Follow Me (Mark 8:34-38)
When I first started showing symptoms of Dystonia, my doctors had no idea what was wrong. I was sent to a movement disorder specialist at West Virginia University, and she ordered a bunch of tests. One was a rather painful test which measured muscle function in the legs.
A resident did the test. Love his heart, he was twisting needles in my legs and I’d move a little too much for him; he kept telling me just to relax. I really wanted to look at him and say, “Buddy, if you want to trade places, I’d be happy to twist needles in your legs and tell you to relax.” As he looked at the data, he saw some things just weren’t quite right. He said, “I’m not really sure what’s going on—it looks like ALS [Lou Gehrig’s Disease] to me, but let me go get my attending and we’ll look over these results together.” He left the room, and he was gone at least an hour. For all that time, I was all by myself in that little testing room, and a doctor had just given me a death sentence. And not just any death sentence, but death by a slow, horrible, dehumanizing, painful disease.
The resident and the attending finally walked back in the room. The attending looked at the data, and she’s stumped—she doesn’t know what’s going on, but she can confirm it isn’t ALS. I wasn’t dying, but for an hour or so, I was terrified.
Many of you have spent some time terrified you were going to die. Maybe it was when a car swerved right in front of you on the Interstate, and you were involved in a collision. Maybe it was when your mind turned to thoughts of death right before a major surgery. Maybe it was when the doctor said “Cancer.”
Jesus’s message this morning is that you had better die; you don’t need to spend an hour in an exam room worried you might have a horrible, fatal disease—you really need to die. The Lord said that we cannot be Christians unless we die. Jesus said, “To be a Christian you must give up your life.” Yes, I know those are strong words. We like to think serving Jesus is coming to church a couple times or so a week, eating a cracker and drinking some grape juice, dropping a couple bucks in the collection plate, and going on with life. Maybe—just maybe—we even view being a Christian as meaning that we try to live a fairly moral life.
But many folks have divorced Christianity from sacrifice. They want to go to heaven, but they don’t really want to serve Jesus with everything they are here on earth. Folks, I don’t know what that is, but it’s not Christianity. Jesus called on us to serve him with every ounce of our being. In fact, the Lord taught, “To be a Christian you must give up your life.” This morning, we want to take a look at what Jesus said in Mark 8:34-38 that we might give up our lives to follow Jesus.
Scripture (Mark 8:34-38)
Jesus called the crowd to him. In this crowd were certainly folks who were thinking about being Jesus’s disciple but who just had not yet made up their minds.
Whoever wants to be Jesus’s disciple must deny themselves. Jesus spoke of the one who “wants” to be his disciple. Jesus forces no one to be his disciple—the choice is completely yours. But the one who desires to be Jesus’s follower must deny himself—he must take himself out of the picture and give up everything.
Whoever wants to be Jesus’s disciple must also take up their cross and follow him. People today often interpret carrying the cross as enduring some minor inconvenience; for example, someone might say that not having power a couple weeks ago was his cross to bear. That’s not at all how Jesus’s hearers would have understood his statement. They would have seen people carrying the crossbar of a cross toward the place of crucifixion; the condemned would have done this in public and often through a jeering crowd. To carry the cross meant to go to the place of death. Jesus was telling his crowd that if they wanted to be his disciples, they had to give up their very lives—they literally had to be prepared to go to the cross and die for him.
Jesus pronounced the great paradox of our faith: If we wish to keep our life to ourselves and keep from dying for him, we’ll die spiritually and eternally. On the other hand, if we willingly lay down our lives for his cause, we’ll live eternally.
Having all the world and every success doesn’t matter if we die and enter a devil’s hell for all eternity.
The soul cannot be exchanged for any material thing.
If you’re ashamed of Jesus and his words—and unwilling to die for him—he will be ashamed of you when he comes with his Father’s glory.
The Lord Jesus taught “To be a Christian you must give up your life.” What is the best way to give up your life to follow Jesus?
One: DECIDE what you want.
Jesus said that you have a decision to make: “Whoever wants to be my disciple. . . .” God has given you the right to choose what you’ll do with your life:
- The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in the Garden of Eden to allow Adam and Eve to serve God of their own freewill.
- In his farewell address, Joshua told the Israelites, “If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living” (Josh 24:15).
- Elijah said to the people, “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Ki 18:21).
You need to decide whom you will serve. Do you really want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ or not?
This afternoon get off to yourself and write down some of the things you want to accomplish in this life: Think about what you want in your family life, your professional life, your retirement life, your recreational life. Lay everything out: What do you really want in this life? At the top of that list—if you want—write, “Serve Jesus faithfully.”
Two: DENY yourself.
If you desire to be Jesus’s disciple, you must deny your own wants, desires, and ambitions and place them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Disciples have a long history of denying self:
- Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mk 10:28).
- “Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:27–28).
- Paul said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil 3:8).
You need to follow those disciples in leaving everything to follow Jesus. This week, I want you to find a way that you can deny yourself to follow Jesus.
- Maybe you deny yourself a little sleep and get up earlier to study Scripture and to pray.
- Maybe you skip Starbucks a couple mornings and send the money you saved to a missionary.
- Maybe you fast for a day and give what you would have eaten to a family in need.
- Maybe you contribute to the church some money you’ve been saving for something you really want.
- Maybe you skip your favorite TV program and take that time to share Jesus with a neighbor.
Take the time this week to deny yourself and follow the Lord Jesus.
Three: DECLARE your faith publicly.
In this morning’s passage, Jesus called on his disciples to declare their faith publicly. You see, there was no way to carry your cross in private. The Romans would parade you through town for everybody to see. You would have even had a placard across your chest announcing your crime.
Jesus also said that if you are ashamed of him “in this adulterous and sinful generation,” he would be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory. Jesus never intended us to hide who we are, but he intended us to declare our faith before others: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matt 10:32).
This week find a way to declare your faith in Jesus Christ.
- Maybe you post a Bible verse on Facebook.
- Maybe you tell someone how Jesus has changed your life.
- Maybe you pray before eating in a restaurant.
- Maybe you offer to pray for a coworker who is struggling with a health issue.
Find a way this week to let someone know you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you following Jesus? Do you need to come this morning and give up everything to follow him?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.