Losses and gains – crosses and chains
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36
This week’s study is on the topic of Christian maturity. It does not fit into a series of other studies and yet it does naturally follow on from our focus on mission and proclaiming the word of God to the world around us. When you come to Christ to be saved, then what? If salvation is by grace alone, is there no change required from us? If there is change required, since repentance demands it, what does that change look like?
In Mark’s gospel, the author wants to outline to us the good news about Jesus the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Right in the middle of the book, after 8 chapters of hearing clues about who Jesus is, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised King of God (Mark 8:27-30). The disciples, who had given up everything to follow Jesus and learn from him, could now see that Jesus is God’s chosen One. Their eyes are opened and Jesus is ready to let them in on the rest of his plans!
- 31-33 The concerns of God
- 34-38 The concerns of a Disciple
31-33 The concerns of God
“…began to teach them…” This is the primary concern of Jesus to his Disciples – that he teach them. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry is focused, not on healings and miracles but on his teaching.
“Son of Man” To be a ‘son of man’ is simply to be human (Daniel 8:17) but this title echos back to Daniel 7(:13-14) where the Son of Man is described as deity – one who will come to rule over everything. Jesus clearly has in mind someone great prophesied about. He is teaching his disciples about the plans of God.
“…must suffer many things…” Jesus is explaining what will happen as he knows it. Isaiah 53 is one place which predicts the Servant King’s sufferings but Jesus is being more explicit than what the Old Testament foretold in any singular place. Jesus knows that he is going to the cross.
“…looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.” Although Peter’s rebuke appeared to be in private, Jesus made no attempt to keep Peter’s rebuke quiet. Peter was not proposing what they ought to have for dinner but that Jesus ought to abort the mission God sent him to do.
“…concerns of God…concerns of men…” Although Peter was able to see with clarity that Jesus is the Christ, he doesn’t see what God intends to do. Peter doesn’t know the future like Jesus does but his heart is on show here. Avoiding conflict or preserving one’s life is not the primary directive. Following God wherever he will lead is primary.
“…Satan…human concerns.” Notice how tightly bound these two forces are. If we are not for God, we are against him. Call it man versus God or Satan versus God. If you are not for God you are against him.
This section concerns God’s plans for Jesus to go to the cross. The following passages expound this plan of God to give us life through the cross of Christ – Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28; Colossians 1:15-23 (esp. v19). God’s plans and concerns are for the Christ is to bring salvation by way of the cross. But what is God’s intention for the disciple?
34-38 The concerns of a Disciple
“…the crowd…along with his disciples…” Jesus moves from a private moment with his 12 to a moment to teach anyone who is willing to listen.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple…” An open invitation is given. Jesus is about to teach anyone who is willing to listen how they may become a disciple if they want to.
“…must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Three parts of the same lesson. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It means to be a learner of him. The only way to do that is to put to death our former selves and learn all over again. Our lives are no longer to be the centre of the universe. Our minds must be set on opportunities to love others sacrificially. The New Testament writers talked about this as dying with Christ. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, we must die with him. So, three things: let go of survival instincts, go where Jesus sends you, and learn from him. Sound attractive? Well, gospel logic is the reverse of the world’s logic and Jesus talks about that next.
“…save their life will lose it…loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark Twain apparently once said, “it ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The context of that quote probably served a different meaning but Jesus says things often that are not difficult to understand – they’re just outrageously challenging. If I want to live and have life, I need to trust Jesus and let it go. If I don’t want to trust Jesus nor have anything that he is offering, then I will instinctively live for me. This doesn’t mean I’ll be totally selfish and a bad person. I may be very kind and considerate of others but ultimately I will seek to survive and thrive and be true to me. The Christian worldview is that God is the creator and I am his creation; that I have sinned and fallen short of his expectations; that Christ has paid my debt to God and expects no repayment; that for me to have life, I must live for Christ.
“…gain the whole world?” If our treasures are here in this world then that is what our hearts will be set on and the best we can get is exactly what we’ve hoped for – treasure here. Even Solomon saw that life was meaningless without God.
“…forfeit their soul?” Those ‘crossroads’ stories of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for fame and fortune come to mind. Jesus is giving us the same message in different ways: seeking heaven now on your own terms discredits you from eternal life. To forfeit something is to make you disqualified. You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).
“Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The irony of what Jesus is saying here must be pointed out. He is telling us that there is nothing more precious than your soul – your inner being. So, take care of it by losing your life. Let God be your salvation. Jesus is telling us to sacrifice our own life to make Jesus King but that by knowing that Jesus is King, we sacrifice our fleeting life for the sake of our own soul.
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words…” Here is the gospel: our boldness and surety in Jesus today is our forecast for the future. How does being ashamed of Jesus and his words play out in life? Awkwardness to talk about him? A hidden faith?
“…in this adulterous and sinful generation…” This is describing an age rather than a demographic like Gen X. This world, since the beginning, have demonstrated adultery and sinfulness or wickedness. This is the opposite of what Jesus is calling his disciples to be. He says deny yourself while the world says be true to yourself.
“…when he comes…” Jesus is not thinking of his current arrival into the world, but of his second coming. He has eternity in mind. Mark 9:1 may have the resurrection and cross in mind as the coming of the kingdom of God, but in Mark 8:38 he describes coming with the holy angels.
The concern for Jesus’ disciples is to hand their lives over to him. Jesus makes his simple point over and over again in these 5 verses in multiple ways. If you want to be embraced by Jesus then embrace him now and do away with everything else. Being a disciple, follower, learner of Jesus is an all in commitment. If a person is concerned for their soul, then entrust it to Jesus to be taught, shaped, exercised and saved. Read these New Testament verses on this subject: Romans 6:1-14 (esp. v1-4); Colossians 3:1-4 (and the rest of the chapter); Ephesians 2:1-5; Luke 14:25-33.
God’s concern is to save people through the death and resurrection of Jesus and he calls on us to share the same concern for ourselves. Following Jesus is a radical and complete commitment. If we want to be a disciple of Christ, we must follow him completely, unashamedly and faithfully. We forfeit our souls when we share the same concerns the world has.
- Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Jesus said that anyone who is ashamed of him and his words are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven. Discuss how these statements affect your life. What are some examples of being ashamed of Jesus and what are some examples of being unashamed?
- Do you think of yourself as a disciple of Jesus? Discuss what a modern day disciple of Jesus looks like. Is it possible to be a Christian but not a disciple? Matthew 28:18-20 may help this discussion.
- The concerns of God or the concerns of men. How do we foster lives which are bound up with the concerns of God?
Prayer of the Week
Dear God and Father, thank you for the concerns that you have for the people of this world and the desire for us to see our greatest need which is in Jesus. Help us, we pray, to lose our lives and be concerned for the things that you are concerned about. May we love Jesus dearly, obey him yearly and follow him clearly. Amen.