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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The true contours of Messiahship and discipleship
Text:Mark 8:31-9:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 108:1,2,5
Psalm 6:1-3 (after the law)
Hymn 43
Hymn 39
Psalm 57

Reading: Acts 9:1-31
Text: Mark 8:31-9:1
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


It happened in 1518 in the city of Heidelberg, Germany.  We know Heidelberg because of its catechism, but our catechism wouldn’t be written until 1563.  But a lot of years earlier, in 1518, another important event happened in this city along the Neckar River.  An Augustinian monk came to visit.  He came to present his theological views to the members of his order in that city.  The monk was Martin Luther and this event came to be known as the Heidelberg Disputation.  It’s worth knowing about because here Luther presented for the first time what he called the “theology of the cross.”  At the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther explained the difference between the biblical theology of the cross and the unbiblical or even anti-biblical theology of glory. 


The medieval Church had often taught a theology of glory.  Through good works and a little help, man could climb his way up to God and receive God’s blessing.  The Bible, on the other hand, teaches a theology of the cross.  Through grace, God comes down to man in Jesus Christ crucified.  The wisdom of God is in the cross and in suffering, not in glory on this earth.


Martin Luther had learned this from Scripture, from passages like Acts 14:22.  There Paul and Barnabas encouraged the believers at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch by telling them, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  Paul and Barnabas had learned this from the Lord Jesus, from passages like the one we’re looking at this morning.


We need a theology of the cross today.  The world around us certainly doesn’t have the perspective of our Lord Jesus, a biblical perspective.  Blatant glory-seeking narcissism is everywhere.  But that kind of thinking seeps in among people who call themselves Christians too.  Twenty years ago, the prosperity gospel movement was on the side-lines and almost universally recognized as an unbiblical form of Christianity.  The prosperity gospel preachers say that Jesus Christ came to make us wealthy, healthy, and materially blessed.  Today these folks are mainstream and their books are available in most Christian bookstores.  Surrounded by these worldly and sub-Christian influences, it would be very easy for us to lose sight of a theology of the cross.  Just like Martin Luther did, we need to constantly go back to the Word of God.


There we find this remarkable passage where the truth starts trickling out about what the biblical Messiah does and what true discipleship looks like.  In the passage right before this one, Peter finally got Jesus’ identity correct.  He saw clearly that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God.   However, in this passage it becomes clear that Peter didn’t have a good understanding of what the Messiah had to do, nor did he understand what would happen to those who are the Messiah’s disciples.  The Lord Jesus is there to help Peter and the other disciples unlearn everything mistaken that they had been taught or believed. 


This passage takes place in the region of Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus and his disciples are continuing to travel.  The road is their classroom.  As they’re walking along, the teacher continues his lessons.  He teaches them that it is necessary for certain things to happen to the Son of Man.  When he says that it is necessary, that refers to the fact that this is the way that it has been determined by God.  The will of God with regards to what will happen to the Messiah is found in the Word of God.  Isaiah 53 is the most well-known passage in that regard, but there are other places in the Old Testament which also indicated the destiny of the Messiah.  God’s Word made it necessary for the Messiah to travel a certain road.


The Messiah is described here as the Son of Man – that title hearkens back to Daniel 7, where the Son of Man comes down from heaven and is given dominion, glory and a kingdom.  The Son of Man is the glorious Messiah.  If you were aware of that context, you would think that Jesus would then say something like, “It is necessary for the Son of Man to be victorious over the Romans and establish his kingdom of glory in the Promised Land.”  But the Lord Jesus turns people’s expectations upside down.  Before he can attain glory, the Son of Man has to travel a certain road, a road of grief and sorrow. 


The Lord Jesus teaches his disciples that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer much.  This undoubtedly reaches its apex at Good Friday, his suffering leading up to and including the cross.  But it’s good to remember that his whole life was one of suffering.  He suffered much during all his 33 years.  And he would be rejected by the elders, the ruling priests and the scribes.  They didn’t see anything in him or what he said that fit their expectations for the Messiah.  The consensus of all the Jewish religious leaders would be that Jesus failed the test.  Failure must result in death.  The Lord Jesus taught his disciples that he would not die a natural death, but would be put to death.  However, he would not stay dead.  After three days, he would rise again – glory would only follow the cross and the horrible events leading up to it. 


Our Saviour didn’t say all of this in a mysterious parable.  No, Mark tells us in verse 32 that this was all said in easy-to-understand language.  Peter and the others got it right away, they knew what he was talking about – and they weren’t impressed.  Peter is the spokesman, and he impulsively takes Jesus aside to correct him.  Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what he says.  Matthew does:  “Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!”  In other words, Lord, you are the Messiah, obviously you don’t know anything about what the Messiah is supposed to do.  The Messiah is supposed to be like Moses, giving bread in the desert; the Messiah is supposed to be like Joshua, leading a conquest that will recapture the promised land from the pagans; the Messiah is supposed to be like David, establishing a triumphant kingdom where all our enemies are footstools.  But rejection, suffering and death?  Come on, Lord, that’s not what we were taught about the Messiah!  Peter tries to straighten Jesus out. 


However, it’s Peter that needs straightening out.  He got Jesus’ identity as the Messiah correct just a little while ago, but here he shows that he doesn’t really understand what that means.  A moment ago, Peter was the grade-A student at the top of the class.  Now, he’s....well you know where he is.  He tried to rebuke his teacher, but it turns out that he needs his teacher to rebuke him.  That’s exactly what happens. 


The Lord Jesus knew that Peter was speaking what was on the hearts of all the disciples.  So, he turns to them all as he delivers the counter-rebuke to Peter:  “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  Ouch.  That had to hurt.  Imagine your beloved teacher calling you “Satan.”  But Christ recognized something in Peter’s words and approach that reminded him of the evil one.  When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he gave him the opportunity to go for the glory.  Satan presented him with the option of abandoning his humiliation and suffering.  The Lord Jesus repulsed Satan’s attack with the Word of God, and he does the same here with this Satan.  Remember: Satan means “enemy” or “adversary.”  At this point, Peter is at enmity with God’s revealed purposes for the Messiah.  That’s why Jesus uses this strong language.  Peter is opposed to what God has said in Scripture, what God has willed for the redemption of his people.  Peter isn’t thinking God’s thoughts, but human thoughts.  He wants the glory without the suffering.  But he doesn’t realize that glory without suffering leaves us without a Redeemer.  Peter has to get out from the front of the class and get back to his place as a student and disciple.  He has nothing to teach Jesus.  Jesus has everything to teach him.


Loved ones, this episode with the rebuke and the counter-rebuke reminds us of how important it is to have an understanding of Christ and his work that’s rooted in Scripture.  Time and again, people want to give Christ a make-over, to make him over into someone they can accept.  For example, some time ago the singer Elton John gave an interview where he shared his thoughts on Jesus Christ.  He said, “I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent, gay man who understood human problems.”  Peter thought Jesus should be the military general.  Elton John thinks Jesus was a really nice gay man.  Neither of them are right.  But what about us?  Can we also be in danger of sculpting the Messiah, moulding him to be who we want him to be?  Sure, absolutely.  It happens over and over again.  For instance, we can see Jesus as a sort of new Moses, giving us the commands we need to follow in order to measure up for heaven.  The ways are endless.  In fact, there’s even an excellent book by Stephen Nichols documenting the numerous ways in which the Lord Jesus has been reimaged in our day and culture.  The book is entitled Jesus Made in America, and it pinched me, and if you read it, it’ll likely pinch you too and remind you to keep going back to Scripture.               


We need to keep going back to Scripture to understand the person and work of the Messiah, but also to understand what it means to be one of his disciples.  The Lord reveals some of the contours of biblical discipleship in the next chunk of verses, from verse 34 to verse 38.  Here he calls in the crowd together with his disciples.


He says that there are three things expected or demanded of disciples.  All three are closely related.  The first is that disciples must deny themselves.  What does that mean, exactly?  Well, it means that they must say no to what they want, their goals, their aspirations.  To deny oneself is to take the place of humility, and stop striving for earthly recognition and glory.  Self-denial is portrayed in the person and work of Christ our Lord.  He had all heavenly majesty and glory, but emptied himself of everything to come to this earth to live, suffer, and die for us.  Self-denial involves resisting the temptation to look inwards, to be turned inwards on yourself.  Narcissism, self-obsession, pride – these are our default modes.  Discipleship means killing these things, reminding ourselves to not look inwards, but to look outwards and upwards to Christ and to the people around us.


You’ll hear a bit about self-denial during the so-called season of Lent.  However, notice that the Lord Jesus didn’t say, “he must deny himself during the forty days before Easter.”  The Lord Jesus didn’t have something so superficial in mind.  Instead, the whole life of a disciple on this earth is to be one of self-denial.  As Christ denied himself in his life on earth, so also his disciples who have union with him go and do the same.  This is the fruit of their faith in him. 


So, the first demand is for self-denial.  The second is that disciples are to take up their cross.  With these words, Jesus does two things.  This is the first time that the cross is mentioned by Jesus, and it serves to remind us of what is coming in his life.  His path is leading to the cross.  But second of all, he defines the life of a Christian in terms of an instrument used to put criminals to death.  In our day, even though we don’t have capital punishment in Canada, Jesus might have said, “take up your electric chair.”  “Taking up your cross” refers to carrying the cross-beam to the place where you’re going to die.  Get in behind Jesus as he travels the road to Golgotha.  Take up the instrument that will kill you and go with it, travel the road of suffering onward to death – die to yourself and live to Christ.  To take up your cross is to enrol in Jesus’ school of suffering.  That’s what discipleship entails.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarized this memorably when he said, “When Christ bids a man come, he bids him come and die.”  Not die necessarily physically (although that may happen), but die to your old nature, your old self, die to your sin.  It will be painful, it will cost you, but it is necessary and will ultimately be worth it.


The third demand is to follow him.  This is the essence of discipleship.  To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus means to be a follower, to go after him.  It means to travel the same path in this world as he travelled.  The paradigm or the model is exactly what Paul and Barnabas said in Acts 14:22, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  Or what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  We’re not to expect the glory in the here and now, but only in the hereafter.  Today, as we follow our Master, we’re to expect sorrow and suffering, a cross, self-denial.  This world is a messy broken place and there’s a lot of grief because of the brokenness caused by the fall.  In this world, we also face the constant struggle with our own sin.  The Lord Jesus tells us to follow him through the valley of the shadow of death.  He has travelled this path before us, and he will lead the way and give the strength for the journey.  Look to him, entrust yourself to him, rest and trust in him, and you will arrive safely at the final destination. 


In verses 35-37, the Lord Jesus provides a rationale for these expectations or demands.  First he says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it...”  That means that whoever puts his self-interests and self-preservation as a priority will eventually lose the very thing he was trying to protect.  If you’re turned in on yourself, suffering from a chronic case of spiritual scoliosis, you’re terminal.  The old saying is “You’ve got to look out for number one.”  That old saying is pure snake-think.  Snake-think.  It’s what the snake told Adam and Eve and it’s what got our race into this problem in the first place.  “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it...”  It flies in the face of normal human thinking, but it’s true.


What Jesus says next is equally true:  “Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  In other words, whoever puts Christ and his interests (i.e. the gospel) as a priority, that person will also find his life protected and his interests and preservation ultimately taken care of.  If you look to Christ and make him your obsession, everything else will fall into place.  As he said elsewhere, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”  And when Jesus says, “whoever loses his life,” he may be alluding to martyrdom, but it’s more than that.  There are those who are called to literally give their lives for Christ, but for most Christians our calling is simply to make him our highest priority and our obsession.  Us and our self-interests and self-absorption fall into oblivion and Christ and the gospel becomes everything to us.  The result will be that we will find ourselves cared for and loved into eternity. 


Isn’t that what happened with Saul of Tarsus?  He was an up-and-coming Pharisee.  His zeal for persecuting the early Christians was hard to beat.  They say that zeal is desire on steroids, and that’s an accurate description of Saul.  According to his own words in Philippians 3, he was relying on the law and his obedience for his right standing with God.  Saul was a big man in his little world.  He was named after King Saul, whom we know was a physically large man and an imposing figure.  Big Saul of Tarsus was on his way up in the world -- until one day Jesus came after him and turned his life upside down.  Big Saul was laying on the ground and from that point forward he began to lose his life for Christ and for the gospel.  He would be saved.  Big Saul became a different person.  That’s also why he changed his name to Paul.  Do you know what “Paul” means?  It comes from Latin and means something like “little man.”  Big Saul became Little Paul.  He died to himself and lived to Christ.  Christ was big and he became little.  Little Paul was shown mercy.  His self-interests became nothing and Christ became everything.  Our text teaches us that the same thing has to happen with all of Christ’s disciples.      


The Lord Jesus then puts an exclamation mark behind all that by using a couple of comparisons from the world of business.  He says, “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?”  You could look out for your self-interests, live out of narcissism and self-preservation, and you could get tremendously ahead in this world.  You could have it all.  But what good will it do you for eternity?  Is it a fair trade to have it all in this world, but to lose your life to hell in the next?  There are people who might say that it is.  I’ve heard people say that they’d rather have their idea of heaven here, and risk what hell might bring in the hereafter.  But such people don’t take the Bible seriously when it describes what hell will be like.  Brothers and sisters, hell is real and if someone is not believing in Christ, it’s something to be feared.  The person who doesn’t think much of hell doesn’t understand the holiness of God, his justice, his wrath against sin.  The Lord Jesus is appealing to our natural sense of self-preservation and he’s saying that if you value that, you’ll listen to what he says and you’ll follow him. 


Then he adds a more explicit warning in verse 38.  There are those who will be ashamed of Christ and his words.  Ashamed of Christ and the gospel.  That happens in a world where there is sinfulness and unfaithfulness to God.  There are consequences when a person is ashamed of Christ and the gospel.  The consequences may not be right away evident, but someday they will be.  Someday when Christ returns in his Father’s glory, with the holy angels, then he will be ashamed of those who were ashamed of him.  In other words, the Lord Jesus will not acknowledge them as being his – and we know what results from that, don’t we?  Loved ones, one of the inevitable fruits of faith is that we will acknowledge Christ publicly everywhere and anywhere.  When someone believes in Jesus Christ, and is a disciple of him, what follows without fail is that such a person will rejoice in Christ and be glad to be his and want to speak about him and about the gospel.  They’ll want to say what Little Paul says in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...”


Brothers and sisters, the flip side of the grim warning in verse 38 is a beautiful, encouraging promise.  We find that promise in Hebrews 2.  Speaking about believers, about those who are disciples of Christ, we read in Hebrews 2:11, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”  At the last day, Jesus will not be ashamed to call you his brother if you are truly resting and trusting in him.  If you are truly looking to him in faith, your faith will bear fruit – among those fruits will be acknowledging him wherever you can in your life.  At the last day, the Lord Jesus will not be ashamed of you, but will rather rejoice over you and glory in you.  He’ll say, “This one is mine, my brother or sister whom I love and in whom I take great delight!”                        


The Lord Jesus laid it all out for his disciples.  The path to glory for both the Messiah and his disciples involves travelling through suffering and death.  There’s no easy road to glory.  The road is narrow and the way is hard.  But glory will come and our Saviour refers to the coming of his glory in the first verse of chapter 9.  He says that some of the disciples are going to see it in their lifetime.  The big question is: what was he referring to here?  It’s not a reference to any one particular event.  Just like his suffering and humiliation encompassed a whole range of times and events spanning from his incarnation to his burial, so also his exaltation and glory encompasses a whole range of times and events.  It includes his resurrection and ascension, it includes Pentecost and the rapid expansion of the church that followed.  Some of the disciples would be with him on the mount of transfiguration in the next passage.  That glimpse of Jesus’ glory is prophetic, pointing ahead to the glory that will be increasingly revealed after his death and burial.  Through suffering and death to glory – that’s the point that the Lord Jesus is trying to get across here.  He’s saying to them, “My glory is coming and you will see it, but for now there’s a path that the Messiah has to travel.”   


Some day the glory of the Messiah will be fully revealed.  Brothers and sisters, we ought to pray for and look for that great day.  When that day arrives, all our earthly sorrows and griefs will be ended.  All our struggles with sin will cease.  In the age to come, there will be no cross to carry.  In the new heavens and new earth, there will be only glory, not only for the Messiah, but also for all who are his.  For you.  For now there is struggle.  For now there is a constant dying to yourself.  Today is the day for a theology of the cross.  But the great tomorrow is coming when it will be all glory all the time.  AMEN.  




Heavenly Father,


Our world is broken and so are we.  Father, we need your care and attention.  We need you to keep working in us with your Spirit so that we keep on dying to ourselves.  Help us to live to Christ and for Christ.  Father, please help us to be obsessed with him, with his words, with the gospel.  Help us to be true disciples in his school of suffering.  Please help us to gladly and willingly take up our cross daily, follow him, and cling to him in true faith, firm hope, and devoted love.  Please grant that all of us, comforted in you, may leave this life which is no more than a constant death, and at the last day may appear without fear before the judgment seat of Christ your Son.  Father, let us all hear his voice publicly announcing that we are his, and he is ours.  We pray that the day would come quickly. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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