Dying to Live

He then began to teach them that the “Son of Man” must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” – Mark 8.31-39 TNIV

The Gospel of Mark invites us to explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus from the moment Jesus is baptized until he is taken up into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Peter is our guide through Jesus’ three years of ministry. In a total of 16 chapters we find the most challenging words we will ever face in our lifetime: the demands of the Gospel – unconditional forgiveness, unconditional love for one another, and unconditional surrender of your soul.

The last half of the Gospel is devoted to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to meet his end – death on a cross. Surely, the words that were spoken during this journey to the cross merit close reflections. As a man marches to his death surely his words and his actions are more intentional than ever before in his life.

Jesus shows his disciples that more prayer is required of them in order to bring the Kingdom of God to bare witness on some people’s lives (9.29). Jesus is reordering the community around refined value system. He has affirmed the commandments, yet the people are only living by rote memorization. Jesus requires something more of them.

When we desire to be first, we must choose to become last (9.37). To be sure whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant (10.43). Whenever we welcome little children, we will actually be welcoming God (9.37). And, whenever we cause a little one to sin, we would be better off drowning ourselves (9.42). Children welcome God’s Kingdom easily, and adults are to emulate these little ones (10.15). When you leave your family, your home and your farm, then you will have eternal life (10.29-30). Jesus spoke out on divorce and adultery (10.11-12).

Jesus teaches us that self-amputation is better than sinning (9.45). Follow the commandments, and sell all that you possess (10.21) so that you will have treasure in heaven. Jesus declared that the place for worship should be called a place for prayer for all the nations, not a marketplace (11.17). But when we pray, we are to forgive those we harbor resentment (11.25-26). Jesus’ authority was questioned, and he refused to haggle the point (11.28). Believing rightly about God doesn’t secure that we are in the Kingdom (12.34). And, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after he had risen Mark records that he scolding them for their unbelief and stubbornness (16.14). After all of Jesus’ guidance before he died, Mark records that Jesus “worked with them” the disciples to confirm the message of the Good News with signs that the people might believe (16.20).

The heart of the Gospel is the promised Messiah fulfilled in the God-Man Jesus. Mark’s Gospel wants us to know that Jesus is the Son of Man. This title uniquely belongs to Jesus. The context of our passage today rests on Peter’s good confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter speaks on behalf of all the disciples when he makes his good confession. Jesus has asked the question – Who do “you all” say that I am? The world has its opinions about Jesus’ identity, yet the disciples have clearly discerned that Jesus is not “John the Baptist” nor is he “Elijah” come back alive nor is he “one of the prophet.” Jesus is the promised prophet who would be priest and king of Israel. He is the Messiah.

The word “Messiah” means “anointed one” in the Hebrew language, and became “Christ” in the Greek language. The very name Messiah bares witness to the consecration of the chosen one who would hold that title. The consecration is a sign that the chosen one fulfills the promises of God to redeem humankind. Being the Messiah entails being prophet, priest, and king. Because the Messiah is the definitive spokesperson on behalf of God, his identity, gifts and talents are uniquely prophetic, profoundly priestly, and ultimately ruling. To confess that Jesus is the Messiah is to declare not only the fulfillment of a human candidate to fill the role, but also that God is declaring this candidate to be specifically qualified to lead the Israelite people to salvation.

Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. The Greek term “Son of Man” was used in all four Gospels as a self-designated title by Jesus himself. Only one other time was this term used, and that was when the crowd inquired in John’s Gospel, “Who is this Son of Man?” (12.34). The phrase “Son of Man” was used 14 different times in the Gospel of Mark. The phrase “Son of Man” is closely linked to “Messiah,” yet we do not confess Jesus as “Son of Man.” It seems to be more of a descriptive name of the Messiah having human qualities that unique qualified him to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament. With this came the inference of the prophetic fulfillment of Daniel’s vision of the one like a “son of man” (Daniel 7) who would suffer and be vindicated.

One way to understand the language “Son of Man” is to consider that Jesus was referring about himself in connection with his vocation – Messiah. The way “Son of Man” was used by Jesus across the Gospels demands that we allow some mystery in its true meaning as Jesus was referring to how he understood himself. For sure we do not confess Jesus as “Son of Man” but this language help us to know Jesus better – how he understood himself in light of his predicament of being the One and Only Messiah who would suffer, die, and rise on the third day.

Notice what happens when the disciples misinterpret whom they think the Messiah really is (8.32-33). In chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel Peter has stepped on behalf of all the disciples to declare that Jesus is the Messiah (8.29). And, a few verses later Peter is stepping out again on behalf of all the disciples to redirect Jesus in his role as Messiah (8.32-33). Peter is very comfortable engaging in conversation with Jesus. It’s quite obvious since Jesus has been his houseguest some three years that surely Peter can persuade Jesus to rethink this mission.

When you and I declare that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, and the Christ we are declaring that we agree that Jesus is the One that was promised to the Israelites and that God is acting on behalf of himself to see to it that the promises are fulfilled. The danger of being Christians so far removed from the life of Jesus is that we too might feel comfortable questioning Jesus’ interpretation of his identity and his stated requirements for following him.

The most painful part of this text is when Peter misconstrues the role of the Messiah. The Messiah was always a victorious suffering servant figure in the Old Testament prophetic texts. The confession of the Messiah contains both a promise and a threat. Our God will appear as the Son of Man coming on the clouds at the time of judgement to both receive the faithful and to condemn the unfaithful.

Wesley’s Almost Christian and the servant heart… http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-2-the-almost-christian/

According to Wesley, we truly need to be discerning in our relationship with God. Savior and Lordship are two uniquely different concepts. Discipleship maintains both/and approach to Savior and Lord. The Lordship of Christ is reflected in our call to die to our selfishness. We become accountable to God with all our resources – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Discipleship is upward, inward, outward, and leads to mission in the world around us.

LOVE GOD: UPWARD – Are you a fan? What’s your definition of a Christian, and a Disciple? In our quest to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we must consistently direct our lives upward. Everything Jesus did in ministry flowed from His intimate connection with his Father. John’s Gospel tells us “the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19) Jesus’ upward rhythm with the Father should be our model. Therefore we must we ask ourselves: HOW IS YOUR PRAYER LIFE?

LOVE SELF: INWARD – Are you a season ticket holder? Can a person accept Jesus as their Savior, but not as their Lord? In our quest to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we must consistently direct our lives inward to disciple living. Disciple living begs us to ask a pivotal question: Jesus is calling, how will I respond? When you and I answer the call of discipleship, it requires of us a price – the price of community involvement. Disciple living happens in the community of faith. We worship together. We practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible study, and fasting together. We keep each other accountability to the vows we make as Christian disciples. Together we worship God and practice the sacraments of holy communion and baptism (or the remembrance of our covenant promises) each Sunday. Each of us is called to engage in holy conferencing, or small group accountability, where we are sustained emotionally and spiritually. It is in holy conferencing that we find the support we need to continue to live as a disciple in the culture around us. WHAT ARE YOUR SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?

LOVE OTHERS: OUTWARD – Are you a player? What are the marks of discipleship? Jesus had 12 disciples. The 12 not only impacted one another, but those around them. Just like the 12 disciples shared their lives together so we invest and care for one another in our “inward” circle of friends. We don’t get to choose who belongs to this “inward” circle of friends; they are the ones who come to our church. Two of the greatest words found in the New Testament occur over 50 times: “one another.” Within our “inward” circle of friends flows the outward grace of love, acceptance, service, encouragement, and forgiveness to others. Our love for one another in the “inward” circle of friends proves to the world around us that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). WHO ARE YOU ACCOUNTABLE TO?

LOVE THE MISSION: ENDS OF THE EARTH – Are you a coach? How does the Church define discipleship? Our identity as disciples is wrapped up in the notion of being sent out on a mission (John 20.21-22). When we gather together as a community on Sunday mornings we are reminded of that mission. We have all gathered from the “ends of the earth” to worship God. We all have responded to the call to be on mission on behalf of Jesus Christ. The moment we agreed to Jesus was the moment we were called and appointed to His mission. However, our “yes” does not mean that we get to choose what mission looks like. The mission does not belong to us. But we do have the opportunity to actively respond. The United Methodist church invites disciples to “faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service. When you and I take seriously our call to be on mission, the Gospel finds its fulfillment within us (Col. 3.16-17). We become part of something bigger than you or I could ever be on our own.


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