“Who Really is First?”  



Hello. Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. On occasion, most of us find ourselves around people who like to talk about themselves; and my guess is, most of us don't like being in that situation. Or, we look for a way to talk about ourselves, and when our conversations focus on who we are or what we are doing, others get uncomfortable. We have all been part of those conversations. The bottom line is, when we seek attention for ourselves, God is not pleased. We are reminded of these words from Philippians 2, verses 2 and 3: <Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but rather in humility. Value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interest of others.> Today on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will notice Jesus’ words about who is to receive our attention. His words are quite challenging. He asks us to consider Him above all others. And that is something we may find hard to do; and yet, that is part of being Jesus’ followers and disciples. I hope you'll join us for today's message as we open up our Bibles and study together.



In today's world of over 7 billion people, many are interested in only one thing; they want what is best for themselves. They are not interested in anybody else's well-being, but they are only concerned about themselves. Perhaps you know people like that, and you are not interested in being around them. Many of them pursue what makes them look good or what they think would make a little bit more convenient or comfortable life. Such people seem to have one thing in common, and that is self-interest. Some call it a “me first” mindset. It's been around for a long time. We are familiar with it and we know what it looks like in a person's life. Well, Jesus did not have anything good to say about that. He did not pursue a “me first” mindset and He doesn't want us to pursue it either. You know, Jesus always put His own interest behind His Father's interest. In fact, Jesus never said or did anything unless first the Father sent that to Him, and He always did what His Father wanted Him to do. Jesus even stated, in John 6 verse 38, “I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Yes, Jesus was all about putting His Father first and doing what His Father wanted Him to do. Well, that is something that Jesus tried to communicate to His followers and to His disciples, and He taught many lessons about that. We find one in Mark, chapter 8. As Jesus was traveling with His disciples near the place called Caesarea Philippi, He taught them about the dangers of a “me first” mindset. He asked the people a question, “Who do people say I am?” Now, Jesus did not ask that question for information sake. Obviously, He knew who He was. He knew He was the Son of God. He knew His purpose upon this earth. But He wanted His disciples to answer the question in regards to themselves and to other people. And so Peter, on behalf of the other disciples, offered the answer. He said, “Well, some people say you are Elijah, or one of the prophets, or perhaps even John the Baptist.” And obviously that was true. But then Jesus rephrased that question and He said, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” And it was then that Peter made that most famous statement, “You are the Christ.” We find that story in Mark 8. Well, over in the Gospel of Matthew, he adds the words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And that also is a true statement. Yet, Jesus told Peter and the others, don't tell anybody about that. That seemed rather odd to me. Peter had answered correctly, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but then Jesus said to be quiet: Don't share that with other people. Now, why would Jesus say that? Well, the disciples had yet to fully understand what that meant. They did not understand the ramifications and the depth of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But He goes on to explain that, here in verse 31 of that 8th chapter. As He refers to Himself, He states, <“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the teachers of the Law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.”> For the first time in Scripture, Jesus told His disciples what will soon take place. It is called the Passion Prediction. It revolves around Jesus’ death on the cross, burial in a tomb, and resurrection from the dead. And we see in Scripture that Jesus shares that same thing again, at least two other times between now and the time it happens in the city of Jerusalem. In fact, as they were traveling along, they were beginning to make their way to Jerusalem, and Jesus had those opportunities to share that Passion Prediction with them on several occasions. Well, upon hearing that, notice Peter's response in verse 32: He takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him. Now, I don't know about you, but that's funny to me, Peter rebuking Jesus. Well, who does he think he is? Who's in charge here, anyway? Who has the authority? It's certainly not Peter. But he almost portrays himself as a parent and treats Jesus like a child. And he, in that view, rebukes, says no, that's not going to happen, Jesus. You're mistaken. You're wrong. Well, Peter was not being a disciple. He was not following Jesus on that occasion. Peter is thinking in human terms about how the Son of God can avoid such cruel behavior or perhaps even death. He is thinking about Jesus going to Jerusalem and ruling on an earthly throne without any problem. And perhaps Peter envisioned Jesus sitting there and all of the people coming to Him to hear His teaching, to receive a miracle, a blessing of some kind, to offer counsel and to heal people's problems and to reflect on what God is doing through Him with them. And that's perhaps what Peter and the other disciples were thinking. But that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. And so upon hearing that, Jesus now takes Peter aside. And look what happens, beginning with verse 32: <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 says, get behind Me, or come after Me. And with that, Jesus puts Peter in his place. And that place was not to correct Jesus, it was not even to protect Jesus in the midst of all of this; but rather, Peter's role was to follow Him, to come after Him, to walk in His footsteps. You know, Peter and the others had properly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the One who had come from God. But now they needed to learn what that meant. They needed to learn the importance of being a follower or disciple. And so Jesus continued to teach them what that would look like. Notice verse 34: <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."> Jesus, gives some very specific details about what it means to come after Him. He begins by stating, deny yourselves. Well, that is sometimes confused with hating oneself or rejecting oneself. It doesn't mean that at all. What Jesus had in mind was to set aside one's desires in order to pursue Him and His desires. It is to make the Lord's plans and purposes greater than our plans and purpose. We find similar statements in the other three Gospel accounts; Matthew, Luke and John. And they include the idea of serving and ministering to others who are in need, just like Jesus did. Well, in addition to denying yourself, Jesus also states in order to be My disciple you are to take up your cross. It is common for people to use that phrase when talking about the burdens or the problems of life. It is used oftentimes when one feels their life is not as good or as pleasant as someone else's life. Some might believe taking up their cross is to endure the inconveniences or the problems that life presents from time to time. And those things make our life difficult. We might think about our health problems or the health problems or concerns of one of our family members. We might even think about what we would consider to be a bad neighbor, because we just can't get along. And so we say, well, that's just a cross I have to bear. That's a burden I have to bear. Well, that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. That's our interpretation of it. But what Jesus had in mind was that life is hard. And He's referring to what He had just stated in verse 31, it might even become harder and more difficult. Jesus was referring to suffering for His sake and even dying for His sake. And that's what Jesus, himself, said in verse 31; that, I will soon take up My cross and die, and you need to be ready to do the very same thing because you are following after Me. You know, the point Jesus makes it clear: Nothing is to be held back when it comes to following Him. A true discipleship includes a willingness to not only give up one's interest and one's desires, but even to give up one's life, if called upon to do so. This Gospel called Mark was first read by the early Christians some 25 to 30 years after these events took place. And a sacrifice and a willingness to give up one's life was a reality for them. The people could relate to what Jesus said in this story, and many of them did that very thing. They were considered as martyrs for the Lord. They held nothing back. They took following Jesus seriously. And that was the very thing Jesus called upon His disciples to do. It would not be convenient to follow along the normal paths, and it would not be a “me first” mindset or mentality. Even today, following Jesus includes lots of obstacles and plenty of problems. But if we do so properly, it will be a life of service, a life of ministry, and yes, even a life of sacrifice. It will also include being rejected for one's convictions, and perhaps even experiencing death. And this is the life the disciples of Christ are expected to live; a life of self-denial, of taking up one's cross and following Jesus wherever that might lead. Well, Jesus offers further insight as to the details of that life, and He does it in form of a paradox. He makes some statements that really don't make sense, and they may not make sense even to us now. Here's what He stated, beginning with verse 35: <"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 someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"> You know, those words are hard to hear, aren't they? They go against the philosophy of the world. They go against some people’s thinking of how it should be in this world. At times, we might want to save our life, or to gain the world. We might want to become famous, or to accumulate great amounts of wealth, or to live a life of ease and comfort. Certainly we are to value our lives. We are to take care of our bodies and the possessions which God entrusts to us. It's an honorable thing to do that. But, we cannot allow that to become a “me first” mindset. We cannot allow all of that to take precedent over following Jesus. According to Him, there is something far more valuable. Following Jesus is giving up what is important in the eyes of the world to pursue that which is important to Him. And if disciples seek what the world pursues, then they do so at great risk. No disciple of Christ can ever believe that what the world has to offer is better than what Jesus has to offer. There is a vast difference between the two. To pursue and to gain the world's goods will never be greater than the joy and the thrill and the satisfaction of the pursuit of knowing God, of knowing God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And through that knowledge, through that understanding, develop a relationship with Him, that surpasses all other relationships. It's a matter of who really is first in my life. It is a matter of priorities. Is it God's interest or is it my interest that will take priority in my life? And those are the two values, or interests, which are to be at stake in the life of a Christian. Is it God first or is it me first? And those who follow Jesus rearrange their priorities in order to make sure that He is first. As committed Christians, as committed disciples of Christ, we can ask our self two questions. Here is the first one: Will a decision to deny myself, take up my cross and to follow Jesus be noticeable to anyone else? Well, I hope that is the case for all of us. I hope people will look at your life or my life and say that person is a follower of Jesus. Look at the way he or she lives their life. Look at, their, the way they live, the use of their language and how they minister and serve other people. Certainly there's a difference in that person. They’re a disciple of Christ, aren't they? But here's the second question I want us to consider: Will a decision to deny myself, take up my cross and to follow Jesus be noticeable to Him? That really is the ultimate question; isn't it? And I hope that is the case for all of us; that Jesus will look at your life, He will look at my life and say, yes, that person, by their love for others, by the way they live, by the way they talk and what they do, that person is following My example and that follower is one of whom I am quite proud. But if that is not the case, then we might hear the very same words that Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind Me.” Know your place in this world. Walk in My footsteps, become My follower. Look at the example I have left for you and begin to follow that instead of your own interest and your own desires. Well, Jesus ends this teaching session with some very challenging words here in Mark chapter 8. Let’s notice them 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.”> Jesus gets right to the point, doesn't He? If you are ashamed of Me and My words now, then I will be ashamed of you when I return. Matthew says something quite similar to what Mark wrote. Listen to Matthew's words in chapter 10, verse 32: <”And so everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”> That makes sense, doesn't it? It only serves to stand correct; that, if we're going to deny Jesus now, then He will deny knowing us when He returns to gather unto Himself all of His followers. And so by our actions today, we are doing one or the other. Either we are living in a way that represents God and are putting Him first, or on the other hand, we are living in a way that represents ourselves and putting us first. And by those actions others will know whether or not we are His disciple. A number of years ago, when I was a student in school, one of my teachers told me, “If you do not take care of your own interests, then nobody else will.” He also went on to say, “If you do not toot your own horn, then nobody else will do it for you.” Well, I understood what he was talking about; that, if you are doing some good things, if you are accomplishing something, then you need to talk about it. You need to draw your attention to yourself so other people will know. Well, I question that type of mentality. It didn't seem to line up with the teaching of the Bible. It sounded quite prideful. I've tried to avoid that type of mindset. Perhaps you have as well. Yet oftentimes I find that I fail. I don't do as good of a job as I wish I had done. And maybe you find the same thing to be true. But yet, that is the mindset of many people in this world, and that cannot be the mindset of those who follow Jesus. You know, for those who do follow Him, the statements are these: If I take care of that which is of interest to Jesus, then He will take care of me: If I acknowledge Jesus to this world then He will acknowledge me before my Father in heaven. Yes, we need to carefully hear the words of Jesus, whoever would give his life for My sake, and the Gospels, will save it. We are to give up any kind of “me first” mindset that prevents us from being a true follower and disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here's one final summary statement I would like for you to remember, if you will: True fulfillment will never come through self gratification. True fulfillment only comes through faithful service to God and humble service to people. And that, I really believe, is how we would apply the words and the teaching of Jesus, here from Mark chapter 8. We know there is coming a time when the Lord will return to set things right. We don't know when that will be, but whenever it is, hopefully, He will recognize us as one who acknowledged Him as our Lord and Savior, and that we are living out His teaching, of Mark chapter 8. When Jesus asks us the question He asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”, I trust that all of us today recognize that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, but I also trust we know that He calls us to live a life of self-denial, of taking up our cross and walking daily with Him. I would encourage you, today, to consider how you can put the words of Jesus into practice in your very life, this week.



As you drive down a busy street in the city in which you live, you might experience something like this. There are a number of businesses, and banks, and shops, and perhaps even church buildings on those busy streets. And sometimes they have an outdoor sign advertising who they are or what they offer. And in those signs they may even have the word first. They want you to think of them as the first business in that particular field, or the first priority that you call or you visit when you are in need of the service they provide. And that is a unique and catchy kind of advertising; and oftentimes, it works. We're familiar with that, aren't we? But then we think about those people who want to be first in this world. We think about those who draw attention to themselves. They want to exalt themselves above other people, and we don't like to be around such individuals. But who is to be first in our lives? Obviously, the answer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is to be our first priority. He is to be above anything and everybody else. As we think about our lives today, there are many things or many people we want to put first. We want to make them a priority, and understandably so. At the same time, for those who are disciples of Jesus Christ, we know Who is first. It is the Son of God. It is the One who died on our behalf. And as a result of that, He is always to be our first priority.



Thank you for joining us for today's message entitled “Who Really is First?” As we studied about making Jesus the first priority in our lives, I hope we are willing to do just that. It may not be easy, but that is what we are asked to do as His disciples. This message is available on our website, if you would like to listen to it again. It is available not only in video but also in written and audio formats. Please go to keytothekingdom.com. All of our past lessons can be found under the resource tab, and it does not cost anything to download them and there is no obligation required. There are other things on the website which might be of interest, as well. I hope you will take a few minutes to look at the messages or Bible studies, which hopefully will bless you. Other ways to access our ministry are through Facebook®, Roku® Television and a free app for smart-phones. We use all of these media outlets to provide our messages and this ministry to as many people as possible. I hope you will find us through those which are most convenient. Once again, I appreciate you taking time to watch today's broadcast. I invite you to join us again next time as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”