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Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. Colossians 3:16

The sermon for 3-01-15 by Tom Forbes

Disciples Take Up Their Cross
Mark 8:31-38

We find ourselves today already in the second Sunday of Lent and a bit behind in developing our theme which is all about what it means to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Traditionally, Lent is a time for preparation and penitence. It started as the time when people who were to be baptized on Easter would learn about the Christian faith. What are our creeds? What are the teachings of Christ such as the Sermon on the Mount? What are the disciplines of the Christian faith? This is a time for reaffirming who we are as baptized people and disciples and reflecting on faithful living in anticipation of Easter.

Lent is a time to repent—to turn around, to change directions. My Hebrew professor lectured this past week about this word, “repent.” The Hebrew word is “ shoov” which literally means to return. In its application in the Old Testament it means to return to where you once were. So, to repent, we are to return to God, return to faith, return to being the humanity, the people, we were created to be. The first step of this is to confront our mortality. We did manage to get the Ash Wednesday service in between snow storms and, in that service I used ashes to make the sign of the cross on your forehead and said, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Last Sunday the sermon was to be titled “Disciples in the Wilderness.” Shawn worked very hard in getting this up on our web site. It’s there if you want to read it. The point of that sermon was that any repentance on our part begins in the wilderness, in the place of temptation, danger, and death. You can think of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness 40 years and Jesus being tempted in the wilderness 40 days. We must face death head on as Christ did if we are to know what it means to die with Christ and to be raised with him to new life.

Today, we disciples take up our own cross. In Mark 8 Jesus has reached a turning point in his ministry. Luke expresses it well in his gospel at the end of chapter 9, “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus makes a decisive turn for the cross. But, just before this Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, the brash and impulsive one, declares, “You are the Messiah.” And, Jesus begins to teach them just what this means. They don’t get it.

Three times in chapters 8 through 10 Jesus tells his disciples, in ever more graphic detail, what is going to happen to him. Three times the disciples show their self-centered ignorance and three times Jesus tells them something about what it means to be a disciple.

We just read in 8:31, “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.” Peter rebukes him and Jesus then says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The second time is in 9:31, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” The disciples then start arguing amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest. So Jesus sits them down and says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

And the last time is in 10:33. He tells them as plainly as he can, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” Then two of the disciples, James and John, ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” You can almost hear the sigh, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”

For the disciples, throughout all of the Gospels, being the Messiah meant an earthly kingdom with political power. Jesus was to restore the majesty of the kingdom of Israel. They wanted to follow Jesus alright, but the path they wanted led to a throne and a palace. So, it was no wonder that Peter took Jesus aside and said something like, “That’s enough of this kind of talk. This isn’t the plan. This isn’t what we sign on for.” “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says.

Jesus then gathers all the disciples and the crowd around him and says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We are here today to try and get a handle on what this means.

The first thing it means is that we are disciples, or we are intending to be. “If any want to become my followers...” It is probably a safe thing to say—and a sad thing—that there are people in churches all over the world who are not followers of Jesus Christ. There are many reasons people belong to a church. It’s what my family does. It’s where my friends are. I feel good about myself when I help people. I need whatever program the church offers—anything but because I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the center of my life, and the church is where the fellowship, love, and support are found for repentance, restoration, reinvigoration, renewal, and refreshment so that I can go out into the world once more and follow where Christ leads.

The second thing Jesus said was, “Let them deny themselves.” Following Jesus Christ means dying. It means that all the things that I want, or think I want, are subordinate to the will and the call of Jesus Christ. It means that my life is not self-centered. It is Christ-centered and, as Paul said in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.” It means that love for sisters and brothers and neighbors is the first thing in my life, not what I do when my needs are satisfied, when I have enough, or when I have time.

Jesus then said, “…and take up their cross and follow me.” Taking up the cross is not an easy thing. It wasn’t even easy for Jesus. Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness right after he was baptized. He was tempted by the devil. Luke says, “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The Garden of Gethsemane, on Thursday night, before Jesus was arrested, was one of those times. This is perhaps the most powerful prayer in the whole Bible. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” Luke says that an angel appeared and gave him strength.

Disciples participate in the life of Jesus Christ. We are a part of the living Christ, engrafted into the self sacrificing love of the Triune God through the humanity God assumed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. From this we get the strength to take up our cross and follow Christ. Christ is our strength.

Like Christ, we take up our cross for others. For Christ it was for the whole world. For us it’s for whomsoever God puts in our path and in whatever way Christ calls us through the Spirit—as simple as a smile, a word of encouragement, or a helping hand, or as profound as leading someone to a new knowledge and experience of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

To take up our cross means an attitude of service to others, even those who are not like us, or aren’t even particularly likeable. It means an attitude of humility, not in demeaning ourselves, but in recognizing that only God changes the hearts of others. It is not done by our control, our dominance, or our political power.

So, this season, this week, this afternoon, consider your cross, the ways you live, or fail to live, as disciples of Jesus Christ. As you take up your cross remember, it is Christ who strengthens you through faith. It is Christ’s love that flows through you. And, because of Christ’s cross and resurrection, you have hope for the kingdom of God now and forevermore.

And all God’s people said,


Piedmont Presbyterian Church 63 Ashfield Street Piedmont, WV 26750
Telephone:(304)355-8614 Email:piedmontpresby@frontier.com