Gracefully Truthful

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Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
Become equipped to correctly handle the Word of Truth!

Read His Words Before Ours!

Mark 8:34-38

34 Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after 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 because of me and the gospel will save it. 36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? 37 What can anyone give in exchange for his life? 38 For 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.”

The Original Intent

1) What is the wider context of this passage?

When studying Scripture, it’s helpful to investigate the author’s purpose through a wide-angle lens of his writings to better understand his intent and audience. The gospel author, Mark, shines a spotlight on pivotal moments of Jesus’ life to underscore both His humanity and His divinity. Jesus is the “Son of Man” as well as the “Promised Messiah”.

In chapter 8, we see the very human need for food and sight. Jesus uses these common experiences, and their painful lack thereof as experienced by the blind man and the hungry crowds, to showcase His divine authority over all things. In pointed contrast, Jesus’ recorded exchange between Himself and the Pharisees who repeatedly rejected the truth of Jesus’ identity, is used to demonstrate their spiritual blind eyes who refuse to see the Christ standing face-to-face with them.

In contrast to the learned Pharisees, the fisherman, Peter, has discovered the truth for himself. When Jesus asks His disciples who they believe Him to be, emboldened Peter announces, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)

On the heels of Peter’s declaration of Christ as the long-awaited promised Messiah King, Jesus “began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected (…), be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31)

Passionately, Peter denies his King should die! (Mark 8:32) Just as presumed political victory was within his sight, Peter angrily throws in the towel and, in essence, insists Jesus’ willing death to be outrageous.

Unknowingly, Peter’s vehemence opens the door for Jesus to explain that following Him, truly trusting in Him as the Son of Man and God the Son, will inevitably result in the price tag of suffering and death.

The Everyday Application

1) What is the wider context of this passage?

God didn’t manifest Himself in the way Peter expected, or the Pharisees, or the crowds. If we’re honest, we have our own expectations of who God is, how He should act, and what rescue looks like.

Christ consistently confronted Peter, the crowds, and Pharisees, pushing back on their expectations and providing them with truth instead. Their response makes all the difference. The Pharisees insisted Jesus’ representation of Himself as the “I AM” God was absolutely ludicrous. They rejected Him and paid the price of eternity apart from Him. The simple fisherman, though passionately protesting at several points along his journey, kept pressing into who Jesus claimed Himself to be. Peter chose belief while the Pharisees chose rejection.

Each of us face the same wrestling match as we investigate the claims of Jesus. Will we, like Peter, name Christ as our Lord and surrender everything, even our lives? Or, like the Pharisees, will we hold onto our pretentious ideas of an idyllic “god” made in our own image, reject the God of the Bible, and spend eternity dead and separated from the God of Love?

Jesus calls us to look beyond the miracles and open our once-blind-eyes to “see” the relationship He wants with us. He invites us to “see” our desperate need for a Savior. When we choose Christ, we choose the richest of all inheritances for He offers abundant eternal life after death and His sweet presence in this temporary life.

Let’s not become distracted like the crowds who sought the Miracle Worker, but ignored the Savior of our souls.

The Original Intent

2) What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? (verse 34)

To understand this phrase, which lands as so strange to our modern ears, it is essential we return to the first audience and understand what came to their mind’s eye. In New Testament times, the cruelest punishment for crimes against Rome was the grotesque torture of crucifixion. It was intended to send an inescapable message, “Don’t Mess With Rome”.

Crucifixion was humiliating, shameful, and cruel. Naked criminals carried their own death tool upon their shoulders as they were paraded through the city to its outskirts so all could see their shame and be assured Rome held all authority. Eventually, crucifixion victims died, not of the nails piercing their flesh as the whole weight of their bodies hung suspended by iron posts, but of asphyxiation. The only way they could grasp another breath was to push up on the nails in their feet so their lungs could expand. When they became too exhausted to do this, they suffocated. This whole process could span several horrific days of torture if they were not badly whipped beforehand as Jesus was.  

As gruesome and inhumane as this was, we must also remember it was not simply their bodies that could not be hidden, it was the guilt of their crime. It was not merely a cross they carried, it was their shame and sin. What a horrific portrait of our own consequence of sin! We won’t be crucified for our sin, but unless we accept Jesus’ paid-in-full gift for the debt we owe, we will experience an eternity even more grim and full of despair than a criminal heading to Golgotha.

The Everyday Application

2) What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? (verse 34)

In the 21st century, the term “carry your cross” is considerably watered down from how the first century audience understood its meaning. Perhaps we’ve heard this phrase and understood the modern context to be a minor annoyance or even used as a snarky sarcastic comeback. In the eyes of Christ, however, His intended meaning never lessened.

If you want to be a follower of Christ there will be obstacles, burdens, and situations you must endure, even heavy, painful things. Because that’s what death brings. Crucifixion meant death without exception; there were no survivors. This is the mentality Christ would have His followers embrace in order to follow Him. Death to our old way of living, death to our lusts, passions, and idols. (Colossians 3:5) Death to anything that lures us away from loving Him first and most and best. This is the cost of following Christ, it’s the cost of surrender.

This surrender could mean walking away from a promotion because you understand the work would run counter to your integrity. It could cost you finances as the Lord calls you to support that missionary instead of fund your vacation. Surrender to Jesus costs us making family and sports an idol.

Whatever it costs you, fellow Christ-follower, you can have this confidence: it’s worth it and the reward will be great! The rescue of our eternal souls is guaranteed (verse 35), and in the meantime while we live out a life of surrender on earth, we are granted the full riches of Christ’s constant presence, His joy, peace, guidance, and every other spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)

The Original Intent

3) What do the “for whoever” and “for what” statements signify in verses 35, 36, and 38?

The heart of every hearer was laid bare that day as Jesus spoke truth to those gathered around Him. His audience was full of long-time devoted Jews who had studied the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and were waiting and waiting for God’s Promised Messiah, revealed through the prophets, to rescue them from Rome’s political tyranny.

Jesus’ audience that day fully believed they could earn favor with God by keeping His commands and offering the right sacrifices when they didn’t. Ritual could rescue while they loved their lusts.

But Jesus refused to allow them the false comfort of continuing to believe this outrageous lie. The self-love life only ends in one place, eternal death, which is evidenced by the concluding words of Jesus’ “for…” statements.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.”
Loss of true-real-abundant life and all perceived power to control anything.

“For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life?”
Loss of one’s soul for eternity.

For whoever is ashamed of Me (…) the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels
Loss of relationship with the Only One who is able to save both body and soul and grant abundant riches of life in this world and the next.

All self-loves will result in a guaranteed forfeiting of soul.
The antidote?
Full, Genuine Surrender to Christ alone.

The Everyday Application

3) What do the “for whoever” and “for what” statements signify in verses 35, 36, and 38?

Christ is pursuing our hearts, and Mark’s gospel is laid out to emphasize this reality with each story he tells of Jesus. Christ reveals the true heart motives of His listeners as He engages with them and points them to the truth that will free them if they embrace it in true surrender. Each of these 3 “for…” statements are immediately followed by statements of self-focused living; lives reflecting a lack of surrender and a poor understanding of truth.

“For whoever wants to save his life...”
We want to save our lives, and retain all control.

“For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world..?.”
We do want to gain and keep on gaining in every area of life.

For whoever is ashamed of Me…
We don’t want to suffer or be associated with suffering; we want to avoid pain or loss.

Each statement is meant to reveal a blind spot of the self-loving life. If we honestly study ourselves and our desires for any length of time, we come face to face with the reality that we quite zealously love ourselves, our plans, our desires, and our blueprints for how our lives should go. We may also notice a complete lack of surrender in these self-loves.

The 21st century is full of opportunities to prosper on our own merit. While we might earn wealth, higher social standing, or even good works for God’s Kingdom, none of this will pay off the debt of sin we owe to a Holy God. Christ, the Only One Worthy to pay the punishment for our sin, died to give us eternal life. In Him, we find access to rich communion with the God of the Universe!

*Written by Carol Graft & Rebecca Adams

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