Have you ever tried to read the fine print of a cell phone contract or maybe your cable bill? You sign up thinking you are getting a great deal only to find that after the first month or the first year the costs double? Or maybe you signed up for something online but before you could do anything you had to agree to the terms and conditions but the print was so small you couldn’t read it so you just clicked yes. Today I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we can follow Jesus just the way we are and we can take small steps to go deeper with Jesus every day, but the bad news is that as we keep following Jesus there will come a point in time when we will need to read the fine print and agree to certain terms and conditions if we are going to keep on following.
This happened to those who first followed Jesus. If you were with us a few weeks ago we heard how Jesus called four fisherman to follow him and all Jesus said then was that he would make them fishers of men and women. Jesus didn’t lay out all the details of what the life of a disciple was going to look like and that was probably a good thing because if he had they probably would have never left their boats, nets and families to go with him.
But Jesus didn’t share with them the fine print on that first day, instead he revealed over time what it meant for him to be the Messiah and for them to be his followers and some of those terms and conditions were hard to hear. Today we are going to read the fine print about following Jesus from the gospel of Mark.
Jesus had been travelling with the disciples for some time now and his fame was spreading. He was healing the sick, driving out demons and performing miracles that amazed and thrilled the people. Jesus was also making a name for himself as an amazing teacher and preacher who could put to shame the more religious people of his day and the crowds following him were growing. At the height of his popularity, Jesus took his disciples aside to discuss what was going on and he started by asking them the question that everyone was asking. Mark 8:27-29
They told Jesus that some people thought he is Elijah who was a great prophet who had been taken up into heaven and was supposed to return to this world before the Messiah came. They also told Jesus that some people thought he was the return of John the Baptist because his teaching was so relevant and powerful. But it was Peter who made the proclamation that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah. The words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, Christ is Greek and Messiah is Hebrew, and they both mean The Anointed One. The Christ was the promised leader of God’s people who was going to come and rescue the people from oppression, set them free and bring them all a good life.
Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ was absolutely right but Jesus knew that his understanding of it meant to be the Christ needed some clarification so Jesus began to share with Peter and the disciples the fine print. Mark 8:31-33
Jesus is clear that the Christ is going to be rejected, suffer and eventually die and while He also says that he will rise again in three days, the disciples don’t hear or focus on that information, they just hear about the suffering and death. Peter doesn’t like what he hears because if the leader is going to be rejected, suffer and die then so are his followers. Up until this point Jesus has been a Rock Star. Everywhere he has gone there are crowds of people going crazy for him. The disciples are tasting incredible success and growing popularity. There is also so much power to be seen in the healings and miracles and the people love them. Everything is going so well and Peter has his eyes on all this worldly success and he doesn’t want that to end so he rebukes Jesus, but then Jesus rebukes Peter. Mark 8:33
What Jesus is saying here is that Peter is just looking out for his own interests and that he is only focused on the things of this world and not the things of God. Peter is being swept up in worldly success. Peter sees power, popularity and fame which in time he thinks is going to lead Jesus and all of them into seats of power. Peter is looking at the world. Peter is looking at Jesus as a consumer.
As a consumer, Peter is trying to get everything good he can out of Jesus, but Jesus isn’t looking for consumers to ride his coattails, he is looking for followers and followers have to not only be willing to read the fine print, they have to be willing to agree to live it out. So Jesus gathers the crowd together and gives them the fine print. Mark 8:34-38.
The fine print in following Jesus is really only 7 words:
Deny yourself. Take up a cross. FOLLOW
Can we agree to these terms? Are we willing to say yes to these conditions of discipleship? To deny ourselves means that there may come a time in our lives when we will have to say no to ourselves and what we want in order to be faithful in following Jesus. It may mean we need to say no to a relationship because we know that it is not one that honors God. It might mean saying no to an opportunity or a job that we know isn’t in line with God’s will. It may mean saying no to some activity or plan laid out for us by friends that we know isn’t moral or honest. It may mean letting go of something good, maybe even something very good, because it pulls us away from what is best in our relationship with God. Denying ourselves is never easy and there can be pain along the way, but there comes a point in all of our lives when to follow means we have to agree to the terms and conditions found in the fine print – deny yourself.
A friend of mine named Andrew faced this defining moment in his life while he was in college. Andrew’s dream was to enter into politics and everything was falling into place for that dream to become a reality. Andrew interned at the White House, he worked in the US Senate and helped on a senate campaign. Andrew was the class president at Bucknell and was being mentored by the college president; everything was falling into place for a wonderful career in politics. Andrew also had a growing faith as he attended church and got involved in a campus fellowship.
As Andrew continued to followed Jesus he began to feel a different call in his life and at a conference he heard God challenge him to stop being a minor league Christian and start playing in the majors. Andrew shared with me this week that “it was at that point where I needed to stop pursing my successful political career and purse Jesus full time. But that meant leaving behind the successes I had along with the potential jobs in DC, in the political realm and my gained network of colleagues.”
This was what Peter faced. To follow Jesus was going to mean leaving behind the success and the potential power. As Andrew followed Jesus he heard the fine print and knew he had set aside his political and business shoes in order to fully follow Jesus. You see, our shoes today aren’t ones we need to put on like skates or slippers, they are shoes we might have to take off if we want to keep walking with Jesus. We can’t keep following Jesus if all we are interested in is fame and fortune. If power and popularity are why we follow, then we better quit now, because the fine print says that sacrifice and self denial are part of a Jesus follower’s life. In all our lives there comes a moment, a defining moment, where we are confronted by the fine print. It’s the moment when we hear Jesus say, if you want to follow me you must deny yourself.
For me one of the defining moments was when God said, Andy, with me there is life and without me there is death – the choice is yours. God was making it clear to me that I couldn’t find life and salvation on my own but that I needed God in my life to make things right. I really didn’t think I needed God. I even told God to take a hike because I could live just fine without him. God’s reply was, Andy, with me there is life and without me there is death – the choice is yours. When I really grasped the reality of that statement, I surrendered to God, because what good would it have been to have gained the whole world and yet given up my soul.
We can live our entire lives the way we want and achieve great success in this world but if we do it without God and without following Jesus then when we get to the end of our lives – there will be nothing. Whoever wants to save their lives will lose it. What good is it to gain the entire world and yet forfeit your soul?
As we follow Jesus there comes a defining moment for all of us when we have to read the fine print and decide if we are willing to deny ourselves, but Jesus goes on and says the length we need to go to in self denial is all the way to death. Jesus drove that point home by saying to his followers, take up a cross. Now for us, taking up a cross is just a metaphor of how far we should go in our self denial but for the followers of Jesus this was very real. Crucifixion was the means of execution used by Rome and the crowds listening to Jesus would have seen people dying on crosses. It was a part of their lives.
Imagine what it would be like to see crosses along the Benner Pike or Zion Road where every month we would see people crucified. The Romans were experts at crucifixion and they used it as a deterrent to crime so they wouldn’t just leave the person there until they died, they would leave the body there for days and allow them to be torn apart by birds and wild animals. Dying for their faith was a real possibility for the crowd listening to Jesus because John the Baptist had just been beheaded for his faith. Carrying a cross could happen to these people if they continued to follow Jesus.
I wonder if Christians in our own community were being lined up and beheaded for their faith, or were being caged and set on fire like Christians in the Middle East, if our churches would be filled with people. Would we still be willing to gather together to worship and proclaim our faith in Jesus if it meant being marched out of here to the edge of town where we would be nailed to a cross? Chances are that none of us will ever have to face this – but this was a very real possibility for the people listening to Jesus. The fine print for them was difficult. Following Jesus isn’t always easy and fun and filled with fame and fortune. Following Jesus doesn’t mean our life goals and plans will all come true, there is another side to following and instead of hiding this hard truth from the people, Jesus made it clear to them. Self denial and taking up a cross is part of what it means to follow.
While I want to be clear that salvation is free and costs us nothing, in time following Jesus will cost us something and it might cost us everything. We will know when this defining moment comes because it will feel like a conflict of interest that simply will not let us go. We will agonize over it, we will pray about it, we will struggle with it and we will know that the decision we face is God asking us to live up the terms and conditions of the fine print.
For some of us the self denial God will ask from us will actually feel like a death, but Jesus is clear that this death will lead to a resurrection because whoever loses his life for Christ and for the sake of his message will find life. When we follow the fine print, when we fully agree to the terms and conditions laid out by Jesus, we will find life and life to the fullest and life eternal.
FOLLOW ~ The Fine Print
1. Read the fine print of what it means to follow Jesus.
• Matthew 16:13-28
• Mark 8:27-38
• Luke 9:18-27
2. In what area of life is God calling you to deny yourself?
• Certain Activities
3. How would you describe to someone what it means to take up a cross?
4. In what way is God asking you to take up a cross?
5. Pray for persecuted Christian around the world who are literally carrying a cross (i.e. dying for their faith).