It's not typical for me to begin a sermon with the point, but today, my point comes first because I want us to focus on a question;
What does it mean to be a Christian?
(or stating it more personally)
What does Jesus really want from us?
AND - Just to keep us current with weekly events, I’ll explain, “Why Jesus wants me to have an iPhone5.” . . but we’ll come back to that a bit later.
You may approach the question of what Jesus wants from us (other than for me to have an iPhone 5) from one of two perspectives.
- One is ‘Jesus wants my heart’. This means the primary decision for any soul/individual is the moment of commitment when he/she gives her heart to Jesus. Thus securing a place with him for eternity.
- The other perspective, not necessarily opposed to ‘Jesus wants my heart’ is ‘Jesus wants my life’. Briefly, it means the ‘moment’ of commitment is not as important as a lifetime of commitment. The priority is not on being saved for the next life, but on being liberated to follow Jesus in THIS life.
Either approach to Christianity requires answering my first question;
What does it mean to be a Christian?
. . .
Any approach to Christianity requires that we do some living beyond the moment of commitment. (For us in the CoB, that commitment is our baptism.)We seek guidance in the New Testament for living. Paul’s letters tell us how to act in certain situations of life. James’ book tells us other specifics.
Brethren accept ALL the New Testament, but we like to focus on what Jesus said.
So to explore, ‘What Jesus really wants from us’ Mark’s story of Jesus’ interrogation of his disciples is the perfect place to begin.
As always, it is important to note the context of our scripture:
In Mark’s gospel, --which is a very quick-moving tale, you dare not blink (or miss a Sunday) or you will lose a key episode- Jesus’ questioning of his disciples in chapter eight about identity ‘introduces a season of transition and challenge.’
Scholar Matt Skinner tell us, “Up to this point, Jesus’ ministry has consisted of tremendous displays of power and authority. there has been new and astonishing teachings, liberation from oppression, and restoration to wholeness.” Matthew Skinner Denying Self, Bearing a Cross and Following Jesus: Unpacking the Imperatives of Mark 8:34 Luthersem.edu Word and world vol 23, No. 3 summer 2003
The disciples may have enjoyed the conversation sharing their poll results about who people thought Jesus was, but when Jesus turns the conversation to the future they had to be shocked as his predictions! Suffering was NOT what THEY thought Jesus wanted from them.
In truth, we are right there with Peter, saying
‘No way, Jesus! You are not going to Jerusalem to die!’ Life is good, people are loving us. Your healing and exorcisms have us way up in the polls. What are you talking about... an execution? a cross? are you serious?’
How much Jesus ‘sees’ into his future differs from gospel to gospel, but he certainly knows that his proclaiming a Kingship for himself and his followers - other than the state’s ruler; the Emperor of Rome, will cause a serious disruption in the status quo. . .and that means trouble!
Rome and the Jewish leadership had a deal that insured mutual peace. Jews were allowed to worship their God, just like others were allowed certain religious practices, but the Emperor was the supreme ruler and recognized Deity.
The leadership in Jerusalem had to help keep the peace. Trouble makers were not allowed. If you asked the Religious Leaders of his day, “Who do you say Jesus is?” they would name him a rising...problem.
The crowds around him were growing larger and larger and he was known for challenging authority in the temple. Trouble could not be far away. Even he saw that there was a cross on the horizon. Our problem, when WE consider what it means to be a Christian today, is our 21st century view of that cross.
For most of us, ‘bear the cross’ means lifting up a necklace and putting the chain over our head.
We are so used to seeing crosses worn, that ‘glorifying the cross’ sounds like a jewelry sale at Macy’s.
We are more accustomed to seeing ‘glorious’ images. . .like this..
A cross painted to be really lovely that we marvel at.
What we Do NOT see, is an instrument of execution.
Like the electric chair.
. . .
It’s hard to look at, isn’t it? It’s stark. the straps convey imprisonment. Images of horrible deaths, and burning flesh come to mind. EVEN if the person being executed, committed horrible crimes and took someone’s life, unlike Jesus, and regardless of how you feel about capital punishment, it’s hard to look at this chair.
We can’t glory in THIS instrument of execution, even if we place it in a lovely sunset scene...like the first cross image I had up.
You can see that.. No amount of colorization improves our perception.
IMAGE - multi chair image
It takes a reminder of what a cross really was
. .for us to understand Peter’s horror when he heard Jesus’ talk of the suffering that lay ahead.
When we hear Jesus invite US to the cross, we need to remember a few “Major points about HIS story.
Jesus did not die, he was killed!
not by hoodlums in a Jerusalem alley, but he was officially executed by the government
With the help of some major religious leaders who collaborated with Rome. . .
In the process of his arrest and execution, his disciples betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. Boring and Craddock People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK, 2004) 164-5
An innocent man, executed.
(But as one attorney general of Virginia said, ‘Proof of innocence is irrelevant” when it comes to a capital execution. Mary Sue Terry) The cross doesn’t represent the best in life, but all the worst elements of anyone’s tragic end.
It is only what GOD does next that makes the view of Crucifixion event begin to change.
. . .
Over the years and centuries that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearances, people began to make meaning out of both Jesus’ tragic execution and his life. (Ibid Boring & Craddock)
It is only through years of contemplating the communion ritual that developed, retelling the stories, group discussion about the scriptures after they were written down, and the insightful blessing of those we now call ‘saints’ that together gave us several, actually MANY explanations for what the DEATH of Jesus meant.
Yet Everyone understood the resurrection appearances as God’s vindication and affirmation of WHO Jesus really was. (and expressing further theology we might say who Jesus was, is and is to come..)
When we view the cross the way the disciples did, my golden cross necklace seems as inappropriate as this picture of my next iphone...
Yes, I do mean for you to laugh, but only because we need to laugh at ourselves...maybe so we don’t cry at what Jesus is asking of us.
How far have we removed ‘bearing the cross’ from the reality Jesus’ endured? . . .
When Jesus tells his closest friends,
“IF ANYONE wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
He wasn’t talking about denying ourselves some desired possession, (even if it is a new iPhone) He put the emphasis on IF and ANYONE, because it wasn’t a casual request. It still isn’t.
IF, you will follow
IF, anyone is left after they see the cross. . .
It’s not an invitation everyone will accept.
If we take these verses out of Mark’s whole story, then bearing a cross, could dissolve into some mere form of Lenten dietary restriction, or occasional delayed gratification.
We might even moralize what bearing-a-cross means into some ‘personal fortitude or modesty’ and certainly many have. I suspect we have all thrown the phrase around at some point.
Taking up a cross has to be part of a full equation where we totally embrace Jesus as the only one we follow.
NOTHING else can claim us! . . .
Prof. Skinner says, “Instead of choosing or plotting their next steps on their own, Jesus’ followers are to be led there by someone else.”--Jesus, himself! It is WITH JESUS that we enter life, by embracing death..and only then we “discover our future on the road of self-denial.” Matthew Skinner Denying Self, Bearing a Cross and Following Jesus: Unpacking the Imperatives of Mark 8:34 Luthersem.edu Word and world vol 23, No. 3 summer 200
What does it really mean?
Jesus doesn’t say with words, but he lives his meaning in the weeks to follow.
Obviously, for us it involves the ‘relinquishment of our autonomy’ which runs counter to human habits of self-preservation or personal advancement.
Jesus says living life with him means losing one’s life - - for him and the gospel. (ibid Skinner)
All these Cross-bearing words may sound familiar to anyone who attends much church, but the life Jesus calls us to is far from familiar. It’s unlike anything else you’ve ever done. He’s not like anyone you’ve ever followed.
. . .
The only way to really see the cross as beautiful, to really ‘glory in the cross’ as we are about to sing, is to give yourself to Jesus - completely.
It costs so much more than forgoing a desired possession.
because it costs our whole lives = literally.
That’s what Jesus REALLY wants.
. . .
Until Jesus’ “Gospel claims every aspect of our life and being” (Skinner)
we won’t have carried our cross.
and we won’t understand its meaning or its glory.
What Jesus wants is..everything. .
and when we have lost it all,
we will know who Jesus is.