Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. This is the culmination of the season of Epiphany and in essence serves as the hinge upon which our call to follow Jesus takes a sober turn. For the last several weeks we have been focusing on Jesus’ magnificent call to follow him. Some of us heeded that call because of the excitement and our eyes being opened to the reality of eternal life–on earth as it is in heaven.

Leading up to this passage we need to keep in mind two things: (1) Jesus’ call is a reconfiguration, a re-orbiting of our small worlds so that we realize the magnitude of living in reference to God. To live the life he intended for his creatures from the beginning–to know him and love him. (2) Life with Jesus begins with death to ourselves. Mark 9.2ff comes on the heels of Jesus’ first of three foretellings of his impending death. In this way, the Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus’ glory is not in spite of his crucifixion, but it is his glorification. The mighty and Shining One on the mountain is the same as the Crucified One.


Why a mountain?

V.2: Jesus leads his three closest disciples up a high mountain alone. A mountain is the place where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham at Mt. Moriah. Moses sees the burning bush at Mt. Horeb and receives the tablets of God’s words on Mt. Sinai—which are the same mountain. David builds the city of Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. Elijah defies the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel.

The mountains in Scripture are the places of God revealing himself and his purposes to his people. This is no less the fact of what Jesus does. He is not doing anything new and different but follows in the train of God himself in revealing his purposes to his people. Note: It is God who leads each of these individuals to a mountain. Here we see God incarnate leading his people anew.


Why Elijah and Moses?

Why not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos?


It is important to understand Elijah’s role in the history of redemption. It is more than just that Elijah was the greatest of the prophets—for we read that Elisha had a double portion of the Spirit. Consider our passage read earlier.

There are three separate places that Elijah leads Elisha before he is taken away in a heavenly chariot.

The land of Bethel—lit., “the house of God”—where Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on a ladder and that Jesus said he would be.

The land of Jericho where the great battle of God’s redemption by trumpet blasts took place. God’s defeat of an enemy by his initiative and power independent of military prowess.

The Jordan River he split in two. The same Jordan that Jesus was baptized in and became our New Joshua to lead us into the Land of Promise we looked at the first Sunday of Epiphany.


Moses infamously receives the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. And is the one who led Israel to the banks of the Jordan River. He is the one who brought them through the wilderness and onto the edge of God’s multi-generational promise. Both Moses and Elijah suffered because of Israel’s rebellion. They were both rejected by God’s people to lead them. But they were both vindicated by God—to be shown to be in the right.

Elijah also heard from God at Mt. Sinai. Remember he was running away from wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel? He cried out to God: “I am the only prophet left!” God had to tell him that there were 500 other prophets that hadn’t left the faith. What is more, he had forgotten Moses’ very words in Deuteronomy 18.15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”

It is here that we see two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history taking a backseat to Jesus.

This is made even more clear in the bright white shining of Jesus’ clothes. Whenever Moses would meet with God, his face would shine. Here we see the entirety of Jesus’ body in bright, other worldly white. And Elijah and Moses just fade into the background in light of Christ’s brightness.

Moses’ Veiled Ministry

Our Epistle reading today was from 2Cor 4 which follows on the heels of the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the passing glory of Moses’ ministry. Indeed, a ministry that pointed to a greater fulfillment in the One to Come.

Whenever Moses would meet with God his face would shine…and he would put a veil over his face. This veil kept the people from gazing at Moses as the substance of the promise. He was merely the one pointing to Another. He was the Bride pointing to the Groom. He was the recipient from the Gracious Giver. It was not and never was supposed to be Moses as the finalization of God’s promises.

From the beginning of Moses’ writing of Genesis all the way through Deuteronomy, we read about a coming Son of God a Coming Seed of the Woman who would right all the wrong. Seth was not him. Noah was not him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Saul, David, Elijah, Hezekiah…all failed. All fell when temped in the wilderness. All pointed to the Shining One.

They were veils and shadows of the Reality.

This veil is lifted. Listen to Paul (2Cor 3.14-16):

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Don’t forget that this Transfiguration happens right after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. Why?

Suffering is not in spite of the glory revealed on the mountain. It is the glory that is the cross. At Mt. Calvary. The Mountain of God’s suffering for us to make us new. His death to free us.

This suffering not only lifted the veil, it tore the veil on the Temple Mount to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Friends, it is not only that he died, but that he rose again. He rose not only to show his victory over our looming enemy Death. He rose again to give us victory over ourselves. Our self-serving attitudes. Our self-centeredness. In our taking up of our cross daily, we save our lives.

His Transfiguration. His being Transformed assures us that the cross—our daily taking up our crosses—is not the end. It is not defeat. It is in the dying that we find the lives we’ve been looking for.

Paul continues in 2Cor 3:

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The beauty of the Gospel is not only that we are forgiven of our sin—which is glorious!—it is that we ourselves are being transfigured from one degree of glory to another! The Spirit has been given to us to transform us. To transfigure us into the self-same image of the glorious Christ.

You may feel downcast or defeated or listless and bored in life. You were made for more. You were made to reflect this glory we see on the Mountain of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And there beholding his glory, we are transfigured.

And I ended my sermon by singing these familiar words:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Questions to Consider:

How does Jesus’ Transfiguration give us hope in the face of suffering and death and pain?

Why do you think it’s easy to forget that death is the pre-requisite to life?

Are there ways which boredom or frustration or the mundane of everyday life have crowded out the glorious life God has called you to? How might the Gospel of forgiveness and life help you lift your eyes up ? How might this same Gospel free you to serve?

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Re-Assurance of Salvation – 1John 3


The last two weeks we have considered two of the major themes in John’s first letter—the essence of sin and the essence of belief. Today we’re going to consider a third major theme. It really is the point at which our sin problem and our mental belief come together. That is, love. This discussion about love, though, begins at the end of chapter 2:28: And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 

Last week we saw that the Christian faith is not just a community, but a family. John continues this language by calling this church, “Little Children” and gives them a command to “Abide in him so that we can be confident when he returns.” Chapter 3 is how we go about abiding in him. This is how we fulfill the command.

Do you ever get really honest with yourself? I mean, in the moments of silence and when your defenses are down. Do you ever ask yourself, in what real way does my faith affect my day-to-day life? How does a belief in a first century Jewish man make my life any different than my neighbor who doesn’t believe in God? Like I said, it’s an honest question. It’s a challenging question. It’s a question we need to consider all the time. Too often faith can become merely theory. Belief can be merely cognitive.

But this morning, John is going to show us that sin and belief are not merely ideas without substance. Our most intimate beliefs about God and his world will always work themselves out in real life. Have you ever listened to John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Abide in me” and thought, “How in the world do I abide in Jesus?” John is going to answer that for us.

1John 3

  1. Children of God practice righteousness

The idea of being born again is all over the place in this short letter…10x to be precise. This is the same language that Jesus uses when he spoke with Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel.

Our relationship with God is one that needed, not merely a fix, it needed an entire reconfiguration. Not just a few character trait improvements, but a new birth. A new creation. 

We have been born as new creatures and we, like babies, have to learn how to walk and talk and live in God’s world once we see it as he intended. Righteousness, therefore, is not merely a matter of rules that we are to keep. Righteousness is a life lived rightly in God’s world. Now I hear this and immediately think about the folks in my home town saying, “You gotta live right.” Or “He ain’t livin’ right.” This is only part of the equation. Living righteously is not merely about following marching order…it’s about following dance steps. It’s following God’s lead and being in tune with how he navigates his own world. 

There’s a movie called Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey. It’s about the life of the deceased comedian Andy Kaufmann. But there’s a documentary that was just released called Jim & Andy. In this documentary it follows Carrey throughout the filming of that movie, Man on the Moon. It’s quite surreal because Jim Carrey actually embodied the mannerisms and voice and way of being of Andy Kaufmann, not merely while the camera was rolling, but when the cameras were off. At first you think, “This is so crazy!” Then you find yourself believing that Jim Carrey is Andy Kaufmann. In fact, there’s one scene where Carrey is interacting with Andy’s family. They are talking and you think there will be a moment when they tell him to cut it out. Stop doing this. It’s not real. Instead, you see the dad and Carrey fighting. But it’s not the dad and Carrey, but the dad is talking to Jim as though he is actually his son!

This is analogous to what the Christian life is meant to be. A walking out of the life of God on earth. Of course, it is always in part. But it will be brought to completion when he returns. And all those who love him are waiting for him. They are longing for his return. They place their confidence in him. Verse 3: Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Waiting on Jesus’ return is not about sitting around the house. It is a matter of cleaning up the house to welcome him into it.

Verse 4-10 illustrate this cleaning. But this cleaning is not a matter of cleaning to be accepted. It starts with being accepted. You are not welcoming a stranger into your house, but a long-awaited husband from war. You know him and therefore you clean. You don’t clean in order to know him.

The very ability to be able to clean our house starts with the victory Jesus won over Satan. Look at Verses 8-9: Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. Our practicing of righteousness and lawlessness starts with who our Daddy is. 

In order to understand this relationship correctly, we have to go back to the Garden. There was one Law that God gave our first parents—you can have everything here…except that one Tree. Satan crept into the Garden and asked one question: Did God really say? At the heart of this question is: “Do you really trust God?” “Don’t you think you know better?” This is the heart of what John calls lawlessness. Lawlessness is more of an attitude toward God than it is the mere breaking of God’s law. That is, to be lawless means you don’t want to live under God’s rule. 

So when a child of God transgresses or steps over God’s good boundaries…when the child of God steps on God’s toes in the dance of life—as it were—she apologizes. She recognizes she has misstepped and seeks to follow his lead again. The lawless one, the one who is still following the deception of Satan doesn’t even want to be on the same dance floor.

From Genesis 3 through Malachi is a story of God being gracious to give his Law. Other Ancient Near Eastern religions relied on priests and necromancers and diviners to tell people what the gods wanted. But the God of the Bible is not like other deities. He tells the end from the beginning. He is near to his people. He tells them exactly how to navigate and move in his world. 

So the child of God practices righteousness, but John tells us that our spiritual lives are not merely about obeying rules. We are not called to keep an account and think that we have done what God intended us to do by giving us new life. Our attitudes and actions toward each other is just as indicative of our relationship with God as doing the right thing.

2. Practicing love for each other 

Our culture has made the word “love” synonymous with affection. Emotion is one aspect of love. Biblically speaking, love is affection that works itself out in action. If I were to say, “You have to love the person sitting in front of you.” Most of us, if not all of us, would think I am telling you to like or to feel some kind of emotion for him or her. While that, of course, would be a great thing…and really is what complete love entails…it only part of the equation of love. Emotions and affection are one half of love. If I were to say, “I love my wife” but don’t lift a finger to ease her burdens or rejoice in her victories…you would rightly question my love for her.

John uses the picture of the first brothers in history—Cain and Abel—to make his point. For our purposes this morning, look at Verse 14: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. So the converse of John’s statement would be “Whoever loves abides in life.” To love each other is to promote and encourage true living. Flourishing. 

What is the greatest picture of love? Verse 16: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 15.13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 

This, of course, doesn’t mean we lay down our lives as a sacrifice for sin…but could it not mean that we are to lay down our lives for each other when we sin against each other? Could it not mean that we choose to be quick to forgive and extend forgiveness? After all, listen to the verses before and after Jesus’ statement: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

But John also gives us a very challenging explanation of what it means to lay down our lives. Verse 17: 7 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Consider for a moment money. It is neither good nor bad. It is how we use it that determines that. But what is money. It, typically, represents our time. I say “typically” because you could receive an inheritance or win some amount of money. But, It, typically, represents our lives. When you and I give money to someone or something else, we are giving a bit of our lives to that someone or something. We are meeting their need. We believe that something is worth investing my life into. 

But our laying down our lives is not merely physically visible in the here and now, it is how you and I are re-assured of our salvation. There is a lot of talk about the doctrine of assurance of salvation. It is true. When you and I confess our sin and lay our allegiances down to King Jesus, we most assuredly are saved. Yet, as we have seen in John’s letter, the Christian life is a dance. It’s a walking in the light. 

Do you get discouraged by how you continue to struggle with the same sin? Do you feel condemned and unsure of yourself? Do you wonder sometimes if you’re a Christian? 

Where can we find such reassurance when we feel condemned? We look to God. We look outside of ourselves. Outside of our obedience. 

Surely, we are called to be pure and to obey and to walk as he walked and to talk as he talked. But any of us, if we’re honest, do not find our confidence there. We can find our assurance that we even want to obey. That is a gift from God. We can find assurance that we hate sin. That, too, is a gift from God. But these are all in part. Indeed, we continue to step on people’s toes. We continue to be tempted by the beat of the Tempter’s drum. 

So our re-assurance. Our confidence cannot find its sure footing there. 

Verses 19-21: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.

“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.