Wednesday, February 19, 2014

FINDING BY LOSING (Mark Chapter 8)

Jesus had some tough words for would-be followers when He told His disciples and the multitudes, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

The context of this statement is important.  Jesus had previously asked His disciples about the common opinions regarding His identity (Mark 8:27).  And they replied with some of the more popular conclusions that people had come to.  He then asked His disciples what they thought (Mark 8:29).  Peter responded with the correct, Father-revealed truth, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16-17). 

Jesus then began to teach them about His pending sufferings and death (Mark 8:31).  He was stating the matter plainly (Mark 8:32).  Peter was right about Jesus’ identity, but did not understand how Jesus, the Christ, could suffer.  “Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32).  In a dramatic turn of events Peter, having just been proclaimed “blessed” by Jesus (Matthew 16:17), was rebuked and called “Satan” (Mark 8:33).  Jesus went on to explain: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

Peter had his mind set on the things of man.  He was thinking of things in “man” terms.  He had thought that Jesus had come to establish His Kingdom (Cf. Luke 24:21).  He was thinking of an ever increasing scope of ministry culminating in Jesus’ reign over all.  Peter was not alone, none of the disciples could understand Jesus’ in His “cross-talk” (Cf. Mark 9:31-32).

How foreign is this life and work of Jesus to our natural way of thinking about things!  As Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  That Jesus, the Divine Son of God, would purpose to be born in lowly circumstances, that He would live the life of a servant, that He would allow Himself to be betrayed, arrested, unfairly tried, and brutally beaten, scorned, and crucified—these matters transcend our understanding because they are foreign to our way of thinking about things and about God (Cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).

It is in that context that Jesus offered His invitation.  Adam’s kin are all, by nature “broad-path” travelers.  “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13).  The broad way is easy, travelers face few obstacles and little opposition.  The gate is wide, no limitations are put upon the wayfarers.  They can believe whatever they want to believe and do whatever they want to do.  Broad way travelers encourage one another along the path in a hell-bent pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun (Cf. Romans 8:32, 1 John 2:15-16), naïve as to the path’s ultimate destination—destruction.

Jesus was a narrow way traveler.  He marked out the path for others to follow.  The “way is hard,” but it “leads to life” (Matthew 7:14).  It is contrary to man’s way, and therefore “those who find it are few” (Mark 7:14).  Jesus’ invitation to His disciples and the multitudes was to join Him in the path He was on. 

The narrow way is not an easy path, it involves self-denial.  To deny self is to disown or dis-associate self with regards to one’s own prerogatives.  It is to abandon self-effort, self-confidence, self-agendas, and self-will.  This hard way also involves suffering.  The people of Jesus’ day knew about crosses, they’d seen many of them.  To follow Jesus is to embrace the prospect of suffering, with the realization that to lose one’s life in the physical sense, is to find one’s life—spiritually speaking--with God (Mark 8:35; Philippians 1:29).  The cost of discipleship is high, but what is the alternative?  A man’s soul is of such value, that nothing on earth should hold him back (Mark 8:36).  The demands of the narrow way are difficult, but Jesus died and rose again to save and empower His followers to walk in the same manner in which He walked (Cf. 1 John 2:6; Galatians 2:20).  In the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  It is in losing one’s life, in following Jesus, that true life is found (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 12:1-2).

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