Mark:  Why the Gospel is good news

Week 7:  The Cost of Discipleship.  Mark 8:27-38

Sermon:  Sun 21st February 2016
Read:  Mark 8:27-38
(Parallel accounts can be found in Matt 16:13-16 & Luke 9:22-27.  It would be worth reading both of these accounts noting the ways in which they are similar and the differences between them too.)
“Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Some back ground: 
Mark now moves his narrative one step closer to Jerusalem.  Over the coming chapters Mark will take us right into the heart of Jerusalem by retelling a series of incidents in Jesus’ life.  With each of these incidents Jesus is increasingly open about where his journey is going to end and those around him come under increasing pressure to come to a decision about where they stand in relation to him. 
For discussion:  The challenge to take a stand in relation to Jesus and his call to follow him is not a one-off question.  Most of us face situations each day which demand we make a decision about where we stand in relation to Jesus.
Do we stand with him, following him even when the cost is high?
Or do we quietly distance ourselves from Jesus and his call to follow him?  Maybe actively or passively? 
Can you bring to mind any times recently when such a decision has been required?

What did you do?
Did it cause you to grow as a disciple?
The key question for his disciples then was much the same as the key question for us now – will we follow Jesus wherever he leads us?  Or will we draw a line and say enough is enough, there are some places I am not willing to go. 
Jesus makes the challenge clear as Mark reports his now famous words:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…”
Question for discussion:  Jesus words about taking up our cross are very well known.  But I wonder how do we interpret this?  What does it mean?
As Jesus speaks these words he doesn’t use the picture of ‘cross bearing’ in the sense of ‘walking through life with a burden’.   Rather he implies that like Him, those who will follow Him must be ready to walk the path of death to self.  The cost of discipleship couldn’t be more clearly articulated than it is here.  Those who will call themselves disciples must be willing to give over the whole of life to Christ, surrendering everything to his cause, sacrificing whatever is required in order to keep on following him wherever he leads.
Question for discussion and prayer:  At times it is easy to forget that discipleship is costly.  We face very little threat of persecution or violence as we go about our Christian lives, and no matter which way we cut it a bit of teasing or mockery just isn’t in the same league! 
I wonder if the costs for us are more subtle and yet equally challenging in some senses?
Are you conscious of the cost of discipleship?  If so how?
Have you recently had to die to yourself in order to follow Jesus?  If so in what ways?
How have you grown as a disciple through times of dying to self?
The Christian life is full of paradox.  And here we find another one beautifully described by Jesus: 
‘if we cling on to our life, protecting it from others, hanging on to the rights and needs and privileges that we think are ours – then our life is lost, because what we have is no longer life.’
‘However, if we surrender our lives [our rights and needs and privileges] and live the self giving love of Christ, we gain everything because at that point we are truly living.’
Question for reflection and prayer:  I wonder if this is a challenge for our time and place?  A challenge to willingly embrace the cost of discipleship, being willing to die to self, and let go of the rights and needs and privileges that we naturally hold on to, in order that we might fully live.
We’re challenged once again – do we believe Jesus when he says this?  Are we courageous enough to let go of all that we cling to in order to find true life and a life worth living? 
How does this challenge you?  What will you do about it?
Make up your mind
Jesus laid down a clear challenge to his disciples and the crowds that had gathered around him.  It was a challenge to ‘make up your mind’.  To decide whether the path of discipleship with its cost and promise was a path that they wanted to walk down.  I guess the vast majority of us reading these notes will have already made that choice and be walking that path.  But lets not forget that this is a daily choice to be made as we continue as disciples. 

Simon Butler, 02/12/2015