Jesus Teaches Discipleship

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 2
February 28, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Jesus understood our need for instruction. He offers himself as a model and teacher. But are we willing to follow someone who tells us we must "lose our life"?

Jesus is having a bad day. Who can blame him?

He knows what lies ahead in Jerusalem. He's headed for death. And in those days, prisoners on death row didn't get a last wish, a last meal or a "last" of anything except a last breath. Condemned persons didn't die quickly. They were staring at a slow and painful execution on a cross.

In the scripture text, Jesus is aware of this: "Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed ...."

This is followed by eight additional words, more encouraging: "and after three days, rise from the dead." But notice that Jesus gives the dying part more coverage.

You might think he'd deemphasize dying and stress the resurrection part. "Hey, disciples, yes, I'm going to die in Jerusalem, but don't worry! After three days in the ground, something amazing is going to happen. I will be with you again. No worries!"

But Jesus doesn't do this. Instead, he shocks his disciples by talking about death, and finally, Peter has had enough of it and rebukes him.

Then Jesus - he's a little on edge now - basically calls Peter the spawn of Satan.


Mark tells us that Jesus then turns to address not only his disciples, but the crowd. He tells them his requirements for becoming a student of a master teacher.

Perhaps you've seen those Facebook ads posted by Master Class1:

And so on.

But Jesus teaches discipleship.

In the Roman-Greco world, a teacher-pupil dynamic was not uncommon. Often, the master and students existed as a sort of peripatetic duo, wandering around, chatting about everything from soup to nuts - a university without walls, as it were.

So, Jesus, too, had his "school" and like many of the masters, it was a peripatetic one as well. Many people were eager to join him on the road. Think of the "rich young ruler." He and others were interested in Jesus' teachings. They wanted to become his pupils. It was not uncommon for people to call Jesus Rabbi or Teacher. Remember Nicodemus?

Even the enemies of Jesus respected his learning. His opponents were aware of his prodigious intellect and his uncanny ability to think on his feet.

So in this text, the crowd is about to hear what Jesus requires of those applying to his "school" - before being accepted as learners, or disciples.

What does Jesus offer?

Not much - except death. "He ... said to them, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."


So what do we do with this?

Let's talk about following . Is this really what we want?

It's a good question to ask, because many people prefer to lead rather than follow. Granted, some have no problem as a follower. They don't mind being in the background, imitating, learning and supporting. If this describes you, fine. You may tune out for a moment until I get to the next point.

But if following is hard for you, if you find it irritating to be a listener instead of a speaker, if you're more comfortable leading instead of following, then submitting to Jesus as your teacher and Savior could be a difficult experience for you.

There's a common expression in the Hispanic cultures: Vaya con Dios . Go with God. Another good thought is, Que Dios te acompañe . May God be with you. Both expressions offer good ideas, but the first contains a semantic nuance worth remembering. In our prayers, we often pray as though we are asking God to go with us - to bless, agree with, sanctify and ratify all the plans we have made. After we've laid out our plans, dreams and goals, we then pray, "O God, go with me," Dios, vaya conmigo .

It's more appropriate to pray: "God, wherever you are going, I want to go, too. I want to be within your will. Show me the way. I will follow."

This text inspired Earnest W. Blandy to write the well-known hymn, "Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow." The chorus stresses the hymn's theme:

Where he leads me, I will follow,
Where he leads me, I will follow,
Where he leads me, I will follow,
I'll go with you, with you, all the way.

Blandy was a Salvation Army officer settled in a comfortable post. Then he was asked to go to the New York City slum called Hell's Kitchen.

What to do? He went to Hell's Kitchen, and wrote the lyrics to this hymn.2 But when he writes, "I'll go with you, with you, all the way," what may not be clear is that "all the way" actually means "all the way - to the cross."

So, this is the first matter we must face when responding to this text in Mark. We have to decide, once and for all, do we really want to do this? Are we willing to go "all the way" to the cross?

Denial and death

Let's say you've decided yes - you are willing to follow Jesus.

So let's talk about denial and death. The good news is that our decision will probably not cost us our lives in a physical sense. At least not if we live in the United States or in any area that sociologists call the first world. We're not likely to die because we're following Jesus. We're more likely to die by falling off our roller blades, an encounter with a rogue lawnmower or by constipation.3

But the death to which Jesus calls us can be painful. Jesus asks us to deny ourselves.

This is not too attractive. It's surprising that Peter didn't take Jesus aside again to say something like, "Uh, Jesus, you might want to tone down the death and dying rhetoric. This talk about taking up a cross is not exactly a come-on."

Two things. First, what Jesus is asking us to do is to exchange positions . Instead of living an ego-centric life, we will choose to live a Christo-centric life. And second, this exchange is completely voluntary. We choose to bear the cross. This cross has nothing to do with a medical diagnosis, your children who cannot seem to find their way or a spouse who is becoming hard to live with. These are hard things to face. No question. But they're a part of your life whether you choose to follow Jesus or not. You have to face them.

The death and denial to which Jesus refers is a voluntary embrace of anything that subdues and diminishes what the apostle Paul calls our "old self." Go home today and read Romans 6:1-16 and notice the death and crucifixion imagery it contains. Or, recall Paul's words to the Galatian churches: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."4

On another occasion Paul wrote, "I die every day!"5 To the Philippians believers, he claimed that "living is Christ and dying is gain."6 According to Luke's gospel, this is a daily ritual: "Then he said to them all, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."7

Examples of this kind of self-mortification do not include the self-flagellation like that practiced by some medieval monks. It is not about self-mutilation or self-humiliation - nor anything like that. It's less about abasing oneself than it is about lifting up Jesus and promoting the welfare and well-being of others.

These are examples. When you can achieve this, you've probably mastered self-denial. Jesus teaches self-denial .


According to Jesus, there's a huge benefit that accrues to us when we follow Jesus: We get a life .

When we follow Jesus without reservation, the life we save may be our own. As Jesus says in today's text, "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?"

This is one of the paradoxes of our faith: In losing our life, we save it.

There are other paradoxes, of course. When we are weak, then we are strong.8 The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of mortals.9 God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.10 The meek shall inherit the earth, not the aggressive or strong. God favors the poor, not the rich. We are great when we are small. And so on. Paradox is so integral to Christianity, that one could argue that without paradox, there is no Christianity.11

And now this one: We live by dying .

When we obey Jesus' call to take up our cross and follow him - suddenly, the confusing miasma we call life coalesces into a meaningful pattern, one of purpose and design.

On the path of discipleship, we find our true selves. We become fully human and fully alive in a way we have never experienced before. Jesus teaches living.

But we must follow Jesus. And if you're not sure how, then try to imagine what Jesus would do. This may sound trite, but it has the ring of truth. What would Jesus do?

As this becomes our practice, something astonishing will happen. We may not recognize it in ourselves, but others will notice that we're becoming more like Christ. And this is the goal, of course: To be formed in the image of Christ. To be little Christs.

In other words, to be a Christian.