots, if I serve him lots, if I follow all the rules really well, if I know all the right answers, if I read my bible, if I… become a Pharisee.  What are you going to have to give, what are you going to have to do to gain your soul?  What’s the price, what the measurement?

Jesus says there’s one measurement:  are you ashamed of me and my message.  Have you ever been with a friend and they do something really dumb, like reeeally dumb, and you just want to pretend you don’t know them, pretend you never met, just turn and walk away slowly. s And then when someone is like hey do you know that guy, did you see that… and you’re like…. Ahhh no, never seen that that dude before.  Anyone have that crazy uncle Bob who drives his lawnmower to the liquor store because he lost his license.  You don’t want to admit it, it’s ok.  Lots of people react to Jesus the same way.  Jesus was in a crowd when he said this and without a doubt, some of them turned and walked away for whatever reasons.  Some thought it would be too hard to go against the world and the religion they’d been brought up in, some were sure the good things of the world would make them happy.  Some had too much pride, they thought they could earn their way.  Even though they’d seen some of the power of the Kingdom, it seemed too good to be true that they could be part of it.  Some thought they simply weren’t worthy.  Some thought it wasn’t worth it, they’d looked in so many places for real life and this was probably just another dead end.  Some thought Jesus was a crack pot, how’s he going to lead us when he’s dead. 

Jesus’ promise was clear and to the point, some of you, the ones who decided to follow me, the ones who decided to let me rescue them, the ones who decide to acknowledge me, will get to see the kingdom of God arrive in great power.  And they did, and we do, and some of you have.  We have a choice when it comes to following Jesus.  In Luke’s account of this story, he reports Jesus saying “take up you cross daily”.  This sounds like a lot of hard work that you couldn’t possibly bear on your own – and you’d be right.  Every day, we get up and we have a choice, am I going to listen to Jesus today, see if he has some way for me to share the gospel, and then respond and do it or am I going to make today about me.  The second choice we can do all on our own and lots of days we do.  The disciple did too, in fact when it came time for the cross, they all split, even the Rock.  Here’s the difference for you and me, those keys to heaven that Jesus promised – The Holy Spirit – is now ours.  He’s given us the Holy Spirit in his physical absence so we can get up in the morning and take up our cross, so we can hear his voice, so we can have the power and strength and wisdom and patience and joy and hope and… everything else we need in order to follow him; even to the point that we’d be able to give our own lives, maybe even literally if he calls us to that, for the sake of him and the Gospel.  I know you may not feel like it right now, but it’s the promise.  It’s a promise equal to all the other promises; he will give us what we need in order to follow him and do what he calls us too.
Here’s the amazing part, even though we often get up daily and are ashamed of him, we turn our back on him, we chose the world instead of him, we run away when the weight comes down, we deny knowing him when people ask about him (just like the disciples did), he’s not like us.  Once we’ve committed to him, once we’ve called on him to rescue us, he’s forgiven us completely, even for the screw ups we haven’t screwed up yet.  Whenever we do decide, today I’m ready to take up my cross today, he’s right there to carry it for us.  He so full of mercy that he never gives up on us, even if we give up on him from time to time, even when we give up on ourselves. 

Near the end of his life Peter wrote a letter to encourage the churches in Asia Minor.  He’d lived a life of daily taking up his cross, through great struggle and persecution, through so many test and trials.  I’m sure there were days he wondered if it was all worth it.  But in the midst of it, he experienced the Kingdom of Heaven and each time he chose to hear Jesus and follow him, his faith was refined in the fires.  He wrote this to encourage us that Jesus will do the same for us,
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:3-7 NLT).

The promises are good, the cross was complete and the kingdom is wide open to us.  Jesus has given us everything we need to take up our cross and follow him and it is so worth it.  You were worth it to Him, to give up his life in exchange for your soul.  If you give up your life for him, he’ll fill you with so much more than the world or religion could ever offer, “I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see the Kindgom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1)

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