Soul Wars (Mark 8:34-38)

Sermon for January 30, 2011

Subject: Discipleship
Theme: The struggle to Follow Jesus, cost of discipleship
I. Introduction:
A. Lead sentence:
If you want to win in life’s pursuits you must know the opposition and have a good plan.
B. Examples:

All the teams in the NFL play-offs are excellent teams. The winners are the teams with the best game plan.

In the boxing ring, it’s not always the stronger or quicker boxer that wins, it the one who leans how to circumvent his opponent’s strengths and exploit his opponent’s weaknesses.

C. Sermon shift:
In our spiritual walk, we all want to be winners. But what happens when the opponent we we must defeat is within? Well that is what our sermon is all about to day.

D. Proposition:
There is war going on in your soul, a struggle to follow Jesus. You need to know the enemy and have a plan to defeat him.
E. Transition:
So let us open to the book of Mark to find three struggles that every believer must overcome.
F. Read the text: Mark 8:31-38

II. The struggle with self

Mark 8:34-35 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (NASB)

Isn’t a radio station and has nothing to do with a Nintendo Game. It means “What’s in it for me” WIIFM is the mantra of the carnal mind. It is the essence of a life centered on self.
B. Background
This passage is a turning point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. It follows Jesus’ first announcement that He would go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the nation, be handed over to the Romans and executed, but rise on the third day. And as we just read, Peter didn’t like Jesus’ plan and rebuked the Lord. This passage is the response to Peter’s objection.

If following Jesus meant hard times, Peter didn’t want to follow. And so Jesus gave Peter and all the rest of the disciples the option to leave. Jesus knew what was ahead. He knew it wasn’t for the half-hearted. He knew that many would fall away. So He told them in advance what it would cost to follow Him.
C. Exposition:

Notice that Jesus summoned the entire crowd to Him. This challenge isn’t just directed to Peter or even limited to the twelve; it is made to the entire crowd.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

This is directed at all who will follow Jesus- Christ followers in the first century as well as Christ followers in the 21st century.

Notice the word for deny. It is the same word to describe Peter’s actions on the night of the last supper, when Peter denied the Lord three times It doesn’t mean to deny yourself of something or things – It means to renounce your self. It means to cease making self the center of your life and actions.

Jesus follows this up with a coequal requirement for discipleship- following Jesus. This means obeying Him above all else. And this includes picking up one’s cross. First century listener’s had a full appreciation of what this meant. Cross bearing wasn’t just putting up some irritation in life, it is a picture of a man, already condemned, required to carry his own cross to the place of execution. And in fact, some including Peter would carry their own crosses and die the way Jesus did.

D. Illustration: The gospel that appeals to self

We live in a very strange time in the history of Christendom. Many churches preach a self-help Gospel. Follow Jesus and your life will improve and you will feel better about yourself. Kind of like Doctor Phil, but from a pulpit. Others preach a self-empowerment Gospel- you can get what you want out of life, if you have enough faith. And some preach a prosperity Gospel that teaches the Gospel as a way to get rich.

I often use a web site for sermon illustrations. It was interesting that I could find headings for 26 different topics that began with the word “Self”. These included: Self Acceptance, Self Discovery, Self Esteem, Self Image, Self Improvement, Self Knowledge, Self Praise and Self Worth. However when I clicked on the link for Self Denial there was nothing there.

But Jesus said that if you want follow Him you must deny your self, pick up your cross and follow Him.

E. Application:
The struggle with self shows up in our lives as the struggle against sin but also as the struggle we encounter when we are asked to serve. Have you ever had the Lord ask you to do something you didn’t want to do? Have you ever had to choose between what you wanted and what Jesus wanted?

How about Church attendance, going to Bible study after a long day at work, or showing up at a prayer meeting at an inconvenient time? You might rationalize staying in that warm bed, chilling on the couch in front of the TV or doing something else because there is nothing in it for you. Did you ever think that Jesus would call you to be there for someone else?

How about serving in Children’s Church, setting up, pulling the trailer? What about giving to missions or going on a mission’s trip? A mission’s trip is great! You take some vacation time, pay your own way, work real hard and come home tired and sore.

None of these things are for you and they will all cost you something. But all of them will make an eternal difference in the lives of others.

III. The struggle with worldliness

Mark 8:36-37 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (NIV)
A. Definition: Worldliness
Worldliness is the active pursuit of possessions, positions, power and pleasure.

None of these things is evil in themselves. In fact, these may come as blessings from God as a reward for pursuing Him. Jesus said:

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (NIV)

But it is the pursuit of these things that wars with our soul.
B. Exposition: Gain the world

The persecution that early Christians faced included death of course, but it also included confiscation of their possessions, loss of their means of making a living loss of a political appointment or elected position, arrest and incarceration. However, if they recanted their faith, these penalties would be avoided. Following Jesus meant turning your back on this world and all it has to offer.

For believers, gaining the world come at at the expense of your soul because you can’t pursue the Kingdom of God and pursue things. You will have to choose one or the other.

And Jesus puts these two pursuits side by side to help them make the right choice. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” The reality is that no man could gain the whole world. It was impossible then and it is impossible to day. You can’t gain the whole world, so why forfeit your whole soul?

And “what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” In other words, there isn’t anything in this world as valuable as your eternal soul. Pursuing things means losing your soul. Therefore, choose the world or choose your soul. This is a struggle that every believer will have to address.
C. Illustration: Demas the deserter

There is a sad story that you can construct if you simply connect three passages about a man named Demas that we find in the Epistles of Saint Paul. He is listed among Paul’s friends and co-workers. Demas participated in the spreading of the Gospel and strengthening of the church. He most likely left home and family to hit the long and dangerous road to accompany Paul on his missionary journeys. He stood with the Apostle while he languished in prison- likely at great personal risk.

Colossians 4:14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. (NIV)

Philemon 1:23-24 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. (NIV)

Demas would appear to be a model Christian. A guy we would all admire, respect and want to emulate. Yet a postscript in a later epistle sent to Timothy is like kick in the gut.

2 Timothy 4:10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica… (NIV)

It’s impossible to read these words without feeling the sadness that was no doubt intensely felt by the Apostle. What a tragedy! A life wasted. A testimony ruined. The Gospel maligned. For Demas, because loved the world not only deserted Paul and the saints, he also deserted Christ.

How did this happen? How did Demas go from a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, willing to risk all for the sake of the Gospel, to a deserter? I don’t think it happened over night. It happened over time. He wandered away from His love for Jesus and fell in love with this world.

D. Application:
Every Christ follower will have this struggle. Every disciple will have to choose between pursuing the things of this world or following Jesus.

Cheating on test to get a good grade. Lying to a customer to make a sale. Stealing an idea or taking credit in order to make a good impression. Misleading a superior to avoid reprimand or gain an advantage. Gaining the world and losing your soul.

Skipping vacations and working long hours at the expense of needed rest just to advance your career. Gaining the world and losing your soul.

Career pursuits that come at the expense of our families or service to the Kingdom.

Pursuing personal comfort and pleasure while ignoring the needs of the poor. Gaining the world and losing your soul.
IV. The struggle to take a stand

Mark 8:38 If anyone is 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.” (NIV)

A. Summary
Well Jesus spoke of the struggle with self and the struggle with stuff, thirdly Jesus addresses the struggle to take a stand.
B. Exposition
Notice the context of being ashamed of Jesus and His teachings connected with the setting of an adulterous and sinful generation. This invokes the idea of keeping a low profile so as not to be seen. A sinful and adulterous generation doesn’t appreciate the value of the Gospel. The Bible says they see the Gospel as foolish and its followers as simpletons and fools. Following Jesus openly means being subjected to the scorn and ridicule of our culture. But we don’t have the option of keeping a low profile, because

C. The embarrassed believer
In Hugh Hewitt’s book the “Embarrassed Believer” he observes that there are well over 50 million people who regularly attend church at least 4 Sundays a month. And 50 Million is a very conservative number. (Of course there are many more Christians who attend church at least once a month.) But he points out that with these very large numbers how is it that there is little to no influence on the culture. He asserts that these believers have been embarrassed into silence. Because even if there were only 25 million Christians who were bold in their witness and life style, things wouldn’t be the way they are. Our country wouldn’t be the way it is. The entertainment industry wouldn’t be the way that it is. The record industry and the movie industry, the TV studios and the news media would be very different. And our government would be very different. Because if Christians would regularly speak out from their convictions we would bring about much needed changes.
D. Application:

This is another battle in our soul. Whether to stand up and be counted for Jesus or to keep a low profile. I personally think we need stand up and be counted across the cafeteria table at lunch time, at coffee break, and at the water cooler. We need to stand up in the class room and school board meetings. When my daughter Stephanie was in High School she took a stand in an English literature class. After the class some of the other Christians privately applauded her. But she wondered, if it was so great, why didn’t they stand with her?

V. Conclusion: Application Type

There is a war going on in our souls that we all need to win. How do we win? How do we deny ourselves and follow Jesus? Well they all require an act of the will.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me The struggle with self.

1. The struggle with self
Well the hard part of this battle has already been won. The Bible says that when we were born again, our old self was crucified with Christ and that we became a new creation. Jesus has freed every believer from the power of sin that used to rule our lives. That doesn’t mean we have lost our free will, it simply means we don’t have to lose any more. The problem is that when we are confronted with a choice to sin rather than follow Jesus or a choice to follow Jesus by serving Him, much times we delay, we entertain the alternatives we think about it too much; we make excuses, we rationalize. They key is to obey immediately.

2. The struggle with worldliness

Most of us will struggle with the pursuit of power, pleasure, position and possessions. This was one of the temptations that Jesus faced at the beginning of his earthly ministry. The key to winning this struggle is to “Give Generously.” This is what Jesus told the Rich young Ruler to do. Give your stuff away and then it won’t have such a hold on you. Give to the poor, give to missions, give to the church, and pick up the tab at lunch. Give other people the credit for work that is done. Help others to succeed. Give others the gift of your time. Listen to what they have to say. Become a friend to those who don’t have any. Deny yourself, follow Jesus

3. The struggle to take a stand

The key to taking a stand is to speak out with boldness. Gee that sounds great! So how do I so that? Many of us lack confidence, don’t know how to explain our faith or aren’t convinced ourselves. So we are starting a Bible study in February on Monday nights that will touch on a number of topics including hard questions and how to answer them in a sinful generation. And we’ll make sure everyone has an opportunity to practice so that they will have the confidence to be bold.