Text: Mark 8:27-9:1
Focus: True fulfillment is found in following Christ who, ironically, denied himself.
Function: To describe the futility of trying to “save” our lives and to describe the way of the cross as the life that leads to resurrection.

Part 1 – What does it mean to be the Christ? I remember that Sunday night at Winslow we were singing “Just As I Am – without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” It was August and over 20 years ago and I had decided to be baptized. Of course I waited until the second verse – not that I was shy, I just thought it good form – the first verse is just warm-up – the thinker verse. But I had been thinking about this for some time. So I would step out into the aisle when we sang ... “Just As I am and waiting not ...” well that wasn’t quite true. I had waited all through the sermon for this moment. I knew before the sermon that I would be doing this, but I thought it good form to listen. I thought the preacher might like to think someone responded to his sermon. So in the second stanza I stepped out into the aisle. It was like stepping out into space! You’re just out there by yourself. I was ready to ease back into the comfortable block of pews – even if I was on the front pew – always reserved for this purpose.

After our song, the minister and I stood before the congregation. He talked a bit and then placed his hand and my shoulder and asked “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” I know my response was positive, but I don’t remember my exact words, whether I just said “yes,” or “I do” or if I got fancy and said “I do believe Jesus is the Son of God.” But after I answered I heard an Amen and we went off behind the baptistery to put on our baptism clothes as someone started singing “Trust and Obey.”

Do you remember your “good confession?” However your baptism took place – at camp, at church, in a river – at some point someone asked you “Do you believe Jesus is the Song of God?” And because of that confession of faith you were baptized. That’s a common story share. And I wonder if any of us really understood the gravity of that confession? Did we grasp the significance of what we were affirming? Did we realize that when we agreed that Jesus was who he said he was, we also agreed that we were who he said we were? When we gave our good confession, we weren’t just making statement about who Jesus was – we were making a statement about who we were, and whose we were? Did you know that then?

I don’t think this undoes my confession or anyone else’s, but I am sure I didn’t grasp the full significance of what I said that Sunday night in August. Oh I believed it for sure – and that’s important, very important. Without belief there is no confession. And I knew it was right – but as much as I had thought about it, I had no idea of the total implication of what I had just confessed – and how that confession would change my life forever. And if that is true in your case, then we’re in good company. Peter was one of the first to give the good confession, and even he did not understand the full meaning of what he was saying...

Read Mark 8:27-33

When Jesus asked his disciples “But who do you say that I am?” Peter must have thought, “I know this one.” He spoke up – “You’re the Christ!” Peter was right – wasn’t he? Well of course he was. Jesus was the Christ. Peter understood that Jesus was who he said he was. But he didn’t understand what that meant – for Jesus and for him.

That’s clear when Jesus begins to get very clear about what it means to be Christ. That it is a path of suffering, rejection, execution and then – and only then – resurrection. This doesn’t seem right to Peter, so he attempts to debate Jesus on the meaning of Christ. Peter has stepped out into space. He’s out there all alone and he needs to get back into the block of disciples that are following behind Jesus – not standing out in front of him trying to tell him which way to go.

I remember back at Winslow how one of our ministers used to respond to the confession folks gave. Bro. Parrish called it the “good confession.” And he always blessed the one who made that confession and would say “They crucified Jesus for saying that, but you say it that you may receive eternal life.” I always wondered “Why does Jesus get crucified for saying that, but not us?” Well, I was probably thinking too hard about something very beautiful and poetic that our preacher was saying for the moment – but according to Jesus we all get crucified for confessing that Jesus is Christ. Part 2 – What does it mean to be a Christian?
Jesus has our usual order of worship turned around. We offer the invitation, and then those who respond are asked to give confession. But here Jesus has just asked for a confession, and then he offers the invitation.

Read Mark 8:34-38

“Who wants to follow me?” he asks. He wants those who accept this invitation to follow to know what they can expect. If being the Christ means taking up a cross, then so does being a Christian. If you don’t understand that, then you have stepped out of line behind me and you are not thinking the way God thinks.

Following after Jesus means denying self & taking up the cross as a way of life.
The Paradox: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. This is why there’s a cross. Our lives have to be lost so that they might be saved. When I hear this verse I often wonder if I am doing enough to lose my life. Do you ever think about that? I wonder if I need to sell my possessions or leave my comfort and go to the mission fields. Do you ever think about that? I admit I’m not sure I understand that burden of losing my life. I don’t know what it means to be threatened with persecution for my faith.

But I think we all know something about the burden of trying to save our lives – From our earliest years we are trained to provide for our future – to save our lives. We must obtain the best education and seek opportunities. We should invest what we have wisely. Like a precise chemical formula, we must be careful to add the appropriate amount of risk to the appropriate amount of stability to achieve maximum benefit. The years we spend in school and business are our only opportunity to provide for our future as well as the future for our family. The prize is retirement. But even in retirement we know something about the burden of saving our lives. Health becomes more of a concern. Are we eating right? Do we exercise like we should? Did we elect the right people to secure our benefits? Are we seeing the right doctors? And this is not unlike the burden of saving life that parents feel concerning their children. Are we doing all we can to ensure the health and education of our children? Are they safe? Are they being taught right? If the children are our future, then are they capable of saving it?

And what if we give ourselves completely to our children or spouses? Perhaps this is what it means to lose our lives and yet save it? What if we give ourselves so completely to the needy and the church? What if we live for others? Unfortunately, we may discover that the emptiness remains. Spouse, children and even church work can fail and disappoint us. Here is a most horrible emptiness, for we thought that the emptying of ourselves would result in fulfillment through the lives of others, but we may find we just feel sucked dry. Indeed, we know something about trying to save our lives.

Pre-occupation with saving life is a sure way to lose it. Fulfillment is found in denial. Why? Because we must lose that which distracts and deceives. In order to truly live we must be who Jesus says we are, not who we want to say we are. And the only way to be who Jesus says we are is to say who Jesus is.

[I remember trying to work in my Father’s garage and he would try to be patient and show me how to paint and saw and do other things. But I was there just to have fun, I didn’t want to mature and so I would get ahead of him and start doing my own thing. My Father said, “How can I show you the right way if you want to do things your way?”]

There’s a cross in the way to becoming who we truly are because we often aren’t mature enough to do things the right way. We are only interested in doing things our way.

The cross is tough for people who’ve been conditioned to glory in individual excellence and self-satisfaction. We are permitted to think that the world can be custom made to fit everyone of us. In a land where you can even copyright your personal, unique cell-phone ring the language of a cross and denial is tough to hear.

Yet, how will find our life, how will we save it even if we could adjust the entire world to suit our preferences? I recently heard of a minister who was fired. I thought it was sudden, but I found out that he didn’t meet with his elders for over a year. He felt that they had nothing to offer him. I can’t imagine such a way – but then again, I can, for it is the way of self. That way leads to worse than being fired. It can lead to loneliness, despair, estrangement, isolation. But the way of the cross, as difficult as it seems, leads also to resurrection. Before there can be a resurrection, there must be a death. The way of the cross does lead to the tomb – but it is the empty tomb.

Our attempts to “save” our lives – to preserve them, to immortalize them and give them meaning are futile because we just cannot control life to that degree. In Eden we were tempted to be God and we found out we aren’t qualified. (v. 36-37) – we just cannot come up with the means to secure our lives. Not as individuals, not as a nation, not as a race.

We need an alternative way. We need to step out of God’s way. We need to get behind him and see where he’s going. Looks like he’s going to a cross!

We find meaning and fulfillment - We learn who we are only by discovering who Jesus is. Our response to the invitation must match our confession. (Galatians 2:20)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 August 2005

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