************ Sermon on Mark 8:34 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 3, 1998

Mark 8:27-9:1
Mark 8:34
"The Cost of Following Jesus"

This morning nine people have publicly committed their lives to Jesus Christ. I know that none of you will ever regret turning your life over to Jesus. Probably you will never be happier than you are right now. As a church we celebrate this with you, your family, and your loved ones. In fact, after the service the believers here will welcome you to the Trinity family and will offer you many words of encouragement.

These nine have publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ. In so doing they have joined forces with the 214 other members of Trinity who have professed their faith. But now what? Where do you go from here?

Too often, my brothers and sisters, we don't realize very well the consequences of following Jesus. For instance, we praise those who make public profession as though they have already crossed the finish line; in fact, they are only at the beginning of the race. Or, we think that following Jesus is like a walk around the block or a stroll through the park; instead, it is more like a roller derby! We tend to forget or ignore stuff like this.

Take a look at what happens in our Scripture reading. "Who do you say I am?" asked Jesus. "You are the Christ," answered Peter. You would expect Jesus to praise Peter for this profession. But this is not what happens at all. Instead, Jesus issues a warning:
(Mk 8:34) Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
I am sure the Lord was happy about Peter's statement. But Jesus also wanted His disciples to understand the cost of following Him.

As we look at these words of Christ we need to ask the what, the who, the why, and the how.

I What is the Cross?
A What does Jesus have to say about being one of His disciples? He says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark's audience knows exactly what these words mean. They know the cross means persecution, pain, suffering, and death. We know that Mark's gospel was written to Christians living in Rome during the time of Nero's reign as Caesar. During Nero's reign, Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith. One historian says this about the treatment received by believers:
Topic: Suffering
Subtopic: Persecution
Index: 3480-3484

The penalties which early Christians had to suffer were terrible beyond description. All the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped the Christians in pitch and set them alight, and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass plates were affixed to the tenderest parts of their bodies; eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to strengthen the agony. These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.

B Those Romans Christians, of course, were being treated exactly the same as Jesus. Jesus, as we all know, denied Himself and took up His cross and suffered in the most horrible way. Jesus tells us this morning that this also happens to His followers. He wants His disciples and us too to realize that we must walk the same path as He. In fact, the Apostle Peter encourages us to be like Jesus:
(1 Pet 4:1) Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

(1 Pet 4:13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Denial and cross-bearing is very real. This is what happens when people believe in and identify with Jesus. They become like Jesus.

C The worldly man or woman interprets the words of Jesus literally. When they hear Jesus speak of taking up one's cross they think of a piece of jewelry, an ornament, or a decoration. The TV show, Good Morning America (August 5, 1993) had a piece on crosses as "the hottest fashion item of the summer." It seems everyone is wearing them whether they belong to Jesus or not. But this is not what Jesus means by cross. Those Roman Christians knew what He meant: the electric chair, the gallows, the most cruel punishment the world has devised, a form of horrible torture used only for the worst of criminals.

D Many Christians do not understand or misinterpret what Jesus says here. They talk glibly about some physical pain, ache, or deformity as the cross they have to bear. The Apostle Paul, for instance, speaks a couple of times about the thorn in his flesh some sort of physical affliction that tormented him. But that was not Paul's cross. His cross was the humiliation, the pain, the suffering he endured for the sake of Christ. He talks about this cross when he says:
(2 Cor 11:24-27) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
All of this suffering the apostle went through for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

The cross we are called to bear is not arthritis, poor eyesight or hearing. It is not cancer, diabetes, a cold or flue. It is not a personal disability or a disabled child. It is not an unhappy marriage or a sick marriage partner. Instead, what is meant is suffering that has to do with our relationship to Christ. Let me emphasize this: the cross we Christians are called to bear is suffering because of our relationship to and with Christ.

II Who Bears the Cross?
A Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Who bears this cross? Was it, is it, only a select few? We know Jesus was talking to His disciples. Consider, for a moment, what happened to them:
Topic: Apostles
Index: 2080-2082

Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword at a distant city of Ethiopia.
Mark perished at Alexandria, after being cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the land of Greece.
John was put in a pot of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner, and was afterward branded at Patmos.
Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty point of the temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
Bartholomew was whipped to death.
Andrew was bound to a cross, from where he preached to his persecutors until he died.
Thomas was run through the body with a lance in the East Indies.
Jude was shot to death with arrows.
Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.
Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica.
Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.
Each of the apostles had to deny himself and take up a cross.

B In our passage we hear Jesus talking not only to His disciples but also to the crowd. We are told that "Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples." You and I and those who confessed their faith this morning are considered part of that crowd. To you and me and everyone who professes their faith Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Usually we aren't told this when we first become a Christian; I'm not sure if I said this in the Pastor's membership class. When first faced with the Christian religion we are told that Jesus died for our sins and that we are to believe in Him; but no one may have told us that following Jesus means denying ourselves and taking up a cross.

Many today preach a Gospel of success: "Follow Jesus," they say, "and yours will be success, prosperity, fame, freedom, a great marriage, and a wonderful family!" Who can ignore a come-on like this? Jesus, however, makes no such promises; He wants people to follow Him, but He also wants them to know that following Him means self-denial and a cross.

C Self-denial and a cross. To our self-indulgent culture this sounds odd, something that happens overseas or in a third-world country. It doesn't happen to us here in America, does it?! Jesus' point is that it does. Everyone who has a relationship with Jesus the disciples, the first century believers, you, me, the nine who professed their faith can expect and should expect this. I think of what Paul writes to Timothy:
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...
I think also of the words of Jesus to His disciples:
(Jn 15:18-19) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (19) If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."

Jesus teaches us this morning that if we are faithful the world will sooner or later offer us a cross to bear. Just as Christians are in the business of following Jesus so the world is in the business of offering crosses. Or, as Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan once said, "If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood." You don't have to seek the cross for it will seek you. The cross doesn't expect you but you can expect it.
Topic: Cross-Bearing
Index: 893
Date: 2/1986.22
Title: Buying a Cross

Clarence Jordan, author of the "Cotton Patch" New Testament translation, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister's church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.
As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.
"That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars," the minister said with a satisfied smile.
"You got cheated," said Jordan. "Times were when Christians could get them for free."
You don't have to buy the cross because you will get it for free.

Do you follow Jesus? Are you thinking of following Jesus? Let me tell you, it is costly to follow Christ it is going to cost you self-denial and a cross.

III Why Take Up the Cross?
Knowing this, why would anyone even want to be a Christian? Knowing this, why would the disciples or you or me or the nine this morning even bother to profess Christ? Jesus answers this:
(Mark 8:35) For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

(Mark 8:38) If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.

You see, don't you, what is at stake here. When it comes to professing Christ even at the cost of self-denial and a cross we don't have a choice. It is a case of life everlasting or death everlasting; it is a case of Christ acknowledging you or Christ denying you. At stake is your soul and my soul and the souls of the nine who professed their faith.

It is costly to follow Christ self-denial and a cross but it is even more costly not to follow Him. That's the message we are all to hear this morning.

IV How Take Up the Cross?
A Lastly, we need to ask how? How are we to take up the cross? What does Jesus have in mind?

First of all, let me tell how we are not to take up the cross. We are not to seek the cross; we are not to have a martyr's complex. There are some Christians who go out of their way getting a reaction from the world; they are loud and obnoxious and pushy. When the world reacts to their behavior these Christians think they are bearing a cross; but they aren't. They are simply reaping the results of their personality. Let me tell you about a girl called Gail (no relation to anyone here).
Gail was a Christian and she let everybody at school know it! But the things she did and said often made others angry. When Alice passed a note in class, Gail grabbed it and told the teacher. And when a few girls tried to be friendly and invited her to their party, Gail just looked shocked and said loudly, "Of course not! I'm a Christian!" The girls just shook their heads and walked away. Gail sighed. "I certainly have to suffer a lot for the Lord!" she thought to herself.
We know better, don't we?! Gail was not suffering for the Lord. She was suffering for her obnoxious, pushy, personality. Unfortunately, there are many Gails in the church. The cross they bear is not Christ's but their own.

B How, then, are we to bear our cross? Listen to what Paul and Peter says:
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...

(1 Pet 3:17) It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
The cross we bear is because of our relationship to Jesus Christ. Cross-bearing is the result when we do good and live holy lives for the sake of Christ. Let me illustrate this:
A young man began a great career with one of this country's big corporations. He majored in business in college. He had a knack for it, they said. He was selected right out of college for the company's executive training program. That's where they train the bright young people to be the executive stars of tomorrow.
After a few months of training the boss took him to a national convention related to his work in the company. There he would get a first hand look at life at the top of the corporate ladder.
What did he find? He saw heavy drinking among the executives. He saw women who had been hired to "entertain" the top brass. He was told to get a drink and to choose a woman for himself. When he refused he got a clear message that this was not expected of a young man like him on his way to the top.
The boss called him in afterward to discuss the matter. The boss said he was willing to overlook his strange behavior at the convention if it wouldn't happen again. He told his boss he would never engage in such behavior. "Why?" asked the boss. "Because I'm a Christian. I just don't do that."
A few weeks later he was fired. One year later he still had not found another position.
We would have to say that this young man has taken up his cross. He is suffering for living a godly life.

Or, consider the example of a Christian boy called Jon:
During recess one day a bunch of boys were playing kickball, and Chad asked if he could play. A lot of boys make fun of Chad because of the way he acts, but it's a rule that you have to let anyone play that wants to. Well, Chad kicked the ball and took off running toward first base, except he tripped and fell flat on his face! You should have heard the boys tease him!
Jon noticed Chad was hurt, so he went over, helped him to his feet, and went to the nurse's office with him. When Jon came out, the kids started to call him a "goody-goody." They were pretty mean about it, too!
After school two of the boys followed Jon. They kidded him and called him "Mr. Goody-Goody" all the way home.
We would have to say that Jon has taken up his cross. He is suffering for doing good.

Let me ask you: do you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus? If you simply go with the flow, if you go along to get along, if you strive to be politically correct, if you keep your head down, then it is doubtful the world will ever give you a cross. But if, for the sake of Christ, you do good and live holy lives then you can expect a cross. That was true for the apostles, that's true for you, that's true for me, that's true for the nine who professed their faith too.

So I ask you again: do you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus?
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