What it Means to Be a Disciple of Christ
Dear friends in Christ,
One day this past week, we had four people come to our church to do some service us at the same time. I could recognize three of them by the uniform they wore. There was “Big Brown,” the UPS man who delivered a package. There was “Cintas,” the company that maintains our fire extinguishers. Their service people wear light blue shirts with a kind of crest on their sleeves. Then there was the Fed-Ex delivery person. He didn’t get into a wrestling match with Big Brown. They also have a distinctive uniform although it looked a lot like Cintas. The fourth wasn’t dressed in any specific way. I just recognize his vehicle. His front bumper is a wooden plank. He is the HV/AC man who was checking on a unit that he replaced. Each represents their own skill set. I recognized them by their uniform or the wooden bumper.
Jesus once said that people would recognize his disciples because we love one another. Our uniform is our life of love. Love to the Christian is like a badge for a policeman; it shows others who we are. I think people have come to recognize that. When there is a disaster somewhere, people expect the Red Cross to on the scene followed by Christians of all sorts who are ready to respond.
Today in our reading from the holy writer Mark, Jesus has an addendum to “What it Means to be a Disciple of Christ.” There is 1) The fervent belief that Jesus’ Disciples have; 2) The price that Jesus’ disciples are ready to pay.
Jesus was having a conversation with his disciples. Almost from the beginning of his ministry Jesus had intimated what his future would be. In the first year of his ministry he had gone to the Jerusalem to celebrate one of those great Jewish festivals. When he got there he was totally disgusted and discouraged with the way the temple was abused. It was a mall instead of a house of prayer. The moneychangers filled the temple to make money instead of being concerned about the treasures of heaven. He threw them out. Those merchants, however, pushed back. They demanded of Jesus, what gave him authority to boss them around? Remember what he said? “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” He was God and would rise on the third day to prove it.
That might not have been real clear to all the worshippers there that day, but there were those who did understand. It would come up three years later at Jesus’ trial. The point I want to make is this. Up until that time Jesus might have been veiled in his ministry about what was going to happen. No longer! Mark says, “He then began to teach them that 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. He spoke plainly about this.” He was open about it all and very exact!
He needed to suffer; he needed to die. The Old Testament Scriptures predicted it. Psalm 22 – “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Isaiah 53 - But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The Holy Spirit predicted it. Even though the Holy Spirit predicted it, Peter didn’t like it one bit! “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
How dare you, Peter? This was the will of God! Without what Jesus was about to do, Peter, you would die and go to hell! Without it we would all die and go to hell.
You see, Peter had different designs for Jesus. Die? Jesus die? He couldn’t die; he was the Son of God! Jesus would rule in Israel and conquer the world. He would bring heaven to earth. The other disciples were right there with him and thought exactly the same way.
There is a real irony here. Think about this. It seems that Jesus’ enemies listened more closely to Jesus than did the disciples who were close to him. When Jesus finally died on the cross, “the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.” Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think, that heathen took more seriously what Jesus said about dying and rising than did Peter and the others? Soldiers were placed at the grave. Why weren’t there eleven disciples at least hiding in the bushes waiting the third day to come so that they would be there when he promised to arise from the grave?
So again why was what Jesus said so important? Why did Jesus die? The simple reason… Jesus came to pay the wages of sin. Jesus came to make good on the Word of God when he said that God “doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked.” He came to suffer the death we deserved. Jesus came to prove that the Father in heaven means it when he says he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. What a blessing! Yet Peter treated it more as an embarrassment. He knew Jesus. He knew a lot about him, but missed the point.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Many are going to wonder why they aren’t going to heaven, even though they thought they knew him. They even called him Lord. While the Holy Spirit straightened Peter out later, I wonder if Peter at this time didn’t fall into that category. He saw Jesus for different reasons than for what Jesus came for.
Jesus is admired by a lot of people. Many admire him because he gave the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He is admired because he was the Preacher without parallel; he was the Superman of history. But Jesus’ goal was to go to Jerusalem to die to give evidence of God’s all-forgiving love and proof of God’s highest devotion to sinful man.
We are in the season of politics. We hear accusations that politicians and presidents and congressmen and women flip flop on how they feel about certain problems they try to solve. In my humble opinion our president has not done a very good job of doing the things that he promised to do. His hope and change is not about the changes we had hoped for. But when it comes to the cross and the suffering of Jesus, it is the enduring fact of all time. Its promises never change. It cures the problem that man has had since Eden . It is the one thing we can count on. It’s not an embarrassment; it’s not something to be ashamed of…quite the opposite. It is the power of God to save. That’s our core belief, a belief we hold on to fervently.
To follow Jesus no matter what is the disciples’ price we gladly pay, but it is not easy. “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.” To bear the cross is endure anything we have to endure for Jesus.
First you must say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus. That was Peter’s problem, wasn’t it? He was saying ‘yes’s to Peter but not ‘yes’ to Jesus. He wanted Jesus to make his life more comfortable. You can’t die Jesus; you have to stay here and rule the world and make my life more comfortable. Do you remember the poem “The Night before Christmas?” There is that line that says that the children are tucked into their beds, “While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” In other words the children on Christmas Eve had visions of the sweet tasting and pleasure giving candy. That was Peter. Peter thought that if Jesus could feed thousands and raise the dead, his life would be nothing but sweet and never sour again. His reasons for following Jesus were for “the now” and not for “the forever.” That’s what Jesus warns about when he says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” If you just want to save your life now, you will lose. If you want eternal life more than anything, this life won’t be so vital and important.
There are far too many who are involved in the money chase and not the race to heaven. Far too many of us are so concerned about the path along the way that we diminish the importance of getting to the finish line. In the end that’s all that will count. “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?”
I would like to read a parody of a prayer that most of us were taught. While wrong it does seem to express a shameful truth about us.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my Cuisinart to keep
I pray my stocks are on the rise
And that my analyst is wise
That all the wine I sip is white
And that my hot tub's watertight
That racquetball won't get too tough
That all my sushi's fresh enough
I pray my cordless phone still works
That my career won't lose its perks
My microwave won't radiate
My condo won't depreciate
I pray my health club doesn't close
And that my money market grows
If I go broke before I wake
I pray my Volvo they won't take.
Don’t get me wrong. All the items mentioned in that prayer can be gifts that God gives to us to enjoy. But not one can pay the way the heaven. Not one will we take to heaven. “Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” That’s left only to the blood of Jesus Christ.
Yet billions of people are trying to live without Jesus and have willfully and purposely rejected the Crucified Jesus and the grace that he brings. As someone said about a better than a half century ago, “Too many want a bread and butter paradise. Too many want a Jesus who supplies the loaves of bread and fish and spurn the Christ of the cross and nails.”
When Jesus told his disciples how necessary it was for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the chief priests and elders and teachers of the law, he was saying to his disciples that all this was necessary because that is how much God hated sin and yet paradoxically loves the sinner. Nothing else but the suffering and crucified Jesus will do. Nothing is worth pursuing like we need to pursue and follow him who paid to save us. To follow him no matter what is the price we gladly pay.