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Mark 8:31-38

We are here in a different generation than the disciples in 2,000 years ago, and we have been conditioned in our generation to ask several questions when discerning for a work or a ministry so we wouldn’t have surprises. The scriptures tell us Jesus invited the twelve to be his close disciples, and by His compelling presence, there was no hesitancy to obey. They left their nets, left behind jobs, families, homes, etc., and traveled the land with Jesus. We don't have anything else about their partnership agreements and expectations.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was teaching the disciples and the crowd about the true nature of his mission – a mission that would cause his rejection, death, and resurrection, and by extension, their mission and death too. Shortly before this, (actually a few verses before our text), Peter had just declared Jesus "the Messiah" with no objection from Jesus (Mk 8: 29-30). So, when Jesus began to teach quite openly about his upcoming suffering and death, Peter was confused and nervous, and he reacted immediately by pulling Jesus to the side to rebuke him. We don't have evidence of what Peter said to Jesus, but from Jesus' response, we can only assume that Peter said something to discourage Jesus from the brutal agony Jesus had just predicted.

But Jesus was far more focused than Peter or anyone else; Jesus reaction was intense, "Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on divine things." In Matthew's version, Jesus adds, "….for you are a stumbling block to me" (Mt. 16:23) – the exact words Jesus had used to address Satan when he was all over Jesus in the temptation wilderness.

Still focused, Jesus addressed the crowd: "If you want to become my followers, if you're in with me on this mission, DENY yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me."

The Greek verb "to deny" is ("arpanaeomai") – which means "to lose sight of one's self and one's own interests ." The Dictionary definition is 'to abstain from indulging oneself' or 'to refrain from satisfying oneself.'

We hear the word (self-denial) more often in Lent when we are encouraged to abstain from pleasurable food consumption or unhealthy habits so we may focus more on our spirituality.

And, if I may say so, the period of this self-denial we practice does not last long. Sometimes, the temptation to indulge is almost unbearable, and even if we take it on, we give it up before the forty days of Lent are over.

But this temporal self-denial we practice is far from what Jesus requests of his friends. Jesus is asking for long-term DISCIPLESHIP that comprises spiritual growth that strives to live more like the Master and intentionally learn from him. Jesus demands it. "If you want to become my followers" – ‘if you want to partner with me,’ he says, ‘then hang in there with me. But you will be exposed to the cross and shame.’ In verse 38 of Mark, he adds, 'If you are ashamed of me – I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of you when I come in the glory of my Father.' This partnership Jesus is asking requires losing their lives to worldly desires. It requires TRUE LOVE.

When I was preparing for this message, I tripped on a story about a five-year-old boy whose sister had a rare and severe disease. Her only apparent chance at recovery is a transfusion from her little brother, who had miraculously survived the same illness and now had the antibodies necessary to protect his sister. His parents asked if he would do this. He considered it and said, "Yes," he would do it for his sister. As the transfusion progressed and he lays next to his sister, a pink glow came to the little girl's cheeks. But suddenly, the little boy looked up and asked, "Will I start to die right away?" This very young boy had agreed to move forward, thinking that while he might be able to save his sister, his life might be the price. He stepped into the unknown for the sake of love - an innocent faith, if you will.

Thankfully, not all of us are called upon to face the life-or-death situation that confronted this young boy. But at the end of the day, we are all called to deny our self-will and lust IF we want to partner with Christ. 'IF' is a conditional clause that gives a choice between two options, and that choice reflects our commitment to follow Jesus unashamedly - to keep our eyes on him and let him be our guide.

Mark's gospel story is not simply a retelling of what happened between Jesus and his followers 2,000 plus years ago. It is not a gospel for those who say the right words while their hearts speak of prestige and power. We do that in our unique ways, and may God forgive us because sometimes we don’t know what we are doing. So, on this second Sunday of Lent, the challenge is thrown at us to pray about our spiritual standing. You can call it spiritual self-examination – we can deny ourselves, keep our minds on divine things, and stand with Jesus in his mission, OR we can decide if we are ashamed of him and the cross.