Mark 8:31-38: “TripTik to Heaven”
Sunday morning worship, May 20, 2018
One of my favorite parts as a kid about going on vacation was following a AAA TripTik to our destination. It was little booklet like the one pictured on the screens that had maps of various sections of the trip outlined with a marker. Each section had an overview on the outside and a more detailed view of congested areas on an inside foldout. As we would complete each section of the trip we would move from one map section to the next until we reached our destination. It always seemed satisfying to turn the page to a new map knowing we were that much closer to our destination. In this section of Mark 8, Jesus gives us a kind of TripTik to heaven that has five sections. One section deals with our minds, our thought processes, and how those thoughts lead to the decisions we act upon and the advice we give others. The other four sections are action verbs. Each one tells us a part of the trip we have to complete before we reach our heavenly destination. Let’s begin this morning with our mental outlook and then examine the actions we subsequently need to take.
“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’” (8:31-33).
I wouldn’t like to be called Satan by Jesus. I don’t really think Jesus was calling Peter Satan. But by choosing to speak to Peter this way, Jesus made His point quite clearly. Scripture records that Satan had been trying to get Jesus to veer off the path that led to the cross since His baptism by John. We know of three separate offers Satan made Jesus to quit before He began. When Jesus withstood Satan’s temptations, Luke records, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (4:13). Here was obviously one of those times. It’s easy for us not to want those we love to suffer. It’s even easier to not want them to die and leave us. When Jesus “spoke plainly” to the disciples about his coming death and resurrection, the disciples easily understood death, but they missed the importance of what followed—Jesus’ resurrection. When we face difficult times, it’s easy to see the problem we understand. It’s much more difficult to discern the benefits that may be ours by standing in the power of the Holy Spirit. None of us want to lose, but once we have subsequently learned to triumph over what earlier defeated us, we are much stronger and our fears subside. Part of learning how to win is learning how to lose properly. The kind of losing that leads to more losing profits us nothing. But when we learn from our mistakes, when we learn how to go through the losing with faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do things we could never do before. It’s quite obvious that Jesus could never be resurrected from the grave if He never died. But it’s just as obvious that none of us are anxious to die to see how we are resurrected. But seeing someone die and then be resurrected changes things. Once a feat has been accomplished it is that much easier for the rest of us. Knowing others have lost and then won can give us the strength to face life’s challenges with courage and perseverance. Jesus gave us those gifts. Peter had in mind the human concern of losing a loved one instead of the glory and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Trusting that God is in control of the situations and circumstances of our lives is key to withstanding incredible challenges to our faith. If our minds are strong enough to believe with God all things are possible, we can approach each day positively, enthusiastically, and forward looking. Remember, our lives are not only about us, they are also about the role we play in the spread of the kingdom of God.
See if you can spot the four action verbs that follow in this next paragraph spoken by Jesus:
“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 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” (8:34-38)
Did you spot them? How about (1) deny themselves; (2) take up their cross; (3) follow me; and (4) lose their life? What is at stake is our saving of our souls versus what we can gain in this world. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Every time we deny ourselves something in this world because Jesus has asked us to choose to do something that will extend His kingdom elsewhere, we store up a treasure for ourselves in heaven. The Apostle Paul said, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). So it is not simply denying ourselves that Jesus is talking about. Deciding we want to go on a diet so we skip lunch and give our lunch money to church profits us nothing. But if Jesus through the Holy Spirit asks us to fast and pray for missions or some other kingdom work or a person or a situation and we skip that same lunch but keep the money, we gain a treasure in heaven. Denying ourselves doesn’t start with us or some decision we make. Denying ourselves starts with the Holy Spirit prompting us to do something and we then respond in faith. That is why Jesus rebuked Peter. Peter didn’t have the right things in his mind. It wasn’t wrong for Peter not to want Jesus to suffer, but Peter was listening to his own heart and his own desires instead of the desires put within him by the Holy Spirit. Denying ourselves simply means choosing to do what God/Jesus through the Holy Spirit asks us to do and our doing it in faith believing.
Taking up our cross is what follows the decision to deny ourselves. A lot of people make good starts, but fail to finish. Perseverance, forbearance, and self-control are among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. In talking about what it costs us to be a disciple and truly follow Jesus (the third action verb), Jesus said in Luke 14:28-30: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” Many possibly great works have been begun but never finished. Rex Humbard’s tower in Cuyahoga Falls always comes to my mind when I read this passage. Jesus (Mark 4) says people stop following the way of the cross for many reasons. Among them Jesus lists (1) “they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (v17) and (2) “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires of other things come in and choke the word making it unfruitful” (v19). Taking up our crosses is a daily decision that requires us to stay in touch with the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit if we are to continue to follow Jesus. Constantly denying ourselves, even for apparently good reasons, and living life sacrificially for others can still be completely unfruitful if we are doing it on our own. That’s why I think so many people struggle in the Christian faith. They hear a sermon, read a book, listen to a testimony of someone else and think they should do the same things or something similar. They decide to do it, maybe out of love or even guilt, but it is their decision prompted by the words and actions of men and women instead of by the Spirit of God. When things don’t appear to work out as anticipated, they get tired and drop by the side of the road.
To lose our lives really means to give it God to use as He wants, when He wants, for what He wants. It doesn’t mean to live abject poverty. It doesn’t mean to give up everything. It doesn’t mean to never laugh or have a good time or spend money on yourself. It doesn’t mean not to have a family and spend time together. To lose our lives for Jesus and for the sake of the gospel simply means to do what Jesus asks us to do. To respond to Jesus, we need to learn to hear His voice. To learn to hear His voice we have to have in mind the things of God. To have in mind the things of God we need to read and study our Bibles and spend time listening for His voice in prayer. We know the voices of those we love. I’ve had three-year olds answer the phone and know my voice because it’s rather distinctive. But so is Jesus’ if we learn to recognize it. And I will tell you, His sounds much better than mine.
I always loved TripTik’s because I always knew where I was and how far I had yet to go. In following Jesus to heaven, someone once told me Jesus doesn’t give us a road map. He gets in our cars and tells us to start driving without telling us where we are going or where we will end up. That always made me nervous. But it will excite some personalities. I’m learning to be excited because life can be full of wonderful surprises if we are open to them. That’s what Jesus wants to share with us—a life filled with wonderful surprises instead of a laid-out road map with us in control of how quickly or slowly we reach our destination. Jesus wants to fill our days with His companionship, with laughter and with wonderful stories to remember, instead of lonely days driving through bad weather alone. We give up control to gain His presence. I think it’s a wonderful trade. I wish I’d have learned this secret a long time ago. I hope you will hear me as I share it with you now.