Bearing Your Cross
I want to invite you to Mark 8 as we continue on this series together on the Genius of Jesus as we looked at the gospels and desire to know Christ as Christ desires to make himself known in our lives. And I want you to know as we go through this series that I think I told you this last week in case you weren’t here for this, every week for me, each chapter’s there’s this welling up inside of me because I know what’s ahead of us and it gets me so excited. I look at these sections, I’m like, okay, I’m going to preach today’s message and next week’s message, I’m pumped every, every week. It’s me more jazz than, than the previous week. Not to say that each chapter is important, I just feel like they build on one another. And so it just, it gets me excited about not only where we are today, but what’s ahead.
And when I think about context of scripture, passages of scripture that I think are important for me and I think our church family. Out of all the verses in the Bible, I say today, the section that we’re looking at is one that is always on the forefront of my mind. When I think about our church, I think about this section of scripture often and what God wants to do in us and through us and what God’s capable of doing in us and through us as we live our lives for him.
And so this passage to me is just a paramount portion of scripture that I love. There’s not a week, I don’t think since we started our church that has gone by where I have not just meditated or thought on this section of the Bible.
I noted within history in studying this book, this section is also important to another individual. In Mark chapter eight we’re going to pick up in verse 27 but a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this section too. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer just acknowledged in looking at this, that this section of scripture is actually found in all four gospels, which is rare. For something to be found in all four gospels, Dietrich Bonhoeffer acknowledge it just must be significant. And for him to know that he must’ve spent some time studying this passage and this section must’ve been a lot to him. And when you look at that man’s life and what he did for the Lord, it is incredible. I think he drew some inspiration, encouragement in the Lord from the section.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a guy that lived during World War II. He traveled the world sharing about Jesus. He was from Germany. He in fact came to the United States a few times. He actually loved the African American church. He would get it from Germany to the African American church, predominant churches. Cause he said they just knew how to worship. But he loved that and he got invited to be a pastor at a church in America. He, in fact, he turned it down to go back to Germany. And when he turned it down, war was looming.
People knew if Bonhoeffer turn this down, returned to Germany, that was probably going to be the last time that anyone ever saw him again. In fact, it was. He went back to Germany knowing they were about to face war and it could cost him his life as a Christian in Germany. And so Dietrich Bonhoeffer went there. He actually led a plot with other leaders in the government to try to take down Hitler. The plot got discovered and Bonhoeffer was executed just a few weeks before World War II ended. But this man was bold in his faith in Christ and I think this passage of scripture was one that encouraged him. Just looking at some of the comments he made about this portion of the Bible.
I just want to set up this section as we get through this. A part of me is a little bit torn. I want to be excited about this passage because this passage just roused me up in Christ and at the same time I want to be a little sober in what this passage says because what Jesus communicates to his followers is very shocking, very sobering and it’s sort of a conscientious decision he’s calling them to make. I want to approach that text from both of those points of view where we just see what God is capable of doing through his body of believers and the reality of what Jesus is saying in this section.
But to kind of set it up. I want to ask you this question that’s just simply to say, what might cause you to stop worshiping and serving the Lord? Is there anything in life that you can think of that would lead you to that?
If I were to ask it maybe in the context of this section, in other passages I think about in the Bible, maybe I’ll ask it this way. What are you afraid of? Sometimes the things that we tend to fear in life dictate the way that we respond and sometimes live our lives in light of that fear. Not so much in the boldness that Jesus calls us to, but to be more concerned with what other people think than what Jesus thinks. So when you asked the question, what might stop you from serving the Lord or worshiping him, I think the parallel question that’s really, what are you afraid of?
When you look in scripture, you see that the idea of fear and giving into fear was a constant statement made before the followers of Christ. In fact, you’re hard pressed to just flip through books of the Bible and the New Testament and not find someone talking about boldness in the midst of adversity. And so fear was a constant discussion. I think fear can drag us away from following after Jesus in this world. When Paul wrote to Timothy, who was a young pastor trying to follow after Christ, he said this, for the spirit of God gave us, does not make us timid or fearful, but gives us power, love, and self discipline.
So rather than give into that fear, Paul wanted Timothy to focus on who he was in Jesus and what God gives to us. And in 1 John 4:18 it says this, but perfect love drives out fear. Because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. Hebrews 13:6, it says this, so we say with confidence, the Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Acts 18:9, one night, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and said, do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. Do not be silence.
Fear is a motivator. Not necessarily a healthy or good one, but fear can motivate us to respond in ways that maybe God hasn’t called us to. But what Lord tends to promote in our lives, you see this in the epistles, Paul writes, faith, hope and love.
It’s not about who you were. It’s about who you are. God takes care of our past that we can live in our present. God is a God of the future. Looking ahead where he compels us, where he calls us. In fact, in Philippians, Paul said this, I forget what lies behind. I press on to the upper calling, which is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.
He shaped his identity in where Jesus wanted to lead him. And not where the past wanted to hold him. When it comes to our Christian lives, we can tend to respond that way, and that’s not healthy. You can live your entire Christian life on defense, right? All of the things that you don’t want to do because you’re afraid of messing up. But when Jesus talks about the body of believers in this world, he talks about being people who are light to the world.
Literally you are piercing the darkness because the power of Christ that rests in you. You think about passages of the Bible, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” When the Bible is saying that, it’s not saying that to like pastors or some super spiritual people. It’s saying that about you. That’s who you are in Jesus and that’s the identity God calls you to live in.
And so this section of scripture that God is reaching out to us and in Mark 8 today, he’s sharing this scripture, having recognized everything that we’ve looked at together. Remember, Jesus has made this declaration of the kingdom and this demonstration, and this invitation and we’ve seen how the culture around Christ is changing religiously. The government there, they’re turning their backs on Jesus. In fact, the religious leaders have gone on record saying they want to kill Jesus.
Now, how in the world are his disciples going to respond to that? And Jesus uses Mark 8 is sort of this positioning text to encourage us in this place. I’m reminded of a statement of General Patton. In World war II, he was seen as a fearless leader. I’ve read a little bit about General Patton, some of the things that he did, he was insane. And some of the remarks I’ve read about soldiers in walking with him, just the boldness of this guy.
But it said at one point he was meeting with the military governor in Sicily and this governor was going on about how brave he was. And finally he just stopped and he said, I’m not a brave man. In fact, I’m a coward. I’ve never been in a battle where a bullet didn’t go off and my palms didn’t instantly start sweating. But then he made this statement, he said, I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.
Because fears will lead you in a place God never called you. Greater is he that is in you than he that’s in the world. God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, self-discipline or a sound mind. And God wants his disciples to understand who they are in light of who he is so that they respond to this world as people that are difference makers and world changers.
People that rather than cower in fear, live by faith in that it creates them to sacrifice and boldness for Christ. And so Mark 8, Jesus comes to this position of scripture and it really becomes a hinging point in the text. This book is 16 chapters long and the first eight chapters, Jesus has just laying out his identity. Who he is, because he knows in understanding who he is, we respond in that. Because some of the things God calls us to in this world are not going to be easy. To follow after Jesus isn’t about easy. It’s about truth. It’s about purpose. It’s about his glory to our benefit.
And so Jesus comes to this text as a hinge point and he starts to call us disciples. And what you’re going to see in Mark 8 following on, from this point on, Jesus really gets more intimate with his disciples. He still speaks to the crowd but his messages are more tailored to those that have made the decision to take a step out of the line and follow after Christ. This is what he says, anticipating the struggles it says Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Cesarea, Philippi and that’s significant. We’ll talk about Cesarea and Phillipi in a moment, but on the way he asked them, who do people say I am? And they replied. Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others, one of the prophets. But then he asked the more important question. Who do you say I am? Who cares what the world thinks.
Everyone has an opinion on Jesus. We’ve said in this passage as we’re going through the series together, people are important, but sometimes there comes a place where opinions just you need to shelf them. You need the truth. And we want to know Jesus as Jesus desires to make himself known, not who people say he is.
Like this morning if I were to just put two leading religions in the world beside one another, Islam, Christianity. And we’re to ask that question. Islam calls Jesus a prophet. Christianity calls him God come in the flesh who gave his life for you. They use the same name, but it’s not the same person. In one there’s power and in the other it’s fake. There’s no need to trust in one of the two may not even need to trust an either if neither of them are true. But what is true is where we place our weight. Because the truth is what sets us free, the Bible tells us. It’s what upholds you.
So Jesus asked this question, but who do you say that I am? So he’s gotten to the place where he’s declared it, he’s demonstrated, he’s invited it, and now it’s saying, and now it’s time for commitment. What are you trusting in? Who do you say that I am? And Peter answered, you are the Messiah.
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. We recognize, we said this a few times, why Jesus did this. Don’t tell anyone about me. He said this a few times within the gospel and there’s a few reasons. One, because they had a misconception of what the Messiah was. We’re actually going to see Peter has a misconception of what the Messiah was the next time he opens his mouth.
But at least Peter understood that he was the one prophesied who would come. He was the Messiah, he was the anointed one. He was the deliverer, the rescuer. Peter understood this about Jesus. And so he’s placing his faith in that and making that statement about Christ. But Jesus says, don’t tell anyone.
I think the reason Jesus in this passage tells him not to tell anyone. One because of the misconception and two, because now the environment has changed against Jesus. And people are starting to pursue his life and Jesus wants to spend very intentional time with his disciples in order to to teach them about who he is and what it means to pursue them with his life.
And I told you this passages in multiple gospels, in all four gospels, this section of scripture, it’s not always necessarily described the same way, but the section is in the four gospels. In Matthew, this is probably the area in the sections that I meditate the most when I think about our church. But in Peter’s statement in Matthew 16 here’s where Peter says who Jesus says. He says, Simon Peter answered him, you are the Messiah, the son of the living God. And Jesus replied, blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter. So this is where Peter gets his name, in this statement of faith. And on this rock, I will build my church and the Gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Jesus wants them to understand their identity as it relates to him, because that has to do with everything that we’re capable of as his people. And so what Jesus says about his church here is profound. He’s going to build it. Christ is building it. Not even the Gates of hell are going to prevail against it.
What does this mean? Jesus has a practical teacher. We’ve said when Jesus was with fishermen, he used fishing illustrations. I follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men. In a agricultural society, when he was with farmers, he would use farming illustration. Plant the seed and God causes the increase. God used the environment around him in order to teach the people very practically who he was, and why he came.
On this particular moment their at Cesarea, Philippi, outside of the Jewish area, more in a Gentile area. In Cesarea Phillip. I had this particular place in the back of the city in which people would go to worship. It was a temple dedicated to Pan. Inside of the temple the people would participate in types of worship that you would all be embarrassed to see. At least I hope.
It was a form of worship that would just be considered maybe in our eyes, some sort of debauchery. It was idolatry. And they would participate in worship here, especially during a time of the year when the spring would take place. Because in the spring there was this crack in this temple that was built inside of a cave. In fact, I have a picture of it for you on the screen. They would go into this temple. There was this crack in the ground. They referred to that crack in the ground literally as the gate of hell. And in the spring, water would begin to flow out of this crack and people would worship.
As it happened, they thought their worship inspired the gods to give them the water that would feed the people. And so they would worship in different forms within this temple and celebrating. And Jesus is walking with his disciples and in a very practical way that transpires for us today and in a larger sense, in a practical way, he looks to his disciples and says, you see all the people in the city there. Do you see the hundreds if not thousands that have gathered to worship? Do you see how how large this looks and what force this looks and how powerful it is.
I’m going to build my church and nothing will stop it. In fact, you’re going to triumph even over the Gates of Hades. Those people that are worshiping a temple dedicated to demonic worship. The power that I give, the one that I used to build my church, the one that’s built on my name, you will defeat it in me.
Jesus says in the passage, I will build my church. And so we acknowledge whatever Jesus calls us to in the world in this world, it’s not by our capabilities, but it’s the power of his spirit that works through us to see it accomplished. Could you imagine being these disciples? First century group of ragtag, middle-class, hardworking guys and they’re looking at this just elaborately built that would’ve taken years to accomplish, I think in what are you talking about? Even in your own life, you think about the power of God and what it does in us, how it transforms us. You could see this statement, Jesus makes in a very specific sense, in a very broad sense.
In our own lives, we all fight battles. Not even the Gates of hell will be successful for you. In a very large sense God calls his people group all over the world, different times, different places, different eras to be a light that pierces the darkness. And when God’s people gather, the power of the Lord that works within us, not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.
In fact, when God gives this statement to Peter, he says, Simon, that’s his name. But based on your profession of my identity of me being the Messiah, you become Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. So what he’s saying is, Peter, Petrus, little rock upon your profession of faith in me, the big rock, I will build my church. The capability of who you are in my identity gives you the power to do everything that I’m talking about. I just hope to God in my life. I’m dumb enough to believe it.
God, let me trust in this. God, when it is easy to give in to fear. God, when it’s easy to take convenience when I see that you call me to sacrifice, let me see the goodness of who you are in the capability of your power resting in me above all of those circumstances. When we talk about storming down the gates of hell, no matter how fearful that may be, God, let me see your power greater than all of it. And so when Peter thinks about this moment, this is what he records for us in 1 Peter, he says this, as you come to him, the living stone, the great rock, rejected by humans, but chosen by God and precious to him. Look, you also like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a Holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So this is what I say this morning when it talks about the power of God resting in us. It’s not specific to Peter. It’s not some spiritual warrior that’s beyond all of our abilities. God’s talking about the regular follower of Jesus. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. That is all of us. And so then Peter says this: in his churches, identity, God’s people, these stones being built up, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession that you may declare the praises of him. Look who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light
Once you are not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now because of Jesus, you have received mercy. You are gates stormers. It’s as if in a abroad analogy. What he’s saying is God’s people, the church, not the building. The people are on mission. And when you think about the conquest, we don’t fight against flesh and blood that’s what Paul tells us in Ephesians, we don’t fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of darkness.
You are called as light to pierce the darkness. When you think about the way he’s describing this, and in Jesus’s day, if a people group wanted to be protected, they would wall the city where they lived. Jerusalem is built this way
If the people want it to be safe they would go behind the wall in order to be protected. The wall was considered impenetrable. And so when he’s describing hell, it gives the idea that there is this impenetrable forest with these Gates that are strong and solid. And when he talks about the church, he’s saying the power within the churches is so capable of going to these walls and just destroying them.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t even think it had to be the Gates of hell. Like if you just told me we’re going to have a demo day, whatever it is, I like to see stuff blow up. Like when we knocked down the house out back, I was here videotaping that. Destruction is cool. One of my favorite holidays, 4th of July. Independence is a great part of that. But the selfish part is seeing things blow up. I love the 4th the July. If you’re there wanting to destroy things, invite me. It sounds cool, right? Let me storming down the gates. You’ll have to tell me what it is. Let’s storm it down, unless we go to jail. I don’t want to do that. But, gate storing, yes, I’m with you.
Have you considered the question, for what? Are we just blowing things up to blow things up? Why are we slowing down the gates? What’s behind the gates? Do you know why the church exists? I’ve heard it said the church is the only organization that does not exist for itself. God calls us on mission. Go into the world, make disciples, preach the gospel, baptize the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
If all Jesus wanted to do was save you minute, you trusted in Christ, he’d take you out of the world. God calls you to pierce the darkness. To be a light for him in this world that we live in. Sometimes as a church, when I see those things, I want to be a little careful. Let me just share a few things why.
There’s a philosophy in Christianity today that wants to make the church for the unchurched. And there is different things where I hear those, I just walk cautiously. Because that’s what I think, when the church gathers, the church gathers for the body of believers. We gather as a rally point. For our culture, Sunday is a day we open our spiritual ears to hear. And so when we gather as God’s people, when we gather as the church, it’s our rally cry. It’s to encourage each other. It’s to get us just inspired in Jesus and pursuing him with our whole heart. So when we go out from here, we’re light for him.
Now that doesn’t mean when someone that doesn’t have Jesus comes into a church that we just ignore that in fact, in the body of Christ, the best place to learn how to treat people is when we gather on Sunday. And so we love on anyone that comes through our doors at any time because every soul to Jesus is important to him. When we gather as a church, it’s to mobilize the church to be a light for Christ. And here’s where the danger comes: is that sometimes the church has a tendency to become just program oriented.
When we become program oriented, the problem becomes this. We gather on Sunday, we see what Jesus does, our lives transformed and we started asking the question, okay, now what can I do for Jesus? And so we start thinking about each other and that’s a good thing. But sometimes we think about each other so much it’s to the detriment of the outside world. We become a fortress to ourselves and we start creating program after program to serve one another and we stop reaching what’s beyond our walls. And when we start thinking about serving, we even eventually start thinking about the building. But if you look at the text of scripture, what the Bible calls us to is to gather as a body of believers to encourage each other, to see each other transformed the life of Christ, to go out into the world, to be a light.
When can we go beyond these walls, we think about ministry, the primary thought within our mind is how can I reach my neighborhood? How can I love on my friends, my family? What can I do for Jesus? Let Jesus transform me so that when I walk with Christ, it becomes a natural outflowing of my life. And I don’t just internalize it in the community that already knows Jesus, but I share it with the world. And so we talk about storming down the gates of hell. And we asked the question, what’s on the other side of the gates? It’s people.
Ministry exists for people. Ministry is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end. Ministry exists for the glory of God to the benefit of people. Ministry rests in the power of God who builds his church to be light in this world, to storm down the gates as living stones, which Peter says, and it’s not just one person. It’s all of us. All of us gifted in God.
And the way you interact with people becomes significant. Because when you storm down the gates, you want to love on those hearts. That’s what I think so much of scripture has to do with how we interact with people. Paul says 1 Corinthians 9, I become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He’s saying, I’m meet them right where they are and I love him as they are, as Jesus called me to love so I can share the goodness of who he is with them. As it transformed my life, it can transform their’s. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, share the truth in love.
It’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, share the truth with gentleness and reverence. That’s why Paul says in Titus 3, remember who you were before Christ. You need to remember in your life what it took for Jesus to truly love you where you were before you came to know him. Because that compassion to love you as a sinner is the same compassion God calls you to use as you love on this world.
And so Jesus wants us to shape our identity in him. Can you imagine just defeating the forces that he’s talking about in this passage? It’s like answering the question, what is the secret? Then Jesus shares. Mark 8, after Peter did so good, you’re the Messiah. Peter, you’re a rock. Yes, I am. And then he says this, he then began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed. And after three days rise again. And he spoke plainly about this.
It’s like, I really need you to get this. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. That’s never a good idea. Never, never tell Jesus what to do right? So he rebukes him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter, get behind me, Satan. And he said, you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. That’s got to feel great.
One minute you’re the rock, the next minute you’re the devil. One of the ways that you just see the truth of scripture communicated as the candidness of the people pursuing Jesus and these guys did not hide their sin. I’m messed up. Just want you to know that the whole point of this is Jesus. It has nothing to do with me, and that’s Peter sharing in this passage. And Peter is the one that shared this with Mark and Mark’s the one that recorded the gospel.
He’s like, all right, people really need to see you know how fallible I am because anything that happens through me, it’s definitely the power of God and I was just foolish enough to believe in it and trust in it and live my life that way. And so what Jesus is saying, listen, you gates stormers, shape your identity in this. I want you to understand what’s capable of happening through the power that works in you because of what I’ve done. And then he’s saying this verse, in this section, his sufficiency. That the only reason this is able to happen is because of my death.
It’s me taking your place in your sin when you should not have received mercy, now you receive mercy in me. Peter didn’t like this. This is where Peter gets the idea of what the Messiah is wrong. He understood the Messiah was to come, but he carried the same concept that the Jewish mentality was at the time. Messiah would come. Messiah was set up his kingdom, Messiah would end suffering. You’re not supposed to be suffering. You’re ending the suffering. That’s why I’m walking with you.
And so Peter’s learning something about the identity of the Messiah in this. But when you see the statement of who Jesus is within scripture, the identity of Christ as he was to come, the Bible tells us in the Old Testament, they were to take a lamb to the temple and make a sacrifice. We’re going to see how Jesus followed the footsteps of a lamb towards the end of Mark. But this lamb was to be a sacrifice. And when John the Baptist pronounces the coming of Jesus, he says, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That lamb, when it was sacrificed in the temple, it gave its life.
Jesus as he sacrifice for sin. He gives his life. The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death. And so therefore to eradicate sin, to destroy sin, Jesus then gives his life for us in sin. And so he is separated from the Father and the Bible tells us he who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21.
In fact, the cross for us becomes the very symbol of the power of God through which we become gate stormers. That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved, it is the power of God. And Jesus is spending this intimate time with his disciples. You’re going to see this in chapter eight, chapter nine and chapter 10, that Jesus spends this intimate teaching with his disciples. And what happens in each of those chapters? Jesus makes a statement, the disciples acknowledged something ignorant and then Jesus corrects them and what it means to really be a follower of him.
And when it comes to the cross, you see Jesus now communicating that his death is the way to life for us and that life carries power. And so Jesus then makes this statement that is so sobering in the first century.
I think today, sometimes we might read passages like this and just acknowledge exactly what Christ is going to say in a 21st century mind where this statement has been beautified in a way that they would’ve never seen it like this in the first century. But this is what Jesus says. 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.
You think about the cross in the first century, it tells us whoever dies on the cross in Galatians, they’re cursed. Dying on the cross was shameful. You oftentimes hung there for days, totally exposed to the elements, nude. People spat on you. Threw things at you, cursed at you. You were despised. This was not the glorifying cross that we think of in the 21st century. You know the one you wear for fashion. I am not against the cross. I’m wearing the cross. I’ll tell you why in a second, but it’s totally a different concept. It would’ve blew their minds to have Jesus saying this.
Take up a cross? Why? What would cause you to sacrifice like that? I mean, this wasn’t just an embarrassment to the individual that would die on the cross. It would become an embarrassment to the family of the person who died on the cross. Peter ended up giving his life on the cross. In fact, he felt he was so unworthy to die on the cross, he asked that he would be crucified upside down. Why?
What does a person really got to believe in order to do that? I think Jesus has shared it with the disciples. When they’ve got to really see the victory, they’ve got to see the victory they have in Jesus. Jesus has defeated sin, Satan and death. You pierced the darkness because Jesus has already won the victory. And then Jesus shares with Peter his sufficiency. Before you’re ever going to trust in Jesus to such a degree, you need to know you’re a warrior that’s already one and Jesus is sufficient to supply everything that is promised you. There is no way you’re ever going to trust like this. And that’s what Jesus has done in the first eight chapters.
He’s calling us to a place of commitment here, having demonstrated what he’s declared in the first eight chapters so that when he declares who he is, we see the ability to trust in him because he’s demonstrated it with his life. And so he says, take up your cross. Take up your cross. To maybe put a thought in our minds that would place a comparison you think in American history, slavery was a horrible thing that took place. It would be like a slave carrying around maybe a whip. Why? Why would you glory in that? Or maybe in Nazi Germany, a Jewish person deciding to wear a gas chamber. Why?
When we think about wearing the cross for us as believers today, I think the cross is very symbolic. I think it would not be so far as to say it would be something I would be liking to a wedding ring. You think about what it represents in Jesus’s love for you. What Jesus did for you, how Jesus gave his life for you, and then you think about a passage like this where it calls you in response to him to take up your cross in love. And so the cross that Christianity bears in this world, it means the ultimate love of God displayed on us, but it can be reminder to all of us of the cross that we pick up in love and response to Jesus himself.
Like the wedding ring. It’s a symbol of full devotion. All that I am for all that you are. The Bible tells us in Genesis when he created the husband and wife to become one flesh where you can’t even tell where one begins and the other one ends. And Jesus is calling us to that intimacy in him. In fact, he calls our relationship to him, he compares it to the marital relationship. And so this cross becomes a symbol of God’s love for us, but our love and response back to him.
You know what it means to be devoted in relationship. In fact, in your relationship, if you want to experience intimacy, the intimacy goes deeper as your devotion for one another goes deeper. Nobody wants to experience this in a relationship. I want to give all that I am for you, and then the spouse responds, “Eh. Whatever.” You’d be like, are you kidding me? Where is the intimacy in that? Where’s the enjoyment in that? You’re not going to have it and you’re not going to enjoy it. Half-hearted devotion does not produce healthy, intimate relationship. It’s the giving of yourself, the laying down of your life that you experience the full devotion in what you’re called to and the intimacy of that relationship. And that’s what Jesus is saying in this passage.
Can I tell you that probably some of the most unhealthy people in the world? It’s half-hearted Christians. It’s half-hearted followers of Jesus. Foot half in the world, foot half in Christ. That’s not where he’s called you to be. The Bible says that sin is fun for a season and then it also calls us to walk in the spirit. You think about this, the Bible says since fun for season. If you’re not going to follow Jesus, you not going to give him your life, at least sin is fun. But then when you walk in the Spirit, as Galatians calls us through the reason we were created in Christ, it says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness. Not half walking in the Spirit, not sort of devoted to Christ. What we call that as an oxymoron. Or a moron, I’m just kidding.
Oxymoron. You have you heard the term, right? It’s like jumbo shrimp. That’s not a thing. That should not be a thing. It is a thing, but it shouldn’t be. Or act natural. If it’s natural, why you acting? Or Microsoft works? Unless windows has an update. Or government efficiency? It’s never happened. Oxymorons. Casual Christianity? It’s not a thing. It’s not real. The secret to storming down gates, the secret to conquring darkness, it’s dying to self and living to Christ.
I’ve heard it said this, that following Jesus without sacrifice is Christianity without a cross. It doesn’t make any sense. When you read the rest of the passage, it says 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 the soul? Or what can anyone give an exchange for their soul? 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 his holy angels.
And the question in this passage here, here’s the irony. Whatever you hold onto right now, instead of Jesus, you’re going to ultimately lose anyway. We’re talking about counting the costs and following him. But what about the cost of not following him? That’s what Jesus is considering in this verse. We’re calling it a sacrifice, but ultimately is it a sacrifice? If what you gain in him is everything and what you lose by letting go of the other things is nothing?
Jim Elliot is the one that said he is no fool to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. If we understood the power of Christ that rests in us. Why would we hold onto the elementary things of this world? Jesus is showing the the identity of who they are in light of who he is and the sufficiency of that identity as it’s been made known through the cross of Christ as he gives his life for us, becomes the very foundation for which the church is built and being able to pierce the darkness, which he calls in this world. And we get the blow up stuff as we love on people.
So here’s what God’s calling you to. Go outside the walls. Go outside the walls and the fortress of the church and storm down the gates. Maybe go where you’re rejected. Stand for him. Looking into sin and being a light. Loving people where they are in the darkness. And look, this is what Paul said to Timothy about his life. All who desire to live godly in Christ? Look, he says, all. All. All who desire to live godly in Christ will be persecuted. What would make you do that? Why would you give your life in such a way? It’s the sufficiency of Jesus and your identity in him.
Here’s where I think sometimes as Christians we stop short. We see the pain. We go to a convenience doesn’t want me to go anymore. But when we talk about taking up your cross, that cries, sacrifice. When you read a passage like storm down the gates and you think about the community in which you live, I can tell you we will not pierce the darkness unless God’s people sacrifice. And we’re not going to want to sacrifice until we recognize the power of God that rests in us and the sufficiency of who Jesus is.
But when it comes to a passage like this, maybe it’s naive, but I want to be so naive as to say, God, I just believe it. I know what you’ve done in my heart. I know what you’ve done in my life. I know how you transform me, and I know I’m not capable of seeing that happen in other people’s life, but God I know that you can use me. Not because of me, because of you working your beauty out through me.
Sometimes as Christians, when you read the New Testament, you see things that make you feel guilt written, right? Like make disciples and evangelize and I got to do this. And some point your life, the guilt piles up so much where you just can’t handle anymore. So you just do it. You go to someone and, “blaah, Jesus.” It just never feels natural and always feels weird, and you walk away kind of weirded out by that.
Can I tell you there’s a way that that happens naturally. And that’s where you just have such an intimate relationship with Christ you just share him. You talk about him the way you talk about your best friend with other people. You know what me and my friend did the other day? And you just share the story. When you actually spend time with Christ and God challenges you in his word and God transforms your heart, you’ll say things like, you know what God did for me? And God showed me this and it was awesome. And Jesus becomes a natural outflow of your life. Why? Because the intimacy you have with him. And the only way that happens is the laying down of yourself for the benefit of another. And in this case that others, Jesus.
So what Paul is saying to Timothy in this passage, if you desire to live a godly life, it will cost you something. It will cost you something. But let’s talk about the beauty of that for a minute. If you really love Jesus, if you really care about Jesus, when Jesus costs you something, praise God, that the evidence of your life demonstrates that you love Jesus above everything else in this world. That’s what your life communicates in the midst of the adversity that you may face by following after Christ in this world. That’s what happens when God’s people understand this passage. You become gate stormers. You literally see the gates of hell not prevailing against the church and light piercing the darkness when you’re willing to sacrifice only because of the sufficiency of Christ.
Dying for us could mean the forgiveness you offer to others which restores relationships and releases you from bitterness. It could mean the relationships you walk away from, which opens up the possibility of further healthy living, your life and other relationships that you now have given room for. It means that the ministry you engage in or the career you change is not only life giving to other people because you’ve made that change, but it becomes life giving for you because you’ve given your life for Jesus. And not only for you, it’s learning for your kids. They see you honoring Christ above all things in your life. The value of Jesus is being demonstrated through you, to the people around you.
Or even in your giving. That only lives are changed, your own heart grows as well. This will not happen until we understand the power of God, that rests in us, not because of us, but because of the sufficiency of who he is. And in response to that take, up the cross and follow him.
Can I ask you, at any point in your life, have you ever stopped and just said, God, my life is yours. You made me. You love me. You’ve given yourself for me, my life is yours. In my life some of the most inspiring things that I have seen are people that are just sold out to Christ. I love reading Christian history, biographies of missionaries, people that have given their lives from first century on. Polycarp. Ignatius. Literally laying themselves down for Christ in the first century, Or even today, when you read stories about the missionaries that have existed, I quoted Jim Elliot and Dietrich Bonhoeffer for you or Corrie ten Boom. She won another lady, Elizabeth Kuhn, giving their lives for Christ.
One of my favorites, it’s a man by the name of David Livingston. He’s dubbed the father of modern missions and he went to Africa and he lived his life going through the jungles of Africa into places where the fear was, they’re going to probably eat me. I’m going to go into this place. No one’s ever talked to them before. I want to tell him Jesus, the highest likelihood of what will happen, they will eat me.
And the story tells us that when he went to Africa very early on, as he started out as a missionary, he goes into the bush, a lion comes in and eats him. Comes in and starts to devour him. The lion is so strong, it picks him up in his mouth and starts just slamming him on the ground like a ragdoll and he says, as he’s conscious during this time, he could just feel his bones breaking into the point that David Livingston limped the rest of his life because of this.
The man went through so many jungle experiences. He got all sorts of diseases. He was decrepit and just walk hunched over all of his life because of his desire just to live as a gate stormer in this world. And this is the beautiful part, when David Livingston finally dies, two people carry his body through the jungles of Africa all the way to the coast so that his body could go home. But before they started to carry his body, they cut out his heart and they buried it underneath the tree. And they said, David’s Livingston’s body is in England, but his heart is in Africa.
God just called a man, not even capable in his own strength, to be a light for him. And his story has been an inspiration for thousands, because he’s sold out to this cause. That the power of Christ would work in him. It happens in two ways. One, the victory that you see in Jesus in the sufficiency that it carries for you. The question I asked you this morning, have you given your life for Christ?