Mark 8: v 31-38

I’m rich. I’m powerful. I’m intelligent. I’m funny. I’m good. I’m fast. I’m influential. I’m a survivor. I’m single. I’m married. I’m divorced. I’m male. I’m female. I’m black. I’m white. I’m British. I’m English. I’m poor. I’m coping. I’m proud. I’m independent. I’m retired. I’m ill. I’m alcoholic. I’m popular. I’m depressed. I’m creative. I’m athletic. I’m bored. There are millions and millions of ways we can describe ourselves. And we’ve grown up at a time and in a place where from our very first days we’ve been pressurised and pressed to make sure we do define ourselves, even to think that who we are is the most important factor in our lives. We’re obsessed with who we are.

Of course what links all of our ideas about ourselves together is that we get to choose, we get to define who we are and what we will be. There’s a poem called Invictus which sums up much of our mind set today when it ends: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” It’s why facebook is so popular. It’s a great tool I think but it gives us the power to project the image of ourselves that we want to project. Deep down we all believe we have the final say in who we are and that that’s what’s best for us. 

But Jesus Christ is about to radically transform this obsession with our self-focus. Christian or non-Christian he’s going to save us from an inward looking self-obsession and reorientate our lives around him and him alone. And as we’ll go on to see, it is so much better for our lives if Jesus is at that centre of them than if we’re constantly striving to, or fighting to, put ourselves there.

You see Mark’s gospel which we read from there has since the very first sentence been solely about the identity of Jesus as God the King. The title Mark’s used for Jesus to get that across is “the Christ.” It means God the king. And from the beginning Mark’s book has been bursting at the seams with this Jesus proving his identity. Doing the things only God the king could do: speaking to control to the elements of wind and waves, touching a corpse to raise the dead, feeding crowds of thousands with a few loaves. Then, just before our reading, Jesus disciples who’ve witnessed all this first hand, finally get it. Jesus asks them: “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered you are the Christ.” Jesus you are God the King. 

But what sort of King is he? Why would I want to reorientate my life around him? And if he saves us from that attitude of “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” What are we instead? How is a follower of this Jesus meant to understand themselves and what they’re here for? Very simply we’re going to see two things over the next 15 minutes or so. First our king came to die and rise, secondly our king calls us to die that we might live.

So our king came to die and rise, verse 31: “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Recently I was told about someone who’d taken part in what was being called a fun run. Now to my mind they are two words that you can’t even put in the same sentence let alone next to each other. To my mind the idea of a fun run is as contradictory as a hot cold or a high low. They just don’t go together. 

It was the same in people’s minds about the word Christ and the word death. Jesus as Christ meant Jesus as God the King, it’s victory, power and authority. It could never mean, as Jesus puts it here, suffering, rejection and death. Christ and death we’re just as unthinkable to people of Jesus’ day as a fun run is unthinkable to me.

That’s why you get this remarkable moment in verse 32: “Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Within a moment of boldly declaring that Jesus is God the King Peter gives his God King a good telling off. Its gives us a glimpse of the scandal of Jesus linking the Christ with suffering.

But rather than sheepishly give in to Peter’s rebuke, Jesus replies with one of his own, one that left Peter’s rebuke looking rather pathetic. It was more public, Peter had quietly taken Jesus to one side “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.” And it was more scathing: “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus said. “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” If hearing about a King who died was scandalous to Peter, denying that the king should die was satanic to Jesus. 

You see what we may have missed in Jesus’ prediction about his suffering, rejection and death was the little word “must.” Jesus didn’t say he was going to die and rise again but that he had to. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” 

Whenever you buy anything at the moment there’s always a chance to buy optional extras. Whether it’s the phone which you can pay more for to get unlimited internet on, the car that you can take out 2 years servicing on, or the burger that you can get extra bacon with there are always optional add ons. But for Jesus the cross had to happen, it wasn’t optional, he couldn’t choose to avoid it, he’d already chosen to die on it.

You see it wasn’t a pity that Jesus, at such a young age, when he’d done nothing wrong, got unfairly killed. Nor was it impossible for God the King to be a king of suffering, rejection and death as Peter claimed here. Death was Jesus’ unchangeable plan. It was the reason he was born. Our king came to die and rise again.

And if the disciples had known their Bible’s better they should’ve expected it. Our first reading was a passage written some 700 years before Jesus was born and describes in perfect detail what he would do for his people on the cross: “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Without exception every one of us has sinned against God by ignoring him and we all deserve his punishment. But out of unimaginable love for the loveless Jesus himself took that punishment in our place, that we might be forgiven, for everything, forever. In fact he lived his whole life for that very moment. By saying the Christ shouldn’t go to the cross, Peter was in effect saying God shouldn’t give that loving rescue, Satanic indeed. But out of mercy for us our King came to die and rise again.

We talked earlier about how self focussed, self-obsessed, we have all become. Jesus, the Christ, the God King, the only one in the universe who could be I, I, I, died to show he’s the king who lived for you, you you. He had to die or we would’ve been punished for our sins. He had to die so that we might be forgiven. He did die and we sing how deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That’s the sort of king he is. Reorientating my life around him will mean his love, his kindness, his joy, his peace, rule in my heart. Now that is better. Why would I want him as my king? Why wouldn’t I?

But where does that leave us? When he’s become the centre point of my heart and life, when he is the definition of my life, what am I? Well immediately after Jesus told his disciples he’s the king who came to die and rise, he called them, and all who want to follow him, to die that we might live. That’s the second thing here, Our king calls us to die that we might live.

The computer shop GameStation has recently revealed that it legally owns the souls of thousands of its customers. It’s all thanks to a clause it secretly added to the online terms and conditions for the official GameStation website. The "Immortal Soul Clause" was added as part of an attempt to highlight how few customers read the small print of an online sale. GameStation claims that 88 percent of customers did not read a clause in the small print, which gives legal ownership of the customer's soul over to the company. 

Mark’s gospel is a book of two halves. If chapters 1-8 have been proving Jesus is God the King, chapters 8-16 will walk us through the moments that king went willingly to the cross to die and rise again. And these halves are held together by one central passage. The key passage in the book if you like. That’s this one. 

Can you see why that’s important? There’s no small print with Jesus Christ, here we are at the very centre of the book, our attention is deliberately being drawn here, and here Jesus tells us exactly what he wasn’t from us, verse 34: “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” Do you notice the word again: “must.” If the cross wasn’t an optional extra for Jesus, it’s not an optional extra for his followers either. There’s no small print with Jesus Christ.

But while Jesus death would indeed be on a cross, for many of his followers it wouldn’t. So what does it mean for us to “take up our cross and follow” Jesus? 

The clue comes in our next verse, verse 35: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” The gospel is the good news that in Jesus God the King has come to die and rise for us. Taking up our cross and following Jesus means giving up every I, I, I, that we might live and die for that news and for the one who brought it to us. 

In verse 38 Jesus will talk about being ashamed of him and his words. Taking up our cross and following him then must mean living life brazenly unashamed, unembarrassed, about him and the message of his death for sinners and resurrection to eternal life. Denying self, taking up my cross and following Jesus means: I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.

The moment anyone starts doing that they will be met with opposition, perhaps the rolling, disapproving eyes of a friend, the mocking remarks of a husband, the loss of a job or the pain of a broken relationship because of your faith. In some countries it could mean the threat of punishment from the authorities or even death itself. What will it mean for you? The cross was a symbol of shame, scorn and ridicule, and it’s the road all Jesus followers will walk. There’s no small print with Jesus Christ. Our king calls us to die.

But we do so remembering that we are following him. He’s already carried for us a cross far bigger than we could ever bear – his love given there will fill and sustain us as we carry our crosses. And if we’re being honest when we say Jesus is our King how could we reject the very path our King walked? But mainly remember, our King didn’t just come to die, he came to die and rise again and we will even follow him there.

That’s what takes us into those final verses about saving life now to lose it later or losing life now to save it later. Or gaining the whole world now yet forfeiting your soul. On paper the answers’ obvious. Of course you’d choose what Jesus offers temporary struggles now and eternal joy later. But is it possible? Or are Christians just pitifully wasting their lives on a vain hope?

I don’t know much about cross stitching. That won’t surprise you. But I’ve done some research. With a cross stitch pack you get a plan of the picture that you will then make usually printed on paper, and a small piece of material that you’ll make your picture on – I believe the technical term is an Ida. And with your needle and thread you follow the pattern step by step until your picture is complete. If you want any more details about cross stitching – don’t ask me!

And the pattern of Jesus that his followers copy is his death and his resurrection. He’s not just a pattern of suffering he’s also a pattern of risen, forever glory. So just as he is now with his Father there all who follow him will one day be. No matter how great the cross we carry for this momentary life, we will see him and rejoice forever in his presence. It’s as Peter would later put it in one of his letters once it all clicked into place for him: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

If that’s where he’s taking me one day, I can do anything for him now. Especially if I remember what he’s taking me away from, what future he’s saved me from. You see what would I get if I continue to live solely orientated around myself, I, I, I? What would I get if I continue to live as if I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul? What would I get if I was ashamed of Jesus and thought the news about his death and resurrection was a waste of time?

Well because the king who died is also the king who rose we will all one day meet him. Not as the king of weakness, suffering and shame, that’s finished for Jesus now. But we will meet him as that king of victory, power and authority and he says, verse 38: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” What is popularity or power or prestige or being captain of my soul for a few years, when one day I’ll meet Jesus in his blazing glory and have him decide where I spend forever? 

If you’re here today and you know you’ve not started following Jesus, denying yourself and taking up your cross, this stern warning only makes it more urgent that you do. And the cross still says you can, come follow me. Choose life not judgment. Our King calls us to die that we might live.

I’m rich. I’m powerful. I’m intelligent. I’m funny. I’m good. I’m fast. I’m influential. “I’m” is the mindset of our generation. Jesus is God our glorious King, he came to die and rise again because he’s the God who loves you, you, you. When my life is about him it’s full of his love, his kindness, his joy, his peace, which rule in my heart. And I? Well I follow the master. I deny myself, I take up my cross and follow him, even to eternal life.