Summary: Not much is said about self-denial and sacrifice in today's church and society, but it is central to the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Mark 8:31-38 “A Different Drummer”
Selective hearing is a curious human phenomenon. We have the ability to hear only what we want to hear. Teenagers can hear the word “food,” but they have trouble hearing, “Do your homework,” or “Take out the trash.” Many men appear to have difficulty hear, “You really should go to the doctor,” while at the same time being able to hear the game scores three rooms away from the television. Occasionally women can’t hear the request of their family, “Chocolate chip cookies would really be great,” but they can hear “Let’s go shopping,” before the words are spoken. And, of course, our legislature hasn’t been able to hear the common cry of the people, “Work together and get something done!”
In our text today, it appears that the disciples have a severe case of selective listening. Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, and what it means to follow him, and the disciples stop their ears and refuse to listen. -- We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples in regards to their selective listening, because we have a serious case of selective listening ourselves.
Jesus clearly states in verse 34, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Yet, we don’t encounter this teaching very often in our society that places such great stress on self-fulfillment. I’ve never heard self-denial preached by a television evangelist. We can go into a Christian bookstore and out of thousands of book titles, find only one or two that deal with self-denial. We don’t want to hear it. Self-denial books don’t sell—at least not as well as books that seek to help us reach our full potential.
From Jesus’ words, we begin to see that self-denial is an essential element of the Christian faith. Fasting may be an option, praying for our government leaders a good suggestion, and observing Lent a worthwhile invitation. Self-denial, though, is central—“if ANYONE wants to follow me.”
Self-denial isn’t attractive. It goes against our DNA. In a “dog eat dog world,” self-preservation (not self-denial) enables us to survive. So, the question before us as Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—how do we go against our natural inclinations and live a life of self-denial.
Self-denial is not non-existent in our world. We have several examples of it. We have big names like Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. There were the three civil rights workers who were killed in 1964 in Mississippi, and Medgar Evers who has killed in 1963 and Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have (unfortunately) given us several examples of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Pat Tillman and Lori Piestewa are a couple of names that come to mind. Of course, there are thousands of other names, perhaps not as well known, but who still have demonstrated heroism and sacrifice.
A medal winner in an interview commented that in the heat of battle a soldier doesn’t think about fighting for his country, or laying down his life for freedom. The soldier is focus on fighting for himself and his comrades. A strong bond is forged between the members of a squad—some would call it love. That bond motivates and enables soldiers to sacrifice themselves for their friends and comrades.
Love is essential for self-denial and taking up one’s cross. This is not self-love, but rather the love of others.
Love motivates a lot of people to deny themselves and make sacrifices. The love that parents have for their children enables them to make sacrifices for their children so that their children can have a better education or a better future. At times, friends sacrifice a lot for each other.
Self-denial sometimes comes in small—almost unseen—packages.
• Backing a meal for someone who is sick or grieving,
• Offering 10% of one’s income so that a congregation can move towards a building program, or carry out the ministry of the Lord more extensively.
• Spending time listening to the personal struggles of a co-worker
• Standing up for someone who is bullied or ostracized, even it if means that ostracism for us may be the result
• Volunteering to use our time in service, rather than in some leisure pursuit
Do you hear God’s call? Self-denial isn’t as flashy and impressive as miraculously healing the sick or casting out demons. But, in each act of self-denial God is honored, people catch a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is like, and we experience a taste of the abundant life.