How the Gospel Integrates

This past Sunday I preached from John 3.14-21. In an effort to help us hear with fresh ears, I offered my own translation from the Greek. Of note in the translation, instead of “perish” as is typically used for the word apollumi in the Greek, I opted for “destroy.” The lexical range for the word can also include “to undo” as in “untie.” What a strange word or concept to consider that to be destroyed is to be untied or undone. What is John (and Greek!) getting at?

As we consider the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation, the idea of being untied is a beautiful picture of what happened at the Fall. That is, when our first parents fell to the temptation of the Serpent they were untied, unglued as it were. They were broken down from the integrated selves God had made them as.

So many times we can understand the death we experience from the Fall as puntiliwr in nature. That is, as in that moment in the Fall death happened. What we see as the biblical storyline unfolds is that the concept of “death” is one of living under the reign of death. That is, the moment we close our eyes for the last time is merely culmination of living under the tyranny of death. Prior to that moment, we are being undone, untied, thread by precious thread.

I believe this coheres with our own experience. Consider the moment by moment decisions you and I make. Each one of those decisions could potentially be one more thread pulled out of our already threadbare sweater. Sin entices. We get hooked. Sin unravels us. After a life of this, we become naked and unashamed–where there should have been a covering and shame for the rebellion we relish. At the end of such a life, we come to the final thread being snapped.

The Gospel, however, is about the work of integrating us. Of bringing us into wholeness. Whereas we continue to live under the reign of death, we are merely tenants and not inheritors of such death. We have been given the life of Christ and are being knit back together into the integrated self that God had intended from the beginning. And so, the Gospel saved us, saves us, and will save us from the frayed existence of those who do not believe on the Son. Those who refuse to come to the Tailor to receive their garments of praise, will continue to wear the ashes. Those who do not submit to the rectifying work of the Author and Finisher of our lives, will find that they are undone. They are ultimately destroyed.

In this way, the Gospel of Jesus a moment of transference into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And it then acts as the agent of reifying the imago Dei that was unraveled. What a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives moment by moment! When confronted with a juicy morsel of sin, by the power of the Spirit to say “No” to ungodliness and our own rule, another thread is tighter in our fabric. Each moment when the promises of slavery seem enticing, instead of being undone and destroyed, we are made into wholly, integrated image bearers.

“Life From the Serpent and Through the Son” John 3.14-21

For the last three weeks of this season of Lent, we have been focusing on the need to reflect and repent in our lives. I have to admit, it has been a little difficult for me to walk through these very difficult passages of dying to self and Jesus’ challenge to the kind of Savior we want and the need to repent. Unfortunately this focus of the Christian life can easily slip into a self-congratulatory or self-justifying event. Consider the tendency throughout church history where believers needed to perform ornate expressions of devotion. I am thinking of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain where people crawl on their hands and knees. Hear one pilgrim’s account:

Some crawled for miles on their bleeding hands and knees. Others dragged cinderblocks and stones along the asphalt. Many arrived at the chapel exhausted and bleeding after excruciating treks barefoot, on their knees, or even dragging themselves along the ground. Many wore the traditional sackcloth of penitence.

Too often when we speak about repentance for our sin, we forget the beautiful motivating aspect of salvation. It’s repentance and faith. Faith is the motivating force for repentance. It’s the selling of all we have for the priceless treasure hidden in the field. It is the pearl of great price worth the price of great sacrifice.

Today in the midst of all this darkness and sadness and brokenness we ought to feel for our sin and rebellion, we see a bright ray of light. A piercing light that divides the dark. That provides hope to the powerless and strength to the hopeless. My plan is to highlight several aspects of our passage today and to trust the Holy Spirit to let various emphases land on your heart and change your life as a result.

As such, I am going to forego the translation we have in the bulletin and am going to offer my  own translation to hopefully draw out aspects of the text for us this morning.

Just as Moses also lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it is necessary that the Son of Man to be lifted up. In order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only-begotten Son in order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God did not send his Son into the world in order to condemn the world but in order that the world would be saved through him. The ones believing on him are not condemned. But the ones not believing are already condemned, because they have not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this is the condemnation: That the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light, for their works were evil. For the one who does evil works hates the light, and he does not come toward the light so that his works will not be exposed. And the one who does the truth comes toward the light so that his works will be revealed because they are worked out in God.

As you think about some of our favorite love stories, what are some common threads? Romeo and Juliet loved each other to the point of death. Bonnie and Clyde were fully devoted to each other. Leonardo DiCaprio or Bradley Cooper or Matthew McConaughey…in anything they ever played are generous, self-sacrificing, committed in spite of circumstances or difficulties. Every story of love is a glimpse, a shadow of the love that God has displayed in his Son Jesus. Indeed, whenever we get the feeling of love, it is meant to lift our eyes to a more perfect love. Because eventually the credits to these stories roll and the script is finished and these amazing stories end. The Honeymoon always ends and we are aways let with sinners who say I Do.

I am convinced that if you and I were more convinced and sure of the love of God for us our lives would be dramatically affected everyday. Every interaction we have. Every thought we have. Every word we speak would be saturated with grace and humility and a pointing away from our self-sufficiency and magnifying the worth of God.

Let’s start at the most well-known verse in the Bible, v. 16: For this is the way that God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son. God loved the world. He loves the world, without measure because he is infinite and without boundary. This is the word kosmos, which is where we get our word for “cosmos”. Consider the vastness of the entire creation.

We went to the Roper Mountain Planetarium a couple weeks ago. They had a telescope that could see out over 1,000 lightyears. 1 lightyear = 5.9 trillion miles. The most powerful telescope is able to see 13.2 billion lightyears away…and that’s just what we are able to see now. Let that consume your mind. The love of God is vast. You’re standing on the edge of the ocean and yet the love of God is more consuming. Were you to sail out a 100 miles and be dropped in the ocean and be surrounded and drowned in it. The love of God is deeper still.

God is not scowling. He is not in a perpetual rage. He is not constantly fuming with anger. As he pleaded with wicked Nineveh. As he pleaded with his own people who did not receive his Son but beckoned them to come under the shelter of his wing for comfort and protection. As he fed and watered a people who grumbled and complained about his grace.

Who does Scripture say that God loved?

Consider for a moment the “just as” Jesus references in v.14 from Numbers 21, the account that we just heard. “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes on him may have life eternal.” Why was the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness? Because Israel had murmured and complained against God. They had despised his salvation. They had hated his way of healing them. While were yet murmurers, Christ died for us.

While we were yet sinners, while we were still weak, while we were in darkness…at that moment Christ died for us.

How does Scripture say he loved us? 

By giving. He did not merely give a gift. He loved his Son with an eternal love. A pure and holy love. My love for my children is a shadow of the reality of God’s perfect love for his Son. I have often said that part of me would die if I lost any one of my children. I can’t imagine life without one of them. I would die. Before the creation of the vast galaxies that cannot be measured by our greatest instruments. Before this, God the Father was delighting in an relishing the Son of glory. In this Trinitarian dance, the Father and the Son and the Spirit were in perfect and sweet communion.

Yet, God, in his grace. In his love. Sent his beloved and one and only Son…not merely to be an example for us, but even more to lay down his life for us. For the unlovely. For the ungodly. He gave us God. He gave us his very life.

Notice to whom this offer is made.

All those believing on him. Anyone. Any person that bows their knee can be saved.

Are you discouraged by your sin? Are you without hope that the one you love the most is beyond the reach of God? Remember your own state in which God found you. He didn’t just make you a better version of your already good self. By confessing and acknowledging your wretchedness, God would remind you that he is able and willing to save anyone.

Our passage from Ephesians 2: But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.

It is only by one’s own pride that he will not come to this All-Sufficient Savior. Before Christ came to us, we loved the darkness more than the light. Our deeds. Our thoughts. Our words. The very orientation of our lives was crooked and small.

It is only by relying on our own ability to save ourselves that we will remain in destructive condemnation.

You were not saved by your strength. You were not saved by your works. You were saved in spite of yourself. You were saved. Saved.

Notice how this salvation is made real. 

All those believing on him. Belief. It is not the amount of belief we have. Jesus himself said that faith as small as a mustard seed could move a mountain. It is not the faith, but the one upon whom we place our faith. Are you downcast from something you said this morning. From something you did last night. Something you thought this week.

In the same way that Israel merely looked up to the bronze serpent to be saved, so also God is calling you to merely look away from yourself and look up to the Sufficient One who can cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Look to him. There is no strength you need to bring. You just need to look to him.

Look to the one who took the initiative in this cosmic redemption. Be overwhelmed by his deep affection for you. He did not wait for you to come to him. He sent his Son. He did not send him to condemn you. He sent him to draw you out of the miry clay out of the deep waters and save you.

It is not merely that God wants you to merely look to the Lifted up Son on the Cross. He’s not an unwilling king—as though you look to him and he extends his scepter because he is bound by some law outside himself. The love for you wells up from his own heart. For when you look to him, you are born again. You are made new. Your works go from serving your own wants and desires to being exploded and expanded to magnify the strength and beauty of the One who loved you and gave himself up for you.

Your evil deeds are converted into works done in God. v.21! He doesn’t hold his nose when you enter the room. He doesn’t turn his face away. He looks you full in the face and says, “I. Love. You.” He raises us with our Perfect King and seats us with him. We share all that Christ has with him.

By the power of the Spirit, God promises to make you who he intended you to be from the foundation of the world. From before the cosmos was made in all its expanse and immensity and gravity, God planned to come to you. To save you. To redeem you even today, if you will but come to the Light. If you will allow his saving grace to consume your darkness. To shine light on your deeds and convert them to Christ.

Are you burdened by your sin? Come to the light this morning. It wasn’t intended for you only when you walked down the aisle so many years ago. He bids you to come to the light. To receive the fullness of life. Of eternal and ever-full life.

Are you lacking courage this morning? He loves you. He traversed the expanse of the universe, the even greater distance between our sinfulness and his infinite purity. The light of his Star that shines even brighter than the Sun. He traveled such a distance that God became man to be near you. To love you. How can you not leap a wall of whatever fortress you have built around yourself? How can you not take up the feet of a deer and spring to the heights?

Are you lacking faith for the one you love? Know that all who believe on him, he will not cast out. He will not shrink from. He will embrace. Whatever station of life. Will you not draw near to that one and love them with the love of Christ?

Questions to Consider

  1. How easy or difficult for you to accept the proposition that God loves you?
  2. What is your view of God? Do you often see him as a distant king or one who draws near to you?
  3. How does courage and joy relate to understanding God’s love for us?

“The Temple’s Zeal” – John 2.13-22

Last week we considered Jesus’ first prediction in Mark’s Gospel of his death and resurrection. This is the first of three such predictions in Mark’s Gospel. That was around 8.30. The other ones are around 9.30 and 10.30—to remember it more easily. And what Jesus confronts us with these predictions is the cost of saving others. And what the cost is for following him.

The point of such sacrifice is not to merely make you frustrated with life—“I can’t do that” or “I have to do this”—it allows us to be freed from the shackles of self-centered living. It expands and multiples and fills our lives many times over. Like Jesus will say later in the Gospel we are looking at today, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” What did Jesus win by dying? He glorified God through his perfect life—perfect obedience—perfect sacrifice. And in his breaking forth from the ground, his faithfulness was multiplied produced more seeds.

But the path that Jesus chooses. The path that God chooses for us. It is a foolish path in the world’s eyes. It is a path of suffering and giving. It is a path of weakness and disgrace.

John 2.13-22

13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John 2:14    He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

John 2:18   So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

Main Point: God is zealous to be known by his people. As such he sets out to destroy pretense and religiosity.

The Way of God is not the ways of men

There are three points from our text that support this main theme of the passage. Our first point is: The Way of God is not the ways of men. We have already thought about this point the past two weeks as we considered the price the Anointed One of God had to pay for his people. But we drill down a little deeper into this as we see the Temple being a marketplace.

Jesus is moved to throw out all those who were making profits from the sale of animals. What we see here is how subtle our self-centeredness creeps into our professions of faith and religion. The people needed animals to sacrifice at Passover. Those who were selling these animals could have easily said, “Hey! We’re just serving people by providing a service for them. They don’t have to lug an animal across the Judean countryside. They can just show up and buy the animal.”

This is true. But why does Jesus seem to go over the top in his reaction? I mean, he makes a whip!

Quite simply, the vendors were taking advantage of a situation. They were overcharging and had presumed to move into the outer court of the Temple to set up shop. God became the means to the miserable and ultimate goal of serving the creature. But they were also minimizing the life of faith to one of transaction.

There are two implications we can draw from Jesus’ statement about a marketplace:

  1. We must be careful not to try and justify our actions using religious means. We can easily make the Christian life one of buying goods and services. We replace the rich texture of relationship with the Almighty with a flat and thin system of have to’s. Bible studies. Community groups. Prayer. Giving. These are intended to be overflows of the heart to where you want to do them because they stem from love for God and others.
  1. Be careful not to compartmentalize life.I remember in college I had a t-shirt that looked like the Play-Do logo on the front, but the words said “Pray Mo’.” I remember going to a fraternity party with my shirt on and thinking that I was taking a great risk to my great popularity. I walked into the party, stood against the wall, and stood and watched people partying. And then I walked out, believing I had done my Christian duty of witnessing for Jesus.

    What would have been better in that scenario? Not going? No. It would have been better to saddle up next to someone and start talking to them.

    We cannot reduce the life of faith to a transaction or to a moment. It is a life of faith. A constant walking and growing and changing and loving others. At great risk to ourselves. For the sake of others.

Let’s look for a moment at John’s comment in v. 17: His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for your house will consume me.

This comes from Psalm 69.9. Whenever the biblical writers make a commentary on what’s happening, we need to go back to the place it comes from. They are not just pulling the verse out of context, but they are using the verse as a placeholder for the entire passage. In this instance, John wants us to go back to Psalm 69. I’d really encourage you to go back to this passage today and meditate on the entire psalm, but for now let me just read the first 9 verses:

1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.

3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.

My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

4    More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.

What I did not steal
must I now restore?

5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6    Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;

let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.

8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.

9    For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

Don’t let the moment escape your notice. Jesus was ridiculed and shamed in this interaction. It ends with the Jewish leaders saying the obvious: It’s taken 46 years to build and you’re just a charlatan. It wasn’t until the Resurrection that Jesus’ words were made clear.

Jesus is the True Temple

This leads to our second point today: Jesus is the True Temple. The Temple Jesus was cleaning was the Second Temple. The first Temple was made by Solomon. It was destroyed when the Babylonians came and destroyed it. This Second Temple was constructed when they returned from that Exile—between 521 and 516. You can read Ezra to get more details on this.

What was the purpose of the Temple? To manifest and remind God’s people of his perpetual presence. After the first Temple was constructed, Solomon prayed this prayer (2Chronicles 6.18):

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon knew that the Temple represented a greater reality. But, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and like our tendency to equate God with the finite situations and material stuff of our lives, Israel began to find comfort in their religiosity. The prophet Jeremiah indicts the people when he tells them that God will destroy the Temple they had put so much confidence in—you can read more about this in Jeremiah 7. Listen to the prophet:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’

Jer. 7:5   “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple shows us that God is more concerned with a life of humility and loving others. What is more, God destroys those things which compete with him. The Temple was destroyed twice.

The Way of God is not only different, it is foolish and weak.

We heard earlier in our Epistle Reading the Apostle Paul comment on this tendency among the Jews of Jesus’ day to demand a sign. We see it here in v. 18: “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 

The sign that Jesus gives to base his authority to cleanse the Temple comes from his future Resurrection. As we discussed last week, a suffering and destroyed Messiah was ludicrous to the Jewish religious leaders.

This is the problem Paul was seeking to address in Corinth. This is made clear in his first chapter that the cross is utter foolishness and weakness.

Have you ever considered why God chooses weakness and foolishness according to the world’s measurements? Think about it for a moment. Why would God choose this way?

I would submit to you that the reason God does this is to free us from our tendency to preserve ourselves—be self-referencing. What is Paul talking about in 1Corinthians 1? He is addressing the divisions throughout the church to follow certain teachers and eloquent speakers. He says in v.17 of 1Cor 1 that if we opt for wisdom, then the cross is emptied of its power. In this way, the way of humility and weakness is the way to be filled—the paradox of the life of faith. The cross forces us to come to terms with not only what kind of Savior do we want, but it forces us to come to terms with what kind of existence we want.

Why do these divisions happen in the church? Why do quarrels happen? As James will say, they happen because we want and crave to satisfy ourselves. Our appetites end with our own bellies.

I wish I had more time to go into this. We will do it another day. But consider later what the Apostle Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

The grain of wheat died so that it could bring many sons and daughters to glory.

“Salvation Economics” – Mark 8.27-9.1

Yesterday was a great day to reflect on Jesus’ call to us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and to follow him. It is important to understand that Scripture is not merely meant to be read and understood in its original setting, but it is vital (i.e., life-giving) to know that Scripture is God’s very words to us in our time and in our various settings. Too often we can dissect and parse out all that a certain periscope meant, but spend very little time in the hard work of letting it dissect and parse our own souls.

One of the big pieces for me as I was studying was Jesus strange phrase: “If you want to follow me…then follow me.” What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

Below is my manuscript from Sunday:

Last week we considered how suffering for the sake of the Gospel proclaims the beauty of the Gospel. It does this when we embrace the suffering in such a way that it points to the sufficiency and love and acceptance of Another. We also considered the fact that our suffering for the Gospel is derivative of Christ’s suffering. That is, only his suffering was sufficient to pay for our sin. Our suffering doesn’t pay for our sin, but it conforms is into his image.

Today we are looking at the passage I mentioned a couple weeks ago as being the hinge of Mark’s Gospel. Up to our passage today Jesus has been showing his authority and power over sickness and demons—over all Creation. At this turning point in Mark, there is a turn.

And it’s not merely a turn in the story, but it’s a turn toward you and me. It’s as if Mark is writing his gospel and he looks up from his parchment and looks at you and me and asks us—“What do you think about all this?”

Jesus just finished healing a man who was blind from birth. And just like it took a while for his eyesight to be restored from blind to fuzzy to clear, so also we will see the disciples’ sight of who the Messiah is and what his mission is will go from blind to fuzzy to clear.

Mark 8.27-91

Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:31   Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

Mark 8:34   Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

There are two edges to our passage today, so there are two points to our message. Both of these points fall under the main point of this passage, which is: Death is the cost of admission into the Kingdom of God. As we will see in our passage today, the death Jesus calls us to is representative and mirrors his death. He physically died as the payment for our sin. In light of that, he calls us to lay down our lives—not literally—but entirely. Entirely is an umbrella under which literally can fall. In other words, he’s not telling us the only way to enter the kingdom is through physical death. This, honestly, would make entrance into the kingdom easy and up to our whims and wills. Consider the deranged extremists who believe that if they blow themselves up, they will go to Paradise. He is telling us that entrance into the kingdom is much more demanding. It demands dying to yourself, while you are living.

The first point of our passage is The Cost of Messiahship (vv. 27-33)

Jesus has caused quite a stir in the Judean countryside. He’s made those sick all their lives well, by merely telling them to do so. He’s attracted large crowds of people and fed them out of nowhere. He challenges the religious—the ones who had a corner on the market of righteousness. Quite a stir! Indeed, in all of these interactions we see the Messiah has come!

What kind of Messiah, though?

Everyone is buzzing about who this wonder worker is. They had merely seen the miracles but never made the connection as to why these particular miracles. The crowds were amazed by the works, but did not consider the why behind them. Why did Jesus go to such lengths to heal and to rebuke—demons and the religious leaders? They, like us, make a superficial connection with who Jesus is and what we know about the world. That is, they saw Jesus heal people and they simply thought, “He’s one of the prophets. Perhaps even the great Elijah. Or a good moral teacher.” They were happy to have Jesus heal their son or daughter, but did not stick around long enough to find out why.

Peter makes the stunning claim, “You are the Christ.” This term “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word and concept of “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Throughout the OT, God’s leaders are anointed with oil to set them apart for God’s purposes—priests and kings. But in each of these offices—prophets, priests, and kings—they pointed to a greater fulfillment that was to come.

This concept of the Messiah grew and grew to signify and highlight the power and strength of the One to Come. By the time Jesus arrives, there had been such a buzz about An Anointed One of God who would destroy all the Jews’ oppressors. Listen to one passage:

Gird [your Anointed One] with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers;

And purify Jerusalem of the nations which trample her down in destruction.

In wisdom, in righteousness, may he expel sinners from the inheritance:

May he smash the sinner’s arrogance like a potter’s vessel.

With a rod of iron may he break in pieces all their substance.

May he destroy the lawless nations by the word of his mouth.

This was a psalm at the time. People were singing that God would devastate their oppressors. This is why Jesus told people to keep the healings a secret. And this is why Jesus immediately teaches them that the Anointed One, the Son of Man, must suffer and die and be raised again.

And like us, Peter focuses only on the part he wants to hear. He didn’t hear the being raised again part. Even if he did, it didn’t compute with the suffering and dying part. We want resurrection and glory before we want suffering and death.

Which brings us to Jesus’ question to you and me. “Who do you say that I am?” Before you too quickly answer that, “You are my Savior!” Let’s consider our daily actions in light of Jesus. Perhaps here are some other questions that may help us parse out who we say Jesus is:

—When difficulties come, do we merely want the cup to pass or do we ask for the strength to drink the cup of suffering?

—When there’s a break in our relationships, do we indict all the wrong that someone else has done to us or do we confess our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us?

—When we are hanging out with friends and the topic of conversation turns so that we could share the beauty and worth of the Gospel do we keep our mouths shut so that we don’t sour the conversation or so that they don’t think we’re weird?

—When we seek to make more money to make more sales or to do better work, who does the work revolve around? Is it merely to make yourself look better or is it so that you can be promoted in order to serve even more people?

—When we consider what kind of church we want to go to, do we consider the kind of disciples that are there or are we merely looking for a place that looks and sounds cool. Has good music and the people dress like me and talk like me and act like me?

Much of our lives end with ourselves and show that our thoughts hardly ever get past ourselves.

What kind of Messiah do we want? Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he merely my wonder worker or my wish giver or the one who makes everything better? Jesus challenges our notions of glory and grandeur.

And so we hear Jesus say to us in our second point—The Cost of Discipleship (vv. 33-9.1) “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The Cost of Discipleship is death. As one commentator put it, “The way of the world is conquest and subjugation. Human weakness and depravity desire a path of least resistance and greatest power.” The economics of the world teaches us to give less than we can get. Give as little of yourself as you can get away with so that your revenues can be even greater. The Economics of Salvation teaches that to get your life, you have to first lose it.

Consider the three levels of what Jesus is defining of following him.

Deny: This means to renounce. In order to follow Jesus we need to renounce any claims to ourselves. This is not simply self-discipline. This is, like Peter denying that he even knew Jesus, a denial of our own self-sufficiency and autonomy.

Taking up our Cross: The cross was the punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. It was humiliating and excruciating. This is not simply embracing hardship when it comes. It is choosing to take the path of being thought less in others’ eyes. It is a path that really is a result of first denying ourselves.

Follow: What a strange thing to say. Really. “If you want to follow me, you must follow me.” And yet this is the story of Christian discipleship for the last two millenia. There are many who claim the name of Christ, yet live their lives like everyone else. The kind of Messiah we want too often is merely an addition to our somewhat happy lives. He provides us with a some insurance at the end of our lives.

But between the now and then, he has very little to say and definitely no demands on our lives. And so we we live our lives fooling ourselves that we are Christians and saved, when our lives demonstrate the opposite. When he takes us into deeper truths of who he is in the path of suffering, we give up. We walk away—this teaching is too hard. Instead of a life determined by Jesus, we still are self-determining.

This is not following Jesus.

And lest we think we’re giving up everything just for the sake of giving it up and being ascetics and austere, Jesus asks two rhetorical questions to assure us that this death to self is worth the cost.

Imagine if you would that you win the lottery…even if you don’t play the lottery. Not only do you win the lottery, you find out that you inherited all the possessions in all the world. In fact, the whole world is yours. You get to enjoy it all you want. It’s all yours. But…you will still die at 100 years old. Pretty good deal? In this way, none of it was really yours. You didn’t retain ownership. In fact, at the end of the deal, you are the slave to another.

And Jesus reminds us that we cannot give anything in exchange for our souls.

Both of these questions lay emphasis on our souls…the infinite value of our souls. The price of your soul is to give it over to Christ. You know the beauty of all of this, though? He doesn’t want your soul to merely put it in a cage and shrink it. He wants to breathe life into it and expand it! Indeed, he wants to give you all things. And all those who are his will reign with him when he returns.

—BUT— That’s still not the beauty of the Christian life. Because we are merely stuck with stuff. No, the life he wants from you is with the purpose of opening your eyes, unstopping your ears, giving you strength in your legs to walk and not grow weary. To experience life right now. And this is done in reference to him. Laying down our lives costs us everything, but we get true life, who is Christ. We are found in him and enjoy him and savor him and are captivated by him now. If we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.