A while back one of our students came to talk to me. And he said, 'Some of my Christian friends are letting the side down by getting drunk, but I'm not sure what to do about it – because when I've picked them up on it, it hasn't gone down well.'
So I said, 'What did you say?'
And he said, 'I quoted Ephesians 5.18.' Which is a Bible verse that says:
... do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5.18)
Ie, don't be under the control of alcohol, but under the control of Jesus, who lives in you by his Spirit.
So I said, 'What did they say to that?'
And he said, 'One told me he got drunk on beer so that verse didn't apply. And the other said he only got merry, not drunk – despite the fact that he regularly needs helping back to his room.'
So I said, 'What did you say next?'
And he said, 'I told them I didn't reckon that's how a Christian should think or behave. But they said, 'Who are you to say what a Christian is, or should or shouldn't do?''
Which showed bad attitude. But it's a good question: Who does have the right to define what a Christian is?
And the answer is: Jesus. And he defines a Christian as: someone living for him as Lord.
We're in a sermon series called 'The Christ-centred life.' So far we've looked at: Trusting in Jesus' death and resurrection – which are behind us – and preparing for his return – which is ahead of us. And tonight we're looking at 'Living for Jesus as Lord' in the meantime.
And when the Bible calls Jesus 'Lord', it means he's God and therefore the King or ruler with the absolute right to run our lives.
And a Christian is someone who says, 'Jesus is Lord – and my no.1 aim is to live for him.'
So just take a moment to diagnose yourself. If a Christian is someone who says, 'Jesus is Lord – and my no.1 aim (albeit imperfectly) is to live for him'… Then what are you? Where do you stand in relation to Jesus?
I've been praying that tonight will clarify that for each of us. So let's pause and pray that again:
Lord Jesus Christ,
As we come to these words you spoke on earth, please speak to us again through them tonight.
Please show us what it means to have you as Lord, and how we need to respond to you..
In your name. Amen.
So would you turn in the Bibles to Mark chapter 8.
Where we'll see that the first step to living for Jesus as Lord is to
1. See Jesus for who he really is
Look down to v27:
This is the turning-point of Mark's Gospel, where Jesus' disciples have heard his claims and seen his miracles. And he now asks them who they think he is, v27:
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. 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." (vv27-29)
Which wasn't his surname – you wouldn't have found him under 'C' in the phone book. It was his job title:
The 'Christ' was the person God had promised in the Old Testament (OT) to send into the world to re-establish his rule.
Because the Bible says that by nature we've all rebelled against God's rule and said, 'I want to run my own life' – which explains the damage we do to ourselves and our relationships and our world. But in the OT, God promised to send his Christ to end that rebellion. And 'Christ' means much the same as Lord – the King or ruler with the absolute right to run our lives. So Peter was just beginning to see that's who Jesus was.
But v30 says:
And [Jesus] strictly charged them to tell no one about him. (v30)
Because they needed to understand much more before they could tell others what Jesus was about.
So look on to v31 – where Jesus begins to teach them lesson 2.
Lesson 1 is: that he's the Christ – the King or ruler with the absolute right to run our lives.
But then lesson 2 is: that he had to die for us.
Look on to v31:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man [which was another OT title Jesus used for himself] 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. (vv31-32)
Now most of us know the Christian message enough that that's no surprise – we know Jesus dies on the cross. Whereas to Peter, at this point, that was unimaginable. Because he expected the Christ to come and put down all the rebellion against God. He never expected the Christ to be put down, and die. Which shows he hadn't actually understood his OT. Because the OT says: there are two ways God could put down the rebellion against him. The first is simply to put down the rebels – sweep us all away in judgement, and have done with it. But the second way is to offer the rebels forgiveness and the chance to start again, with God in his rightful place.
And the OT said that second way is what God planned – but...
that for us to be forgiven, his Christ would have to die.
And, as you may have heard me say before, one of the best explanations of why is this:
Imagine the light up there stands for God.
And this hand stands for you or me.
And we were meant to live in relationship with God like that, letting him tell us how to live.
But consciously or subconsciously, we've all turned away from that, to run it our own way.
So now imagine this book stands for everything we do wrong as a result – everything God should hold against us at the end of our lives.
The question for God is: how can he forgive all that without compromising his justice?
Because if he just takes it off us, and parks it over here, what's he saying about it?
That all our wrongdoing doesn't really matter?
That it doesn't really call for his judgement?
God could never say that.
So he had to find a way of taking it off us – and yet letting out his judgement against it.
And that way was Jesus' death.
So now imagine this other hand stands for Jesus – God's Son and Christ – who became human and lived the only ever perfect life.
And listen again to how our OT reading described in advance what happened on the cross:
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on him
The iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53.6)
Ie, on the cross, Jesus faced the judgement for our sin so that on the one hand we could be forgiven – but on the other hand, justice would be done.
And that's why, in v31, Jesus said his death was a must. So look at v32:
And [Jesus] said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (v32)
And we like to think we'd never do anything as crass as that – I mean, presuming to tell Jesus the way things should be.
But in fact, Peter stands for all of us – and the natural attitude of all of us.Which is:
That I'm the centre of the universe.
And that for anything to be true or right, it must fit in with my point of view.
And that I know best.
Which is the attitude the Bible calls sin – when I make myself the centre of the universe, and push God out. And some of us here know that's how we're still living right now – you wouldn't call yourself a Christian, and you know God is not where he belongs in your life. But those of us who would call ourselves Christians need to realise that that attitude is still knocking about in us. And that we often try to have Jesus on our own terms – just like Peter.
Isn't that what was going on in the example I began with about drinking? Those guys were really saying, 'I do call Jesus 'Lord' but I've reinterpreted his definition of drunkenness so I can do what I want.' Well, Peter tried to reinterpret Jesus as a Christ who needn't die. And look at the response he got, v33:
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." (v33)
Ie, 'Peter, you're still putting yourself at the centre of the universe and making yourself the measure of all things. Whereas the reality is: God is the centre of the universe. And at the centre of his plans, he's put a cross.' And we need a total mind-change, so that we see everything from that point of view. So that, next, we'll:
2. Live for Jesus as Lord, not for self
Look down to v34:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (v34)
And 'deny yourself' doesn't mean 'deny yourself something' – like chocolate or a lie-in. It means: deny yourself the right to run your own life any longer. It means: saying 'No' to self being in charge and 'Yes' to Jesus being in charge. That's what you have to do to become a Christian. And that's what you have to keep doing every day of your life as a Christian.
So, eg, Peter didn't want Jesus to suffer and be rejected – partly because he must have worked out that following a Lord who got rejected would probably involve getting rejected himself – which he didn't want. But Jesus says to Peter and to us, 'You have to say 'Yes' to the possibility of people not liking you because of me, and 'No' to the desire for acceptance and self-protection and an easy ride.
Or take another area of life. The culture's telling us, 'Whatever sexual desires you have you should act on them – in whatever context you like.' Whereas Jesus says sex is for marriage only (and we now have to clarify that as heterosexual marriage). And he says, 'You have to say 'Yes' to trusting my design for sex and my wisdom on what it is and isn't for; and 'No' to desires that are asking to be acted on outside marriage. But why do that, when your self – in that area and many others – is crying out to be listened to?
The answer is you have to remember that God has put a cross at the centre of his plans, and that you have to see everything from that point of view.
So what does the cross say about many of our desires? It says: many of them are so wrong, so sinful, that they deserve God's judgement and, apart from Jesus, would take you to Hell. And we need to see the foolishness of saying 'Yes' to them, having been saved by the cross.
I once visited a friend called John in Sydney. And he took me to Bondai beach and showed me where one day he'd got into trouble surfing.
He was caught in a rip and was being dragged out to sea when suddenly he felt himself being grabbed by one of the Mr Universe type lifeguards and towed in.
And back on land, John thanked this guy, as you would.
And he did a few hours' sunbathing.
And then he decided to go in again.
And he was just on his way down the beach, when suddenly this voice behind him said, 'Where do you think you're going?'
And it was Mr Universe again.
And John said, 'I thought I'd go back in.'
And Mr Universe said, 'Not today you won't.
I didn't save you for you to be stupid again.'
And Jesus hasn't saved us for us to be stupid again. He calls us to see all our sinful desires from the point of view of the cross. So that instead of minimising them or excusing them, we see them as they really are, as things so serious that they took Jesus to the cross. So, we're called to:
Live for Jesus as Lord, not for self
But we're also called to:
3. Live for Jesus as Lord – not for the world
Look down to v34 again:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (v34)
And people still use that expression today. Eg, someone complains that they've got their mother-in-law staying, and a sympathiser says, 'Well, we all have our cross to bear.' But what did Jesus mean by 'take up his cross'? When people took up their cross in Jesus' day, it meant they were on their way to execution – and carrying the cross on which they were going to be put to death. Because crucifixion was how the Roman Empire got rid of its worst criminals and enemies – so you could say it was the ultimate form of rejection.
And Jesus is saying here:
'You've got to be willing to suffer some level of rejection for having me as Lord.
And for some, that will be the ultimate rejection of being put to death.'
So some of our Christian brothers and sisters have experienced that ultimate rejection at the hands of Islamists, recently – that's the extreme end of what Jesus is saying here. But going back to that example I began with about drinking: That's the other end of the spectrum – but I guess it was wanting to avoid even mild rejection that made those guys conform to the drinking culture around them.
Because just living differently for Jesus can mean getting it the neck.
Eg, I remember interviewing a guy called Patrick up front here about how he'd come to Christ. And he described his pretty alcoholic background and then came out with the off-the-cuff line that (quote), 'Being a non-Christian is like eating vegetarian food – however much you have, it never really fills you up.' And he then looked horrified by the thought of all the vegetarians he'd just offended, and tried to say conciliatory things about macaroni cheese.
But accepting Jesus as Lord changed Patrick immediately.And I remember him coming to talk to me about his friend's reactions. Because his old drinking partners basically all disowned him for his new drinking habits. And Patrick said to me, 'It's as if they all feel judged by me – and yet I haven't actually said a word to them about my faith.'
But the fact is: you only have to live for Jesus, and people will find themselves reminded of a Lord they're trying to forget. And they won't like it. And it may lose us friends. Or it may lose us marks: eg, a friend of mine was told by his theology tutor at Cambridge that he'd have got a first if he'd not written as a committed Christian. Or it may lose us jobs: eg, another friend was asked at interview whether he'd be prepared to lie for the company. And on saying, 'No, I'm a Christian,' he could tell the interview was over.
And it will certainly lose us the option of just quietly going along with things like immoral sex education in our schools, or abortion and euthanasia on demand in medicine. So, again, why do that, when no-one wants to be a loser? Well, again, the answer is: you have to remember that God has put a cross at the centre of his plans, and that you have to see everything from that point of view.
So, who put Jesus on the cross, according to v31? It was, 'The elders and the chief priests and the scribes' – some of the most able and clever leaders and opinion makers of the day.
But the most important thing to know about them is not how able or clever they were.
But that they put Jesus on the cross.
Because that shows their view of reality could not have been more wrong.
And the friends who disowned Patrick, and that anti-Christian tutor in Cambridge, and that interviewer, and the education officials and medics who are pushing their secular lines are all on the same side as those who put Jesus on the cross originally. So seeing from that point of view, why would you want to please them, or gain their acceptance? People who would crucify your Lord and Saviour. So Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Which he knows begs the question, 'Is it worth it?'
That may be your question as someone counting the cost of becoming a Christian. Or it may be your question as someone who's already a Christian, but getting weary of the cost.
So look at v35, where Jesus answers that unspoken question. 'Is it worth it?'
He says, 'Yes, v35:'
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (vv35-38)
So he's talking to the person who realises what he or she might lose through having Jesus as Lord, and who's thinking, 'I'd rather save my life from that.' And Jesus says we can save our lives from having him as Lord. But ultimately, eternally, we'll lose everything worth having.
Because v38 is talking about his second coming – what we were looking at last week. And Jesus says: if I've said 'No' to him in this life – to avoid the cost of having him as Lord – then he'll have to say 'No' to me when we finally meet – 'I can't have you in my kingdom, because you can't be part of a kingdom if you won't accept the king.'
Ie, there's a cost both ways. There is a cost to having him as Lord. But there's also a cost to not having him as Lord – which is that when things are finally wrapped up and put right, you'll be on the wrong side of him.
So we need to look back to the cross and say to ourselves,
'He's only calling me to obedience that cost me after he's done that for me.'
And we need to look forward to his return and say to ourselves,
'He's the one I ultimately want to please, and whose acceptance ultimately matters.'
Because those are the two places where we'll find the motivation we need for living for Jesus as Lord.