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Lent 2, “Give It Up for Jesus!”

Pastor Gary Wong, February 28, 2021

Mark 8:31-38

31 Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the experts in the law; be killed; and after three days rise again. 32 He was speaking plainly to them. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning around and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have your mind set on the things of God, but the things of men.” 34 He called the crowd and his disciples together and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him 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 sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 In fact, whoever 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.”

When it comes to money, are you a gambler? Are you willing to take big risks now in order to get a huge reward in the future? Or are you fiscally conservative and tend to go with the sure bet? In today’s economy, it’s pretty hard to find a lot of risk-takers who would be willing to lay everything on the line. With some businesses not reopening, others closing, and unemployment on the rise, many people are tempted to hunker down and would be happy to just hold on to what they have. But what if a financial genius came along and said, “If you follow my advice, I guarantee that you will be set for life. I have to warn you, though. You might experience some tough times in the short run. You might even lose everything (temporarily, of course). But in the end, I guarantee that you will have absolutely everything that you could ever want or need.” What would your answer be? In today’s lesson, Jesus guarantees the priceless gift of eternal life in heaven to all who follow him in faith. May the gospel give us the confidence and courage to follow our Savior no matter how difficult the path. God’s Word assures us that we risk nothing and gain everything as we give it up for Jesus.

When we compare our lives with people who were living in Galilee in Jesus’ day, they really aren’t all that different. For instance, the villagers in Capernaum were honest, hard working people just trying to make a living in challenging economic times. They probably complained about the high cost of a loaf of pita bread and a gallon of goat’s milk; they definitely grumbled about the taxes they had to pay to the Romans. We might think that we are getting a raw deal from our government. But let me tell you, it was a lot tougher for those Jews. Not only were their taxes sky high, they were forced by greedy, corrupt collectors to hand over their shekels at the point of a sword!

The Jews needed a bailout in the worst way. So, they prayed for a courageous, honest leader who would get the government off their backs and who would restore the Israelites’ fortunes. But from where would this relief come? Well, the Jews knew that it would be a cold day in Capernaum before they would see a tax rebate from the Roman Revenue Service. The only stimulus package they could expect would be some not so gentle prodding from the soldier’s swords and spears. Because there didn’t seem to be any relief in sight, some of the Jews began to lose hope. But as they sat in the synagogue, listening to the rabbis read from the Scriptures, they heard the solution to all of their problems. They were reminded that God had promised that he would send a Messiah, a Savior who would right all of the wrongs. The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah this way: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever…Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, where was this Messiah, the Anointed One of God? Actually, he had been living right under their very noses! When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he was identifying Jesus as the Savior. From the moment Jesus said, “Come, follow me”, Jesus showed that he fit the description of the promised Messiah to a “T.” Jesus taught about the kingdom of God with authority and he showed his power with his many miracles. Jesus healed the blind, the deaf, the mute, and the lame. He cast out evil demons. He even raised the dead to life. The huge crowds that followed Jesus wherever he went were certainly convinced that Jesus was extraordinary. Some thought that Jesus was John the Baptist; others said that he was Elijah, and still others thought that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. But what did his disciples think? That was the very question Jesus posed to them: “Who do you say I am?” Without hesitation, Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). To a man, each disciple confessed that he believed that Jesus was the Savior and that he would follow Jesus to the ends of the earth.

But did Jesus’ disciples really understand the Messiah’s mission and did they understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus? Apparently not; for when Jesus told them that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and that after three days rise again”, the disciples objected. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus, in turn rebuked Peter. “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).

Jesus, however, did not limit his rebuke to Peter. He wasn’t the only one who had wrong ideas about Jesus. That’s why Jesus told the entire crowd, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). How shocking Jesus’ statement must have been! Many in the crowd, including Jesus’ own disciples, mistakenly thought of the Messiah in strictly human terms. They envisioned and expected that this heaven-sent Savior would be an earthly king who would usher in an unprecedented, glorious era of prosperity and peace. Furthermore, they expected they would reap the benefits of the Messiah’s work without having to make any personal sacrifice. In their minds, it was going to be all gain and no pain. The only thing they thought that they had to do was hitch their wagons to Jesus, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Jesus immediately went about correcting their misguided notions with his sobering statement. Contrary to what many had thought, being a disciple of Jesus involves sacrifice. A follower of Jesus can expect suffering, and he must be willing to lose everything for Jesus, including his own life. Many who had been following Jesus, when they heard this hard saying, stopped following our Savior. Why? The reason is that all of us, by nature, are selfish. We don’t want to make sacrifices and we certainly don’t want to suffer. We don’t want to deny ourselves anything. Many people mistakenly think that the more stuff they have, the happier they will be. Then think of how unhappy those who pin their hopes on their riches are when they have to part with even a fraction of their wealth. Jesus, however, points out the short-sighted foolishness of this kind of thinking with two pointed questions: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36, 37).

When we have our priorities in line with God’s will, the answers to these questions are obvious. There is nothing more valuable than eternal life. The things of this world, as wonderful as they may be, are only for this life. We can only use them and enjoy them while we are living on this earth. The Bible teaches that we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. So, the question is, where will we go when we depart from this world? There are only two options: heaven or hell. Because we were conceived in sin and because of the countless sins we commit, we deserve to die and suffer in hell for all eternity. What’s more, no amount of worldly wealth can buy us a ticket to heaven.

Since there is nothing that we have or can do to save our souls, how can our souls be saved? Our text gives us the answer. Jesus saved us by his suffering and death on the cross. Please understand. Jesus had more than enough power to crush every soldier of every army in the whole world and take the throne of David by force—and that’s exactly what many of Jesus’ followers mistakenly thought he was going to do. What they failed to realize is that Jesus’ battle was not against flesh and blood; rather, Jesus was fighting a war against the spiritual forces of evil. Even though it doesn’t make sense to us, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil by laying aside his divine power and allowing himself to be nailed to a cross. Jesus shed his precious blood to pay for our sins. He exchanged his life for our immortal souls. Jesus then took up his power again when he rose victoriously from the grave on that first, glorious Easter Sunday morning. Because of Jesus, we have gained more than the whole world; we have been given the priceless gift of an eternal home in heaven.

Jesus said, “I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Yet, because of the hardships and uncertainties that many of us are facing, we sometimes lose sight of that fact. And even though we should know better, we sometimes act surprised when we suffer setbacks and problems. When those problems are severe and prolonged, we might be tempted to stop following Jesus. We might become ashamed of the gospel, foolishly thinking that it has no power. What we need to remember is that at our confirmations, we promised that we would be faithful to God and that we will gladly sacrifice and suffer everything for Jesus’ name. Since Jesus lived a perfect life of service and sacrifice that ultimately led to his death, why should we expect that it will be any different for us who follow in his footsteps?

Yet, even as we ask the question, “is it worthwhile to live as a Christian, to sacrifice and to suffer all, even death?”—we already know the answer. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age …and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30). Therefore, let us joyfully deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, no matter how difficult that path might be. The empty cross and tomb assure us that we really risk nothing and gain everything as we give it up for Jesus. Amen.

“Come, Follow Me, the Savior Spoke” (CW 453)

Text: Johann Scheffler, 1624 – 77, abr., st. 1-3, 5; Geistliche Lieder und Lobgesange, 1695,st. 4; tr. Charles W. Scheffler, 1813 – 96

“Come, follow me,” the Savior spoke,

“All in my way abiding.

Deny yourselves; the world forsake;

Obey my call and guiding.

Oh, bear the cross, whate’er betide;

Take my example for your guide.

“I am the light; I light the way,

A godly life displaying.

I bid you walk as in the day;

I keep your feet from straying.

I am the way, and well I show

How you should journey here below.

“I teach you how to shun and flee

What harms your soul’s salvation,

Your hearts from ev’ry guile to free,

From sin and its temptation.

I am the refuge of the soul

And lead you to your heav’nly goal.”

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