No Cross, No Crown!

Pastor Jonathan Rockhoff

March 4, 2012

Mark 8:31-38

 31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 33 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 things of God, but the things of men.”

 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life[c] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What 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? 38 If anyone is ashamed 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.”

In Christ crucified, dear fellow followers of our Lord,

Every year at this time every major league baseball team heads to either Florida or Arizona for what is known as “spring training.”  It’s an exciting time of year for every baseball fan, because it means that the regular season is just a few short weeks away.  But most players will openly admit that they’re not too fond of these six weeks that precede the start of the regular season.  These weeks are filled with conditioning drills, monotonous workouts, and meaningless games that don’t count in the standings.  I’m sure that if it were left up to them, a fair share of the players would like to skip spring training altogether.

And yet most of them still realize the importance of the training and practice they receive each spring.  They know that these six weeks help prepare them as individuals and as a team for the six months of the regular season.  And they know that without the proper preparation, their chances at winning a championship would be very slim.

We can take this same approach when we consider the cross our Savior endured for us and the crosses that we endure as his followers.  As spring training is necessary for baseball players, so it is with the crosses in our lives.  If it wasn’t for these crosses, we would have nothing to look forward to in eternity.

This morning we’re reminded of what that ancient method of torture means for our lives today:

“No Cross, No Crown!”

  I. Christ’s cross was the cause of our redemption

                                                  II. Our cross is the consequence of our redemption

Up until this point in our text the emphasis of Jesus’ ministry had been on who he was, as he proclaimed through his words and actions that he was the very Son of God.  But now there comes a shift, with Jesus turning his attention and that of his disciples to what was to come in Jerusalem – on his impending suffering and death.  It was time to speak clearly on what it meant to be the Lord’s Anointed (v 31), “He then began to teach them that Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

The Old Testament Scriptures had pointed to a Messiah who would face such opposition.  In the psalms he’s described as “the stone the builders rejected” (Ps 118:22).  Isaiah said he would be “pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53:5).  So we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re told that Jesus “spoke plainly about this” to his disciples (v 32).  Jesus knew what was coming.  He knew that part of the reason for his coming to this world was to suffer and to die.  The cross was all part of God’s plan.  It was the only way we could be bought back from the devil.  The cross of Christ was the cause of our redemption.

But the disciples weren’t having any of it.  Peter took the lead in expressing their disapproval of such talk from Jesus (v 32), “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”  Matthew records for us what Peter actually said (Mt 16:22), “Never, Lord! . . . This shall never happen to you!”  Having a Messiah who would have to suffer and eventually die ruined the dreams of glory dancing inside the heads of Peter and the rest of the disciples.  They failed to understand that before the crown of glory there would have to be a crown of thorns.

There was no such misunderstanding when it came to Jesus.  He knew that he had to journey to the cross – and nothing was going to stand in his way, not even his own disciples (v 33), “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 things of God, but the things of men.’”  Remember when the devil tried to tempt Jesus in the desert?  Each of the three temptations we’re told about had to do with trying to get Jesus to take the easy way out, to achieve his glory and accomplish his mission without suffering, to seek the crown without the cross.  That’s exactly what Peter was doing here – more accurately, what the devil was doing here through Peter!  And Jesus would have none of it!  He wanted the disciples to think on a higher plane, to have a spiritual perspective on everything and not to be so hung up on “the things of men.”  Anything or anyone that tried to prevent Jesus from reaching the cross was an obstacle that had to be removed.

This was a lesson that Peter and the rest of the disciples had to learn.  Paul tells us in 1 Co 1:18, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  At the time any kind of “cross talk” appeared to be nothing but foolishness to the disciples, but they would learn the necessity of that dreaded tree on Calvary.  There on that hill was found the cause of our redemption, the reason why you and I belong to God and no longer to Satan.  When Jesus embraced the cross, he was really embracing you and me.  For without the cross, Jesus knew there would be no crown awaiting us in heaven.

When we talk about crosses, let’s be clear on one thing:  The cross on which our Lord gave his life for our redemption is not the same cross that you and I may be called upon to bear here on this earth as his followers.  The cross of Christ was the cause of our redemption, and on that cross our redemption was finalized, once and for all.  The cross we bear as his followers is just a consequence of that redemption, something to be expected if we attach ourselves to our Savior as his followers, but having nothing to do with our salvation.

That’s the point to which Jesus speaks in the rest of our text.  He lays out what it takes to follow him (v 36), “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Notice the three steps required of those who want to play “follow the leader” with Jesus:  1) Self-denial – life can no longer be all about “you” and what you want from this world, but it now has to center on God and what he wants for you;  2) Cross-carrying – understanding that living as a Christian will make you different from the world around you and will cause hardships for you; 3) Letting Jesus be your spiritual “Garmin” – understanding that you don’t have to plough your own path through life, but just listen to Jesus and let him guide you with his Word through your earthly crosses all the way to the heavenly crown!

As his followers, we can no longer simply live for this life, because the consequences could be eternally fatal (v 35), “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  If we’re looking for heaven on earth, we’re in danger of losing the real heaven that Jesus has won for us.  Being willing to give up everything for him and for his Word is the only way to truly “save” your life, for then you won’t lose the crown won for you by your Savior on the cross.

Let’s apply all this to our lives as Christians.  What “crosses” do we bear today?  Jesus isn’t talking about the normal aches and pains that come with living in a world of sin, things that all people endure such as sickness, financial woes, and strained relationships.  He’s talking about hardships that are uniquely attached to Christians.  These are the things we endure because we follow Jesus, such as:  being shunned by fellow workers or classmates because we don’t indulge in activities that are contrary to God’s Word; being called “judgmental” and “arrogant” when we speak out against sins like homosexuality, abortion, and living together before marriage; facing daily temptations to give in to worldly temptations for temporary pleasures instead of keeping our eternal perspective that promises us an everlasting crown.  It’s so easy for us to tuck our “Christian ID card” into our wallets or purses and hide our faith from the world around us, but then we’re dropping our cross and telling the world that we care more about what others think than we do about Jesus.  But does that make any sense?

What if you could “have it all” here on this earth, satisfying every earthly desire you could possibly have?  Remember the story Jesus told about the foolish rich man whose only worry was about where to put all his “stuff”?  He finally resolved to build bigger barns and to “eat, drink, and be merry.”  But all his “stuff” couldn’t do a thing for him when his life ended that very night.  So Jesus asks us (vv 36,37), “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man gain in exchange for his soul?”  A rhetorical question to which the answer is obvious – there is nothing on this earth that equals the value of our soul!  Everything else is temporary, but the soul endures forever.  Give up your soul, and you’re giving up your crown.  That’s what you do when you drop your cross and instead live only for this life.

If you let go of your cross, that means that your faith goes into hiding.  If you’re embarrassed to be called a Christian, Jesus has some startling words for you (v 38), “If anyone is ashamed 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.”  The same Peter who spoke so boldly about never leaving Jesus would, just a few hours later, disassociate himself so much from Jesus that he would deny having any knowledge of him.  He was ashamed of Jesus.  At that time the cross of discipleship was too heavy for him to bear, so he set it aside.  And every time we fly under the radar screen, every time we fade into the woodwork, every time we’re content to be more like the world around us instead of sticking out as we should – we’re no better than Peter.  Then we too are showing that we are ashamed of Jesus.

“Ashamed of Jesus, that dear friend  On whom my hopes of heav’n depend?  No; when I blush, be this my shame,  That I no more revere his name” (CW 347:3).  When Peter dropped his cross, Jesus was there to pick it up for him, leading him to repentance and offering him the forgiveness he won on Calvary’s cross.  When we drop our crosses, the same Savior picks them up for us, offering us that same forgiveness.  He picks us up, dusts us off, and helps us carry our crosses in life, strengthening us so we can say with Paul (Ro 1:16), “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” and I’m notashamed of my Lord!  It’s Jesus who helps us keep things in perspective, reminding us in his Word that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” when we’re given our crown in heaven (Ro 8:18).  That’s why we can sing with confidence (CW 452), “Let us ever walk with Jesus . . . Let us suffer here with Jesus . . . Let us also die with Jesus . . .” because someday we will “gladly live with Jesus!”

Yes, someday it will all be worth it.  Baseball players hoisting a championship trophy at the end of the season forget all about the aches and pains of spring training.  In the same way, the crown of heaven will cause us to forget all the crosses we may bear on this earth.  But even now we’re still blessed, because we have a Savior whose cross brings us peace and joy and confidence, even while living on this other side of heaven.

So I guess you could say that when you follow Jesus, you can’t lose.  When you look at the cross, you’ll always see the crown!

 

Amen

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