Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Recognize Jesus (Pt 2)

One of the most challenging aspects for most leaders is communicating to those your lead. The challenge comes because we often think we are communicating clearly (we know what we are saying), but others may interpret our communication differently than we intend. That is what we have witnessed so far during our study of Mark. Jesus, the disciples, the Pharisees, the crowds – all of them are seeing and experiencing the same situations, but they are all drawing different conclusions.

Today’s message is part two of learning to recognize Jesus. Last week we focused on the points of clearly seeing, confirming our thoughts, changing our perceptions, and correcting any misunderstandings. This week, we will focus on two more principles that will help us recognize Jesus.

Principle:  To recognize Jesus, we must lose our life. (Mark 8.34-9.1)

While the verses which immediately precede our passage today focus on Jesus and the disciples, verse 34 says that Jesus calls together the crowd. This is extremely important for us as it helps us to understand the message is for everyone – not just the Twelve.

In the next few sentences, Jesus says that those who give up are their lives are the ones who will find it. But even before that He says that following Him means we must carry our cross. In today’s world very few people are made to carry a cross. Every now and then a Christian is shown being crucified upon a cross by others, but it is not the norm today. Therefore, we have taken this phrase and turned it into the idea that we are bearing our cross if we are dealing with some illness or affliction, but this is not what Jesus means. Verse 35 makes it abundantly clear that taking up one’s cross is because of following Jesus and the gospel. Specifically, it is because of giving up our life in exchange for His and the gospel. Let me clarify.

In the purest sense, taking up the cross can only mean persecution, according to the words of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, we do all face trials and challenges, but, as we overcome these challenges (or learn to deal with them), then we learn of God’s goodness and grace and we become more like Christ through the process. Paul’s thorn, in 2 Corinthians 12, would be one example. This ailment, likely caused by persecution, caused Paul to pray, but he became content knowing that his weakness allowed God’s strength to be known in and through him. Conversely, the cross is not something with which we become content. It is not meant as a trial, it is meant as punishment. It was a horrific form of death. Taking up the cross was not to become more like Jesus, it was because someone identified themselves with Jesus.

This is the point Jesus makes in this statement. Remember, the disciples have just heard The Great Confession (You are Messiah, v. 29), and Jesus has turned the tables on their expectations by saying that He must now suffer and die (v. 31). One moment the disciples must have been ready to jump for joy knowing that they were going to Jerusalem on the coattails of a king. The next minute the King says that if you are true followers, my coattails will lead you to death.

To turn back to the opening thought about communication, let us make sure we know what Jesus is saying. The words in verse 34 say that we are to deny ourselves to follow Jesus. Deny in this case is not talking about giving about giving up something we enjoy. In verse 35 this is made clear: “Whoever would save His life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will gain it.”

He is telling us that we need to give up our life to gain His. The entire focus of this passage is to make our identity His! (By the way, life is a better translation than soul – unless you realize that soul is the whole of our life not just some unknown spiritual portion of us separated from our physical body – that is Greek thinking, not biblical).

What do it mean to say that we are Christians?

Do it mean that we attend church on Sunday? That we read our Bibles? That we pray? Etc. Those things are nice, but that doesn’t mean anything. Why? Because we can do things for Jesus without truly knowing Him. More importantly we can do all of those things (and more) without being known by Him. I have shared with you before that the verse I used to cringe at the most is Matthew 7.21-23.

So, let me repeat what I mentioned above – the focus of this passage is our need to make our identity His. Jesus does not ask us to give up something we enjoy, He commands that we give up ourselves. Our choice isn’t Jesus and the world, it is Jesus or the world! And if we take on His identity, we will suffer. Keep in mind that Mark is writing to the Romans, very possibly during the time of Nero (a fierce persecutor of Christians). These words must have provided some comfort, or at least the means to remain committed to their beliefs. Again, I know many people use these terms to talk about their problems today, but if we don’t understand how they were intended originally, we are not being faithful to the Word of God.

Remember, that just before Jesus summoned the crowd, we witnessed the exchange between Peter and Jesus. Peter rebuked Jesus. Jesus responded by saying that Peter was thinking in limited terms – like a man, not God. Now, we see Jesus redefining discipleship. A disciple of a rabbi was meant to learn, but Jesus uses the teaching in verses 34-38 to show discipleship really entails an entirely different approach to life. Discipleship means fellowship with Jesus and fellowship with Jesus means suffering at the hands of man. (Paul realized this and wrote that he wished to share in the sufferings of Christ for the benefit of what is to come (Phil. 3.10)).

Why should we be willing to suffer for Jesus? Because He died for us! This is the opposite of what Christianity has become. And that is why our next principle is to listen to Him.
  • We can listen to what the world says – and lose our soul, or listen to Jesus – and gain our life.
  • The world says we don’t need to be committed to something greater. Jesus says He is something greater.
  • The world says we should do what makes us happy. God says He wants us to be holy.
  • Jesus says, “Follow Me, and die.” Yet, He also says I come that you may have life abundantly. (The abundancy that Jesus promises does not mean what the world can offer, but what Jesus will provide. Maybe some of that is experienced on earth, but abundant life is not about what we have, it is about who we are. And who were are begins here, but lasts forever once we have traded our life for His.)

Principle:  To recognize Jesus, we must listen to Him. (Mark 9.2-13)

The transition verse between Jesus speaking of losing our life and the Transfiguration presents a great deal of challenges to our understanding. The biggest part of the challenge is how to understand “this generation” and the context of “some standing here…will see God’s kingdom in glory.” Many believe “this generation” applies to all who were living when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD (some forty years later). Seeing God’s Kingdom, in my opinion, relates to the next seven verses where Peter, James, and John see Jesus transfigured.

This story is rather well known, yet difficult to imagine. Mark continues to reveal more about Jesus to His audience, but does so here by specifically pointing to references he has only alluded to this far. Here, Mark provides the name of Moses and Elijah whereas before he has hinted that Jesus has fulfilled the role of Moses (such as in the feeding of the 5000 men). And when Jesus asked who others thought He might be, one of their answers was Elijah. But the allusions earlier in the story give way to certainty here.
  • Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (a great prophet) underwent transformations as well. Moses face shone forth (Ex 34.29-35) and Elijah was transformed when taken up in the whirlwind (2 Kgs 2.11).
  • Moses took three named individuals up the mountain with him – Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu (though 70 elders also went, Ex 24.1,9). Jesus takes three with Him as well – Peter, James, and John.
  • God’s command given to “Listen to Him” to which I will explain in just a moment. But first, let’s briefly set the scene.

We must keep in mind what Jesus has just been teaching! We cannot view this moment on the mountain without remembering the context of Jesus needing to suffer and die, but also that He will rise again (8.31). Then He teaches of losing our lives for His sake. Truly, the preceding verses paint a rather dire picture of following Jesus, but the picture is incomplete without realizing the full benefits to come. Last week, we reviewed the blind man who gained his sight in stages, so here is another stage in the disciples (at least three of them) beginning to see Jesus more clearly – that is, beginning to recognize Him more fully.

The Bible does not mention the exact mountain although a few have been proposed. The truth is, if we did know the place, some people might go up and never come down. On top of this mountain, Jesus is transformed so radiantly, even His clothes become brighter than anything that has been seen.

Jesus was seen with Moses and Elijah, and Peter grasps for words, calling Jesus “Rabbi” which reflect a lack of understanding on so many different levels (note the comment in verse 6). In this moment, Peter is quieted by the very voice of God. Afterward, only the three disciples and Jesus remained. Before I get to the words spoken by God, let me share that Jesus presence after the others were gone is significant. Remember, Jesus said that Jesus came not to do away with the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill all that was expected (Matthew 5.17). Therefore, we no longer need the law or the prophets to guide us. We simply need Jesus.

Which is why God says, “Listen to Him.”
  • At the baptism of Jesus, God said to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1.11)
  • Here, God says, to the disciples, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” (Mark 9.7)

If you are one of the three with Jesus, that should get your attention. Do you recognize Jesus? “Uh, yep. Sure do.” But as we will see in a minute, it created even more confusion.

But why were they to listen? What was it that Jesus said that was worth hearing? Let me provide three quick thoughts and then provide the real answer.
  • Listen to Him – He must go to suffer just as He said.
  • Listen to Him – If you wish to follow, it may cost you your life.
  • Listen to Him – He will teach you what you must know, but you must listen to understand.

The reality is that each of those statements is correct. But they are correct because of what God is truly meant when He said, “Listen to Him.” In Deuteronomy 18, God told the people, through Moses, that one day another prophet would come along (one like Moses) who would speak for the Lord and “it is to him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18.15). God is plainly stating that Jesus is THE prophet. Of course, Jesus is more than a prophet. Hebrews tells us that He is our priest. Revelation reminds us that He is our king. But for the Jews who long awaited the prophet who would speak the very words of God, God speaks to these three on the mountain to say, “This is the One you have been waiting for…listen to Him.”

The next words out of Jesus mouth are for these three disciples to stay silent until after the resurrection. They do have questions, however, and try to discern what has just happened. Specifically, they are seeking to understand the significance of Elijah having been there on the mountain. Peter remembers the rebuke from earlier, so this time He asks Jesus a question. The question might be paraphrased like this: If Elijah has come, why do you need to die?

Jesus affirms that the scribes are correct in their interpretation, but not because they conceived the idea, but rather it comes from Scripture – Malachi 3.1 and 4.5-6. Jesus makes it clear that John performed the function of Elijah (see Matthew 17.13), and now the Son of Man must suffer just as he did. [While Elijah escaped the wrath in his day, note the parallel of a wicked queen (Jezebel / Herodias) who manipulates a weak king (Ahab / Herod) to strike down a prophet Elijah / John the baptizer).] So, just as John was killed, so must the Son of Man be killed. The prophecy of Elijah’s return has been fulfilled, now it is time for me to suffer and died as has been prophesied by Isaiah.


Despite the relative familiarity of the stories, the verses we have reviewed over the past two weeks provide a very different understanding of Christianity than what most people desire. But it goes back to the idea of following what the world says or what Jesus taught. It comes down to what we desire – Jesus or the world. It comes down to whether we will choose to listen to Jesus or to the world. It comes down to how well we understand what Jesus has communicated with us.

The truth is that Jesus model for significance and success is far different than ours. We gain greatly by giving up ourselves! That doesn’t mean that we don’t see to better ourselves or strive for more, we just do so with a different purpose. Again, if our identity is in Jesus, then it is He who will get the glory. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, we should “press on” and “strain forward” for the prize before us and all who think otherwise are immature in what God wants for us (Philippians 3.12-15). As long as we remember it is for His glory, not ours, then we should seek to do great things.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: J – Jesus

Last week, we saw that even as one man gained sight, the disciples became confused when Jesus said that He must suffer and die. This week, the confusion of losing one’s life to gain it, gave way to a tremendous sight – seeing Christ in all His glory. This fact should provide the evidence to us that following Jesus is worth whatever it may cost.

Why should we be willing to lose our life to take on Jesus’ identity? Because Jesus gave up His life
to take our sin.

And that thought leads me to the verse that concerns me the most now. I mentioned earlier that Matthew 7.21-23 used to be a concern, but now I am most challenged by Luke 12.48. You may know it best as “To whom much is given, much is required.” The verse actually says it a little differently, but the gist is there. And lest we think we haven’t been given much, we have been given Jesus. And the question is: What are we doing with Him?

I will remind you that Jesus came teaching about our need to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1.15). To repent is to turn from (not just sin, but anything). To believe is to turn toward something. Jesus wants us to turn our lives away from the world, and in doing so, to turn them toward faith in Him.

As Matthew 7.21 reminds us we can do things in Jesus name without really having recognized Him. And, although we have had out focus on our need to recognize Jesus, you also need to consider whether He recognizes you. I encourage you to read 1 John 5.11-13 for some guidance here.

OPPORTUNITY:  We have a choice to follow the world or to follow Jesus. If we follow the world we are left with nothing. If we follow Jesus, we gain everything.

Principle:  To recognize Jesus, we must lose our life.
Principle:  To recognize Jesus, we must listen to Him.

Learn: Consider what it means to give your life to Jesus. How can you make His identity your own? Read Ephesians 1.1-14 and notice all of the statements about being “in” Christ, “in” him, etc. Take time to determine how those phrases could/should apply to you.

Live: Listening to Jesus requires obedience. Obedience requires us to give up our own desires. In what areas are you not obedient to Christ? What must you do to lose your life to Him?

Love: To find our purpose and identify in Jesus requires sacrificing ourselves, which reflects our love for Him. How is Jesus asking you to carry the cross right now? How might you give Him more of yourself?

Lead: As we live in obedience with love for our Savior, He wants us to make disciples who will do the same. Who is God calling you to lead at this time? Listen to Him to find out.

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