We get asked many questions every single day. And most questions on most days need to be answered, but the majority of the questions we’re asked don’t carry enormous weight. Most are just normal questions like these: What do you want for dinner? Where do you want to go on vacation this summer? Did you do your homework? What’s the weather supposed to be today?
But there are other kinds of questions that are so significant that our answers have massive implications. These are the kinds of questions I want us to answer today. In my 11 years of being your pastor, this might be one of the most important messages I’ve ever given in my life. No surprise, but my title is a question too – “What About You?”
Mark 8:27-38 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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 concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “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. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Jesus begins by asking his disciples an easy question : Who do people say I am? Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Regardless of where your faith is, you can answer this question. My mom says Jesus is this…my friend says Jesus is that…Pastor Ben says Jesus is more like this. Not a lot of weight to this question. But the next question from Jesus arrests our attention:
Who do you say Jesus is?
This is the question. It’s one each of us must answer personally. Peter gets the question right, “You are the Messiah.” While Peter answers the question correctly, we soon realize that Peter has his own ideas about what Messiahs do and don’t do.
Peter had a mental framework – we all do. And in his framework, Messiahs don’t suffer. Every Jew had put their hope in the Messiah who would come one day. He would be their way out of oppression. He would be their ticket out of suffering. And yes, that’s true. But Jesus says that His suffering would be the pathway to their freedom. Jesus told them he MUST suffer and that he MUST be killed.
Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Peter was asking Jesus to follow Peter.
“Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our willingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image.” A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
Jesus isn’t on a mission to orient His life around us, but He is inviting us to orient our entire lives around Him.
Jesus responds by rebuking Peter. He says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Why such strong language from Jesus? Because Jesus knows He can defeat Satan only by suffering on the cross. And here’s Peter trying to talk him out of that.
Do you want to deny Jesus and follow yourself or deny yourself and follow Jesus?
Denying ourselves is the exact opposite of what the world tells us to do. We get this kind of encouragement from the world: You do you. Go for what works best for you. Take care of yourself. Follow your heart.
But has “you doing you” brought more peace or joy or satisfaction?
“Death to self may appear to others as if we hate ourselves, but a great part of our growth includes disengaging from the expectations of others. As we do, it will not be long before people begin to identify us as joyful, peaceful, composed people, free from anxiety and animosity and in the grip of a deep happiness that comes to the person who has been liberated from the domination of desire. What may appear to others to be self-hatred is, in fact, the only way to become our true selves.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack
The call from Jesus to follow Him isn’t a call to lose your true self. It’s actually a call to lose your false self and find your true self.
But it will feel like death – because it is.
What would gaining the whole world mean for you?
If we’re honest, we all have a personal answer to this question. Gaining the whole world could mean all kinds of things for you. It could mean: being worth 100 million dollars, having your kids get into Ivy League universities, having the approval of really important people, owning a beautiful home, getting all of the funding for your new venture, or thousands of other things.
I once met with a man who told me, “I want it all.” He meant that he wanted all the success at work, all the great things for his marriage and family, all the worldly status, all the wonderful possessions, and a life fully dedicated to God. There’s a part of this that I love. But the question he has to wrestle with and the question all of us must consider is this one:
What do you really want MOST?
Jesus said we can take a different approach when it comes to all of the things that compete for the top spot in our hearts and lives.
Matthew 6:32-33 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
We’re all sacrificing one thing to have something else. We are all giving something up to have something that we want more.
“Our dying with Christ is, ultimately, the loss of everything that has defined us.” M. Robert Mulholland Jr., The Deeper Journey
Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted to gain the whole world.
Matthew 4:8-10 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
What are you holding onto that you can’t imagine letting go of for any reason?
Whatever it is – a possession, control, wealth, accomplishment, whatever you are gripping tightly – this is what Jesus means when he says “whoever wants to save their life will lose it”.
But whoever loses their life for Jesus and the gospel will save it. What is holding you back from full surrender? What do you not want to lose? What don’t you trust Jesus to take care of? What is most valuable to you that you can’t imagine losing? God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us surrender our lives to Him. We’re not all alone in our attempt to follow Jesus completely.
Jesus says, “If your ashamed of me, then I’ll be ashamed of you.” Ashamed of Jesus means that you deny or reject Him. Don’t deny Jesus to gain the approval of this world. Give your life to Jesus to gain the applause of heaven.
Why should we trust Jesus and surrender our lives to Him? What Jesus is asking us to do for Him, He has already done for us.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Before Jesus asked you to lose your life for Him, He lost His life for you.
Before Jesus asked you to give your life to Him, He gave His life to you.
Jesus, whatever it costs me, I give you my life.
Pay attention to those parts of your life that you’re trying to grip tightly and control. Open your hands and offer those parts to Him. Commit yourself to follow wherever He leads you with these.
Tell God what you want, but surrender what you want for what He wants.
Worship God so that He is praised, and you are reminded about what matters most in the universe and what matters most to you.
We’re all tempted to let other things define us. Be honest with God about your temptations and ask Him to not let you find your ultimate meaning in those things.
Since you are an eternal being, make sure you’re playing the long game with your life.
Tell him what it’s hard to let go of…ask for Spirit’s power to be free from it.