“Jesus Invites Us to Follow Him”
Welcome to "Key to the Kingdom." My name is Bret McCasland. There are many people throughout the world who are following Jesus Christ. They recognize Him as God's one and only Son and are seeking to walk in His footsteps. That is a good thing. In addition to that, they have also become a part of God's family, through their faith and obedience to Him. In other words, they are Christians. They are believers. They are part of God's family. And no doubt, God welcomes all people to be in His family, and He celebrates when that happens. During His public ministry, Jesus challenged those who were following Him to be more than just His follower. He invited them to be His disciple. And that called for the believers, or the followers, to make a deeper level of commitment. It meant they would be devoted to Jesus when temptations and persecutions arose. It also included making sacrifices and hard decisions in order to put Jesus first in their lives. Now, that is something Jesus still asks of people today. He invites us to move beyond being a casual follower to becoming a committed disciple. Indeed, that is a challenge. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too will need to make some hard decisions and sacrifices. We will need to count the cost of what it means to be His devoted disciple. In today's lesson, we will look at His teaching about this very thing. We turn to a familiar passage where Jesus teaches us what being His disciple looks like. As we do, I hope all of us will consider the importance of doing that, and the blessings that await us when we do. You are invited now to open your Bible and study with us the lesson on what Jesus said about following Him.
For the next few minutes, I would like for us to consider another one of Jesus' most important statements, which is recorded here in the Word of God. This one is found in all three of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke; and it is the one in Mark chapter 8 which receives our attention today. Jesus is with His disciples in the place called Galilee. His ministry of teaching and healing and casting out demons and proclaiming the Good News of God's kingdom is quickly coming to an end. Very soon, He will turn His attention to go to the city of Jerusalem; and there He will be rejected and persecuted, and eventually He will be crucified on the cross. Well, as He and His disciples were traveling in Galilee, they came to a place near Caesarea Philippi. And there, Jesus asks them a question. He said, “Who do people say I am?” Jesus did not ask that question because He did not know. Obviously He did. He knew who He was and He knew His purpose here upon this earth. But He wanted His disciples to consider what He meant to them and the impact He had made on their lives. And so they answer the question, “Well, some say you are Elijah or John the Baptist or one of the other prophets.” Then Jesus asks them, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” And one of the disciples named Peter stated, “You are the Christ.” Now, Matthew includes the words, in his version, the Son of the Living God. Well, that was a true statement: Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And yet, Jesus told Peter and the others to not tell anyone. Now, why would He do that? That seems just a little bit odd, doesn't it? Well, even though Peter answered correctly, the disciples did not fully understand what that meant. They did not know what was about to happen. An uncertain future awaited Jesus. Oh, He knew what was going to take place, but the disciples really did not. And so Jesus begins to tell them, in chapter 8 of Mark, verse 31: <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.> For the first time, Jesus tells His disciples what will soon take place. It is called the Passion Prediction. Jesus predicts His suffering, His death on the cross and also His resurrection. Jesus will tell them, again, the very same thing, a couple of more times, in the next two or three chapters. And perhaps there are even more occasions when Jesus told them about what would happen in Jerusalem, which are not recorded here in Scripture. Well, when Peter heard this statement from Jesus, according to verse 32, he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Now, that is somewhat humorous. Who does Peter think he is, rebuking Jesus? Who is in charge here, anyway? Certainly Peter does not have that authority. Well, he almost portrays himself like a parent who begins to scold or rebuke his son. And he is basically telling Jesus, no, that's not going to happen. It's not going to play out that way. You will not be persecuted and we will protect You so that you are not put to death. Well, Peter was not behaving like a disciple. A disciple is one who listens to his or her master, and then puts into practice those things which are learned; and Peter wasn't doing that on this occasion. Instead, Peter is thinking in human terms about how the Son of God, the Christ, whom he had just identified as such, could escape all of that and how they could protect Him. Yes, Peter is thinking about Jesus ruling in Jerusalem without any problems. Perhaps he envisioned Jesus sitting upon a glorious throne and distributing justice and issuing commands. Maybe Peter is thinking about he and the others being there with Jesus as His assistants. Well, Jesus, next, in verse 33, quickly responds with these words. <He turned and looked at His disciples, and rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”> Well, Jesus now corrects Peter's thinking. He tells him to get behind Him, or to come after Him. In other words, Jesus was putting Peter in his place, and that place was not to try to correct or even to protect Jesus, but rather to follow after Him, to continue to be a disciple of the Christ. Well, Peter and the others needed to allow Jesus to lead them to the cross and to show them what being the Christ really meant. They had properly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and now they needed to experience that firsthand. What did that look like? What did it mean for Jesus to be persecuted and put to death? They needed to know and witness it. A very unpleasant future awaited Jesus. Oh, He knew it, but the disciples did not. And what they were about to experience, no doubt, would be a very eye opening experience; and, they would realize, perhaps, they too needed to do that very same thing. In this next section, Jesus begins to teach His followers, and others, what would be required in regards to being a disciple. Notice verse 34 here in Mark chapter 8: <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."> Well, Jesus gives some specifics about being His disciple. He begins by stating, “Deny yourselves.” Now, that is not to be confused with hating oneself or rejecting oneself or having a poor self-image. That's not what Jesus meant at all. Rather, it is to set aside one's desires in order to pursue the desires of Jesus. It is to make His plans and His purposes for one's life greater than everything else. This was a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. In fact, we find that kind of statement in all four of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And that kind of self denial included ministering to and serving other people, just like Jesus did. It meant obeying His commands and living a life of holiness and righteousness in the site of a holy God. Well, He continues on: Being His disciple, also meant taking up one's cross. And again, we might have a different idea as to what that really meant. It does not mean to bear the burdens or the problems of life that perhaps come our way. Maybe someone has said to you, “Well, I have to bear my cross today;” and they are referring to problems or some inconveniences in life that they have to encounter. Well, obviously, that is just part of life. But what Jesus had in mind went far beyond that. What Jesus had in mind is what He had just referred to, His own suffering and death. You know, the cross that He bore part of the way to His crucifixion was a literal one. And that is what Jesus had in mind, that being one of His disciples might even include death. In Luke's version of this event, he included the word ‘daily,’ in chapter 9, verse 23. And the point Jesus is making is that nothing can be held back when it comes to following Him. A true discipleship is a willingness to not only give up one's own interests and desires but even be willing to give up one's life, if called upon to do so. The Gospel of Mark was written and read by the early Christians, some 25 to 30 years after these events took place. And those early Christians understood, perhaps better than we can understand today, what kind of sacrifice was required in being a disciple of Jesus. You know, hardship and difficulty was common. Sacrifice and a willingness to give up one's life was indeed a reality. And yet, those early disciples knew that nothing could be held back if they were going to take seriously what it meant to truly follow Jesus. Some of them were persecuted, and we have records of that. Some of their family members were abused. People lost jobs because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. And yes, some of them even suffered to the point of dying; and it all revolved around their devotion and submission to the Son of God. Well, that was the very thing Jesus called for when He made this statement, in Mark chapter 8, about following Him. Their life was not to be one of ease and comfort. It would not be convenient or follow along the paths of other people's lives, but the road of discipleship would be filled with lots of obstacles and plenty of problems. And if followed properly, then, it would resemble the life of Jesus. It was a life of service, a life of ministry, a life of sacrifice. It also would include being rejected for their convictions and perhaps even lead to one's death. And yet, if these disciples truly wanted to follow Jesus then they needed to know what to expect; and they would see that as they went to Jerusalem and witnessed what happened to Jesus. That is the type of life Jesus calls upon His disciples to live, even today, a life of self-denial, taking up one's cross and following Jesus wherever that might lead. Well, Jesus offers some further insight as to the details of that life, and He does so through the means of a paradox. He states that following Him is opposite of what one might expect if they choose to follow Him, that there is something far greater that is waiting than what can be obtained in this life. Let's listen to that teaching from Mark 8, beginning with verse 35. <"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"> Those are hard words to hear, aren't they? We might want to save our life. We might even want to gain the world. Our desire might be to make a big name for our-self or to accumulate all kinds of wealth or to sit back and to live a life of ease and comfort. Well, certainly life on this earth is important. We tend to value our life and do whatever we can to preserve it. We take care of our bodies, and we think carefully about our possessions and that which means the most to us. And obviously, all of those things are honorable things to do. But there are many good things this world has to offer, and all of us like to enjoy some of those nicer things in life, from time to time. And some of those privileges and blessings that come our way, indeed, bring a great deal of joy and satisfaction. And yet, according to Jesus in this statement, there is something far more valuable than all of that: It is preparing for eternity. It is giving up what is important in the eyes of the world to pursue what is important to Him. And if Jesus’ disciples seek what the world pursues, then they do so at great risk. Jesus points out, if you do that, then, you risk your soul being with the Lord in eternity. You risk an eternal home with God. So a faithful disciple of Christ can never believe that what the world has to offer is better than what Jesus has to offer, for there is a vast difference between the two. To pursue and to gain and to accumulate the world's goods is never, and never will be, greater than pursuing and obtaining and receiving an eternal home with the Lord. So it really comes down to a matter of priorities. What is more important, pursuing and obtaining the good things this world has to offer and putting our trust and our belief in them, or on the other hand, pursuing and obtaining that which will last forever and putting our trust and belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? Well, Jesus ends with some very challenging words, in verse 38: <"If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”> Those words challenge us, just like they challenged these first century disciples. There may be times in your life, times in my life, when our faith is called into question; and the question is, what do we do in those circumstances? We might be asked to compromise our beliefs or to follow the ways of this world. And yet in those times, we can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done for us. I think about what Jesus said in that regard, in Matthew, chapter 10, verse 32 and 33: <“Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before My Father in heaven."> Jesus wants us, as His disciples, to not be ashamed of Him, to acknowledge Him, to stand up for Him, to represent Him, even in times of great uncertainty. This very same man, Peter, who identified Jesus as the Christ, later on denied knowing Jesus. Perhaps we remember well that story. When Jesus was there in Jerusalem, Peter was not supportive of Him, as Jesus was being persecuted and as He stood on trial for His life. On three separate occasions, Peter denied knowing Jesus Christ. And once he did that, we remember how Jesus looked at him. And Peter wept bitterly because he did not stand up for the Lord. He was ashamed of Christ. I'm also reminded of the Apostle Paul's words. He was one who was greatly impacted by what Jesus did for him. And he wrote these words in Romans 1, verse 16. <”I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”> No matter what was happening to Paul, he would not be ashamed of Jesus. He was not ashamed of the Gospel message, he was not ashamed to tell other people about it, because he knew of what Jesus had done and how it had impacted his life. And then he also wrote this, in 2nd Timothy 1, verse 8: <”Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me, His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God.”> Oh, Paul's words encourage us, the same way they encouraged his minister friend, Timothy. You know, who Jesus is and what He did through His death on the cross, burial in the tomb and resurrection from the dead, is at the heart, or at least it should be at the heart, of who we are as His disciples today. It has to be at the center of what we believe and what we practice and how we live our lives on a daily basis. But there is coming a day when Jesus will return. And when He does, He will gather all of those who are not ashamed of Him, who have put their faith in Him and who are walking in accordance to His will for their lives. And He will welcome them into His eternal kingdom. Jesus asks us, today, the very same question He asked His disciples in Mark 8; “Who do you say I am?” And my prayer is that you and I and everybody else recognizes that indeed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that we are living a life of self-denial, taking up our cross and walking with Him every day. With some of the most important words Jesus ever spoke, He invites us to be His disciple, and to follow Him; and, I hope you are doing just that.
In a familiar passage of Scripture, Jesus invites His disciples to deny themselves, to take up their cross daily and to follow Him. When we read that passage of Scripture, we try to interpret it in a way that makes us feel just a little bit better about our life. Maybe we'll give up a few things that are convenient for us. Maybe we have to go through some hardships in life that are a little bit difficult. And we might even try our best to keep a few of the commandments of the Lord. And yet that's not what Jesus was referring to, at all. He was calling for a deep commitment to be His true and faithful follower and disciple. When we think about, for example, the idea of taking up one's cross, Jesus was referring to something perhaps like this, a wooden cross upon which He and many others were crucified or put to death. That's what He's talking about. Even if we have to suffer and die for the cause of Christ, Jesus said that's what I want from those who are My true and faithful disciples. As we think about baring our cross, that means that we are willing to go even to our death as we represent Jesus Christ and are faithful to Him. I don't know for sure what that looks like in your life. But maybe, even if we are called upon to suffer and die for Jesus, we know that He will be with us and He will never leave us, even to the very end. And no matter what kind of sacrifice we might need to make, here upon this earth, it will be well worth it in the end as we receive that gift of eternal life.
Thank you for being part of our program today on “Key to the Kingdom.” Hopefully, this message about following Jesus reminds us of His challenge to walk closer with Him. May we take the opportunity to do just that. This lesson, along with many others, is available to download on our website. I invite you to go to keytothekingdom.com. The lessons are available in audio, written and video format. There is no cost or commitment required. On the website, you can also find other short Bible studies, devotional thoughts and 2-minute video clips. All of those are designed to offer spiritual encouragement as you seek to grow in your relationship with the Lord. Our contact information is also there, along with our phone number and email address. I hope that you will consider sending us a message if you can receive assistance from us in any way. Another method some choose to watch this program on is through Roku® television. Roku® is easy to set up on a computer, as you find “Key to the Kingdom's” dedicated channel. New lessons and devotional thoughts are uploaded on a regular basis. The same is true with our Facebook® page; every Sunday night, a message is posted that offers a word of encouragement for the week. I do hope you will keep up with our media ministry. Thank you again for watching today's program; and I invite you to join us again next time, as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”