Imagine with me that you are on an airplane. After you take off, the passenger sitting next to you begins conversation with you. It begins with the normal chit chat of where you’ve been, what you do, and how your day has been and continues a bit more in depth. When the passenger learns that you belong to a Christian church, he turns to you in all seriousness and asks, “Who is Jesus anyway?” Startled you search for an answer. As you begin telling your fellow traveler about Jesus, he listens with seemingly great interest.
Your curiosity is stirred, so you ask, “Who is Jesus for you?” After a long pause, the response is, “Well, um, I think Jesus is kind of like a good therapist. He listens to me, asks me how I am feeling, gives me suggestions about trying different behaviors, affirms me, assures me that I am okay and invites me to share anything I want with him. About the only difference I see is that the therapist gives me a bill every month.”
What would you say next to your traveling partner? In the Gospel from Mark 8 Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” His disciples respond that some think he is the incarnation of John the Baptist or maybe one of the prophets come back from the dead. Then Jesus puts it to them, asking, “But who do you say that I am?” And bold Peter responds instantaneously, “You are our long awaited Messiah.” You are the one who will run the Romans out of Palestine and set us up in power. You are the one who has come to meet our needs and fix what is wrong. Peter’s response sounds a bit like our airplane passenger friend. Jesus is a good guy who has come to take care of me and meet my needs. He listens to my gripes, okays my whining, feeds my pabulum and burps me when I’ve taken in too much air.
In our therapeutic culture of today, we have tamed Jesus, rendered him to be a comforting, healing friend who always affirms, always accepts and reassures, never demands, never condemns. But this is not the Jesus we meet in Mark 8.
In this text the disciples (and we) are being asked to rearrange their idea of the Messiah. Jesus issues a challenge, a promise, a question, and a warning. First, the challenge: In verse 34 we read, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus calls us to discipleship. It is a call to serve and not be served, to be obedient to God’s direction and control. It is a call to take off our pabulum stained bib and put on an apron of servanthood. To deny self has less to do with the things we accumulate and more to do with what we give away. It is to deny self and live in a more selfless manner, less concerned with our own needs and wants and more open to God’s direction and guidance. It is to rise each morning, see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word and then commitment ourselves to be used by God for His purposes that day. To deny one’s self and take up the cross is to say no to myself and my petty whining and yes to the voice in the command of Jesus. It is to say with Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.”
Imagine with me for just one moment, if every one of us today would offer ourselves up to God to be used by Him for His purposes, what would that mean in your relationship with your enemy who has wronged you, for your checkbook or bank account, and your relationship with those in your family? What would it mean for the use of time in your daily life?
In 1997 the world looked on as thousands of people said goodbye to Mother Theresa. When she opened her mission in 1952, the neighbors complained. But Mother Theresa persisted in feeding, clothing, providing shelter and medical attention to countless thousands, because she said she saw Jesus in the faces of the half-dead people whose cheeks had been nibbled away by rats and maggots. Jesus challenges us to discipleship, to be obedient to God’s direction and control.
In verse 35 Jesus issues a promise. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.” This promise is like a two-edged sword. The one side cuts saying that if you want to save your life in this world, you will lose it in eternity. The other says that if you lose your life in this world, you will save it for eternity. The promise is that Jesus will fill our lives with His riches when we empty ourselves. This is a great mystery of the Kingdom of God. Let me illustrate.
A muscle that is not exercised consistently will eventually become useless. A brain that is not stimulated continuously will become less than fully functional. A voice that is not trained and disciplined will become hoarse and sore. A talent that is not used will soon become lost. As you surrender your life to be used, exercised, disciplined and directed by Jesus, it will become fruitful and multiply with blessings. Why? Because God has free reign to use your life as He created it to be. He who made you, sustains you, and knows how best for you to live. He can empower, motivate, lead, guide, and energize you for His true and honest servanthood.
In verse 36 Jesus asks a question. “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?” Jesus asks us where we place our values in life. He inquires what life’s balance sheet looks like not in the eyes of humankind, but in the eyes of God. When God looks at the bottom line on the balance sheet with your name on it, what does He see? God is the final auditor who every man, woman and child must face in the final accounting. The real question of our time on earth is not, what will people think of what I did or didn’t do? but what will God think of it? There will be no verdict by public opinion. The test of eternity is to see things through the eyes of Jesus, not through our own eyes.
We have all heard the saying, Finders keeper, losers weepers. As children we probably said it when we found what we thought valuable. We felt we had the right to take what we had found and too bad for the poor loser who misplaced it. In this verse Jesus turns the saying upside down and in effect says, Finders weepers, losers keepers.
The person who selfishly protects him or herself at the expense of others and hangs on to their possessions will lose his life. Their soul will become empty even though their port folio expands. But the person who gives ownership of their life generously to God and to others will find true happiness and fulfillment. Through Jesus Christ this person will know what it means to truly live while they are here on earth. It does not matter whether you are young or old, rich or poor, weak or powerful, you will have a hard time letting go of what you have. Jesus has a message for you: when you give up those earthly attachments you will find that doing so is eternally worthwhile.
Friends, if you are looking for true fulfillment, stop trying to find it in your self, your friends, your possessions, or your status. Jesus invites you to follow Him. If you do, you will discover first hand that losers really are keepers. Jesus asks you the question, “What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”
In verse 38 we hear Jesus’ fourth word, a warning. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The simple truth is that when Jesus comes into His kingdom, He will receive those who relied on His power in this life. In a beginning logic course, the professor made an unusual offer to his students who were preparing for their final exam. He told them, “You can bring to class on the day of the exam as much information as you can fit into one piece of notebook paper.” So every student sharpened his or her pencils and spent all week trying to cram as many facts as possible onto an 8″ X 11″ piece of notebook paper. But one student walked into the class, put a piece of notebook paper on the floor and had an advanced logic student stand on the paper. This advanced logic student told him everything he needed to know. As a result he was the only student in the class to receive an A.
Jesus reminds us that the time will come when you will have to stand before God. On your own you cannot pass that exam. No matter how much you know, you do not have the right answer. But there is someone who will stand in for us. His name is Jesus. Jesus reminds us that He desires to stand with us in this life and in the life to come. It is a matter of our choice.
Jesus is not our personal therapist. He is the suffering Messiah, the One who stands beside us; the Alpha and the Omega; the ruler of kings of the earth; the beginning and the end. Jesus is our Savior, not our therapist. Jesus, the Savior, wants to meet you personally today. In that meeting you will be changed. In the quiet of your heart today you are invited to meet Jesus, the Savior. Will you invite Him in?