Lessons in the Jesus school of discipleship

By Graeme Shanks

Lesson 2: Jesus is worth it!
(Mark 9:2-13)

Some things in life seem so counter-intuitive. One icy evening this week I tried steering our car up the driveway. Seeing the slight glimmer of ice up ahead I tried accelerating ever so slightly in order to clear it. I only succeeded in a creating a wheel spin to the amusement of the passers by. I tried again. Same result. To my great relief I got in on the third attempt. The solution wasn’t found in going faster. The solution, in a way that didn’t make immediate sense to me, was to drive slower. Some things seem so counter-intuitive.

The same is true if you follow Jesus. Peter found this out the hard way. The pivot point in Mark’s gospel is when the penny finally drops in Peter’s mind as to who Jesus really is. ‘Who do you say I am?’ asks Jesus. ‘You are the Christ!’ Cue streamers and jackpot noises! Our boy’s got it! But has he? He might have the identity right. However, when it comes to grasping exactly what it

means for Jesus to be the Christ, well Peter’s got that all wrong! Rejected by the religious elite? Crucified publicly by Romans soldiers? Surely not!? That’s not in Peter’s Messiah playbook. Power and prestige is! But Jesus lovingly explains just how counter-intuitive being his follower is.

We can all too easily hang Peter out to dry at this point. Surely he should have known better?

But as I found myself sitting on at the beginning of yet another year surveying the months and planning the days ahead it struck me that too often Peter’s mindset is my mindset! How many of my ambitions for the year ahead concern the advancement of my own affairs? How often my mind is on the things of man rather than on God?

Here then is the counter-intuitive call of Christ.
It is precisely by losing ourselves that we will find ourselves.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

(Mark 8:34-35)

Here then is the cross-shaped call of the King. Die to your own agenda. Say no to your own desires. The impulses. The dreams and ambitions. The rights and demands. Instead, take them captive as you seek first his Kingdom. That is cross-shaped living. We live in a world where the opposite tune is being played. The way to life is to affirm yourself says our culture. The call of Jesus seems so counter-intuitive. Yet the promise of Christ is that this is exactly how we will know life.

So what might ‘denying yourself’ look like for you this coming year? What things could you do but you won’t do this year for the sake of following Christ? Do our friends and family sense in us a cross-shaped life patterned on Jesus? I always love how the early disciples at Antioch were first called Christians. Quite literally people labelled them ‘little Christ’s’. They clearly saw something of the cruciform pattern of Jesus in the lives of these early believers. What a wonderful tribute to their witness in that city.

Some things seem so counter-intuitive. They don’t immediately make sense to us. Yet let’s remember that the one who spoke these words also rose from the grave. Perhaps his claim on us is justified by the fact that death has no claim on him!‘Because You're Worth it!’ It’s tribute to the power and influence of advertising that you might immediately connect those words with L’Oreal. The story goes that the streamline originated from the company big-wigs realising that they needed to do more to convince consumers to spend more on their products than their then competitor Clairol. It was a phrase first coined in 1973. However, I’d like to suggest that it’s actually a phrase that is written all over this 1st century passage in Mark’s gospel that we know as the ‘Transfiguration’. It’s a passage that exclaims ‘Jesus is worth it!’

But worth what? Well, remember the immediate context. Jesus has just laid out for his disciples exactly what it means to follow him;

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’(8:34)

That is one weighty call. It’s almost as if the stakes increase with each passing word Jesus that presses home. Indeed, it is compounded by the fact that such a cross shaped life is to be lived amongst an ‘adulterous and sinful generation.’ The world will provide no cheerleaders for the cross bearer. So surely the question, particularly at this pivot section of Mark’s gospel, is whether following Jesus is worth it? Better to turn back now and save face?

Well not according to Mark. Six days later Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain with him. This is no chance encounter. This is no orienteering trip gone wrong. The fact that Jesus led them up with him suggests that there is a purpose to what they are about to witness. Indeed, most likely with their minds filled with questions and doubts as they make their way up the mountain, here is a scene they need to see. So friends if you are struggling with the weight of the call Christ makes on us, if you’re feeling the frowns of the crooked generation, if you are questioning whether it’s worth it - come, see and be strengthened by what they saw!

See the glorious Christ! It’s almost as if for a brief moment in history the full resplendent glory of Jesus, the one he has shared eternally with his Father but veiled as he steps into the world, is on display for all to see. His clothes are dazzling white. All of a sudden Moses and Elijah appear. These two towering Old testament figures who both played their part in and spoke about God’s unfolding drama of redemption that was about to reach its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is who he is.

"For a brief moment in history the full resplendent glory of Jesus is seen."

Hear the delighted Father! A voice comes from the cloud. The cloud always representative in the Bible of the very presence of God. It’s the voice of the Father. Doting over his obedient Son. Thrilled with his unfolding salvation plan. There are echoes of Psalm 2, as Psalm all about God exalting his conquering King in the eyes of the world, as the Father declares ‘Listen to him!’.

Given the enormity of what they have just witnessed, there is a striking ordinariness to words at the end of the scene. ‘Only Jesus.’ (v.8) Only he is left. Only him, the 3 disciples and the call that Jesus has made to them to follow him hanging in the air. So what will it be.

Is he worth it? Is he worth enduring the mocking of the world for? Is he worth the surrendering of our lives? Here, then, in Mark 9 is a scene that offers a resounding yes! Yes he is!

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