52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 34


When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 34
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I. Peter’s Confession

II. Thesis statement (v 34)

A. “Come after me...follow me”

B. "Deny"

C. "Take up your cross"

III. Cost of Discipleship

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson Transcript


Peter’s Confession

After probably two years of public ministry, Jesus was ready to ask his disciples the central question, and that is, "Who do you think that I am?" The answer in Mark 8 starting at verse 27 has come to be known as "Peter's Confession" because Peter confesses, he answers the question, most likely answering for all of the disciples. So Mark 8 starting at verse 27 we read, "And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi [probably up north at the base of Mt. Hermon]. And on the way he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that I am?' And they told him, 'John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.' And he asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, 'You are the Christ.' And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him." After two years of watching Jesus do miracles and hearing Jesus preach, Peter was willing to confess, he was willing to admit, that Jesus was the Christ, that he was the Messiah. Yet it becomes very quickly apparent that Peter didn't even understand his own confession. See, Peter was a Jew and as a Jew he would have expected the Messiah to be a victorious general. Peter would have expected the disciples to live in God's kingdom as earthly rulers. And instead Jesus continues by telling them that he is going to die. Starting at verse 31, "And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man [Jesus] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. [In other words, it wasn't in parables or metaphors. He just flat out said it.] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. [It is a very strong word, to 'castigate him'] But turning and seeing his disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'" See, not only does what Jesus say contradict all of Peter's expectations about the Christ, but what Jesus says has significant repercussions in terms of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And that's what Jesus is going to continue to talk about in the next paragraph. He will talk about what it really means to be a disciple, to live as a disciple in the kingdom of God.

Thesis statement (v 34)

“Come after me...follow me”

The thesis statement for the whole next paragraph is verse 34 and it's the key verse for this morning's message. "And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Come after me and follow me. Jesus thinks in terms of discipleship. He thinks in terms of people following him. Sometimes the emphasis is on becoming a disciple. When Jesus is talking about becoming a disciple he will say things like, "Count the cost," "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back again is fit for the kingdom of God." Sometimes Jesus talks about being or living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. And so you'll say, "That you must hunger and thirst for God's righteousness." At other times he will talk about dying as a disciple. So in Matthew 24 Jesus says, "It is he who perseveres to the end who will be saved." But the important thing to note is that Jesus thinks in terms of discipleship, becoming a disciple, living as a disciple and dying as a disciple. Paul thinks exactly the same way. He uses different terms, but he is thinking of the same things. So when Paul starts talking about "justification by faith," when he starts saying that we are justified, that we are made right with God, not by what we do, because of what God has done for us and our faith in what Christ did on the cross; when he starts talking about justification by faith he's talking about what it is to become a disciple.

Yet there are other passages like Romans 12, starting at verse 1, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God [because of what God has done for you in his mercy] present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." He is talking about living as a disciple. In different terms, Paul talks about dying as a disciple: the necessity of persevering, the necessity of living out all your life as a disciple. One of the strongest passages in Colossians 1:21-22, "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [God] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him." We want that, do we not? We want to be holy and blameless before God when he returns again. We like knowing that we have been reconciled, but we tend to stop at verse 22. But it continues, "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard." These are all different ways that Paul is repeating what Jesus is interested in, which is that you and I be disciples of Jesus Christ, that we become disciples by faith through God's mercy and grace poor in spirit, that we live as disciples and we persevere and we die as disciples. That is how Jesus thinks about us.

Much of the American church has adopted terminology and a way of thinking that is foreign to the Bible, Jesus and Paul. I say the American church because I know it is true, and I cannot imagine anyone in a third world country thinking this. Americans have adopted a terminology, sometimes unconsciously, as a result our skewed understanding of what it is to be a Christian. For example, we often talk about making a profession of faith. We often talk about raising our hand. I know of a church where their invitation is, "Do you believe?" We talk about professions of faith, raising our hands, saying the sinner's prayer, of joining the church, but the problem is that we think that is all there is, that God does not necessarily require anything else. Yes, these are all ways in which we can talk about becoming a disciple, but there is more to discipleship than becoming a disciple, as important as that is. There is being a disciple, there is living as a disciple, there is dying as a disciple. We must learn to speak and to think in biblical categories, not in theologically erroneous categories. Jesus thinks in terms of discipleship. If you want to come after me, if you want to follow me: becoming, being and dying a disciple of Jesus Christ.


"If you would come after me you must deny yourself." Now, what does that mean? Well it doesn't mean that we are to deny ourselves things in general. This is not a call for asceticism. This is not Lent stuff where some people give up something for God. That is not what this verse is talking about. To deny myself means that I say "No" to my very self. To deny myself means that I say, "I will not live for myself. I will not pursue my goals, my ambitions, my desires." To deny myself is to say, "I am not on the throne of my life. It is not all about me." Or conversely, to deny myself means saying "Yes" to God, saying I will not live for myself but I will live for God and pursue his goals, his ambitions, his desires. It is why we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is why we find ourselves agreeing with Jesus in Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours be done." To deny yourself is to say "No" to the very core of your being and to replace it with saying "Yes" to God. We probably all have stories along these lines. I had to make this choice four or five years ago in my own life. I was teaching at a seminary on the east coast and I very clearly heard God say, "Bill, are you willing to give up all of your goals, all of your ambitions, and all of your desires for me?" And I thought that it was an odd question to ask a seminary professor because the things that I was being asked to give up were all good things. But it was as clear as a bell asked, "Will you give up programming computers?" I said, "But God, I am programming computers so that people can learn Greek, the language of your Word. Why would you want me to give that up?" And the answer was, "That's none of your business. Will you give it up?" He said, "Will you give up writing books?" I said, "Why would you want me to do that? I'm writing books about you so that people can understand you." "It's none of your business, Bill. Will you give it up? Bill, will you give up your website project?" "But God, I'm trying to create an entire online seminary that we can give away to the world for free. Why would you want me to give that up?" And God said, "It's none of your business. Will you give it up?" It was a hard struggle because these are things that I love to do, things that were important to me personally and, I thought, important to the cause of God's kingdom. And after an extended struggle with him, I said, "Okay. Fine. Whatever. Whatever." And it's really amazing because it wasn't that I wasn't supposed to be doing these things, he wanted to know if I would give them up. And if I would say, "Whatever my desires and goals and ambitions are, it's your goals, and your ambitions and your desires that are most important to me." So I said, "Okay. Whatever." God has given back to me some of these things, and it has been very interesting. We are about 14 months away from having an entire free, first-class seminary online for the entire world, so that you can get a complete seminary-level education anywhere in the world for free. Some of the things were not given back. Instead, I was given some things I was not expecting, like the message that I was supposed to leave seminary and go be a preacher somewhere. It was and continues to be a difficult struggle. Weekly, sometimes daily, I have to reassert that I will give up my goals, my desires, my ambitions, whether I understand them or not if God so asks me to do so. And the question is, will you deny yourself? What would that look like in your life? I hesitate to use examples about myself, but what would it look like in your life? What would it look like to live a life that is fully dependent upon Jesus, one in which you are pursuing his goals, his ambitions, and his desires?

"Take up your cross"

If you want to come after me, Jesus says, if you want to be one of my disciples, you must deny yourself and then you must take up your cross. The parallel passage in Luke 9:23 helps us by adding, "we must take up our cross daily." The cross was a well-known instrument of execution and death. Jesus had just said that he was going to die and evidently so must his disciples. What does it mean to take up the cross? It means that you and I must daily live out the fact that you and I do not live for ourselves. To take up the cross means that you and I will daily live out the fact that I am no longer central in my life. It means that you and I, in fact, have died to ourselves and that we live to God. That's was Galatians 2:20 is all about: "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." This is how we follow Jesus. You must deny yourself, take up your cross and in this manner, follow me. We follow him by making a decision, a decision that is always followed by action. It is not enough to talk the talk. It is not enough to say, "Well, I've denied myself." It is not enough to say, "Well, I'm a Christian." Disciples must walk the walk. That is what taking up the cross is all about. The Great Commission has two parts. It is to make disciples, baptizing them (that is evangelism), but it is to make disciples by teaching them to obey absolutely everything that they have been taught (that is discipleship). If we are going to be a Great Commission-driven church then we must evangelize and we must disciple, not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

Cost of Discipleship

Jesus continues in Mark 8, and in verse 35 he spells out the rationale behind verse 34. He says, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." In other words, He is saying the same thing but with different terms. If you attempt to save your life, in other words, if you refuse to deny yourself, then you will lose your life and will end up in hell. But if you lose your life for the sake of the gospel, if you do deny yourself then you will, in fact, save your life (God will save your life) and you will end up in heaven. In verses 36 and 37 Jesus emphasizes that there is nothing more important than your life. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?" The answer is nothing, obviously. Then we get to verse 38 where Jesus is going to close by spelling out the results of living a self-centered, non-denying life, as it were. Jesus says, "For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation…" In this context of a pack of sinners, how can anybody be ashamed of Jesus? But if we are "…of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Son of Man is Jesus' favorite name for himself. It comes out of a prophecy in Daniel. The Son of Man is one who comes to judge. So the context of verse 38 is our final judgment. To be ashamed of someone means that we do not want to be connected with him, right? We want to distance ourselves from them. We want to disassociate ourselves with them. So in this context of Mark 8, what does it mean to be ashamed of Jesus? It means that you and I would live in such way that we distance ourselves from him. And how we do that? How do we distance ourselves from him? How do we live a life that is ashamed of Jesus? We live it for ourselves. We refuse to deny ourselves. We keep ourselves on the throne of our lives. And if we do that, we are living a life of shame of Jesus. What does it mean then for the Son of Man to be ashamed of you and me? It means he will distance himself from us at our final judgment. And we end up in hell when the Judge distances himself from us at final judgement. It is absolutely critical that we not water down what it means to have the judge of the universe ashamed of us. When we stand before the throne of judgment, Jesus is not going to ask us if we raised our hand. It is not in the Bible anywhere. He is not going to ask us if we said the sinner's prayer. That is not anywhere in the Bible. He is not going to ask us if we made a profession of faith. He is going to ask, "Were you proud of me? Did you live a life for me or were you ashamed of me?" When the Bible talks about judgment, do you know what the judgment is based on? This is always one of those theological doctrines that can catch people. What is your judgment and my judgment based on? It is all over the Bible, both New and Old Testament. It is based on our works. Are you aware of that? Not in the sense that we earn salvation, because of course that is foolishness and heresy. You cannot earn your salvation. I cannot earn my salvation. It is a gift given to me by the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ that is made real in my life when I confess my sins and I believe that Jesus died on the cross as a penalty for my sin. That is what saves me. I am not saved by works. Do not leave this building thinking that. In conversion, when I do that by the power of God, he also changes me. He makes me into a new creature. He gives me new birth and I am called as a disciple of Jesus Christ to live out that changed life so much so that God looks at the changed life as the basis of our judgment.

This is why our statement of faith says, "Sanctification is the necessary and certain fruit of salvation, yet not meritorious; it is God alone who saves. Through the work of the Spirit, saints [you and me that are disciples] are called and enabled to live lives of holiness; 'in' but not 'of' the world, fully dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ, persevering to the end." Let me just give you a couple of passages. There are many we can look at, and you may want to take time to reflect over them. One of them is Revelation 20. This is the throne room scene, the final judgment, and in Revelation 20 starting in verse 12 we read John's words, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done." Romans 2 starting at verse 6, "[God] will render [will pass judgment] to each one according to his 'profession of faith' [it's not what it says] He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress…" If you want a sobering passage, turn to Matthew 25.

It is the scene of the final judgment, starting at verse 31, "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. [That's the final judgment] Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'" It sounds like Ethiopia. If you would be a disciple of Jesus Christ you must deny yourself and then daily take up your cross and live out the fact that you have died to yourself and that you live to God. Because when he changed us, that same power that made me who was dead into Bill Mounce who is now alive in Christ is the same power that is in me and he has changed me and that change will have an affect in my life.

I had a great opportunity once to pick up John Piper from the airport. He had come to the seminary to speak, one of the only times we could have a quiet conversation, and I said to him, "John, you are the most driven person I've ever known in my life. I thought I was driven but I'm lazy compared to you. What drives you? What pushes you so hard?" And quite quickly he said, "I am convinced that our churches are full of people going to hell." I thought that he was a little harsh, but as we talked and I came to understand what he was talking about, I think he is absolutely right. When the gospel is not taught in its fullness, when we are not taught about becoming, being and dying as a disciple; when Jesus no longer says, "Come and follow me," then people simply don't know what God requires of them. They have raised their hand and joined a church, but then gone out and lived any way they want still thinking they are on their way to heaven. That is not what Jesus says, is it? I think that every preacher should have to stand by the seat of judgment and watch the people in his church go past the judge. I think that he ought to spend his entire life preaching with that image in his mind, because I cannot imagine anything more painful then standing and watching you walk past judgment and have one of you be condemned as a goat to live forever in hell. I cannot imaging having you turn and look at me and say, "But I did everything you asked." I will always preach the full gospel and the guilt of your blood is not on my hands. Does that sound strong? I think that Piper is right. I think churches are full of people going to hell because they have not been taught the gospel. Do you want to be Jesus' disciple? Remember, only disciples are in heaven. Then you must become a disciple. You must confess your sin, your separateness from God. You must make that wonderful profession of faith that on the cross Christ died for your sins and make the commitment to him and God's power will come in and change you and then you must live as a disciple, to daily deny yourself and to daily take up your cross and to live as one who has been crucified to himself or herself and that same power of God that took what was dead and made alive is at work in you to transform your life by the renewing of your mind so that you, your life, your body, everything you are is a sacrifice acceptable to him. I urge you; give yourself wholly to him. Put out your hands and say, "Whatever. I give myself to you," because that is the only true freedom, that is the only true joy that you will ever know in this life. Psalm 16:11: "You [God] make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." The only place to find the pleasures and the joy that we crave deep in our soul is in wild abandonment to God as our Lord and as our Savior.

Memory Verse

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Reflection Questions

  • I believe this is one of the most important set of reflection questions I will ever hand out. Please be sure to think through the issues raised by the biblical passage. What terminology do you use to describe the process of becoming, being, and dying as a Christian? Are they biblical? Are they accurate?
  • How can we help ourselves and others think through the fact that as Christians and believers we are primarily “disciples,” “follower”?
  • What are the hardest things in your life to deny?
  • What does it look like to “take up your cross”? Do you think we really do this?
  • Discipleship is a matter of life and death (Mark 8:36-37). Why do you think we tend to gamble with our life by sloughing off on our discipleship?
  • I am sure that in all of us there are unbiblical notions floating around, especially when it relates to this issue of discipleship and salvation. How can we become sensitive to this?
  • How can this type of passage lead you to despair? How will you prevent that?
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