Summary: What does it mean that we are to deny ourselves?
Fill in the blank. “___________ is for losers.” Someone who drives a BMW might say: “Fords are for losers.” A burly football player might say: “Soccer is for losers.” And a foodie might say: “Frozen pizza is for losers.” Even if those comments are offered in jest, they would still rankle wouldn’t they? No one wants to be thought of as a loser. That’s why we try to keep up with the latest fashions and technology, or at least do our best to fake that we are keeping up. But our sermon text today teaches that being a loser isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s essential. That’s because heaven is for losers, and for losers only. That was Jesus’ surprising claim in our sermon text this morning. Let’s take a closer look at it.
Our text takes place just after the Apostle Peter had said of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mathew 16:16). Peter and the other disciples had come to believe that Jesus was divine, but there was another lesson they still had to learn. They had to learn what it meant that Jesus was the Christ. That title tells us that Jesus was appointed for an important mission: to save the world from God’s anger over its sins. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to accomplish his mission like this: “…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” (Mark 8:31).
We’re used to hearing how Jesus had to suffer and die to pay for sins, but this was the first time the disciples had heard Jesus speak so plainly about his upcoming death and they were shocked. They must have felt like the homeowner who seeks a quote to fix his leaky roof. Since it’s just one spot that leaks, the homeowner supposes that it won’t cost more than a few hundred dollars to patch up. But the quote he receives is for $20,000! Why? Because to properly fix the problem the rotten timbers and worn out shingles all need replacing.
Because the disciples did not yet really understand Jesus’ mission or how bad the problem of sin was, they didn’t suppose Jesus would have to go to such lengths – to suffer and die – to fix the problem. And so Peter tried to dissuade Jesus. There was no need for this loser talk. Suffer and die? No! That wasn’t the way for a king to think. But when Peter took Jesus aside to make this point, the savior rebuked him and said: “‘Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ 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. 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. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ ” (Mark 8:33–36)
By insisting there was no need for Jesus to suffer and die, Peter had unwittingly become one of Satan’s minions. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan had offered the same temptation when he told Jesus that if he wanted to rule the world, he just had to bow down to him. There was no need for Jesus to suffer and die and in that way receive all glory and power as the God-man.
But Jesus didn’t even entertain Peter’s suggestion. Is that the way we deal with temptation? No. We often mull it over until we’ve convinced ourselves that to commit the particular sin is OK. And so we bad-mouth our classmate because we’ve concluded that they deserve it for being so mean. Or we ignore the obvious help our parents need around the house because, well, we’ve already put in long hours at school.
Not only does our text remind us to rebuke temptation immediately, like a tennis player rushing over to slap the ball back over to the other side of the net, our text also illustrates how temptation can come from well-meaning friends. Maybe it comes from the girlfriend who suggests that you move in together to cut down on living expenses. Or it comes from your spouse who suggests that you’ve been too focused on others lately and that you have to spend more time thinking of your own needs. These are the temptations that are the most dangerous because they come to us from those we trust. So be on your toes. Remain ready to reject temptation even when it comes from a trusted source.