|Mark 8:31 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." 34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." ESV Mark 9:1 And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."|
You may have heard about the man who walked into the bookstore looking for a specific book. He knew if he could just be pointed to the correct section, he would be able to find his book. He found the bookstore clerk and asked, "Excuse me, could you show me where the self-help section is." The clerk replied, "I could, but that would defeat the purpose."
Walk into any bookstore, Christian or secular, and you will find a flood of self-help books. Books that intend to boost your self-esteem improve your self-image and make you self-actualized. It might be said that we are obsessed with self. I wonder what would happen if you walked into a bookstore and asked for the books on self-denial. Would such a book even be found on the shelf? Why would anyone want a book that teaches you how to deny yourself? If you don't care about following Jesus, you don't need to know this. However, Jesus made one thing very clear, anyone who wishes to follow after Him, must learn self-denial.
FIRST, self-denial begins with seeing the world from God's perspective, not your own. After Jesus reveals to His disciples His coming arrest, rejection, trial, death, and resurrection, we are told that Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him. Do not picture in your mind a polite, kind word from Peter here. Perhaps Peter used a tone that a parent may use with a child, "Get over here, now!" This would explain why Jesus corrected Peter publicly. Can you imagine trying to rebuke and correct Jesus, the Son of God. Everyone saw how Peter handled the situation. In his mind, he was defending and protecting his master. But you see, that was the problem; he was only operating in his mind.
Jesus' response to Peter is potent and well known. "Get behind me, Satan!" Strong words, he addresses Peter as the devil himself. "For you aren't thinking about God's things, but man's." This was Peter's problem. God's plan didn't make sense to him, so that means it must be a bad idea. Has God ever led you somewhere that didn't make sense to you at first? Self-denial begins by letting go your own tendency to reject that which you don't understand and simply trust your heavenly father.
It is very easy to see the world from our own puny perspective. It is easy to miss God's global vision to have people from every tribe, tongue, and nation come to faith in Jesus. Are you seeing things from your eyes or God's? This isn't always easy. It's not easy to see things from God's perspective when someone's 17th month old baby dies suddenly. It's not easy to see from God's viewpoint when you lose your job or when your spouse has been unfaithful. But even in life's greatest tragedies, God is still sovereign. He is still in control, He still loves us, and He still has a plan for you. So, what about when life falls apart? One way to see things from God's perspective is to remember that our citizenship is in heaven. This world is not our home, it was never meant to be.
What is it about God right now that you know to be true but you won't let yourself receive. What are you holding onto? Is there something that God has commanded you to do, but because it doesn't make sense you aren't accepting it? Maybe he's calling you into vocational ministry, maybe he's calling you to take the gospel into another country. Maybe you have the tendency to correct God, like Peter. Maybe you make apologies for things in the Bible, "well, that's not really what He means."
SECOND, self-denial means that you value Jesus more than your own life or comfort in this life. Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Let's focus on that phrase "take up his cross." This phrase does not mean that if we want to follow Jesus we will wear a nice chain with a cross around our neck. Taking up your cross doesn't mean putting cute Christian bumper stickers on our cars. By the way, if you have Christian bumper stickers, that's OK, but you need to be careful. You may have heard about the guy who had the bumper sticker that read "Honk if you love Jesus." As people passed him in traffic, they would honk and each time he would make an obscene gesture with his hand. Though this is only a joke, you can see the danger.
In Jewish and Roman culture, taking up your cross meant one thing: death row. Anyone carrying a cross during this time was doing so because he was a convicted criminal and it had come time for executing. In other words, their life was over, it now belonged to the Roman government. Jesus is saying that to follow him, you must consider your life to be forfeited. Today, our culture cheapens the meaning of the cross. The cross has become a trinket, not an instrument of torture and execution. Following Jesus is more valuable than even living. It means that if you could choose between life and Jesus, you would choose Jesus!
THIRD, self-denial is the path to the greatest gain. Jesus says, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." It needs to be mentioned that Jesus isn't talking about losing your life in general. It is a losing of your life for the sake of Jesus and for the gospel. For this principle to be effectual, that is where the losing has to take place. Having said that, doesn't this seem like a strange statement on the surface? Who saves his life? The one who loses it. Who loses his life? The one who saves it.
There are many television preachers who have a "give to get" message. Give your money and watch God bless you with more! It's not that God doesn't have a "give to get" message, it's that many times we are wrong about what we give and about what we get.
Jesus is teaching that what we give for him is our very life. We tell Him, "My life is not my own anymore. You, Jesus, have all rights to every breath I have." Then Jesus teaches that what we get isn't wealth and health, but what we get is HIM! Jesus says when you lose your life, you find it. Jesus says in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and THE LIFE." Paul tells the Philippians in 1:21, "For me, to live IS CHRIST." In Galatians 2:20 we read, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." The Bible is clear, real life, eternal life is found in God's Son. It is as Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
You want to save your life? Give it away to Jesus. You want to lose your life? Keep it to yourself and deny Jesus.
FOURTH, self-denial is freedom from the fear of man. Jesus continues, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Why would anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus be ashamed of Him? Answer: the fear of man. When we are ashamed of Jesus we are more concerned with man's approval than God's glory. We show that we love the praise of men more than the favor of God. We desire human accolades instead of God's "well done, good and faithful servant."
Jesus, however, gives a warning. He says that if we are ashamed of Him, he will be ashamed of us in the presence of the Father and the holy angels. This is where the rubber meets the road. Who is it that you want to please? That may be the question that determines if you will spend eternity in heaven or hell. You see, a decision to follow Jesus is a decision to turn away from the fear of man.
The Word of God has much to say about the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 says, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe." Matthew 10:28 says, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Who is it matters most to you that they approve of you this morning? Is it Jesus? It can be. You can have your heart changed, redirected today; right now.
I quoted Jim Elliot earlier. Jim and four of his friends exemplified what self-denial looked like. They valued Jesus over their lives, over their families, over their dreams and in 1956 they lost their lives on earth at the end of five spears in the jungles of South America. 50 plus years later, that same tribe is now serving God as a missionary tribe to other tribes. You see, self-denial is the path to glory. Self-denial is necessary for following Jesus. Self-denial is necessary is others are going to follow us as we follow Jesus.
In this post we have seen that to follow Jesus is to deny your self. This includes seeing things from God's perspective. It is valuing Jesus more than you value your own life. It means seeing self-denial as the path to greatest gain. And it is to be free from the fear of man. This is the road to serving Jesus.
Do you want to serve God? Know this: the path of service to God leads on to suffering and death. So the Savior now told the disciples that he must (1) suffer, (2) be rejected, (3) be killed, and (4) rise again. For Him, the path to glory would lead first to the cross and the grave. The heart of service would be revealed in sacrifice. Are you ready to follow Jesus?
Self-denial is a willful act, but it is more than that. Along with the decision to deny ourselves comes the pleasure of wanting to do so. True self-denial happens because you know that joy comes from following Jesus. Jesus isn't here today to help you feel better about yourself, your family, your life. He is here to make you feel so good about Him that you forget about yourself. This is the essence of self-denial. Jesus calls you to follow Him. Are you following Him? Only by losing your life to Jesus will you save it on the day of judgment.