The events of this week have got many people asking themselves tough questions about life and death. I heard one man talking. He said he would have died if he'd been at his desk in the World Trade Centre. But he was late for work because he took his daughter to Kindergarten, so he escaped. He said that the whole way he looked at life had been turned upside down. Material success no longer mattered. Unlike many of his colleagues, he would be able to kiss his children at bedtime tonight. His thinking about how to live his life is being completely reshaped.
So it seems fitting that I'm going to talk this evening about 'How to Live'. If you look on the back of the service sheet you'll see that title on my outline. If you're just starting as a student, then it's an issue that you can't avoid. But this is not just an issue for students, of course. None of us can avoid it.
But why should you be the remotest bit interested in my views on how to live? No reason at all. That's why I want us to look at the reading that we heard earlier, because the Bible is God's word.
Surely now is a time for listening to what God has to say. He is the one who speaks the truth. And when we pay attention to what the Bible has to say, we're listening to the voice of God.
If it's a new idea to you that the Bible is the word of God and you want to know why we're convinced that it is, here's what you can do: join a small group here where the Bible is studied and ask; and keep coming to these Sunday evenings because we'll be going over some of the basics of the Christian faith and we're going to be addressing that particular.
So what's God's view on how to live? Well, could you please get the Bibles open in front of you at that reading: Mark 8.27 – 9.1. You might need to share.
Now what the Bible has to say about how to live centres on Jesus, so I want us to try and understand this passage by asking the three questions that are there on the outline: First, what do you know about Jesus? Secondly, what are you going to do with your life? And thirdly, how are you going to live your life?
First, WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT JESUS?
Take a look at that first paragraph headed 'Peter's confession of Christ'. What's going on here? We're picking up this account of the life and death of Jesus at a turning point. After thirty years of obscurity, Jesus went public with his message, backed it up with an astounding series of healings and miracles, and gathered a group of followers.
At this point Jesus has obviously decided that they've seen enough to be able to make up their minds about him. So he draws them into a discussion. Listen to what happens. This is 8.27:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Ceaserea 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.'
John the Baptist had been summarily executed for daring to criticise Herod. Some people thought Jesus was John back from the dead. Others were expecting the appearance of a prophet who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, and they thought Jesus was that prophet.
There were two other theories going around, which perhaps understandably the disciples omit to mention: some thought he was off his rocker; others that he was Satanic.
So what have you heard people say about Jesus? Do they say that he was a fine moral teacher but no more? Those who think that can't have read what Jesus actually said about himself. Do they say that he was a just a good man? Or that he was God and man? Or do many people just not think about him at all? 'Who do people say I am?' That's Jesus's question to this generation as well.
But then Jesus turned his attention to his followers. Verse 29:
'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?'
They can't hide behind other peoples' views now. They're on the spot.
Peter answered, 'You are the Christ.'
What does that mean? The Christ is the prophecied Messiah – the King promised by God to overthrow the enemies of God's people and to bring God's people into his everlasting kingdom.
Peter has been watching Jesus' every move and listening to his every word for a couple of years. And he's begun to realise just whose company he's been keeping. He hasn't got the whole picture. That's why Jesus tells them all not to go blabbing about him. There's more they need to take on board first.
So then Jesus gives them his own perspective on what he's about (v31):
[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man [that's him] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…
This is not the kind of Messiah that Peter, for one, was expecting. Jesus agrees that he's the Messiah. But how's he going to bring in his Kingdom? By dying at the hands of his enemies. Why?
Another of those who escaped from high up in one of the blazing twin towers described how, as he was desperately making his way down floor by floor, firefighters were climbing up the stairs. He expressed his admiration for them. Many of them died in that vain attempt to save those trapped at the top.
The death of Jesus was not going to be futile. Jesus said later that he would die 'to give his life as a ransom for many'. In other words, his death would be the price that had to be paid so that we could escape eternal death and hell and find forgiveness and eternal life.
But Jesus said that he wouldn't stay dead. He would be raised from death to live for ever. He would defeat death itself. And that would be God's proof that Jesus really was the Saviour and Lord of the world.
That's who Jesus said that he was.
And then the question comes round to you and to me. Who do you say that Jesus is? Because what you do with your life will be formed by your answer to that question. So that leads us on to the second big question:
Secondly, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
If you think Jesus can be safely ignored, then you will decide what to do with your life without any reference to him. If that's you, then I would simply say to you: Please think again. Take a closer look. If you're a student, come along to a Just Looking group. If you're not, come to Food for Thought. The leaflets are in the packs and on the Welcome Desk. Because the conclusion that Jesus can safely be ignored simply cannot bear the weight of the facts. See for yourself.
But what if you know Jesus can't be ignored? Are you clear in your own mind that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again? Because if we believe that, then we've got to be quite clear what that means for our lives. You can't believe in Jesus and then live your life as if you didn't.
Just look at verse 34:
Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said…
Do you see those two kinds of people around Jesus? There's the crowd who hang around Jesus because he's so charismatic. They want to get a piece of him. But they've got him safely at arm's length. Then there are the disciples. Where Jesus goes, they go. They muck up, of course. But their lives are not their own any more. They belong to Jesus.
So what Jesus does now is effectively to say to the disciples, 'Do you realise what you're letting yourself in for? You can't play at being a Christian. Be consistent. Give me everything. You won't regret it.'
And it's as if Jesus says to those in the crowd, 'I will not be your plaything. I will not be the mascot hanging from your rear view mirror. Give me everything. You won't regret it.'
So Jesus calls them to him – and look at what he says (verse 34):
'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?…'
Do you see the two radically different options that Jesus lays out there – two different ways that you can go with your life? First, you can live for yourself. Secondly, you can live for Jesus.
You can live for yourself by pleasing yourself, by promoting your own interests, and by accumulating your own wealth.
Or you can live for Jesus. You can live to please him, to promote his glory, and to give the whole of your life as a thank-you present to him.
Which is it to be? Every now and again we come up to major turning points. We're being told at the moment that maybe the whole world is at a turning point in the aftermath of the carnage in the USA. What is true is that Jesus's claims are universal. The whole world has to decide whether to live for itself or bow the knee before Jesus as its only Lord and Saviour.
But turning points come to us individually as well. If you're just starting at University or College, then you are at a very definite turning point. The direction that you go now will mark your life. Which is it to be? Are you going to live for yourself (even if it is with a veneer of Christianity)? Or are you going to live all out for Jesus, as he is calling you to do?
What are you going to do with your life? That's what you've got to settle. But then there is that third question:
Thirdly, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO LIVE YOUR LIFE?
That second question is the big picture question: Where are you heading? Now we get down to the nitty-gritty: How are you going to get there? What kind of person are you going to be - on your course, at work, at school, with the people you live with? This is all about the outworking of that choice to live for yourself or to live for Jesus. Take a look at the rest of what Jesus says here. From verse 36 again:
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man [that's Jesus] will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.' And he said to them, 'I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.'
What are the implications of what Jesus is saying? Here are three. First, living for yourself is easy. Secondly, living for Jesus is hard. And thirdly, living for Jesus is abundant life.
So first, living for yourself is easy.
It's the opposite of denying yourself and taking up your cross. We don't have to be taught how to make things comfortable for ourselves and indulge our own self-centred desires. It comes naturally to us.
What is more, living for yourself has an immediate pay-back. If you go with the flow, you avoid all the effort of having to struggle against the flow. If you take the path of least resistance, then you don't find yourself in situations of potential conflict. If you just do what you want, then your desires are gratified, and it feels good.
It doesn't always work, though. Sometimes our plans to give ourselves a good time immediately backfire. And the gratification can be frustratingly short-term, so the need to seek further gratification comes round again very quickly. But Jesus doesn't deny that self-centred living can have an immediate pay-back. If things really go your way, you might even gain the whole world. Everything you ever imagined getting in your wildest dreams might come your way.
But there is a downside. And it is this. Living for ourselves has catastrophic long-term consequences, for others and for us. Getting caught up in what Jesus calls 'this adulterous and sinful generation' can end up being excruciating even now. Just think about the people you know, or look at your own life. The guilt, shame, damaged and broken relationships and general mess of our lives can generally be traced back directly to some defiance of God's will. The gratification wears off and the pain remains.
And it only gets worse. Because the truth is we really are accountable to God. Jesus will be our judge one day. And if we've chosen a life with ourselves at the centre and without
God, then that is what he will give us. And that will be eternal death. We will forfeit our souls. We will lose our lives. If we disown Christ now, he will disown us then.
So living for yourself is easy. It comes naturally. At times, it has as immediate (if short-term) payback. But it is catastrophic.
Secondly, though, we have to face the fact that living for Jesus is hard.
It means abandoning sinful selfishness. 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross…' That doesn't just mean that every now and then you have to delay the purchase of that designer garment for a few weeks. Denying yourself means displacing yourself from the number one spot in your life. If you're going to follow Jesus, then you will cease to be the centre of your existence. He will be.
And one result of that will be that you'll be openly identified as belonging to Jesus and also to this rabble that makes up his church. We won't be able to keep quiet about our faith in Christ. In some parts of the world the price of that is high. Jesus is not exaggerating when he speaks of losing your life for him and for the gospel. Many Christians literally lose their lives because they refuse to make their faith in Jesus a merely private matter. In this country at the moment the worst we have to face is misinformation, lies, anti-Christian propaganda and hostility. But if we're ashamed of Jesus, one day he will be ashamed of us.
So living for Jesus will mean following the voice of Jesus whereever he leads. We can't put up any 'keep off' signs in our lives. If he says to us 'go', we must go. If he says 'stop', we must stop. And that can be tough. Living for Jesus is hard.
But, thirdly and finally, living for Jesus is abundant life.
Should we live for Jesus? Well, do we really have any choice in the matter? After all, Jesus is our Saviour and our rightful Lord. How can we not live for him? And when we do, we find true and lasting joy and peace and hope.
We don't just take up our cross, we follow Jesus. And that means sticking close to him. In other words, he's always right there. And nothing can tear him away from us. That's security.
What is more, we find ourselves swept up in the power of Christ's kingdom. Whatever precisely Jesus meant when he said that some of them there would not taste death until they'd seen the kingdom of God come with power, what is clear from that is that God's power is at work. And the church is like the lightning conductor that conveys the power of the gospel to the world. Being part of it makes for an exciting life, whatever the hardships.
So if we live for Jesus, we have the presence of Jesus, and the power of Jesus at work in our lives. But that is not all. We also have the promise of Jesus. We have everything to look forward to. Jesus will save our lives. Eternal life lies ahead of us. And when we come before Jesus to give account, he will not be ashamed of us, because he will know that we belong to him.
If we live for Jesus, life is not easy. But it is full of the presence and the power and the promise of Jesus. And that is abundant life.
When you're at a turning point in your life, the question of how you should live is inescapable. That's certainly true if you're just starting as a student. But the shock of what has happened in the USA has forced the question on all of us.
The Bible's answer is God's answer. And the Bible's answer is centred on Jesus. So what do we know about Jesus? He is the Saviour. He is the Lord. How, then, should we live? We should not live for ourselves. We should live for him.
Is that what you're going to do?