JUNE 2nd, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right on the Mark Mark 8:31-38 / 10:17-31
“GIVING YOUR ALL!”
The simple invitation Jesus extended to the rich young man in Mark 10 is found again and again throughout all four gospels: “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 10:21; Luke 5:11; John 1:43)
But what does it mean to follow someone? When explaining something to someone, we like to ask, does that make sense, do you follow me? We ask this to make sure the person is tracking with us, as if to suggest that the person is having a hard time keeping up. ('What was the middle part?')
We also talk about acquiring followers on facebook these days, which refers to those who read your blog or whatever but who may be complete strangers. It's an odd use of the term, 'follower', don't you think? It means that someone may like what you post but not resemble you in the least...!
So what does it really mean to follow someone? What did Jesus mean? Along the way Jesus made three definitive statements about discipleship, about what it means to follow him. One, he said, “You are truly my disciples if you obey my teachings.” (John 8:35) Jesus drove home this point in his sermon on the mount when he concluded by telling a little parable that began, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
We are a follower of Jesus, then, when we learn from him and become a student of his teach-ings, as the word disciple means student or apprentice, and then apply those teachings to our lives.
Jesus built on that premise, by talking about what it looks like when we walk in his footsteps...:
# 2: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)
That love turned the heads of their pagan neighbors and rulers. As one Roman official remark-ed, “Look at how they love one another!” In a culture fixed on getting ahead, enamored with the idea of private success and the pursuit of one's own personal happiness the idea of putting the needs of other above your own, sacrificially loving others, even one's adversaries, is as foreign today as it was in the first century Roman empire! If we love one another like that, Jesus says, we'll turn heads. The world will notice and “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
As the old camp song put, “They'll know we are Christians by our love.”
Three, Jesus told his would-be followers: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny him self and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(Mark 8:34) The first two make sense but what do you do with that last one? That's what I'd like to explore with you this morning. Let's dig into that a bit.
The first two words reflect his come as you are attitude and approach: “If anyone...” Jesus doesn't care how religious you are. He hung out with the most irreligious lot of his day. It was the “notorious sinners” who sought Jesus out. With Jesus you don't need to present your spiritual credentials. You can come as you are. “If anyone would” is an open invitation to everyone!
The next words, 'come after', describe a passionate pursuit of someone you love. I watched enough TV when I was a kid that I knew that at some point an attraction develops between boys and girls. But instead of thinking of the opposite sex with affection my reaction was more of a - Ewww! Word was, you could catch cooties...! I had no idea what a cootie was – but it didn't sound good!
Later on some genuine feelings of attraction started to develop but I didn't know what to do with them. I remember chasing after one blonde-haired beauty at recess, but not knowing what else to do when I caught her, I clobbered her: Pow! I guess I watched too much Flintstones... (Bam-bam!)
But then one day it happens; we go from, 'Eww – gross!' to 'It's clobbering time' to 'I've gotta get me one of those!' We do some crazy things in the name of love. I remember how crazy I got when I lived in Kansas waiting for love letters from Germany. I made the mailman nervous... It was the early days of the Persian Gulf War and they were urging travelers to avoid flying to Europe if at all possible. In spite of the warnings I booked a flight from K. C. to Frankfurt and told my parents of my plans.
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone and then my mother said, “I just don't understand why you can't find a nice girl in Kansas City.” 'I know – right? He-he-he...!'
Love makes you do crazy things... Jesus suggests that his followers will do crazy things for love too. At one point, Jesus provided a picture of what he had in mind when he invited us to come after him: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44-46)
Jesus is saying this is how his followers respond to him. They're so full of his joy, so in love with God, that they're willing to pursue a relationship with him, no matter what the cost! They catch a glimpse of the treasure at hand, Jesus in control, and they're all in! Sell the house...?! Imagine how this guys' friends would've reacted: he's lost his mind! Jesus point? His followers do some crazy things!
In his book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman distinguishes between being a fan & a follower.Followers are crazy in love. Fans tend to play it safe. Kyle puts it this way: “There is a fear among fans that by going all-in, they're going to miss out. Instead of come after we hold back. It's not that we don't want a relationship with Jesus: we do. We just don't want it to cost us very much. Fans are game to follow Jesus as long as things are good and he holds up his end of the deal and doesn't ask too much of them. We're afraid to passionately pursue him with our whole hearts because we know that if we make a commitment like that we're putting ourselves on the line. It'll require energy, money and time.”
(from Kyle Idleman's Not a Fan)
This hesitation was put to music words and sung to us during a commercial in the Superbowl game a few years back. Anyone remember this one...?
[M & M's commercial: “Love Ballad”]
“I would do anything for love, but I won't do that..., or that...!” Such is the heart of a fan, not a follower. The song goes something like this: I would do anything for God, but I won't give up sleeping in on Sundays, or drinking on the weekends, or 10 % of my income, or whatever it may be.
But Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself...and pick up his cross daily and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) I don't know about you, but that doesn't seem very seeker friendly.
What was Jesus thinking? That's not a very appealing message! Most of us, if we're really honest, are less inclined to follow a king who invites us to endure hardship, than one who says, 'have it your way!' Sound familiar? Our culture says it's all about you...; Scripture says, it's all about Jesus.
So what does he mean, you must deny yourself? My guess is that most of us, myself included, grew up with the idea that such a radical decision isn't really necessary. To deny oneself sounds, well, foolish, unAmerican. Fact is, there is an underlying tension with first century Christianity and 21st century American capitalism, the latter of which has created a culture of consumerism.
Instead of approaching our faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can I do for Jesus?” we have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus (and his church) do for me?” Consider for a moment the story of the rich young ruler. His initial question is revealing, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) Translation, how can I prove what a great guy I am? What's the least that is required for entry into the kingdom because I'm sure I've already done it.
After some conversation Jesus answers him: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
The young man is faced with the choice of following Jesus or keeping his stuff, but he couldn't do both. There was no way to follow Jesus without denying himself. So how does this apply to you and me? Is selling everything a requirement to follow Jesus? For some of us, maybe so. But Jesus also adds: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Mark 10:30).
Jesus is saying that his true followers are those who are willing to deny themselves and say, I choose Jesus above everything and everyone else! I choose Jesus over my family if my family are a hinderance to my following Jesus. I choose Jesus over money and the stuff it buys. I choose Jesus over being popular in school. I'm coming after Jesus even if it means choosing a different vocation because my current job compromises my ability to obey Jesus. I choose Jesus over getting drunk, watching porn or protecting my pride by holding a grudge. I choose Jesus over what other people may think or do!
Following Jesus requires a complete and total commitment. What the rich young ruler is really committed to is revealed when he refuses to deny himself. He wanted to say yes to following Jesus without saying no to himself. He wanted to be close enough to Jesus to have eternal life, but not so close that it required personal sacrifice. He wanted the King but he wanted him his way. Like many today, he got the King of Kings confused with a Burger King, get eternal life your way, kind of king.
Each of us has a choice. It's not a one time decision, it's a daily choice. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself...and pick up his cross daily and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) On a day to day basis we can choose to grasp after the things of this world, to cling to that which we think will bring security or happiness, or pursue Christ and his adventure of helping others find their way home...
Consider Bilbo's adventure.... [DVD clip from The Hobbit; 2:20:50 - 2:22:54]
Bilbo was invited on an adventure. He wrestled hard with that decision, to let go of all the com-forts of his hobbit hole or to embrace the adventure of helping others find their home. In much the same way Jesus invites us on an adventure with much the same goal: Pick up your cross and follow me! And like Bilbo Baggins, we'll have to give up more than just a preferred hanky along the way....!
I know of a man who became a millionaire by the age of 29. He was able to give his wife any and everything she wanted, but one day she left him. When he tracked her down she told him that all these 'things' had left her cold, that her heart was empty. That night they knelt beside their hotel room bed and committed to selling it all and dedicating their lives to serving the poor.
The next day they went to a nearby church and told the pastor about their decision. “He told us that it was not necessary to give up everything. He just didn't understand that we weren't just giving up money and the things that money could buy. We were giving it all up - period.”
The couple in question were Millard and Linda Fuller who went on to start an organization you may have heard of, it's called, Habitat for Humanity. That's what the story of the rich young ruler is really about. It's not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it's about giving it all up - period. That's what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ. It means to give him your all!
A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus, over all else. After all, “what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
It's a personal question that, even now, Jesus is pressing us to prayerfully reconsider...