Mark’s Gospel chapter 8:34-37
‘When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’
Now this is Good Friday. We have come here today specially to meditate on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and its meaning for us. We are not here to simply observe a ritual, go through a ceremony. It’s a very important day for us because on a day like this Jesus died on the Cross and it means a lot to us. It has a lot of implications for us as Christians. Our entire Christian life is based on this work on the Cross of Calvary. In fact in today’s message I am going to talk about how Jesus defines the Christian and the Christian life on the basis of the Cross. When you are asked a question like what is a Christian or what is the Christian life, how would you define it? I want to show you today the answer. How would you define Christian life or how would you define yourself as a Christian? What is a Christian? That’s the question we will answer today. And this passage is about that. Jesus defines a Christian on the basis of the Cross. Now this passage marks the turning point in the Gospel of Mark. In the Gospel of Mark you see Jesus very busy going about preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, delivering people who are possessed with demons and all that, doing God’s work very busily.
First eight chapters before this we see Jesus doing that. But when we come to eighth chapter at a certain point here, even before these verses that I just read to you, particularly if you read verse 27. Now when they came to Caesarea of Philippi, Jesus asked the disciples a very important question that is, who do men say that I am? They answered, John the Baptist. Some say Elijah and others one of the prophets. Everybody was wrong. The question is who do men say I am? They said – well some say you are John the Baptist, some say you are Elijah, some say you are one of the prophets. All those things were not the answer that he was expecting. He said to them – but who do you say that I am? Forget about what the people say. Peter answered and said to him – you are the Christ. Now he has got the right answer. Somehow Peter has understood this and in Matthew’s version of this same incident, you read Jesus saying to him – flesh and blood have not revealed this unto you but my father in Heaven has revealed this unto you. So Jesus says to Peter – Peter your answer is correct. You didn’t know it by your earthly intelligence, not because you had a good brain but because God has revealed them to you. You know that I am Christ, the Son of God. But then since they now know – Peter knows, therefore the disciples know. Look at verse 30. ‘Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no man about Him’. That’s the next thing that happens. He says – alright you know now but don’t tell anybody because there is a program. God has got me working on a program. I am doing something, I am here to do something, there is a lot of things to happen so don’t go and blurt it out already and ruin God’s program. So keep it to yourself. You know it but there are yet some things to happen. I have been doing some things that I was told to do. But hereafter there is something going to happen. Then he reveals to them what’s going to happen. Verse 31. ‘And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him’.
So he began to talk about his death and his suffering and his rejection and then his crucifixion and then his resurrection. He reveals all these things. He talks about them openly. So that is why I mean this is the turning point. All this while he was simply doing the works of God, teaching the Word of God telling them about the Gospel, doing the works of healing and so on. But now he is changing the subject. He is now openly talking to them about the suffering, death and resurrection. And Peter immediately took Jesus aside and rebuked him for speaking like that. What are you talking about? Now this is a totally new thing for them. You are saying that you are going to suffer, you are going to be rejected, you are going to die, you are going to rise again. Why talk about all this? It’s unreasonable. You are a powerful man. You are a God sent prophet. You are a great Son of God. You are Christ the Messiah. Why are you talking like this? Verse 33. ‘But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying – now he in turn rebukes Peter. When Peter rebuked him, Jesus rebuked him saying - “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’. And only then the passage that I just read to you comes. Where he calls the people to himself and the disciples also and he says to them – ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’.
At the outset I want to say that here you see very clearly one thing for sure. Last week I told you that some people say Paul is very deep and Jesus is very superficial, he is very simple in his teaching. Never goes deep. Paul is the one that goes very deep and too deep sometimes. And because of him we have so many Christian doctrines like the doctrine of atonement, substitutionary death of Christ that he died in our place and for us and all of that. These are all things that are developed by Paul but not by Jesus Christ, they say. Jesus never really got into all of those things. He came, he ministered. All of a sudden he was caught and he was killed. That’s what happened. He never really interpreted the Cross in that deep manner. But that is a lie. There’s no truth to it. You see here Jesus giving a very in depth explanation of what the Cross means and he is really applying all that the Cross means to those who believe in him. even before the Cross ever happened. Paul does write a lot about Cross, does talk a lot about Cross and reveal lot of truth because he is writing after the crucifixion and therefore his major emphasis is on what happened on the Cross. But Jesus even before it happened, begins to explain a lot here. And he goes very in depth here. So, the question is what is a Christian? What is a Christian life? You see Jesus here defining it in this way. He says – whoever desires to come after me, that is whoever desires to follow me, let him deny himself take up his Cross and follow me.
This is the way he defines the Christian life. Notice that he called the people and the disciples. He called the multitudes, one translation says and the disciples. That’s very important. Because some people read things like whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his Cross and follow me is a reference to preachers. The preachers ought to deny themselves of everything, deny all earthly pleasure, deny all earthly good, they shouldn’t go for any earthly comfort. They should deny everything, grow a beard, do something like that, give up everything, and take up the Cross that means take up a lot of suffering for themselves and simply follow Jesus. This is something for the preachers they think. That’s why it is very important to note that he did not speak this just to the disciples, he spoke it to the multitudes, as well as the disciples. So Christian life is not something for full time priests and preachers. It is not something of a full time occupation. Christian life is something that is for every person. That’s why he called all the people, the multitude and the disciples and spoke to them these words. So to deny yourself and take up the Cross and to follow him is something that is spoken to everyone. Not just the preachers or full time ministers.
Now, he says Christian life can be defined like this. A Christian can be defined like this. He says – first if you decide to follow me, or come after me, those who desire to come after me must deny himself. Must deny himself is the first thing. Actually three things he says. The first thing is deny himself. The person must deny himself. Now there has been a lot of misunderstanding, mainly because in English it is translated as deny himself and it’s easy to understand. But still it is misunderstood. In some languages it is terribly translated. Tamil says – thanai than veruk. That means a man must hate himself. So that’s how you have this theology that originated from Tamil translation. Thanai than veruk means you have to hate yourself. You have to hate your humanity, hate your personhood, that’s the way they took it. that’s where all this thing about you have to hate yourself, for being a man you have to hate yourself, for being a human being you have got to hate yourself, you have got to hate your very existence, your very personhood you must hate, your humanity you must hate. So people took it as how you must hate yourself. And then they took it even further. You must hate yourself means they said you should give up all your luxuries, and even necessities of life. That’s how you hate yourself. I have seen some preachers and some others talk like this. I remember one particular friend of mine used to talk like this – this worthless body. This is the way he would talk about it. You shouldn’t feed it, you shouldn’t give it good food, good clothing, and good perfume, this body is worthless, no good, it’s full of sin and leads us to sin. So you must always keep this body under control and make sure that this body does not act up. So I thought the body was man’s enemy. You have got to hate the body so just give only very little food. Don’t feed it to the full. So it acts up. Be careful with the body because the body will take you in the wrong direction but that is not what Jesus is saying. He doesn’t say – deny all luxuries, all comforts to your body. He doesn’t say – deny all necessities to your body. Some people go as far as saying you must deny even necessities. So they make fasting a full time business. They are always fasting. But during seasons like this, especially the lent season as they call it, the emphasis in that direction is even more. They say well these 40 days are very important. This is when the lent season is on. So, because of the suffering of Jesus and we are Christians, we can’t be eating when Jesus is suffering. So, this 40 days let’s not eat good food. So lot of people give up a lot of good food, these days. They don’t eat meat and whatever they enjoy they give up and some people give up bad habits. Until then they have been doing all kinds of things but now for 40 days they give up bad habits. How can you be drinking and doing all this when Jesus is suffering? Quit that. So, they quit all that for 40 days. So, the problem is people misunderstand what Jesus is talking about. So that leads to a wrong kind of life, and also the world misunderstands what Christian faith is all about. They look at you and say – you are a Christian so today your lent season starts. So you won’t be eating any chicken today, right? From today for 40 days no chicken. Something like that. That’s all they understand about Christian. You have got to go to Church, you have got to do this, you have got to do that. They understand very little about Christians, they think we observe these things and this is what a Christian is all about. We can’t have a wedding during the lent season, we can’t do any of these things, we can’t enjoy ourselves because Jesus suffered and died. Now these people are very sincere. I must give it to them. They are sincere. But you can be wrong while you are sincere. So I would say they are sincerely wrong. Sincere but wrong. See it’s very important to be right. Don’t say it’s not important to be right. It is important to be sincere. It is important to be sincere and it’s important to be right. I will show you why. Because if you are not right in this then you will be growing a beard. I have even seen guys that say I won’t wear any chappal. For 40 days. I am going to walk in the hot Sun without any chappal. Because Jesus died. Can’t I even do this for Jesus? That kind of thing.
But that is not what Jesus is talking about. He is not talking about giving up our luxuries, he is not talking about giving up any of our comfort, he is not talking about giving up any of our necessities. The reference here when he says you must deny yourself is not talking about hating yourself as the Tamil translation says. He is talking about denying yourself. There is a big difference between hating and denying. Denying is like this. When Peter, remember when Jesus was arrested and Peter was in the company of some people, a girl walked in there and she found Peter there. She said, well I have seen this man with Jesus. So, she says I have seen this guy. He is with Jesus. And Peter says no no. I do not know him at all. Second time she comes around and says I have seen him. I know I have seen him. This face I know. He says no no. you have not seen me. I have never seen Jesus. Third time she says I have seen him. I am sure. This guy was with Jesus. Then the Bible says he began to swear and make an oath and all that. Swear and curse that I don’t know this Jesus. He goes to that extent. Talking about it the Bible says he denied Christ. That very same word is used here. When it says anybody who desires to follow me, must deny himself. Deny himself is like Peter did. What did he do? He said –I have no connection. I am totally disassociated from him. I do not know him. I have no connection with him. he is affirming that he had no connection with this person named Jesus. So denial means to state that you are not connected with something or some person, that you are disconnected from them, that you have nothing to do with them. So, when Jesus talks about – if you want to follow me then you have to deny yourself he is talking about that kind of a thing, a disconnection with a certain kind of thing. Disconnection from what? What are you to disconnect yourself from? It is talking about a disconnection or it is talking about how you ought to reject your right to yourself, your right to run your life, your right to say it’s my life, my things, my money, my everything. I will do with it whatever I want to. I will go in the direction I want to. I will decide. I am the final authority. I will do whatever I want. I will do whatever I think is right. That kind of a thing. People will be willing to give up a lot of things. If you say fast today, people are willing to fast but if you tell them you can’t have the final say on what you will do in life they will say that I will not give up. Because we all as human beings consider our right to be very important. It is an inalienable right we think. It’s my right. I have the right to make my decision and do whatever I wish to do and you cannot separate me from my right. It’s my right. I will give up anything but I will not give up my right. But Christianity is this. It begins with the fundamental change in the person, a total shift in the paradigm, the way the person lives and thinks. Total shift, total change. Before we have all been living the same way everybody lives. That is it is my life, my thing I will do whatever I want. It is my wish. I, I, I. that’s the way everybody lives. Multitudes, millions and millions of people live that way. They always say-what’s in it for me? Anything comes up there or is interested in this, what is in it for me? What will I get? How will it damage me? How will it benefit me? It’s all about me, I and so on. We never give up our right to do what we think is right for ourselves. That nobody can take it away from us. But to become a Christian means there is a fundamental shift in that kind of thinking. To become a Christian means I have now rejected my right to be the master of my life. I have rejected my right to run my life the way I want to run it, to do what I want to. To change fundamentally. A good example is Paul where he says it is not I but Christ lives in me. I am dead, I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, it says I am crucified, I am dead, nevertheless I am living. Now I am living differently. It’s not I but Christ liveth in me. A fundamental change, a radical change, a very basic change. A change that nobody wishes to have but a Christian must have that. A true Christian is one who says not me, my God’s will must be done in my life. A Christian says not I but he lives in me. A Christian says no I don’t run my life, he is my lord. No I am not the master of my life, Jesus is my Lord and the Master of my life. Anything that I do I need to consult with him. I need to ask him. I need to see if it is right according to him. If it is something that he loves, and he likes I can’t do anything that he does not like. Now, Paul takes this up. This is exactly what Paul teaches. There is a lot of connection between what Paul teaches and what Jesus teaches. Many times you will find that all what Paul teaches comes from what Jesus teaches. It is a further explanation of what Jesus already taught. This is what lot of people fail to see. They think Paul concocted something, came up with some doctrine. He takes what Jesus says here about denying yourself, giving up your right to yourself and coming and making Jesus your Lord and Master and allowing him to rule and reign in your life doing his will. That is what denying yourself means and then he applies it to Christian’s life powerfully. In 1 Corinthians 6 and in many other places.
I will just read to you 1 Corinthians 6, a very interesting passage. Look at verse 12 onwards. How he applies the same thing, denying yourself in its full application. Chapter 6:12. ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful or profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any’. In other words he is saying everything is there, I can enjoy everything, I can do whatever I want. Really. I have the freedom. Absolutely free to do whatever I want. Adam was free to do whatever he wanted. That’s why he could sin. So are you and so am I. we can do whatever we want. We can very well go out today, do whatever we want. All things are there, but all things are not profitable. All things are not relevant to us because of God’s will and purpose for our lives. Not everything that is out there I want to go and enjoy just because it’s out there, because I have a specific will and plan and purpose of God. I only go, get up and enjoy things that are there for me, that I require and need for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in my life. He says all things are lawful for me but I will not be brought under the power of any. I can enjoy every blessing of God. I can have everything but I will not be brought under the power of any. I can’t be enslaved by anything. Not wrong to have things but it’s wrong to have the things to have you. That’s what he is saying. I can enjoy everything because God made everything for man. But I will not be brought under the power of any because I am not living for things, I am living for God. I am using things to live for God. I am using things to achieve purposes of God. I am using every resource that God has put within me, my intelligence, my skills, my abilities, the money, or whatever God has given to me and whatever God has given to you. As Christians we are saying we use everything that God has given to us for God’s glory and for his purposes. That is what a Christian is all about. That’s what Paul is saying. Now listen to this. He explains it further. Paul is always like that. He first states it and then explains it.
‘Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’. Now Corinth is a very terrible city in those days. There was a lot of sexual immorality. It was a hub. Lot of merchants were coming and travel was happening and the city was just literally filled with this kind of activity. Sexual immorality was rampant in that city. So specifically talking to them because many people have accepted Christ and have Christ and now he is defining Christian life and what it means to live a Christian life. He says – the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord. And the Lord for the body. He says as a Christian there is a different philosophy. Fundamental shift in thinking. The world thinks like this. The food is there for the stomach. Stomach is there for the food. See their logic. They look at food and say what is the food for? It is to put it here. They look at the stomach. They say what is the stomach for? It is to accommodate food. That’s all they see. But we are Christians. We don’t think like that. We don’t think about body like this. Christian think our body is like this. Our body is for the Lord and for the Lord for the body.
Why do we have a body? Because it must be the temple of the Lord, temple of the Holy Spirit. The body is for the Lord. And the Lord is for the body. The Lord doesn’t want to live in a temple. The Lord doesn’t want to live in heaven even. He is not satisfied living in heaven even. He wants to live in our heart. he says behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man will open I will come in. and I will sup with him and he with me, so he wants to come in, he wants to be with us. It is our bodies that is made as a temple of God. So, that’s our philosophy. That is our way of thinking. Body is for the Lord, the Lord is for the body. That is why sexual immorality cannot be part of Christian life he says. Why? Because the body now is not mine. It belongs to the Lord. He needs the body. The body is a vehicle for the Lord to live and operate here in this world. The body is something that the Lord occupies. And he runs it. And he goes through my body to places. He does through my body things therefore sexual immorality is out of question. It is not for a Christian. Look at how he logically brings it about. And then he says in verse 14. God has raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. What is he talking about?
He says don’t think that the body is unimportant aspect of your life. I have heard some people say- well, it doesn’t matter what happens to your body brother, when you die we will go to heaven. No, it matters what happens to your body. That is why even after you bury the body and you forget about where you even buried God never forgets. God comes for the body and raised the body again. He raised up Jesus, he did not let his body go dust to dust and ashes to ashes. He raised up the body and he will raise us our body also. Body is important because he paid the price of the Cross of the Calvary, purchased our body, he is the owner of our body. That is why even after we die and we are buried under a graveyard he comes for the body, to claim that body. He will take that body, make that body a body that does not perish and give it back to us. And he will live in it forever. This is Christian doctrine. He says ‘do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!’
See this is the kind of activity that was going on there. He says how that is not acceptable for a Christian. Because the body, the members of Christ, how can I take it and make it a member of harlot. ‘Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh’. Man and woman become one flesh. ‘But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him’. We are joined to the Lord. We are one spirit with the Lord. That’s why sexual immorality is not acceptable he says. Then he says, ‘Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s’. What wonderful words! He says, you are not your own. You were bought with a price. Your spirit, soul and body is not your own. You are bought with a price. The Cross is where the price was paid and Jesus is your Lord. Without asking his permission, without knowing his will and his desire you cannot utilize this body, this spirit, this soul, this mind cannot be used for anything that is not acceptable to Him. That’s the way he works it. So what is a Christian?
Going back to Mark 8. What does it mean to follow Christ and become a follower of Christ and being a Christian? A Christian is one who has denied himself. Denied himself in what way? He has denied his right to do whatever he wants. He has denied himself the right to do whatever he wants. He has said – well, I will not take it upon myself, my right to do whatever I want, even though I can do whatever I want. I give it up. I don’t do what I want. I give it up. I will not live like that. I am going to live it in a radically different manner. I will not, I give up my right to do whatever I want with my body, whatever I want with my life, I am not going to go around saying I will do whatever I wish. No that’s not my philosophy. I have a definite, fundamental change in my life. I want to do what the Lord wants. That’s what a Christian is. So to deny himself is that. Not to give up some meat or something for a few days. It doesn’t have anything to do with giving up your comforts and so on. I know that there are some people sleeping on the floor, because they think they are denying themselves. And Jesus is not talking about that. It doesn’t matter whether you sleep on the floor. Please sleep you know. If it is a nice bed, please sleep on a nice bed. Christianity is not about that. It is not about this kind of a thing. It’s about a fundamental, radical change in the way we look at life, and perceive life and live it. How do we look at life? We look at life like this. I am not my own. On the Cross of Calvary Jesus paid the price, bought and purchased me, I am His own. He is my Lord and Master. Therefore I have no right to do what I want. I belong to him. I will only do what he wants. I deny myself the right to do whatever I want. I give that right to him. I tell him to tell me what to do and that I will do. That’s what a Christian first of all is.
Secondly, not only denying himself but take up his Cross, he says. That’s the second thing about a Christian. Take up his Cross. And this is also terribly misunderstood, taking up the Cross. When Jesus originally spoke it, just imagine Jesus speaking to the people there, the multitude as well as the disciples and he says – deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow me. People would have never understood anything he said. When he said it, nobody would have understood what taking up the Cross means. Because Cross has not happened. He has not died on a Cross yet. Lot of them don’t even know he is going to die on a Cross, none of them knew that he was going to die on a Cross, even when he talked about his death and resurrection, that he will be rejected, killed and raised again, Peter objected to it. He didn’t want him to die, he did not know how he was going to die, what mode of death that he would be crucified and hang on a Cross was not known but Jesus knew exactly. Paul says that Christ died according to the Scriptures, buried according to the Scriptures, raised from the dead according to the Scriptures. The word according to the Scriptures is very important, he did not simply die, he could have said, he died, was buried and risen again. He could have said that. In some of the places, he says that but here he makes it a point to add ‘according to the Scriptures’ each time. Christ died, not simply died, according to the Scriptures. It’s not enough for Christ to die any which way that he can die. It was important for him to die the way it was prescribed already in the Old Testament, the way that he should die. Because the way he die, the mode of his death signified something. That is why Paul says – Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us as it is written cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree. He is talking about Jesus died in a particular way that is already written about in the Scriptures. As it is written ‘cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree’. Where is it written? Deuteronomy 21, last two verses. So Jesus must die on a Cross. He must die in that particular mode of death. He must die in that way. Paul knew it but he was writing after the Cross. He is now interpreting what has happened. Therefore it is easy for him to look at the Cross that is already happened and take the Old Testament Scriptures and now give the interpretation. But these people were before the Cross, before it happened, and Jesus is saying to them – you must deny yourself, take up your Cross. They didn’t know what that Cross meant. Jesus knew very well. Jesus knew because he knew the Scriptures. Jesus knew because he was the Son of God. He came from God, he came to die. He knew that he had to die on a Cross. He knew that Cross was going to happen. That he is going to die that kind of death. Therefore, he is now preparing their mind for the Cross. So, he knew. What did he know? Not only did he know that he was going to die on the Cross, but on the third day he is going to rise again. He has already spoken about it, that he will rise again on the third day.
So he knew very well that on the third day that there is going to be a resurrection. And then there is going to be an exaltation where he will go to the right hand of the Father. There will be a glorification where he will sit there as the Son of His glory, everything will be put under his feet. He knew the whole program and the plan. He knew it very well. So knowing very well, Jesus speaks. And none of his audience knew anything he is talking about. He is saying you must deny yourself, take up the Cross and they were probably standing there looking at each other – what is he talking about? Take up your Cross, because they don’t know anything about the Cross. But he knew and now we know. It’s easier for us to understand. But why then did he speak about it if he knew his audience would never understand what he is saying? He knew very well that after he dies on the Cross and everything is over that Peter, James, John and all the disciples will preach about it and talk about it and tell what he told here and that it will be written in this Gospel and other Gospels. It will be written there and that people will read it, and that Churches will preach about it. He knew that 2000 years later, in Chennai at AFT we will be preaching about it and we will explain it and that is why he spoke it. He knew that the meaning is not just for the present audience that was standing before him but the meaning is to go on forever and ever. Because this is his definition and description of Christian life, for Christianity and what it means to be a Christian. Therefore it is not limited in time, it is something that is given forever. For all people everywhere. So he spoke it, knowing that in the future we will take it up and explain it in the right way. They didn’t understand it but we can understand it.
How do we understand now? Lot of people misunderstand it. When you say take up your Cross, I am sure today in many Churches they will be talking about it. Taking up your Cross. I know what they will talk about. Lot of people think that taking up your Cross means it’s some kind of suffering, trials, tribulations, some hardship in life. That’s the way Christians talk about it. Where did they get it? From some Christian preaching somewhere they have heard. Have you seen somebody who is sick for last 25 years and laid down with some kind of illness? They will say – well, this is a Cross I have been carrying for 25 years. Just like that. Where did they get theology? Not only that, some think, things like my Cross brother is my mother in law. Have you not heard that? That’s the only Cross that I am bearing. Some people say my wife is the Cross, some say my husband is the Cross. And some children say my parents are the Cross. Some parents say this boy of mine, he is the Cross I am bearing. All these are things I am not exaggerating it, you have heard it over and over again. People talk about these things, so the entire meaning is now twisted and gone. Can’t even come near the meaning. Taken it so far away, we think Cross is some kind of hardship, suffering, even our poverty, all these things are considered as Cross. Anything bad, any hardship, any difficulty is considered as a Cross. But Jesus was not referring to that as the Cross. Really. He went through so many hardship even before going to the Cross. So he did not define hardships as the cross. How many times they tried to kill him, stone him and all that? Accuse him? How many times they insulted him with words? He put up with a lot of suffering, rejection, of shame and all of those things. He put up with a lot before ever entering into the suffering on the Cross of Calvary. So Jesus was not referring to that Cross. So what is the Cross that we are to take up?
We know the Cross he took up, but we need to know what is the Cross that we need to take up. The Cross that he took up was a Cross that meant that he bore our sins. It was a punishment for our sins. God took our sins and put it on him and our punishment for our sins and laid it on the Cross and punished him with it, his death on the Cross meant he bore our sins as bearer of our sins like the lamb of God, he died and he was killed for our sins. The death that he suffered was a punishment for our sins. The wrath of God came down upon him, that was his Cross. He took our sin and our curse and our everything. That’s his curse. Are you going to bear that cross? Now if you are going to bear that Cross, then why did he bear that for you? He bore your sins, he bore your curse, he bore your sicknesses, he bore all those poverty and the crown of thorns on his head represented your poverty. He bore all these things. Why should you bear it? So when it says take up his cross, he is not talking about taking up your sin, and taking up your curse and taking your poverty and your hardships and following him. Because he took it so you don’t have to carry it anymore. He took it on himself so that he can free you from it. So that’s not the Cross we take. Not the Cross of sin, not the Cross of curse, not the Cross of sickness, not the Cross of poverty because he carried it for us so that we don’t have to carry it. That’s not our Cross.
Certainly he didn’t say carry your Cross, your mother in law and follow me. Come follow me, let’s go places and you give testimony about your mother in law, how bad she is and all the problems she is giving to you, you have got to carry this and talk about it. No not that kind of a Cross. Then what is the Cross that we are supposed to carry? Need to find out what the main issue about the Cross is. See, when Jesus was about to be arrested, and to be taken to the Cross to die, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. In that Garden of Gethsemane, terrible burden and agony began to fill his heart and mind. Because he knew the time was there, the hour has come for him to now die on the Cross. He has got to go do it. He already knew why he came. And he knew that the time has come now, so he goes there to pray. The disciples are sleeping. And they can’t feel the same pain and burden that he is feeling because they didn’t know anything about the details of what’s going t happen. So he agonizes there, sweating blood literally in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he has a mental battle literally. His mind is probably telling him – why suffer all this? It’s going to be a great suffering. You are going to take the entire sin of the whole world, on yourself and the curse of the whole world upon yourself. You are going to become cursed for their sake. And you got to die taking the punishment of God upon you, the wrath of God, will be poured out on you and you are going to die there. This is too much suffering. This is not death. Man can die easily but not die like this. Taking the whole sin, curse and punishment and wrath of God coming down upon you, for all the sin of the whole world. That’s too big for anybody to handle. So the Son of God agonized there and sweating blood literally. And at one point he came to the very point of giving up, and saying – Lord, let’s forget about this. If it’s possible, he said, please remove this cup from me. Nothing is impossible for you. If it’s possible remove this cup from me. Let’s do it some other way. Do we have to go through this? This is too terrible. I’d rather not go through with it. I can’t even think about it. My heart is in agony. Remove this cup if it’s possible for you. And as soon as he finished saying it, immediately he realized – no no. that’s not possible. He came for that purpose, it has been planned in eternity past that death of Christ on the Cross is not something that happened accidentally. It is not something that God played it by ear as we say. That all of a sudden he decided you die on the Cross. No. Before the world was made, before any human being was made, before anything was made, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sat down, God of heaven made certain decrees, in Christian doctrines they are called decrees of God. One of the decrees is that God will plan everything, making of the world, making of man and everything. And his plan will include Salvation of man, the Redemption of man. Because God knew when he made man that it’s possible very well for man to go into sin and to fall into sin. Therefore a provision must be made to restore him back to fellowship with God, redeem him. therefore God will plan the redemption, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity will execute that plan by going into the world as human form and dying on the Cross and shedding his blood, and dying there and being risen again. That he will execute it and the Holy Spirit will then help the people to believe it as the Gospel is preached around the world so that people may be drawn to this Gospel and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is the plan of God, this is the eternal decree of God. God has decreed these things, planned these things perfectly. That is why Jesus was called the lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world, not 2000 years ago but before the foundation of the world. Because in his mind and plan, he had purposed, determined, and if God determines you can consider it done. So Jesus even though he became the lamb of God 2000 years ago before the foundation of the world. In God’s mind he has been the lamb. Jesus knew it very well. So as soon as he said – father if it be possible remove this cup from me, he realized, no it can’t be. This has been planned from eternity past, before anything was made the plan of Salvation was made. Therefore I must go through it. So he rises from there and says – Father nevertheless not my will but thine be done and then he moves towards the soldiers who were coming there just then looking for him. They didn’t come and catch a hiding criminal. He came and offered saying – you are looking for me? Me, you are looking for. Come lets go. And when he said that those fellows fell down. Just waited in his presence. That’s a good time to run and go out of the country if possible. But he never did it. He got them up and said – let’s go. Let’s get it done. Let’s go to the Cross. Kill me. Come on. Do it. Let’s finish the plan and purpose of God. He went with the resolve, the determination to go there and die and give his life so that God’s purpose can be done.
That phrase is very important. Nevertheless not my will but thy will be done. So in the Cross, you cannot experience this thing of him bearing your sin. You can’t bear your sins. Only he can bear your sins. You can’t bear your curse because he can only bear your curse. Because he is the Savior. You can’t bear your sickness because he only can bear it as a redeemer. You can’t bear the punishment of God because if you bore the punishment of God you would go to ashes. There will be nothing left. You can’t take up the Cross in any other way. There is only one way a person like us can take up the Cross today. You know what that one way is? The Cross that Jesus took up is this Cross, laying down his will taking up God’s will. That’s the Cross. That’s the only thing about the Cross that he did that we can also do. There is nothing else about the Cross that he did that we can also do. Everything else was the Son of God doing as our substitute. Dying for us, suffering for us, taking our death, we can’t take it, taking our curse, we can’t take it. Taking our sickness, we can’t take it. We can’t suffer those things. There is only one thing we can take about the Cross. And that is we can say also like him, not my will but thy will be done. That’s the Cross.
So what is a Christian? A Christian is one who has said and determined and said – hereafter I don’t live according to what I like. I won’t do my will and my wish. I won’t live my will for myself. I will let him determine where I should go, what I should do. I will give up my rights to myself. I will not claim it. I will do only what he says. That’s the first step. The second step is he is one who takes up his Cross and that is he lays down his will and take up the Cross. Basically both are same. That’s what he is talking about. A sense of Christianity is this. This radical change in a person where he says – I give up my right, he is the Lord. Not my will but let his will be done. So that’s the Cross. If you are in any doubt listen to the words of Paul in Philippians 2, he gives it in his own words. Philippians 2:5 – ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation’. You know how that is translated in Tamil? Thanai than veruth. That is denied himself, even though he was equal to God, Christian doctrine says – he was co-equal with God. He was equal with God but he considered it not to be a privilege to be grasped. To be hoarded. To be held tight. To be never given up. That’s what its saying. Made himself of no reputation. Thanai than veruth. That means literally even though he was equal with God, it is saying he denied himself, the right to claim his right. The right to do whatever he wants, he denied himself. Thanai than veruth. He can be God, he can be sitting in heaven. He can say – no I don’t want to do it. No. I am not going down. I am not taking the human form. I am not becoming a man, I am not doing anything for these people. They don’t deserve it. I won’t do it. He could have said it. But even though he was in the form of God, he considered it not a robbery to be equal with God. That means he considered it not a thing to be grasped and held on to tightly. But made himself of no reputation. He gave up that right to be in heaven and continue there and refuse to go down. That’s what it means. Made himself of no reputation. He said – forget it. I will do whatever it requires. ‘And then taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.
So, Jesus being equal with God and had every right to keep that equality and never give up, he gave it up. Because he said I give it up. I give up my right to be just staying here and being equal with God. I will just take the form of man. Made himself of no reputation, literally emptied himself. That is what taking up the Cross literally means. That’s the issue in the Cross. Talking about the Cross, Paul emphasizes that particular fact. His decision to come down in the form of man and then obey God to the extent that he would die on the Cross as told by God for the sake of humanity. That’s the thing about the Cross that Paul emphasizes. So that is what Paul got from Jesus’ teaching. Where did he get that? He got that from Jesus’ teaching in Mark 4:34 where he says if a man desires to come after me, he must deny himself and take up the Cross. And Paul says taking up the Cross means literally giving up your right and giving up your will and taking up God’s will to do God’s will.
Then the third thing is follow me. First is, deny himself. Second is take up the Cross. Third, follow me. Follow me doesn’t mean that I will go in front and you just come in the back. You have to think when you read the Bible. He didn’t say I will walk in the front you just come in the back. Follow me means do what I say. You want to follow me? Do what I say. Obey what I say. Now that is an important characteristic of a Christian. A Christian is one who has denied himself, has taken up the Cross completely, taken up the will of God as this motto in life. Then he follows him, he obeys his orders, does everything he says. Jesus said to those people in the wedding feast of Cana of Galilee, he told them to fill the jar used for washing the feet with water and then he told them to serve it. Those guys could have said – Lord, this is water used for washing the feet. You are telling us to serve. First convert it into wine and then we will serve, first taste it, see if it’s okay, then we will serve. Can’t serve like that. No. the mother of Jesus said it very rightly. She said, do whatever he says. He will take care of the rest. That’s what Christian life is all about. We just do what he says. And he will do what he says. That’s the way it is. So they went and served and he turned it into wine. When they poured it only it turned into wine. They went and served the water only. It became wine. Even the feeding of the 5000 is like that. He said, make them all sit in 50s rows. Now, if you and I were there, we would have said – well, no sambhar has arrived, no idli has arrived. Nothing has arrived. We don’t want any trouble. If we sit they will be expecting dinner and if we don’t give them anything there’s going to be a big fight. We can get killed like this. So many 1000s of people are there, what are you talking about? First show us the bread, show us the fish. He said, five loaves two fish I have got. Don’t worry. Make them sit down. So they make them sit down. Then he takes it and breaks it and blesses it and gives it. And as he gives it, as he breaks it. He keeps breaking it and it keeps coming. Never ending bread and fish keeps coming. Keeps on giving until 5000 people have eaten. By the time the last man has eaten news comes to him saying stop. Already he has given 12 baskets more. So fats its coming. When you do what he says he will do what he says. That’s the way Christian life works. I have found it so very true in my life and everybody that has lived will testify of that. That is the truth. God says go there, you go there. He will do it. When sometimes Abraham went like that, he said – leave your father, your native place and go to the land where I will show you. Abraham didn’t know where he was going. What was going to happen? But he went and Abraham would never have imagined that he would become the man that he became later on. Today we talk about Abraham in every church. Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s blessing are big topics today. Abraham’s is worldwide famous man today. How many people are named Abraham? We love Abraham, he is my very close friend. I feel like I really know him. I love Abraham and his faith and his blessings and the way he walked with God. But the thing is he left. He committed himself to God. If God says go I will go. If God says do this I will do. Wherever he wants me to go, I will go. I don’t know which place but I will go. And when he went, God showed him the stars of the sky and says – your seed shall be like that. he didn’t even have one child, God said your seed shall be like the stars of heaven. He showed him the sands of the sea and said he will be like that. Dust of the earth he showed him, said you will be like this. He never imagined his life would become like that. Never. So that’s what follow me is all about.
Now that’s not very appealing always. Sometimes people think in this world, that Christians are offering something that’s why people are turning into Christians. When I first started out some people started coming and one fellow said – you must be giving biriyani or something? Why are people going there? Why are people accepting Christ? Well, I don’t give them nothing. They only give everything. Plus they give their lives to the Lord. If you truly understand the Christian message you will understand how these people have come. To be a Christian means that you give up your right to do whatever you wish and you allow him to tell you what you wish. Not many people will come. You allow him to tell you what you must do. You all agree to that, that’s why you are here. That’s why you are a Christian. Plus you are willing to take up the Cross even if it is difficult, even the Cross looks very bad, you understand something. When you take up the Cross and go through it there will be a resurrection. Just like Jesus took it up, he endured the Cross because he saw what was coming, a resurrection, exaltation, glorification. You know that also, when you trust in God and give yourself to him and walk with him, sometimes it will be like taking up a Cross and being involved in hardship it looks like but at the end of the road, there is so much glory, so much good, so much thrill that you don’t want to miss it. You want to take up the Cross, and follow him. So those who have become Christians have become Christians like that. We didn’t give them anything. Hardly have any place to sit, any place to park. You should have seen our morning two services, so many 100s of people were standing, standing room only. But they say we want Jesus. They have come traveling all the way, they attend the whole service holding the Bibles in their hands and going home. They want this Jesus. What did I give them? I didn’t give them anything. But they gave their life to Jesus and I will show you what they got.
Look at the next verse. Mark 8:35. ‘For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’. Now he is talking about the motivation to do this. He says – you need to deny yourself, take up the Cross and follow him. That’s what a Christian is. That’s what Christian life is. But to do that he gives a motivation now. What is the motivation? He says – ‘he who desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’. Saving his life means – all of us want to save our lives. We want to keep our life intact. We want to do something useful. We want to be successful, we want to achieve something, we don’t want to lose our life. We want to save it. That’s why we study hard, get a job, work hard. We want to save. We want to achieve certain things. We are focused on certain things. We want to get it done. But Jesus says – if you want to keep your life for yourself, and live it for yourself, for your goals, your relationships, your desires, you will lose it. Very important thing. If you live like that you will lose it. Only two kinds of philosophies can be there. One is, I will live my life on my own. I will do whatever I want, I am going to achieve something, I am going to do something, I am not giving anything to anybody. I will do what I want. I am not listening to anybody. I won’t come under anybody. If you live like that, if you put God out of your life, if you live it for yourself and you cling to your life, try to hoard it, clutch it, save it, cling to it, and grasp it, you live your life and want to save your life and make your life worthwhile, what will happen is you will end up getting everything you seek after and run after. That’s one thing. When you run after something very hard, you will end up getting it. But after you got everything, you will never want anything you will have. That’s the problem. After you got everything, when you finish getting everything that you wanted to get, you will stand at one point in your life and you will say – well, I got everything but I still miss something. And you will be willing to give everything you have to get that something that you have never got. Life will look empty. Life will look pointless, meaningless, senseless, even after you have everything it will become senseless because no purpose, no God there.
Another philosophy is a person ready to lose it. Lose it means literally ready to throw it away. This kind of person is ready to say- well, they say if I give my life to Jesus, he will take it and just like he did with the five loaves and two fish he will bless it and break it and give it and it will be blessing to so many people. I believe it. It looks like only 5 loaves and two fish. Too little. My life looks like worthless today. It looks it doesn’t amount to much but I want to give it. If I give it he is going to do it. So he trusts and gives away his life. He is ready to lose it. And the first person who tries to keep it and live it for himself, leaving God out, he will lose whatever he got. But the second person who is ready to lose it, he will get more than what he ever wished. That’s what happened to Abraham. He came up, left everything, all his family would have said – what are you doing? Are you crazy? You are going? You don’t even know where you are going. You say God called you. What are you going to do? What’s your future going to be like? And God gave him a glorious future. An earthly life as well as in heaven. Amazing future. Now, it’s the same with us. When you are ready to lose it, you will gain much more than you can ever become. Paul was such a man. He realized at one point that he was made for something, that God has called him in his mother’s womb and separated him for the Gospel. He had to be a preacher of Christ. Gave his life to Christ. This Christ he resisted, opposed and persecuted. But he gave his life to Christ. He tried to hold onto his life and live it the way he wanted but then finally he came to a point where he just gave it in the hands of Christ. Then what happened? He was mightily used of God, served God. He was taken to stand before Nero, the Roman emperor. It would have been nice if you could have seen the scene of Paul standing before Nero. Nero was a world famous Roman emperor, head of the greatest empire in the world, in all his power and glory, he probably sat in his throne and Paul just standing as an ordinary man. Paul was not much to look at. They said he had bald head, big nose, not a big wonderful personality. But he is powerful. The way he writes, not much to look at, not very impressive person. As a personality, he must have stood before Nero and Nero must have looked glorious. People must have looked at Paul and said – this is the preacher that goes and preaches about the man that was hung naked on the Cross. Crazy guy. He is preaching that Salvation is through him. Now he is standing before him and Nero is going to cut off his head. He must have looked powerless, useless, hopeless. Poor little guy. But 2000 years later today, we are proud to name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero. Have you ever seen somebody name their sons Nero? Not at all. They will think 10 times before they name their dog Nero. What’s the use of being a Roman emperor? When at the end of your life, after you have lived your life you have got to hang your head in shame and you can’t even stand to look at the things that you have accomplished. When there is nothing left. But look at Paul. Everybody thought that he ought to be ashamed. But he had to say one time – I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto Salvation. Everybody thought he ought to be ashamed about preaching the Cross. What kind of message is this? The Greek said you preach some philosophy we will listen. The Jews said – do some wonders, signs and we will come to look at it. But you are preaching the Christ who died on the Cross, naked and he said – he is Lord and he is God. What kind of a crazy guy are you? We thought you are educated. Why don’t you straighten up? This was the insult and ridicule that he had everywhere that he went. He was beaten many times. Thrown in prisons, persecuted, suffered so much for the name of Christ for the Gospel of Christ, but today we will be glad to name our sons Paul. Anybody. We want our sons to be like Paul. Even those who have a daughter and can’t name her Paul, they name her Pauline. They want Paul so bad. There’s a Paul in our house they say. We are proud about Paul and what he has accomplished. The question is – at the end of everything, do you want to be like Paul? Or do you want to be like Nero? You want to end up like Nero or Paul? I tell you – I have decided I want to be like Paul. And I think everybody will want to be only like Paul. Not like Nero. Nero had something to look at now but noting before God. Nothing to show before God. Paul looked like he is useless and hopeless. But he had everything. Before God he could stand and today his name is mentioned in every church, every country, all throughout the world. Even today he is read and preached about. I just got through preaching Ephesians, his letters to the Ephesians. For 7 years I preached it here. And finished it just Tuesday. We are happy about Paul.
The question is what is a Christian? A Christian is someone like him. What did he do? He did this. He denied himself, he came to a point in his life where he said – no I am not going to live, according to my wishes and my desires. I am going to give up that right to do what I want to do. I am going to have him as my Lord. Then he took up his Cross, what is his Cross? His Cross is not my will but your will be done. My life is yours Lord. I will do only what you want me to do. What did he do then? Follow him. That means he did everything that he told him. Went to places, he told him to go and did the things that he told him to do. And in the end he ended up glorious and victorious. And that is the Gospel and that is the Christian.