Colossians 3 and Mark 4 is what we’re going to look at this morning. This is the end of our series together that we’ve looked at on, “4 things I wishing you knew about God“. It’s been building this last message, which I’m going to tell you this morning, when it comes to our life in Christ, it is challenging to think about. This is one of these topics that we are going to discuss this morning, I think of as all four topics have been, it is something that not only to Christians know, but it’s a topic that we continue to learn in our life with Christ.
What is it mean to live life this way? So let me give you just the idea of what we’re going to follow this morning as one of the things I wish you knew about God, and that is that God wants you to lose your identity apart from Him and take on a new identity in Him. God wants you to lose your identity in His identity. In the book of Mark 8, I’m not going to be in chapter 4 just yet. I’m going to give you just this basic verse in Scripture that Jesus shares with his disciples as sort of the platform to built into the two passages of Scripture we’re going to look at this morning.
But in Jesus’s life and in Mark 8, something that is significant takes place within the gospel of Mark, right in the middle the book. The first eight chapters Jesus is preaching predominately about his kingdom. In chapter 8, there something that takes place called the “Confession of Peter”, and Peter acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ. And upon this confession that Peter gives to Jesus, Jesus transitions his message. He further explains it. Yes, he continues to propagate and teach about his kingdom but now he teaches his people how to be people in pursuit of that kingdom. We use the word discipleship as a summation describing that.
After Peter’s confession, Jesus teaches about his death and then he teaches his followers about what it means to be a disciple. Jesus teaches about being a disciple over the next three chapters in Mark. Every time Jesus foretells his death (you can go look at this later in your personal study) in chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10, as Jesus foretells something specific about his depth. Right after he foretells about his death, he then explains to the disciples something about what it means to pursue Jesus with their lives.
God’s desires is for you to lose your identity apart from him and take on a new identity in him and this is this what Jesus says in Mark 8:34, he said, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'”
One of the reasons I want to examine this section of Scripture together with us this morning is because, we as believers get really good at cleverly crafting our words within Christianity. Meaning, there’s a specific lingo that we sometimes live by. And in our pursuit of Jesus we can even fool ourselves by the terminology we use. What I mean is we give evidence of Jesus by our lips, but we deny him by our lifestyle. But what God desires for us, is for us to lose our identity apart from him and take on a new identity in him, if that doesn’t communicate it any better than this verse, I don’t know what does.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” If anything, I think this passage certainly says that God’s plan for you is not boring. And if your picture of Jesus and joining together with his church is boring, someone, somewhere is doing it wrong. What this passage communicates for us is that God has an incredible journey for you. That journey is more than just, you get to go to heaven. Ephesians 2:10 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” One of the reasons I love this passage is because the way it’s communicate in the Greek language. This word for “workmanship” is where we get our English word, “poem”. God sees you as his poem.
If you were to read the context of Ephesians 2:1-9, you’ll discover that what Jesus says in this passage through Paul is that, we’re dead, meaning we’re separated from God. He explains to us, in that separation, God has reconciled us to him completely by his power and what he’s done for us on the cross as we place our faith in him. Ephesians 2:8-9 is the pinnacle of this passage, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He doesn’t end with, “and so now you get to go to heaven.” But then he, in verse 10, takes a further step and says and now you’re on this incredible journey. You are God’s poem. He’s taken the old identity that you had separated from him and he’s shaping you in a new identity through him.
Many times we get the way of of the journey God desires to produce in us, so this morning what I want encourage us to do is not to cheapen the journey God desires to have with you. I want to talk about a couple of ways we tend do that within an evangelical Christian world by the terms of the gospel that we propagate today. One of things that I find–and maybe this is a little bit of a pet peeve for a minute, but just hear me out–is the way that we tend to cheapen the gospel by the way we present it to people to hear the message of Christ. What I mean is sometimes we summarize the gospel down to this thought, that you don’t want to go to hell, so to go to heaven, right? But that message emphasizes the individual more than it does Jesus. Let me paint it this way. When we make the gospel about not going to help but going to heaven, we miss the very one who created heaven for us to experience with him. We talk about let’s not to go to hell but go to heaven, the whole point of eternity is dealing with your relationship with God. But when we communicate the aspect of heaven and hell apart from Jesus, what we communicated is the centralization of the gospel is about me, and therefore I needed to heaven because it’s going to be a better place for me, and we preach a message devoid of Jesus who is the very prize of heaven itself.
So the joy of what makes heaven, heaven, is the presence of Jesus is there. Now, I’ll acknowledge that when we talk about heaven and hell within Scripture, that Christ warns about eternity and eternity is forever, but the point of what Jesus has accomplished for us isn’t primarily about heaven and hell, though it plays a part in it. What Jesus accomplished for us is for us to enjoy his presence forever and wherever his presence is experienced that is what heaven is about. God wants to do much more in our lives than make it about heaven and hell. If we view the gospel that way, this is the way we experience our walk with Jesus: I get this get out of hell free card, and now I just twiddle my thumbs for the rest of day until I get to experience this option that God has given me.
Jesus, he is the prize of what heaven is all about. Maybe a challenge to you as you think about that thought is to see if you can find one place in the Bible that describes heaven without the Lord being present. What I find within Scripture as you look through sections and passages that deal with the afterlife and into eternity and in God’s presence heaven is not described apart from the beautiful presence of God being there. If all Christianity was about was avoiding hell so you could go to heaven, the moment you trusted in Jesus, God should haven taken you out of the world. The fact that you remain says something more to us that God desires to do with you and in you. You are his poem and Jesus wants to take the identity that you had apart from him and shape a new identity in him. The prize of heaven is Christ and heaven isn’t heaven without Christ.
In fact, in Colossians 3, we’re just going to look at three chunks of Scripture this morning as I explain some of these thoughts to us. Colossians 3 says this, “Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” The message isn’t just you get to get to go to heaven, though it is a part. The message is that you get to experience eternity in the presence of your creator.
When I read a verse like, “Take up your cross and follow after me” there’s something within our nature, sometimes, that baulks at the trust that takes. We talked about this a few weeks ago, that when it comes to God, sometimes we attribute things to him that we’ve experience in this world, meaning, this world has disappointment. And we find in life that when we trust in things, inevitably at some point it will let us down. The Bible told us in 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul marked something significant about God that’s different than anything else in creation. He says this, that God is faithful. He starts off that verse with those three words, “God is faithful”. What Paul’s trying to say to us as people, if there’s anything dependable, there’s anything worth trusting in, if there’s anything you can bank your life, upon it’s the God who is trustworthy.
God’s concern is for you. That’s the whole point of Jesus’s coming. He didn’t do that for himself, but selflessly he did it to rescue you that you may experience what he’s talking about in Colossians because it is significant for your life. Jesus has created you for life and life is in him. He upholds all things by his hands. There is a term in Christianity that we use, it’s found throughout scripture, it’s call justification. Understanding our journey through the justification God has brought you, helps us see Christ as the price. This word for justification helps us understand how to refuse to cheapen the gospel is merely just going to heaven and avoiding hell. The main point of the word justification isn’t intended to emphasize that you get to go to heaven, all although it certainly is the result. The main point of justification is that the condemnation and separation you’ve experience from God has been removed so that you can draw near to him. Justification means declared righteous. The thought of justification as it is a judicial term and it mets both justice and freedom. What it’s saying to us is, God the Father looks at the penalty Jesus paid on your behalf and he declares that payment for that sin has been justified and you and that justification now are declared righteous in God because of what Christ has done. The justification of God emphasizes the significance of Jesus and allows us to see and appreciate him alone as the price of what heaven is all about.
In Galatians 2, Paul talks about this thought of justification says, “Nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law but through faith in Christ Jesus. Even we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the la, since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law. You have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5 and Galatians 2 really communicate the significance of what justification is all about. Chapter 2 tells us that it’s not by my power but by Jesus’s. Chapter 5 tells it when we attempt to make it by our power, we’re severed from the one who came to set us free by his own justification, in himself. This justification is by Jesus alone.
Now I said in the beginning sometimes we use Christian-eze to fool ourselves in the thinking that we have this deep concern to lay down our lives for Jesus, but the reality is one of the ways we can check ourselves is what you really long for in the world to come. Is heaven your ultimate prize because you know it’s a good place for you and you just want to be there? And to you it’s not a thought of Christ. Or is heaven your prize because Jesus is truly there and your desires is to be with him and in his presence. I think one of the reasons that’s important for us to approach a verse that says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Is that unless Jesus really is your ultimate prize, when life gets harder you abandon him. In fact, when we read Mark 4, we’re going to see that in just a few minutes. Jesus gives four examples of the type of individuals that hear his message and the third one he shares with us is an individual who says he pursues God with his life, but the moment it gets tough, he abandon’s it.
You look at that parable and you ask the question, “Why?” And my inclination within that passage is just to simply say that things they pursued God for, wasn’t because Jesus was the ultimate prize. They saw Jesus as a tool to get to what they thought was an ultimate prize. I think we can do that with heaven. That’s not to say that it’s not good to think about the goodness of what heaven is about because it represents the goodness of God who created it. Certainly think about the good things of heaven. But heaven isn’t heaven without Jesus. Colossians reminds us, when we think about Christ, to set our our minds on Christ who is here ruling and reigning in this eternity. Getting to the celestial heaven isn’t the ultimate prize, living in the presence of God’s grace is the ultimate prize, for this gracious God is the one who created the celestial heaven for you to enjoy his presence. Heaven isn’t about us, it’s about his glory and we are the beneficiaries of the glory of God being displayed in such a heavenly place.
God has you on this incredible journey with him. Justification helps us and reminds us of seeing Jesus as the ultimate prize. But so is this other word within Scripture we call it sanctification. Understanding the thought of sanctification helps us not the cheapen the Gospel as well. Not only does justification show us what God does us for our benefit, so does sanctification. This word sanctification reminds us that we not only have a future with Christ, we also have a present with him. This work sanctification means you don’t have to wait to enjoy God in the future through justification. But because of your justification, you get to enjoy God in your sanctification right now. The word sanctification in its root basis means, “set apart.” That the moment you trusted in Christ, God justified you in him, made you righteous, declared you righteous, and made you his own and now he is setting you apart for his great purposes in him. You belong to Jesus and Jesus is on this journey with you.
In fact, in Colossians 3, if you just read this chunk of Scripture a little bit further, if you asked for definition of sanctification, a lot of times people will turn to Colossians 3:10, and this is what it says, “And have put on the new self who was being renewed to a true knowledge, according to the image of the one who created him.” Going on a little further, “the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body and be thankful at the word of Christ which richly dwell within you with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” This word for sanctification allows us to recognize that Jesus is doing a work in you to shape you from your old identity into an identity that is found in him.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 it says to us, “As we gaze upon the face of God, we are transformed in his image, glory by glory, moment by moment.” For you, if you’ve put your faith in Jesus and you felt this transformation take place, this heart desire being transformed within your life, or what you desired before is different what you desire now, we would say that word is what Christ is calling sanctification. This transformation where he is now molding you into his image. That is the journey that God desires for you to be on with him. It helps us to experience and enjoy his presence right now. The Bible tells us it’s what sets us free.
In Galatians 5, maybe juxtapose this thought compared to Colossians 3:13, “For you were called to freedom brother. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.” What Jesus is saying happens in our sanctification is this: God has finally, through Christ, set you free to enjoy the journey he created you for with him. I read in Galatians 2 and Galatians 5 a minute ago, where we try to justify ourselves by our own doing, we find that it is impossible, but it’s done by Christ doing. But when Christ does that for us, it brings us justification. We’re now set free to enjoy the sanctification, which before we could not do within our own power. But here’s what happens with us in sanctification: sometimes within our terminology of freedom, as Americans, we’ve taken the word freedom to mean: I can do whatever I want. I’m free. And therefore, if I want to offend people, I can offend people. If I want to just serve myself, I can serve myself, if I want to do something else, I can. Because I’m free, I can say what I want, I can do what I want, I’m free, right? And that’s true, in the way that we sometimes define freedom as Americans, but that’s not what freedom is about based on what Scripture communicates to us. Look at the way Paul defies it through Christ in Galatians 5, he says, “For you were called to freedom brother and only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.
When Jesus set you free, your freedom wasn’t intended to selfishly die with you. As a matter fact, if we as people only use our freedom to serve ourselves, today, as American citizens, freedom dies with us. Because what makes freedom, freedom is the willingness of those were free to lay down their lives in service to another. That’s what propogates freedom. What Jesus is getting us to acknowledge here is that your freedom, now in finally understanding who Christ is, now it gives you the opportunity to help liberate other people in Christ. Making him the prize and the joy, rather than taking sanctification and saying, “I’ve been set free and so, therefore, I’ll use my freedom for me.” The whole point of that freedom is now to see how God can use you on that platform to see others liberated through the freedom that you have experienced. Freedom isn’t about selfishness. Freedom is about selflessness. Someone always has to lay down their lives so that you can experience it. Jesus came to set you free, having laid down your life, now says, “If anyone desires to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
If you understand that Jesus is the prize of heaven and that your sanctification is centered upon Christ alone and that freedom is only found through him, then in that we find ourselves liberating others by preaching and sharing the freedom that Christ has given to us. Freedom isn’t about self. It’s selfless. God wants to take your identity apart from him and shape your identity in him. A few ways just to examine the heart as to whether or not we do that as people, is just to simply ask yourselves, “What really is my prize for eternity?” Is it heaven apart from Christ or is it happened because of Christ? Is it freedom for myself or is it freedom for selflessness? The way we demonstrate whether or not we understand it is seen by the way we interact with people in this world. How we love. The way we care. The sacrifices you make at your convenience for the convenience of someone else. Not just simply the words that we say, but the way that you live.
God’s called you to make a difference. I think Jesus shared that throughout Scripture. In Hebrews it says, “You serve a kingdom that is unshakable in Jesus.” In Matthew 28, it says, “All authority in heaven and earth is being given to me, then go into the world.” And Matthew 6:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” God has built you as movers and shakers for his kingdom and I want to just remind us last week, one of the important foundations that we talked about in John 3. When Jesus goes and calls us into this world, when he came, he said this, that he didn’t come to condemn the world. But through him, that the world may have life because of what he’s done. God has called us to be people of life. People that demonstrate the grace of God by making known how his grace has been poured out on us, and not only for us, but for all of mankind and encouraging life in him.
So let me get to Mark. In the book of Mark, knowing that Jesus has call us into this world to be a light for him, he describes four different types of reactions to who he is. This parable is actually described in the book of Matthew and Luke as well, but Mark is where I’m going to quote it from, it says this, “And he begin to teach again by the sea,” talking about Jesus, “and such a very large crowd gathered to him that he got into a boat in the sea and sat down. The whole crowd was by the sea on the land and he was teaching them many things in parables. And he was saying to them in his teaching, “Listened to this, behold, the sower went out to sow.” Let me stop right there and say this: when you study parables within the Bible, there is some danger to it. I just want to, in a hermeneutics (what that word means is your studying of the Bible) it’s important to understand the way the Jews would teach parables. When a Jew would teach a parable, typically the reason they taught a parable was to teach one central theme, within the parable. They usually had one point they wanted to make.
Sometimes within Jesus’s teaching, he taught parables with multiple points, like I think the prodigal son, when he ran away from his father. You can use that parable to see a couple different points, but predominant when a parable was taught there was one main point. You get into a lot of heretical teaching when you take parables that were to intended to make one point and you try to make lots of points and make everything mean something. The only time I would say that you should take a parable and make it mean more than one point is after Jesus teaches the parable, he explains it to us within the text, and he makes it mean more than one thing. That’s how you know you’re being careful with the parable.
Jesus does that in Mark 4 and as soon he’s done he teaches what it means. So let me go back to this, “Listen to this,” he says in verse three, “Behold the sower went out to sow. And as he was sewing, some seed fell beside the road and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil. And immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen it was scorched and because it had no root, it was withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns. And the thorns came up and choked and it yielded no crop. Other seed fell into the good soil. And as they grew up and increased, they yield a crop and produce 30, 60, and 100 fold, and he was saying, he who has an ear to hear, let him hear.”
What is this parable saying to us? Well, optimists, you optimists out there, you would look at a parable like this, and maybe you would say, “You know, maybe this garden that’s being planted, maybe everything didn’t grow all the way, but at least something grew, right?” Just to think through that for a minute. If you are a farmer and you had to farm land and you went out and your vegetables, or whatever you are growing, grew three-fourths of the way, but nothing ever sprouted that was edible, would you be excited that that grew? To me, I would be a little upset with all the labor I poured into my garden, only to find out that every ounce of energy I spent ended up producing nothing that was helpful for me and my family.
This year decided I was going to plant a garden. Yeah, I heard somebody laugh. And I decided I wanted to do a little science experiment this year. I did know how good Utah soil is. Where I’m from, if I throw a seed in the ground, I come back next day, it’s Jack and beanstalk. But here in Utah, it’s a little different with the soil. So I decided, I gonna see of how bad the soil is. I’m going to till up the ground, I’m going to actually put some nice soil in the ground on one half on the other. On the other half, I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to let my plants grow the way that the natural ground is. And so I planted, and I put some plants on one side, some plants on the other side. One side of my garden now looks like a tropical jungle, and now the other side is just the cry fest when I go outside. I walk out and look at my garden and there’s the pathetic tomato plants that are almost knee-high now. And a couple days ago, I noticed there is a tomato about the size of the pea that just sprouted out on one plant, and that’s all I’ve got going on that side. But then I go to the other side and I got other plants as well. Stacy and I spent the last few weeks doing camp with kids up on the mountain, so we haven’t looked at the garden that much. So I went back as week and looked at one and we have a zucchini that that could feed Goliath sitting on one side of our garden.
The point of this story isn’t that something grew. The point of the story is that there’s something that grew the right way. Sometimes we look at a story like this as people and we’re sensitive to what Jesus wants to do in our lives, and say to ourselves, “Oh man, which one of the four am I? Am I going to be that the one that the thorns, it grows in it and it just gets choked out? Am I gonna be the one that that continues to grow and yields what God wants? Am I the one one where he scattered and don’t even know what is going happened to me? Which one am I?”
Usually when someone approaches a passage like that, I want to say if you are sensitive to what God says within this verse, it’s the sensitive people to this passage that I’m least concern about. Because what it really communicates, is that you are concerned with where you are in Christ. And so when you come to passage like this, I don’t think this verse is meant to condemn you. I’m glad that maybe in your life you might feel conviction over where you’re not aligned with Jesus, but I think rather than feeling condemnation, what this verse is intended to do is encourage you. Let me tell you why. When you read verse eight, Jesus describes those who fell in the good soil. Then he describes the way that they respond in landing in this good soil: they produce 30, 60, and 100 fold.
Now, I don’t know how people know this, but I looked this up, I have no idea how you find out information like this, but during the time of Christ it was estimated when a crop would yield produce, it took one crop to yield 8 to 10 items off of it for selling or eating or replanting into the ground. So one crop yielded 8 to 10 produce from its plant. What Jesus is saying within this passage is far more significant than what the typical crop would produce when it was harvest time. What Jesus is saying is those that are that are planted properly, they produce 30 and 60 and 100 fold. What Jesus is encouraging us here, is not to make your pursuit what you produce.
I want to be careful in looking at this passage and saying that what God’s desire for you in here isn’t to try really hard for Jesus’s sake to produce more results. What it’s saying, the result the showing us just how healthy the crop is when it is nourished out of this special soil. I think what Jesus is saying is, what counts to God isn’t the numerical results results. The results are supernaturally up him. What counts to God is that you and your hearts desire is to glory in him. Failing to glory in Christ causes us not to see him as the prize of heaven and the freedom in life. The point of this passage isn’t that you need to try really hard to yield more. The point of this passage is that you root yourself in the soil. When you stick to the soil, when you deny yourself and take up your cross, when you see Jesus as the prize of life, that’s when God supernaturally does things beyond just normal comprehension. A regular crop in and of can do 8, 10 good things. But Jesus, when he has a hold of your life, it’s supernatural.
This is what I think. God’s not going to get to the end of your life and measure your results but what we would deem earthly success. You’re not going to get to the end of life and God’s not going to measure you based on how often you were in the church every time the doors opened. Although Gods you to encourage his people. God’s not going to judge you on how many people you lead them to him, though he wants you to lead people to him. God’s not going to judge you based on how may people you see baptized, though he wants people to profess their faith in him. God isn’t going to judge you by the dollar amount you gave to him, although he desires for you to give cheerfully. He isn’t going to judge you by the outward appearance or man-made methods of success. God’s going to measure your life by one way: how you gave yourself to him. That’s the point of this parable. That’s the point of what justification does for us, that’s the point of what sanctification does for us, that’s what the point of heaven is all about. It’s the point of why God has set you free, it’s the reason we’re here today. That when we take the time to glory in something, and when our hearts are inclined to worship something, that worship goes to Christ. Because when you’re attached that soil, God in that, does miraculous things through your life and in your life.
We can make heaven about us and we can make heaven about heaven, but we can also make heaven void of Jesus. We can make freedom in Christ about us and yet never make it about Jesus. We could even make results for Christ about us producing fruit and not about Jesus being our soil. But here’s what God desires: God desires that you glory in him. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we walk in them.” You are his poem. “And they summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, if any wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Your justification was found in his glory. Your sanctification is found in his glory. Your growth with him is found in his glory. Christianity is Jesus. My encouragement to you this morning: this will be a reminder in your life, to let Christ be the ultimate prize. And the way that looks for us, isn’t by pushing everything else aside and saying, “You know what, sorry I don’t have time for that, I got to read my Bible. No, sorry, I don’t have time for that, I’ve got to pray. No, I can’t stop thinking about Jesus, get away from me. I’ve got to do nothing but think about Jesus.” Now, I would say that’s deftly putting Jesus first in everything, but what Jesus desires rather is to be the center of everything. He is the centerpiece of heaven. He is the centerpiece of your family. He is the centerpiece of your church. He is the centerpiece of your life. When you make him the center of your life rather than first in life what you do is as you journey through life you seek the way God would desire to make himself known in the way that you live.
Put him first. Or better yet, let him be the center.