Summary: Following Jesus can be difficult, but all who choose this path will be greatly rewarded in the end.
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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. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 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” (Mark 8:34-38).
QUESTION: How many times are the words “Christian” and “Christians” found in the New Testament?
QUESTION: How many times are the words “disciple” and “disciples” found in the New Testament?
ANSWER: Almost 300!
In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus is talking about discipleship. “If anyone would come after me” means “If anyone wants to be my disciple.”
“Disciple” was the original name for all those who accepted Jesus as the Christ (not just the Twelve). “Christian” was a name invented by nonbelievers. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Believers didn’t start calling themselves “Christians” until the second century.
I believe that “disciple” and “Christian” are synonymous. Discipleship is not a higher level of Christianity (like “pro” status of Wii). All true Christians are disciples (followers) of Christ.
What does it mean to be a disciple? The basic expectation of discipleship is complete commitment to Jesus Christ.
Many people’s attitude about following Christ is “What can I get out of it?”
BIG IDEA: Following Jesus can be difficult, but all who choose this path will be greatly rewarded in the end.
Jesus addressed two groups of people. (Everyone here is a member of one of these two groups.)
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said… (Mark 8:34a).
• Jesus invited “the crowd” to BECOME His disciples.
• Jesus urged “His disciples” to ACT like His disciples.
THREE DEMANDS OF DISCIPLESHIP
1. You must DENY yourself.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself” (Mark 8:34b).
“Denying yourself” means that you decide to exchange YOUR will for GOD’S will.
We naturally have the attitude, “This is my life! Don’t tell me what to do!”
This is what Jesus did. He prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus tells His disciples to follow the way He has chosen, not the way they would choose for themselves.
2. You must take up your CROSS.
“And take up his cross” (Mark 8:34c).
Some people have the wrong idea that the cross they bear is some physical affliction, some problem in their family, or some tragedy that strikes.
When James Calvert went out as a missionary went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship tried to turn him back. “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go,” he cried. Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”
“Taking up your cross” means that you are willing to make any SACRIFICE for Christ.
3. You must FOLLOW Jesus.
“And follow me” (Mark 8:34d).
“Following Jesus” means that you are committed to IMITATING Christ’s life and OBEYING His teaching.
In the Greek, the verb “follow” is in the present tense. This tells us that we are to live out our commitment to Christ every day. Following Christ is not saying, “I’m a Christian,” and then living an uncommitted life. Christ expects to be obeyed.
Christ does not ask for a modest adjustment in our lives but a complete overhaul of our behavior. God refuses to accept a minor role in our lives; He requires a controlling place. We have to learn to say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
THREE BENEFITS OF DISCIPLESHIP
1. You will have real LIFE.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But Jesus said that you have to lose in order to win. Live a comfortable life (don’t follow Jesus) and miss out on eternal life. Live a committed life (follow Jesus) and find eternal life. (I am not saying that eternal life is a reward for good behavior. But I do believe that faith involves commitment.)
In the early days of Christianity (and still in some places today), to follow Christ meant persecution, and sometimes even death (Stephen, Acts 7:54-60).