Thursday, September 3, 2015

Take Up Your Cross and Follow by Bruce Wade

I have over 15 versions of the bible on my computer. There are hundreds of versions. It is helpful to me to read the same passage with different words. The following are two versions of our scripture lesson. The first, The New Revised Standard Version and the second the Message version.

Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV) 27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Mark 8:27-38 (MSG) 27 Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, "Who do the people say I am?" 28 "Some say 'John the Baptizer,'" they said. “Others say 'Elijah.' Still others say 'one of the prophets.'" 29 He then asked, "And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?" Peter gave the answer: "You are the Christ, the Messiah." 30 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. 31 He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." 32 He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it. But Peter grabbed him in protest. 33 Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works." 34 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. 35 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. 36 What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? 37 What could you ever trade your soul for? 38 "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."

Most of the New Testament was written well after Jesus death. The book of Mark was most likely written over 30 year later. It was written first. The author of Mark focuses on three primary themes:
(1) Jesus’ suffering servanthood,
(2) The person and authority of Jesus, and
(3) Total commitment involved in life as a disciple.

The intent, however, appears to be showing who Jesus was.

The exchange between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter, addresses the question of who Jesus was. His stern order for them to not tell anyone about him was a signal that Jesus didn’t want to be identified with what people of that day understood about the nature of “the Messiah.” Jesus signals a radical shift in understanding who and what the Messiah was. In Jesus’ day, that person was expected to be a powerful political or military leader. We have the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But for his disciples, this was a big change to their way of thinking. This was an affront to their faith.

What happens next in the text clearly highlights the point about the suffering Jesus. Jesus continues his discussion with the disciples explaining the Son of Man must “undergo great suffering” (v. 31), eventually be killed, but rise again after three days. This caused quite a reaction. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus who then, himself, rebukes Peter, calling him Satan. Jesus’ next words again express the divine nature of the Messiah as he tells Peter and the disciples that they were focusing on human things rather than on divine things (v. 33). Jesus was saying the disciples simply didn’t understand what was really involved in his Messiahship and, therefore, he didn’t want the disciples proclaiming him as the Messiah based on their misunderstanding.

The third point above comes through loud and clear in the later passages of the text. Jesus makes clear that to follow him requires denying oneself, taking up one’s individual “cross,” and following him. As the late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it in his book by the same name, there is a “Cost of Discipleship.” Scholars have posited the idea of denying oneself goes far beyond simply not indulging in one thing or another as we might during the Lenten season. They suggest what Jesus meant was that to follow him involves putting others before oneself. This is especially difficult in our cultures where individualism and the “self” reign supreme. It has been called the “ME” generation.

He again reiterates that “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (v. 33). The Apostle Paul put it differently in his letter to the church in Rome, “do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). Paul was seemingly suggesting disciples of Jesus should not follow worldly ways or be concerned about human or earthly comfort or pleasure of self, but instead should focus on “divine things” and live out the gospel in the world.

How easy this is to follow the ways of the world. I remember after getting out of college the first new car that I bought. It was my pride and joy. The emphasis was on pride. For the first 10 years that I owned it, I would not let anyone else drive it. To say the least it was my god. Finally I saw that error of my ways, and tuned back to the more important things in life. That is trying to live a life that Jesus commanded us to live. I than realized that possessions were secondary and people were number one. When I saw a need I tried to meet that need by helping people. This still is my focus most of the time.

Jesus’ expectations of disciples are not just about sacrificial giving. His admonition includes the promise that “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (v. 33). That is always a hard question to answer. Stewardship is paramount in this pursuit. I am not just talking about finances. However they are a step in the right direction. When we control how we spend our time and money then we become closer to becoming a follower of the one who died for us.

Each year I re-read the book “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S Clason. The setting is in ancient time. However the principles still apply today.

He says: “What each of us calls our ‘necessary expenses’ will always grow to equal our income unless we protest to the contrary.”

It is so easy to spend everything that we earn. We used to talk about just wants. A good friend said that he just wants this, and just wants that. Just getting rid of credit card debt can make a big difference. Because the neighbor got something new does not mean that we need to also get one.

Life is full of choices and as followers of the Lord Jesus we must make wise choices. Each of us needs to figure out what Christ’s mission is for us, and how we can make it our mission. That does take prayer and study. It was a different world when Jesus walked this earth. His life and preaching was not written and compiled as scripture for many years after his death and resurrection. Some of the stories are suspect but still overall the scriptures are a guide that we need to follow.

Few of us will be required to give up our physical life but we are all called to put the gospel first in our lives. That is not easy. Would you rather sit and watch TV or do something for another person. Most of us have telephones and can at least call someone to say hello and find out what is happening in their life. How we spend our time is very important in the cause of the kingdom.

What will you do today?

Controlling our mouth is also paramount. In the book of James we read:

James 3: (MSG) . 5 A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.

That is difficult. I am sure that I have set off several large fires during my lifetime. Often we should count to 10 before we react. Saying something bad about another person is gossip.

If our mission is to become Christ’s mission, than control is necessary. Jesus said that we would have to suffer also. How we react is strictly up to us. We can go with the flow or we can fight it. Life is full of hard choices. When we make the right choice life becomes a lot more pleasant.
Life is good and we can enjoy it and still follow him. There is joy in building the kingdom.
There is a lot of good in the world if we will just look for it.

The story is told of a boy whose parents took him to Florida to spend the winter. He returned to his city home, disgusted with the country he had been in. It was dull, stupid, and uninteresting, he said. During the next few months, however, he was in charge of a tutor who was an enthusiastic botanist, and he kindled the boy's interest in his favorite study. The boy learned about orchids, and their strange life. His tutor took him to a conservatory, that he might see some of them growing.
"You should see them in Florida," the tutor said, "they are much better there; but these will give you an idea."
The boy looked at him in amazement.
"I have been in Florida," he said, "but I never noticed any of them."
"Perhaps you did not look for them," the tutor answered; "but they will not escape you the next time."
That is often the way with the Bible. A man may see no beauty in it; but the Holy Spirit is ready to open the eyes of our understanding and teach us. It may be by some sermon or book which will lift a truth out of its hiding-place, and give it an application to our life it never had before. --author unknown

We can look for the beauty in God’s creation and the people that we come in contact with. Or we can just listen to the news and only dwell all the problems in the world and in our communities. I do not watch TV news because of this. I keep informed by other means.

I subscribe to a magazine call WIRED. This last issue reports on good things that people are doing. A lady from India is training people with very little education to work at call centers. Most of the trainee’s had no hope of every getting out of total poverty. With this training they are finding employment and improving their situation. There is a lot of good going on in the world. Yes there are still many major problems but after reading some history the world is in a lot better place now.  

What do people see in you when they observe you?

"That man must have been in the army, or in a military school," I said to a friend once.
"Yes," he said; "how did you know?"
"By the way he walks." You can tell that some people have been with Jesus by their walk” --author unknown

How do you spend your time? How much time is spent vegging? We need time to refresh but it should not be the majority of our life.

“Think of the privilege, my friends, of saving a soul. If we are going to work for good we must be up and about it. Men say, "I have not the time." Take it. Ten minutes every day for Christ will give you good wages. Have you several men working for you? Take them by the hand. Some of you with silver locks, I think I hear you saying, "I wish I were young; how I would rush into the battle." Well, if you cannot be a fighter, you can pray and lead on the others. There are two kinds of old people in the world. Some grow chilled and sour; others light up every meeting with their genial presence, and cheer on the workers. Draw near, old age, and cheer on the others, and take them by the hand and encourage them.” –author unknown

Will you take up your cross and do something for mankind today? I hope so.