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  • Writer's pictureGWL

"God's Ways"

God’s Ways

Mark 8:31-38

We know that the ways of God are different from the ways of the world.

We heard it earlier: Isaiah 55:8-9... “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Of course, Jesus’ disciples experienced this truth in what must have been the most shocking thing they’d ever heard Jesus say...

We are so accustomed to the message of Jesus’ crucifixion (and all the stories surrounding it…) that it’s easy to miss how jarring such a thought would have been for the disciples. They had followed Jesus as the Messiah… the Great Hope of deliverance from oppression (which in their minds included liberation from Rome). They were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles and teachings; they watched him draw enthusiastic crowds numbering in the thousands… If anyone could spark a revolution, and amass an army, it was Jesus.

Everything they had seen Jesus do and heard him say until this time had no doubt spurred within them big hopes for the future.

But now this. Jesus’ words were confusing - and contrary to all their hopes and expectations. The very idea that the Messiah would suffer, that He’d be rejected, and executed was beyond their ability to accept.

So Peter “rebuked” Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell what Peter said, but we can read between the lines that it was something like, “You’re wrong, Jesus! We’ve seen what power you have… you’re the Messiah… you couldn’t possibly suffer and die.” Jesus responded that such an opinion was a “human” way of thinking. But it’s what we all would have thought (and possibly said) had we been there among those first disciples.

Jesus not only rebukes Peter, but then shocked the disciples further by telling them there was a cross in their future, too. Those who dare follow Christ must “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” As if that’s not enough, Jesus continued with even more unexpected and totally unforeseen news: To save your life you must lose it. You may lose your lives for Jesus sake.

This news was so contrary to the disciple’s expectations and so difficult to comprehend that Jesus would have to repeat it twice more. The second time, recorded in Mark 9:31, the disciples didn’t understand him, but “were afraid to ask him” - probably for fear of being rebuked again.

Then, later, in chapter 10:33-34, as they were making their way to Jerusalem, Jesus told them yet a third time of his impending death, this time with an even more graphic description... saying that he’d be condemned, handed over to the Gentiles, who would mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him... but that he will rise again. Listening to Jesus predict such things was almost too much for his disciples to take, and they never understood or appreciated what he was saying.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t trying to hurt his disciples... he was trying to help them see, that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” It was a bitter pill for the disciples to swallow! But it was necessary that they understand, otherwise they would miss the whole point of Jesus’ ministry, i.e., that he came to give his life for the salvation of them and us.

Listen: it’s the very same message… the same shocking reality that Jesus offers you and me. The content is exactly the same. We’ve been called to follow Christ, all the way! Even to the point of carrying our own cross... even to the point of losing our lives, in order to find them.

We, like the disciples of old… have expectations of Jesus. Preconceived ideas of who he is and who he isn’t, that are for all intents rather self serving.

In fact, more and more, the Church is coming to accept the world’s idea of who Jesus is... not unlike the worldly view Jesus’ disciples held long ago. Only now, instead of thinking Jesus wasn’t tough enough on the “powers that be” - we’ve created a Jesus who’s kinda vanilla. Takes no real stand, makes no real difference... upholds no ethical or moral standard (except to love)... never judges and never changes much of anything.

And when those conceptions we form are confronted, and even contradicted by God’s Word… by Jesus himself… we rebuff. We rebuke Jesus... “no you’re wrong!”

It’s why the “prosperity gospel” and the “name it and claim it” cults have become so popular in our society today. All we really want to hear from Jesus is how he can help us be prosperous, strong, successful and influential.

But, Jesus has other priorities. Remember... he came to serve, not to be served. His ways are not our ways, yet he invites us to follow him and his ways. To deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him... to submit our will and ways to Christ. And such submission has nothing to do with the world’s idea of prosperity, success or influence.

The “theology of the cross” or “to deny oneself” has nothing to do with a contrived kind of humility. We do not follow Jesus by demeaning ourselves. We are called upon to do the very best we can with the talents and abilities God has given us. To “deny oneself” means to keep one’s priorities in harmony with what Jesus told us in the two “great commandments” — love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:28-31).

There was, to be sure, a ray of hope in what Jesus said that day, although the disciples had a hard time hearing it. Jesus would be crucified, but he will also rise again (Mark 8:31). It’s the good news of the Gospel! Add to that, that those who lose their lives (who deny themselves and take up their cross) for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35).

Jesus gives us this hope! But ONLY as we follow him - our hope’s not in some far away future! We don’t hope for tomorrow... tomorrow never comes! We hope, today... in this life, now... today. To follow Christ brings hope to life... this moment... it brings us life “more abundant” in the present! (John 10:10).

It’s been said that, “we follow Jesus not just to be saved or to go to heaven; we follow Jesus because it’s worth it.” Life is worth living... because of Jesus.

Let’s deny ourselves, our wills, take up our cross... and follow the One worthy of our lives. Let’s follow Jesus! Amen.

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