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“The Cost of Discipleship”

Mark 8:31-38, Luke 9:18-21, Matthew 16:13-20
Bob DeGray
July 23, 2006

Key Sentence

Life's greatest challenge is to follow a Savior who suffered selflessly.


I. Jesus Predicts His Passion (Matt 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:21-22)
II. Peter Stands in the Way (Matt 16:22-23, Mark 8:32-33)
III. Jesus Call His Followers to Die (Matt 16:24-27, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26)


        Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany on February 4, 1906. Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabina, were two of eight children. Reverent and studious, Dietrich received his doctorate from Berlin University at the age of 21, and was a professor of theology during the early thirties. He also studied in the United States and became a fan of American Jazz. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor and served two Lutheran congregations, including one in London, England. In 1934, 2000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors' Emergency League to oppose Nazi control of the state church. This organization evolved into the Confessing Church, an independent Protestant church. Bonhoeffer served as head of it’s seminary at Finkenwalde. While there he wrote his two most well known books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Eventually the activities of the Confessing Church were outlawed and its seminaries closed by the Nazis.

        Bonhoeffer's active opposition to National Socialism continued to escalate until, in 1940, he was recruited by General Hans Oster into the resistance. He became part of the Abwehr, German Military Intelligence, whose head, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was also the leader of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer's role was courier and contact to the British government. After the failed July 20th 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life, which didn’t involve Bonhoeffer, he was one of 256 people arrested and imprisoned. On April 9, 1945 he was executed.

        The most famous line from The Cost of Discipleship says simply “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." In Bonhoeffer’s own case that turned out to be prophetic and literal. But as applied to each Christian it doesn’t have to be literal to be overwhelmingly compelling. Today we’re going to look at the middle text in our examination of three key, sequential neon moments in the ministry of Jesus. Last week we heard Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Next week we’ll look at Christ’s transfiguration. This week our text is Christ’s prophecy of his own death and resurrection and his call to follow him, found in Matthew 16:21-27, Mark 8:31-38 and Luke 9:21-26. This text is remarkable first for Jesus’ clear prophecy of his passion, and second for his clear call to sold out discipleship. It’s one of those easy-to-understand texts that is remarkably difficult to live out. In fact I’d summarize the application of this text by saying that life’s greatest challenge is to follow a Savior who suffered selflessly.

I. Jesus Predicts His Passion (Matt 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:21-22)

               We begin with Christ’s prophecy of his passion, found in three Gospels. Matthew 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Mark 8:31 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. Luke 9:21-22 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
        Following Peter’s confession Jesus had warned the disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah. Why? Because the crowds would have tried to make him king - they had a purely political expectation of the Messiah; and because the disciples themselves didn’t know what Jesus meant by ‘Messiah’. But now, immediately, Jesus begins to explain it. ‘The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be rejected’. As we saw last week, Jesus typically refers to himself as ‘the Son of Man’, and one of the reasons was probably that this title didn’t carry the political overtones of ‘Messiah’. In all three of the Gospels there is a definite turning toward Jerusalem after this announcement. Luke will shortly say that “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” and Jesus will add that “Surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” Judea, not Galilee now become the focus of the Gospel story.

        Jesus is clear that he must suffer many things and be rejected. The reason why these things must happen isn’t spelled out here, but from Jesus’ teaching elsewhere it’s clear that the pattern he set out here is what he saw laid down for his mission in the Old Testament. As Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship “This "must" is inherent in the promise of God—the Scripture must be fulfilled.” The key Old Testament prophecy of this suffering has to be Isaiah 53, a text that will come more and more into focus in the second half of each of the Gospels. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

        The rejection, Jesus says, will be at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. These were the three groups who together made up the Sanhedrin. In other words, Jesus is to be officially condemned. But that means the Romans will have to be involved, for only the Romans could give the death sentence in Jerusalem. So there is quite a bit of detail in this prophecy. It doesn’t cover every facet of his crucifixion, but it gets the high points and it gets them right: suffer, be rejected, be killed. Isaiah 53 says “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” We said last week that as Messiah, Jesus was more than a prophet, but not less. If the test of a prophet is his prophetic accuracy, Jesus, passes with flying colors. Most astounding is his prediction of his resurrection: on the third day - or after three days - he will be raised to life. The distinction between ‘on the third day’ or ‘after three days’ is not really significant in the Greek. But do notice who does the raising. This verb is almost always passive in the New Testament. It implies that God does it for Jesus. And as evidence that this is eye-witnesses testimony, not recorded speech, Mark uses a different verb than the other two, and an active rather than passive form, though it still means rise again.

        Last week we asked the question “Who is Jesus?”. We answered that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God who came to die for our sins and be raised to life. But how can we be sure of such things? One way is to judge the accuracy of Christ’s words. Who else in the history of the world had this kind of detailed knowledge of his death, let alone the conviction that he would be raised to life? And who else in the history of the world ever got it right? That’s the astounding thing. You really need to back off and pretend Jesus is your next door neighbor, or your friend here at church: “Oh, I’m going to be killed, but it’s okay, I’m going to rise again the third day.” Your immediate reaction would be ‘Yeah, right.’ That doesn’t happen - the only one we’ve ever heard of who could make something like this happen is God himself. I think this prediction, repeated about ten times in the Gospels, is reason for us to be astounded and convinced that this Jesus really was the Christ of God.

II. Peter Stands in the Way (Matt 16:22-23, Mark 8:32-33)

        But it’s only sufficiently astounding if we recognize just how lunatic it is. Here again our friend Peter comes to our aid. Matthew 16:22-23 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Mark 8:32-33 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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." This part of the episode is not reported in Luke’s account.

        Mark reminds us that this is the first time Jesus has spoken clearly about such things, and it was apparently clear enough that Peter had no trouble understanding some of what he meant. So astounded is Peter by the idea of his Jesus, his Messiah suffering and being rejected to the point of death that he rebukes Jesus. The word is the same used by Jesus when he rebukes the demons in the Gospels, and in fact the same word will be used in a moment when Jesus rebukes Peter. It means a stern warning. But to translate the Matthew 16:22 as ‘never, Lord’ or ‘God forbid’ is probably too negative. The Greek is more literally ‘God’s mercy’ and probably means ‘May God be gracious to you and spare you this fate’. Peter cannot grasp that such a disaster could be God’s purpose, and his very human thinking is to find a way to avert it.

        But Jesus turns and looks at him in such a way as to take in the other disciples, and he in turn rebukes Peter. The rebuke as given in Matthew starkly contrasts with the blessing Jesus pronounced previously: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

        Peter’s previous statement, ‘You are the Christ’, Jesus said, was revealed to him by God; this one was from Satan - Peter himself is cast in Satan’s role, he’s acting on behalf of the tempter: ‘Oh Jesus, this doesn’t need to happen; why don’t you do something else?’ Sounds like temptation, doesn’t it? Furthermore the last time Peter spoke Jesus commended him as a rock to build on. Now he is a rock to stumble over. And the reason is simple - he is looking at things from man’s point of view and not God’s. From God’s point of view Jesus must suffer, must be rejected, must die that death, must be raised. This is the plan of the ages, even if it’s not a plan easily grasped by the minds of men. As Bonhoeffer wrote “Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ.”

III. Jesus Call His Followers to Die (Matt 16:24-27, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26)

        But the truth Jesus wants to communicate, to Peter, to the disciples, and to us, is more profound than just ‘don’t let human ideas stand in the way of God’s plan.” That’s important, as we saw in Corinthians, but it’s not the crucial teaching Jesus chooses to make at this teachable moment. Instead he emphasizes that his disciples must deny themselves and follow him, follow his example with an expectation of suffering. The greatest challenge in the life of a believer is to follow a Savior who suffered selflessly. Let’s just read the Matthew version, but we’ll comment on the other two as well. Matthew 16:24-27 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

        I’ve often called these the hardest verses in Scripture. Not that they are hard to understand - the problem may be that they are too easy to understand. But they’re hard to live out - especially consistently across all areas of life. Jesus says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross - Luke’s sources include the word ‘daily’ - and follow me. Deny yourself. How easy is that? It’s easy enough to understand: self denial means putting others first and putting God first. But self-denial goes against our human nature and it goes against almost everything our culture teaches and extols. This is the ‘look out for #1' culture, the ‘build self-esteem’ culture, the ‘I’ve got to have boundaries and get my own needs met’ culture. There is no hint of self-denial in our culture, little celebration of the person who gives themselves away out of love for others, almost no appreciation for the person who denies him or herself.

        And when Jesus teaches it, self denial is very broad in scope. This Scripture and others like it don’t seem to want to hear my objections that you have to take care of yourself, that everyone deserves a little break, that because I serve others, others should serve me. This Scripture just stands there and says ‘deny yourself’. All my carefully crafted rationalizations bounce off it, and it continues to say ‘If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself’. It wouldn’t be so bad if I was even aware of all my selfishness. But as I’ve said many times, sin makes you stupid. I do selfish things that must be obvious to others, but I don’t even notice them. So in principal denying ourselves is easy; in practice this is one of the hardest things we’ve ever been asked to do, even with Jesus’ help, even with the Holy Spirit at work. Let me give you an example. I often find myself, at work or at home, not wanting to answer the phone. I’m somewhat introverted and task oriented, and when I get my head down doing something, I avoid interruptions. But interruptions are ministry, and over the years I’ve learned to pray when the phone rings ‘Jesus, let me represent you well in this conversation’ It’s a prayer to die to self and live for him. In fact just as I wrote that sentence on Thursday the phone rang and I had a twenty minute opportunity for ministry, which because I was thinking about it I was able to engage in wholeheartedly and graciously - but it’s not always the case.

        And it doesn’t get any easier. Jesus makes it a life or death issue: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Taking up the cross simply means to die. We have trite little phrases like "this is the cross I must bear" but the cross meant only one thing to the Jews - death by torture. They knew that when a man picked up that stake it was the last act of his life. When you take up the cross you resign yourself to death. And when we follow Jesus, we are supposed to resign ourselves to death. Maybe some of us have the strength and will be called to be marytrs, but most of our following is not quite that literal or straightforward. Rather, it is a spiritual or personal self-sacrifice. It's a radical commitment that lays aside every other commitment. It's to live as if we had died. Bonhoeffer says “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. We surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. … When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. Death in Jesus Christ is the death of the old nature. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die to all our affections and lusts.”

        What does this look like? Let me recommend that you look this week at 1st Peter 2:11 through 1st Peter 4:11. I believe he answers this question for slaves, employees, husbands, wives, citizens and believers in general. 1 Peter 2:11-12 gives the principle “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Dying to self looks like turning from sin and living for others by doing them good.

        Think of the person in your life who has most exemplified godly Christian living. I can almost guarantee you that they lived for God and for others, and not for self. Imitate them. Imitate Jesus. In every situation, small and large, to paraphrase Paul, put God’s interests and the interests of others ahead of yourself. It sounds so simple: it’s the most challenging thing you will ever do. Jesus says “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” If you desire to save your life, to take care of your self, if that is where your energy and attention is, then you will lose yourself. But if you lose track of your own self, your own life, by putting Jesus first and living for his sake, by loving God and loving others, then your life will be saved. This is what Oswald Chambers calls abandonment: “If we only give something up to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable, commercial self-interest. Real abandonment is a personal, chosen preference for Jesus Christ Himself.” Bonhoeffer says “Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake. In the end we know only Him; we stop noticing the pain of our own cross; we look only unto Him.”

        Jesus is completely serious about this need for what Hudson Taylor called ‘the exchanged life’ - his for mine, mine for his. Matthew ends the section, verse 27 with Jesus saying “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Clearly the work Jesus has in mind here is this exchanged life - it is denying self and taking up the cross and finding life by losing it. And the seriousness of this commitment is even more clear in the other Gospel accounts. Luke, for example, records that Jesus said “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” This is the negative way of stating what is really the positive goal of all our discipleship: the ‘well done good and faithful servant’ that Jesus will give to those who are sold out followers of his. If you’re a believer, but you are invested in the world, if you are ashamed of the name of Jesus, and the reputation Jesus has in this world, and the life that he calls you to live, and the truths that he calls you to believe, then your reward will be to see the dishonor you have brought on Jesus written on his face. He’ll be ashamed when he says ‘yes, this one is mine’ the same way a parent sometimes has to admit that a guilty child is in fact his.

        So this is a serious call to sold-out followership - perhaps the hardest text in Scripture because the daily living of the exchanged is so foreign to our own self-interest, so foreign that somebody is going to call you a fool and a fanatic if you do it. Just take that one step beyond the norms of self-sacrifice that are acceptable in your Christian sub-culture, in your church, and see if people don’t start giving you reams of good advice that amount to ‘don’t deny yourself; don’t lose your own life for his sake’. And over against all that good advice stands only this radical text, this call for the exchanged life, this stark depiction of the cost of discipleship.

        Over against all that good advice stands Jesus, who says “The Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Over against all that good advice stands the foolishness of the cross, the foolishness of a Savior who would win by losing, live by dying, save by self sacrifice. The greatest challenge in life is to follow a Savior who suffered selflessly. Peter figured this out. In today’s text he said ‘may it never be’. But in that 1st Peter text I recommended earlier, he says “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered, leaving you an example, follow. Peter explains “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”. Peter figured out the suffering servant and said that in his suffering is our salvation and that in his selflessness is our example.

        Jesus has given us the hardest verses in Scripture because he wants to dominate our lives. Peter knew it. Oswald Chambers knew it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew it, and you know it too: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”