Sermon Outline On Mark 8:31-38Â (NRSV)
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The cross is “The Symbol” of the Christian faith. It is belief in Christ that separates Christianity from all other religions. It is the cross that is important as we come to believe in Jesus as Christ. Fred Craddock tells us that the gospel of Mark is a Good Friday gospel. By that he means that for Mark the cross is central to our understanding of Jesus.
Rudolph Norden tells us in a book he wrote on symbols that there are 50 types of crosses used by the church today. They include the Latin cross, the Greek cross, the Tau cross and the Celtic cross. We have a cross on our altar table. There are crosses in stained glass windows and on the walls of our sanctuaries. Crosses appear on the top of steeples. They are sooo NICE.
While we want to make the cross NICE, while we want to display our polished gold crosses, the truth is Jesus was not referring to a NICE cross. The cross was an instrument created for the purpose of inflicting pain and persecution. It was Jesus who turned it into an instrument of suffering and sacrifice. It is we who have turned it into jewelry and decorations. Nice, smooth, non-threatening, tame crosses.
Craddock tells a story about a popular preacher who explained his approach by saying, “You cannot succeed preaching the cross. People do not want to hear that: they already have enough problems.” Craddock goes on to say, “No wonder he is popular.”
Jesus begins by talking to his disciples. He is beginning a new set of instructions. He reveals for the first time his “future story.” In the telling, the emphasis is on “great suffering,” rejection, and being killed. Resurrection is mentioned, but the emphasis is on His passion and death. The focus is on the cross.
Well, Peter immediately rebukes Jesus for saying such things. Peter, according to Mark, has just declared Jesus the Messiah. That is not the expectation for the Messiah. (Did you notice that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man? That does not have the same expectations.) Jesus makes it clear that those who would place human things before divine things oppose God. They are God’s adversaries. Jesus calls Peter, Satan, the adversary. He tells Peter that he is allowing human concerns to supersede the things of God. He is placing his will above God’s will.
Jesus then turns to the crowd. He says, “You want to follow me.” “If you want to follow me, it’s a three step process.” Jesus couldn’t make it any clearer. Jesus used many parables in his teaching, but not today. It is as simple as one, two, three. First, deny yourself.
Deny yourself. God comes first. Seek first His kingdom. God’s will be done. Yes, even on the cross God’s will be done. Number one, deny yourself. Number two, take up your cross. No parable here. The cross is the cross of suffering and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Crosses are not comfortable.
For Christians, crosses are not optional. The only way we can be truly happy is to be where God wants us, doing what God would have us do. Two thousand years ago for Jesus that meant hanging on a cross. Today, while crosses are not comfortable and for Christians not optional, when we take up the cross that God has for us it is bearable.