A true disciple of Christ will exhibit several marks that will distinguish him or her from false disciples. What are they? In this message Stephen tells us.
MARK - THE GOSPEL OF ACTION
“WILL THE REAL DISCIPLES PLEASE STAND UP”
Wilmer McLean was a retired grocer who lived in Virginia. And when the rumblings of the Civil War were beginning to be heard, he, disliking battle so much, decided to move. And so he moved just outside the backyard of Washington and, would you believe it but, when the battle began, the first battle took place on his new farm. A cannonball came down the chimney of his home, his barn was destroyed and he, in anger, moved away to south Virginia. As the battle progressed and, finally, ended, as Grant chased Lee’s starving men, they had one final battle at Appomattox, where Wilmer had just purchased his new farm. They fought on his land. But, to add injury to insult, Grant received the surrender of Lee in the parlor of Wilmer McLean. When it was over, people wanted mementos of that special day. And so they took pictures off the walls and pieces of furniture and, by the end of that day, Wilmer was standing in an empty living room with only a small couch left over. History records that Wilmer McLean was a man who hated war and yet, war began in his front yard and ended in his parlor.
You know, being an American citizen, I think, sometimes means that we will be involved in battle. Perhaps, even in our generation, we will see battle once again. But being a disciple of Jesus Christ, inevitably means doing battle. Whether it is against our sinful nature, the forces of Satan, the value system of this world, we WILL do battle. We cannot run from it. And yet, I fear, that while many claim to be disciples, in the thick of the battle, their rifles are silent. You never see them advance. You never hear them say, “Charge!”
And Jesus Christ was facing a problem, I think. And we find it detailed for us as we’ve begun studying the chapter that we’re looking at tonight, chapter 8. He has a multitude of people following Him. A multitude of people who are saying, “Yes, I am following Christ. Yes, I am a disciple.” And Jesus Christ turns to them and, in very clear statements, details the marks of genuine discipleship. He says, in effect, “If you are a disciple of Me, there are several things that will be evidenced in your life.” And this is where we find the piercing gaze of Christ. Mark, chapter 8. Look back with me, again, at verse 34, “And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to’” - be My disciple or to - “come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
If you’re taking notes, let me give you the first mark of a genuine disciple. That is, that this individual will become like Christ. And in his becoming like Christ, you will see he denies three things. First of all, he denies self-interest. You notice the text says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” - if he will be a genuine disciple - “let him deny himself”. You could literally translate that, “let him say, ‘No,’ to himself, let him deny himself.” He is denying self-interest. You remember those who would be His disciples, on one occasion, came to Him and yet, they found excuses. You remember the one individual had just bought a team of oxen? Another individual had just married a wife. Another individual had just purchased land. You see, their self-interest came before genuinely following Jesus Christ. He says, “If you will really be My disciple, you will learn to say, ‘No,’ to your own self-interests.”
But you will also deny something else. You’ll notice that this individual will deny safety or security. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself,” - and note this phrase - “and take up his cross”. Now, this was a vivid picture to all those who were following Christ. Because, not many years before Jesus began His ministry, a man, by the name of Judas, gathered around a large band of Jews and they sought to overthrow Rome by force. They lost. And the soldiers lined the streets of Galilee with the crosses bearing the bodies of these insurrectionists. Judas, himself, being the leader. And so when Jesus Christ says, “If you will follow Me, let him bear his cross.” You see, one of the problems, ladies and gentlemen, is we have turned this book into an American book. We say, “He’s referring here to bad backs. To arthritis. To a grumpy employer. To a mate who is unforgiving. Perhaps, a rebellious child.” That isn’t what He’s referring to here. He is referring to a literal cross. “If you will follow Me, you must deny security and safety. You may, in fact, end up on a cross.” You see, this wasn’t a devotional cross. John Wesley records that once he was visiting a very wealthy man and they were sitting in his parlor. And he ordered a slave to come and throw coals on the fire. So the slave came in and threw coals rather sloppily on the fire and a puff of smoke filled the parlor. And this rich man said, “Oh, Mr. Wesley, the crosses I must bear.” You see, this isn’t what He was talking about. Nor is He talking about a mystical cross. You know, we’re thinking about calvary. The disciples didn’t know anything about calvary yet. They didn’t know that Jesus Christ would be nailed to a cross. They weren’t aware of that yet. So it wasn’t mystical and it wasn’t devotional. It was literal. Jesus Christ says, “If you will be My disciple, you must be willing to follow Me, even to the death.”
I think I read, not long ago, but let me reread what happened, as history records, to those apostles. Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword in Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of that city. Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in Greece. John was put in a pot of boiling oil. He was later branded to death at Patmos. Peter was crucified. And, in fact, a few weeks ago, I read another historian who said that Peter’s wife was crucified first. And then, when it came to be his turn, he asked that he be crucified upside-down as he was unwilling, so he said, to die like Christ. So they crucified Peter hanging upside-down. James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with a club. Bartholomew was skinned alive. Andrew was bound to a cross from which he preached until he died. Thomas was run through with a spear. Jude was shot to death with arrows. Matthias was stoned and then beheaded. Barnabas was stoned to death. Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was beheaded at Rome by the emperor Nero. You see, ladies and gentlemen, they knew when Jesus said, “If you will follow Me, you must follow Me to the death.” They were willing to say, “Yes,” then and yet, they would slide. But then, once again, follow Him and, in fact, die.
You see, the problem is that you and I live in such comfort that we cannot understand this passage. But a Christian, who has just been exiled to Siberia, can well understand it. The little boy, who named Christ and had his fingers cut off in India, he can understand it. And there may come a time, my friends, when we will understand. Who knows? Maybe in our lifetime we will have to declare that we are willing to follow Christ. The point that He is making is, if you are a genuine disciple, you will deny self-interest and you will deny security, safety, you will be abandoned, as it were, to a cause. You see, Jesus isn’t interested in introducing comfort to you. He is interested in introducing to you a cause, a passionate cause. And for those who are willing to take it up, they are, in fact, genuine disciples.
Thirdly, a genuine disciple is willing to deny self-management. Notice what He says in the last part of verse 34, “he will also follow Me.” “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” You see, if you are following Christ, obviously He is in front. He is calling the shots. He is managing. He has the reigns. We’ve just started a series of shows on Cablevision on Psalm, chapter 23. And the more that I study that Psalm, it becomes so obvious that all of that Psalm is conditioned by the ability of you and me in saying, “The Lord is MY shepherd.” If we cannot say, “He is the shepherd, He is leading, He is out front, He is calling the shots,” then, ladies and gentlemen, He is not our shepherd. And we may not be His disciples.
I want to give you two sub-notes under this point, for those of you jotting these down. First of all, Jesus never sugar-coated the call to discipleship. In fact, He often emphasized the negative. You never find Jesus bribing men with offers of easy living. You never find Him offering increased salaries, improved health, better surroundings, everyone getting along. No. What He promised was something like Winston Churchill who, when he took over the Prime Ministry of England, offered men blood, toil, tears, and sweat. A famous Italian general appealed for recruits in these terms, and I quote, “I offer neither pay nor provision. I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country in his heart, and not with his lips only, follow me.” Those are the terms of Jesus Christ, as well. Are you a genuine disciple, willing to follow Him, even under those terms?
Secondly, Jesus never expected disciples to do what He never did. And I like this. He never suggested to His disciples, “Hey, see the crosses over there? You bear them and I’ll stand over here and watch, I’ll cheer you on.” He isn’t an armchair general, up in heaven somewhere, using us like some kind of expendable pawn. You know, I play chess in a very fascinating way. I don’t know if you ever play chess but, I give those pawns away. Just to advance something one step, I’ll give those things away. They’re expendable to me. I usually lose the game. Jesus Christ does not treat His disciples like little pawns, “I could do without you.” He is very concerned about every detail. You see, Jesus Christ denied self-interest. He denied security. He denied safety. He denied self-management. He did everything that He asks you and me to do, as His disciples.
The second thing that, I think, we’ll find from the text that marks a genuine disciple is that, they not only become like Christ in denying things but, they will also be treated like Christ. Look at verse 35, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” A genuine disciple, ladies and gentlemen, will identify with the character of Christ. He will become like Him, but he will also identify with the rejection of Christ. He will be treated like Him. You see, just as Jesus Christ was accepted and rejected by those who heard the message, so should you and I expect the same response. You know, one of the most shattering things to a new believer, as he now is living for Jesus Christ, is that people aren’t interested in what has just revolutionized his life. You know, he comes to the job that next Monday morning all hyped up. “Man, you won’t believe what happened to me!” And people look at him like he is from another planet. He ceases to get the invitations, you know, from friends. He may be overlooked for a promotion because, you see, he’s a fanatic. You see, ladies and gentlemen, people aren’t going to line up out your front door with decision cards already made out. “Oh, just by looking at your life, I’ve wanted Jesus Christ.” Now, that may happen on occasion but they’re not lined up. You see, you need to realize that you will experience rejection. Now, He says here, “whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it”. He is still referring, ladies and gentlemen, to death. He is saying that if you will come to a point where they say either the cross or life, you either reject Jesus Christ or you die. You see, if that point in time comes in your life, as it would theirs, and they say, “I will live, rather than die,” then that evidences that they are, in fact, not a genuine disciple. That’s pretty tough, isn’t it? And yet, true.
Look at Luke, chapter 12, with me. Luke, chapter 12, verses 8 and 9. He expands this point, just a little bit more. Luke, chapter 12. In fact, let’s begin with verse 4. “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two cents: And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Now, let me stop here and give you something that Jesus Christ gave His disciples. He has said, in effect, “If you will be a genuine disciple, you will become like Me. Secondly, if you will be a genuine disciple, you will be treated like Me.” Now, there comes, in our hearts then, the potential of fear. “Wait a second, I can’t handle rejection. I don’t like the scoffing. I’m embarrassed with the mocking. I’m afraid of people and their responses.” Jesus Christ gives three reasons in this text, if you are taking notes, why not to fear. The first purpose He gives is that He has given us His promise. The first reason, I should say, that we should not fear, is that He has given us His promise.
Turn back to Matthew, chapter 10. Matthew, chapter 10, and let’s look at this amplified account. Sometimes when we look at all the gospel accounts we get the full story. “Don’t be afraid,” He is saying. Matthew, chapter 10, verse 25, He says, “It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher,” - you see, you are becoming like Christ - “and the slave as his master.” - now you’re going to be treated like Christ - “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” You know what He’s saying there? He is saying that, “When I walked through this earth, I performed tremendous miracles. I did so many wonders and signs and they called Me, ‘Satan.’ Now, if they call ME Satan and I’m the Christ and I do all of these things, how much more should you expect that they call you Satan? How much more should you expect their reproof and their rejection?” Let’s read on. Verse 26, “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered” - here’s His promise - “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” You know, one of the wonderful things about living for Jesus Christ, experience whatever rejection I might experience or you might experience, or reproof, or mocking, or whatever it might be, one of the most wonderful things is, knowing that there is the promise of vindication. One day, ladies and gentlemen, the Hudson Taylor’s will be vindicated. The C. T. Stud’s, the George Mueller’s, the William Booth’s, and your name. One day, God will right all of the wrongs and justice will be vindicated. You have that promise. So, if they slay you, if they reject you, if they reprove you, look toward heaven because then comes the vindication.
The second reason why we shouldn’t fear is in verse 28, because we have His power. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Again, my friends, it’s hard for us to climb into the skin of this gospel writer because there aren’t any lions in Cary. You know, there aren’t any burning stakes at the corner of Maynard and Walnut. It’s very hard for us to understand what he’s saying. But, I think, we can apply it in the sense that we should fear the God who has the power to send an individual to hell forever, rather than fearing someone who can only hurt the body in a temporary way. We have His promise. We have His power.
And we have His protection. Look at verse 29, or His provision. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” You know, I imagine, in the throws of persecution, these disciples perhaps felt, “I’m not worth anything. God must have forgotten me. I am of no value.” Have you ever felt that way? That you’re insignificant in this great cause of Christ? My friend, the sparrow was the cheapest animal that you could purchase for sacrificing. It was the most insignificant of all of the animals. And He chose that one and He said, “Look, at the sparrow. Not one of them dies but yet I have taken note. I haven’t missed one. Aren’t you worth more than a little sparrow? And you can buy about five of them for a penny.” He uses another animal, as well. He talks about the ravens in Luke, chapter 12. We won’t turn there. But, He says, as well, that the ravens are taken note of by God. Now, it’s interesting that the raven was ceremonially unclean. It was a bird that was considered an unclean bird. Once again, the application, “You will be a religious or ceremonially unclean outcast. They will consider you dirt, scum, a Gentile. And yet, you are so significant to God that, even though you are an unclean thing, even though you may be considered insignificant, in MY kingdom, you gain significance.” My friend, you gained value when you entered the family of God. You are worth more by being part of that family than you would ever be worth in this world’s estimation, by choosing to follow Him.
Now, back to Mark. He asks two piercing questions as He tries to pull the mask off those masquerading as true disciples. He says, in verse 36, the first question, we could put down that He is asking, “What’s your primary pursuit in life?” He says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” What’s your primary pursuit in life? Is it riches? Is it wealth? There isn’t a wealthy man who would not give it all away for one more breath of air. It seems that we are confronted with death. In fact, in the last few weeks we have seen people go on to be with the Lord. I came back from Atlanta and spent a lot of time in the room with my Father-in-law, who is in heaven, and I watched him die. In those last moments, when none of the family were there, and yet I was there alone, it was very difficult to see him ask for water. Although he couldn’t talk, he looked at me with pleading eyes and I said, “I love you, Pop.” And he looked back and he said, “I love you.” He’d whisper it. And, you know, even though he was bound for heaven and is there now, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he would have given away all that he had to get out of that bed and go home. My friend, we need to take stock of our lives from that kind of deathbed setting. Put yourself there. What’s really worth something? What’s really of value? The kind of car that you drive? The kind of house that you own? The kind of promotion that you receive? The kind of clothing that you wear? It’s all insignificant when you’re in intensive care in a hospital gown. And He says here the very same thing, “what does it profit a man to gain the” - entire - “world, and” - lose your - “soul?” How tragic.
He asks another penetrating question. We could rephrase it, “What is your price tag?” Look at verse 37, “For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Let’s reword it. Jesus is asking, “What’s your character really worth?” You fudge on an income tax return and you get a hundred more dollars back. Are you saying that your character is only worth a hundred dollars? The clerk gives you back too much change at the grocery store, perhaps fifty cents. And you say, “Oh, who cares?” Is your character only worth fifty cents? What’s the price tag on your soul? What would Satan have to give you to get you to turn from following Christ to following him? What are you selling out to today?
The final characteristic of a genuine disciple, not only does he become like Christ, not only is he treated like Christ but, he will one day he will be rewarded with Christ. Look at verse 38, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Turn back now, again, to Luke, chapter 12, or turn ahead. Luke, chapter 12, let’s look at verses 8 and 9 this time. Luke, chapter 12, verses 8 and 9. Verse 8 is the positive reward. Luke, chapter 12, verse 8, “And I say to you, everyone who confesses” - the word “confess,” means “to declare, to affirm, to agree, to openly, publicly state, ‘He is my Christ’” - “Me before men, the Son of Man shall confess him also before the angels of God”. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a public declaration of discipleship. There is a time, in your life and in my life, that if I am genuinely a disciple of Jesus Christ, I will verbalize it, I will publicly state it. You see secret Christianity denies the very intention of discipleship. He intended you to verbalize it. If you fail to verbalize, if you shrink back, if you are ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as difficult as it is to imagine, Jesus Christ will deny you. Look at the positive, verse 9, “but he who denies Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” “That one over there, that one belongs to Me. And all of the angels, I want you to take note, he’s a disciple of Mine.” Man, can you imagine?
Turn to Revelation, chapter 3, and I want you to notice what the disciples in Philadelphia were promised by way of reward. Revelation, chapter 3. Look first at their opportunity, verse 8. Revelation, chapter 3, verse 8, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you” - underline this - “an open door”. Man, that’s the same thing that He’s given us, “an open door” - opportunity - “which no one can shut,”. Why? - “because you have a little power,” - I love that, you don’t have a lot, you’re not very dynamic but you have a little - “and I’m going to honor that little bit.” “and have kept My word,” - now, notice this - “and have not denied My name.” Notice the reward in verse 12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,” - that sounds strange. He’s going to turn us into stone pillars. Wow. Fantastic reward. No. He is referring back into history there in Philadelphia. It was known as “the little Athens.” There were hundreds of temples that worshiped Dionysus, it was the goddess of the grape, because they grew grapes in Philadelphia. And they had a practice that whoever would serve the city well, whoever was a faithful citizen, whoever honored the name of Philadelphia, whoever lived in such an exemplified manner, whoever propagated the development of Philadelphia, one day, when he died, they would erect a pillar in one of those temples in his honor with his name on it. It was like being given an entrance into the Hall of Fame. Tremendous honor. “If you will keep My name, I will one day honor you,” is what He is saying.
But you notice the next phrase, it says, “and he will not go out from it anymore”. That again, is a reference to the historical setting because Philadelphia was at the base of a volcano. That’s basically what had fertilized the ground and had made the grapes grow so lusciously. But, every once in awhile, that volcano would begin to rumble and the people wouldn’t know if it were going to erupt or not. And so, they’d flee. They’d take off and run from the city, wait until it was over, and then come back. They lived in constant fear. Jesus Christ is saying, “I will make you a pillar in the temple of My God and you will not go out from it anymore.” No need to fear again. No need to leave. There’s no fear. You’re home. You’re safe. What a promise to those who will be disciples.
By way of application, let me give you a few things to jot into your notes. If we tie all of these thoughts together, I think we could say two things. First of all, discipleship demands reshaping. Are you available? Secondly, discipleship involves rejection. Are you willing?
Before the turn of the century, Henri Dunant, a very wealthy 30-year-old Swiss banker, took off for France to meet with Napoleon about a business venture that he knew would make them very rich. When he arrived in France, he was told that the general had already taken off for war, in fact, it was nearby. So, Dunant, being the entrepreneur that he was and very aggressive, got on his horse and he took off to that battlefield, hoping to catch Napoleon before the battle began. When he arrived at the top of the hill overlooking the field where they were fighting, he noticed that he was already too late. And he saw the calvary groups charge and collide, he saw the carnage, he heard the screams. He was so affected that he never went back to Switzerland. He stayed in that town for three weeks helping those who had been injured. He helped bury the dead. He was a man who had now found another passion. He spent his entire fortune and his entire life founding an organization to help those in need. Finally, in 1901, he was exonerated, he was given the first Nobel peace prize. A handsome sum of money, of course, attached to that. And he gave it all away to the cause that he had founded, the Red Cross. He was penniless and he lived his final days in the poor house. And yet, he was a disciple of the cause that consumed him.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus Christ offers, to you and to me, a crusade, a purpose, a reason for living. Something beyond ourselves, something far greater than our puny little lives could ever imagine: it is the cause of Jesus Christ. It is advancing His kingdom. It is sharing the news that He’s alive. This is a very difficult passage to exegete and even more difficult to digest because, my friends, Jesus Christ is implying, that if you are not becoming like Christ, if you are not being treated like Christ, if you are not experiencing the same rewards with Christ, you’re not a disciple, you’re not saved, you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. You know, it’s time to take stock. Are we a real, genuine disciple of Christ? Let’s sum it up in one sentence. If you are unwilling to bear the cross, you will never wear the crown.