Six questions about following Jesus

Mark 8:34-37

6 April 2014

Woodley Baptist Church

Baptism service

For our Bible reading I'm just going to read one verse to start with. It's from Mark's gospel and is in chapter 8, verse 34. In the church Bibles it's on page 1012.

Mark 8:34, Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with the disciples and said: "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."ref

I want to say six things about this in the few minutes we have, and they all begin with "W". They are not so much points or headings as questions, and the first one is who?


Kathy, Marianna, Maria — forgive the direct question, but I want to start by asking, who are you? It was lovely to hear your baptism testimonies earlier and learn a little about each of you. But fundamentally, deep down, at the innermost part of your being, who are you?

Well, what each of you has declared to all of us today in coming and being baptised, is that who you are, above anything else, is a follower.

You are followers. You are not people live life aimlessly, without a goal. You are not people whose only interest is themselves. You have told us today that you are followers.

That's who you are, but who do you follow?

And "who?" is the right question. Not what do you follow, but who do you follow? You are not following a philosophy or a religion or a lifestyle. You are following a person. You are following this Jesus whom we read about, who said if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.ref

Jesus was a real man who really lived. Two thousand years ago you could have touched him, heard him, spoken to him. Yet he was so much more than a man: God himself walking this earth. God — visible, touchable, hearable — and, as we shall see, vulnerable.

This is who you and I and many others here this morning are, above anything and everything else: we are followers; followers of Jesus.

Actually, this is what I tell people these days when they ask me questions like, "Are you religious?" . For many years I really didn't know how to answer that question. But now I simply tell them, "No, I am a follower of Jesus." It leads to some interesting conversations!


So that was, who? Pressing on, we come to where? Where are you going?

Well, you and I are going wherever Jesus leads, aren't we? That's what it means to be a follower. So where is Jesus going?

Now that's a question. He's just told his disciples, a few verses earlier in verse 31. I'll read, [Jesus] then began to teach them that [he] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed.ref

Coming up to Easter, this is on our minds, isn't it. Next Sunday we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, cheered like a king. But as Easter week goes on, we remember his betrayal by Judas. We remember his anguished, agonised prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. We remember his friends abandoning him. We remember his arrest and unjust trial: the innocent man condemned. We remember him mocked, spat on, beaten. Too weak to carry it himself, the cross on which he was crucified was carried by a passer-by. His clothes ripped from him, he was nailed to a wooden cross on which he died in agony a few hours later.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.ref

This is where he led; this is the one we follow.


Question three: what? What does this mean for you and me?

Well, Jesus tells us, doesn't he? If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his crossref.

We are currently in Lent, aren't we, the traditional season of self-denial. Some of my colleagues have given up chocolate; one has given up caffeine. I've given up alcohol. Is this what Jesus means when he says, "you must deny yourself"?

No. He means something far more profound. When Jesus says that you must deny yourself, he means that you are no longer the most important person in your life.

Everything in us and around us encourages us to live as if we are the most important person in our lives. We are into self-esteem, self-improvement, self-reliance, self-image, self-advancement, self-confidence, self-awareness, self-indulgence, and even selfie photographs.

But Jesus says to his followers: deny yourself. You are not the most important person in your life. Your life now revolves first of all around him, and because of that, around other people. And that is going to affect how you live every hour of every day: how you spend your time; how you spend your money; the relationships you have or don't have; how you use the Internet; the house you live in; the job you do; the words you say. In all these things — in everything — you are no longer the most important person.

And it's not easy. For Jesus, living his life for others ultimately meant dying in place of others. What Jesus was doing as he died on the cross was bearing God's judgement on us. Because of the selfish, Godless ways in which we live our lives, we are under the judgement of God. You and I deserve to die. But because of his great love for us, God came to us in Jesus to bear that judgement in our place. He died that we might live.

Jesus literally had a cross to carry: in the Roman world, those who carried the cross were on their way to their executions. And Jesus says to those who would follow him: take up your crossref.

Living for Jesus — living for others — is almost literally a dying of ourselves. We saw that in the baptisms, didn't we? Symbolically the old self was pushed into the water and drowned. Similarly, in Jesus' picture, our own, self-centred lives are to be nailed to the cross: executed. This is what it means, to take up your cross.

What do we do? We follow where he leads.


What else can the next question be but, why? Why on earth would Kathy and Marianna and Maria, and me, and many others here this morning — why on earth would we want to follow Jesus if this is what it means? Jesus is a strange kind of salesman, isn't he?

Well, the answer is in the next thing that Jesus says, in verse 35 of Mark chapter 8. Let me read, For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.ref

The puzzle that Jesus gives us here is that if you try to hold on to your life — that is, you continue to believe that you are the most important person in your life — then you don't really have a life at all. You will never really know true joy; you will never really know true happiness; you will never have what is most precious in the universe. And whatever life you do have will one day be taken away under God's judgement.

But if we will follow him, and deny ourselves, and take up our crosses, then Jesus promises us true life: life in all its fullness! Life in relationship with God our creator. Life as it was always meant to be: life full of joy; free from fear. Life now, and life in the age to come.

You see, Good Friday isn't the end of the story. Easter day comes after, when God raised Jesus from the dead. So he proved that he had conquered death for all who follow him. And Jesus lives now, and by his Spirit, he gives us new life.

Jesus continues to say in our passage, verse 36, What good is it for a man to to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?ref

What is a human life worth? Well, we can work out what various governments think by looking at their spending on road safety. Apparently, the UK government thinks it's worth spending about two million pounds to save a life. Interestingly, the American government values its citizens at five million dollars, which is three million pounds, and the Japanese government its people at seven million pounds. I shall leave that with you to ponder.

But what is the true value of a life? Well, Jesus tells us here. Your life is priceless! If you were to gain the whole world, every single thing and every single experience that this planet has to offer — trillions and trillions of pounds worth — it would still not be worth exchanging your soul for. Your life is more valuable than anything in the world.

That's the answer to why we deny ourselves, why we take up our crosses and why we follow Jesus.


So, we've covered four questions: Who? Where? What? and Why?

My last two questions, briefly, are for anyone here who has not yet committed himself or herself to following Jesus. The first question for you is Which?

Which way will you go? When Jesus speaks, there's always a challenge behind his words. And his challenge here is: which way will you go? My way, or your own way? These are the only two paths. One leads to life — life in all its fullness. The other leads to total loss — it's a complete dead end.

Which way will you choose?


The final question is When?

You may be aware that Jesus is calling you to follow him. You may have been aware for some time, or you may have just become aware this morning. When are you going to respond? When will you get up and follow him?

Well, there's no time like the present. Who knows, next week or next year, Jesus might have moved on. You might have moved on. All I know is that he is calling you today: he says, "Follow me". In these words he is calling you. Why not obey that call today; reach out to him while he is near.


I'm going to pray a short prayer now. This is a prayer for those who have come to realise that they want to follow Jesus. If that's you, then please just repeat these words in your heart and say a quiet Amen at the end to make them your own.

Let's pray.

Father God, I realise that I have been living my life my own way, without you. I am sorry. I want to follow Jesus. Thank you that he went to die for me, denying himself, bearing his cross, bearing your judgement on me. Please give me new life in Jesus. Please help me to follow him for the rest of my life. Amen.

If you have prayed that prayer, or if you want to know more about following Jesus, please don't leave this morning without speaking to somebody. After the service, come and find me or one of the church elders, John or Doug or Jez. We would love to talk to you.