The weighty demands of discipleship
It’s always a joy to gather together on these family Sundays with all the kids; with really our entire church family. Now, it’s probably going to be a little bit louder in here this morning with kids rustling around, that’s okay. That doesn’t bother me at all, don’t let it bother you.
Now, kids, I typically preach for about 40 minutes on a Sunday morning. Today, I’m shooting for about 30 minutes so I’d love for you to stay locked in. Open your Bibles with all of us if you haven’t done so yet. Parents, help them find Mark 9. We want to read through the passage with our own eyes. Take notes, underline things in your Bible. Ask questions as you read and do the work with your parents of digging in and seeking to understand what God is saying to us through His Word.
This is how he speaks to us.
And so, let’s engage together with God this morning, Bibles open in our laps, ready to hear from Him and listen to what He says, and hearts eager to obey out of love and joy for who he is.
And for all of this, we need His help. So, let’s pray and ask God to help us hear from him and respond to him.
Now, let’s just get it out in the open here. This passage is a hard text. Jesus uses some pretty extreme language to emphasize a very important point.
I mean, Jesus is talking about having a stone hung around someone’s neck and thrown into the sea which would cause them to drown. He’s talking about cutting off hands, and feet. Plucking out eyes. He’s talking about the horrors of Hell. These are not easy things to hear and not typically what we think of when we think of Jesus’ teaching.
We much rather prefer Jesus’ teaching of, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I’ll give you rest.” We like it when he’s healing people and forgiving sin, and showing compassion to the crowds.
So, what’s up with throwing people into the sea and cutting off body parts, and all this talk about Hell?
We desperately need this text though. We need the grittiness of this text to rub against us. Like sandpaper rubs against the coarseness of a piece of wood to smooth it and shape it, that’s what Jesus is seeking to do here.
He’s using extreme language, radical language to cut through the noise and distraction of life to get us to hear something incredibly important and life-changing.
We’re no strangers to exaggerated language. What do kids typically say when they’re hungry? “I’m starving!” On a family vacation when you’re driving on the road and have been for a few hours, what are things your kids are saying from the back seat? “This is taking forever!” “We’re never going to get there!”
This is exaggerated language that we use and hear. We’re using intense language to try and emphasize what we’re feeling inside. The difference though is that exaggeration is language that’s regarded as larger, better, or worse than reality. Meaning, when we say, “I’m starving.” You’re not really starving. You’re hungry, but you’re not starving. The family vacation isn’t literally taking “forever” to get there. That’s exaggeration. And we might be tempted to think that’s what Jesus is doing here, but he’s not.
Jesus isn’t exaggerating. He’s seeking to use intense, weighty, or radical language to emphasize an actual reality. So, though he’s not speaking literally, meaning, he’s not literally saying we should cut off our hands, feet, or eyes if they cause us to sin, he is saying that sin is that serious and should be met with a serious response.
I said just a minute ago that we desperately need this text. Why? Because the problem we face is that we so often really don’t take Jesus seriously. We don’t take sin seriously. We don’t take God’s Word seriously.
We flirt with sin. We deceive ourselves into thinking we can control it on our own. We hide it. We don’t live in open, honest, transparent, gospel-centered community with others to help us battle against the flesh. We so often really do not follow Jesus as he calls us to.
This teaching began back in Mark 8. Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus immediately begins to teach of his impending suffering and death. The disciples don’t like what they’re hearing. They don’t want to suffer. They don’t want Jesus to suffer. But Jesus says, this is what following me will mean.
Mark 8:34 (ESV)
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
If you’re going to follow Jesus it means you are dying to yourself and taking up your cross daily. Ready to suffer, desiring to center your entire life around the glory of Christ. He is uppermost in your heart, thoughts, and affection and the fruit of your life reveals this to be true.
For the last chapter Jesus has been teaching what discipleship truly looks like.
In Mark 9:1-13 we follow a glorious King of kings. The true Savior of the world. The fulfillment of all the law and prophets.
In Mark 9:14-29 a true disciple rests in the power of God, not in themselves.
In Mark 9:33-41 a true disciple doesn’t seek to elevate themselves over others but instead put others first and finds true greatness in serving.
And here we are in verses 42-50 seeing that,
True discipleship requires radical devotion.
Jesus is calling us all to a higher view of discipleship. A higher view of God’s glory and holiness. A weightier view of the utter destructiveness of sin and an appropriate response to it. Jesus’ call to discipleship demands weighty things from us.
So, we’re going to look at three demands of discipleship from Mark 9.
Discipleship demands integrity
Discipleship demands integrity
Look at verse 42.
Mark 9:42 (ESV)
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
The word, “sin” here could also be translated as “to make someone stumble, or fall away.”
Jesus here, is speaking to the twelve disciples. These are the ones that He would send into the world to preach and proclaim the gospel. The apostles would become the foundation of the church of Christ [Eph. 2:20], with Jesus being the cornerstone that holds it all together.
And so, this is a high demand to all those who are called to lead in God’s church. Elders and deacons must lead and serve with integrity. And where they fail or fall short, and listen, leaders will fall short but the fruit of a leader who walks in integrity is that in their falling it’s met with confession and repentance. That’s integrity.
Far too many people within the church, and I’m speaking regarding the global church, far too many have been wounded, hurt, alienated, or abused by those in leadership who use their God-given authority not to lead and shepherd and serve but to abuse, dominate, or take advantage of those they’re called to care for. And this is the pattern in their life. This is what they’re known for. They want control. And far too many people have abandoned the church because of a lack of integrity within the leadership.
And so, instead of confession and repentance, there’s blame-shifting and excuse-making. This is a high demand of those called to lead but it doesn’t just apply to those in leadership.
All disciples of Jesus are called to walk in integrity. And just as poor leadership can cause a new or immature believer to stumble or fall away from pursuing Jesus, so can hypocritical living amongst people who claim to follow Christ.
A church can plaster whatever mission statement they want on their front doors about loving God and loving people, serving others, making disciples, finding joy, but if someone walks in looking for help, looking for answers, looking for hope, looking for community, looking for something different than what the world has to offer and all they discover is a group of people living more like the world rather than living as sold-out followers of Jesus then they’re not going to be drawn to the beauty of knowing Christ. They’ll simply fall away.
Listen, the aim of our lives as Christ-followers is perfection, is holiness, is Christ-likeness. Your life must be moving in that direction.
Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
1 Peter 1:15–16 (ESV)
but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
And if you’re reaction to that statement is, “I can’t do that!” Good. That’s why we need the cross, it’s why we need Christ and his life and death.
Integrity doesn’t mean we never make a mistake it means we own up to our mistakes and plead the blood of Christ.
This is the hope of the gospel. Where we fall short, Christ is sufficient but at the same time don’t let the sufficiency of Christ tempt you to think you don’t need to pursue a life of integrity because Jesus will just forgive me each time I mess up so I don’t need to really work toward this. That’s a misunderstanding of discipleship. A misunderstanding of the gospel.
Number two. Let’s press this point even further. Let the grittiness of the text keep doing its work.
Discipleship demands holiness
Discipleship demands holiness
Mark 9:43–48 (ESV)
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Again, Jesus is using extreme language to emphasize a very serious point. We MUST take sin and a pursuit of holiness seriously.
In 2003, a mountaineer by the name of Aron Ralston was doing a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah when a boulder dislodged pinning his right wrist against the canyon wall. For five days he tried to get free but nobody knew where he was because he didn’t tell anybody where he was going. He had no more water, no more food, he knew if he stayed there he wasn’t going to make it.
And so, with a dull pocketknife, and I’ll be careful since the kids are in here. He did what he had to do to get his arm free. And he’s alive today because of that extreme action.
Now, all of us would admit that what Aron did was radical, was extreme, but nobody would say that wasn’t what he needed to do to get free. We’d say, he did exactly what he needed to do to get free. A serious situation called for a serious response.
That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Sin is serious and must be met with a serious response.
Jesus references the hand, the foot, the eye. The hand represents what we do. The foot, where we go. The eyes, what we see. Jesus is talking about the totality of our lives. Every last bit of it belongs to him and is to be used to bring glory to the name of Christ.
And so he not talking about physical mutilation, but as one author said, “spiritual mortification.” Meaning we remove anything in our life that deters us from affection for and pursuit of Christ. We remove anything in our life that tempts us toward sin. Why? Because sin will destroy you.
It’s what sin does. It’s what the enemy does. He seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.
Jesus is saying, “Hear me!” It is better to endure on this earth a healthy self-denial, the removal of a hand, a foot, an eye and to enter into the Kingdom of God through Christ than to go bearing your sin, your unrepentant sin all the way to an eternal hell, a place of utter spiritual ruin, a place of eternal torment. Hell, as horrific as it is, is an appropriate response to the belittlement of God’s Name.
This demand for holiness is a command to obedience. And the pursuit of holiness is nothing short than a zealous desire to conform to the nature and character of God; to be more like Jesus.
And if your response to this demand is I can’t defeat sin on my own, you’re correct which is why Christ has already defeated it for you. If you are in Christ, you are not under the dominion and reign of sin.
Romans 6:6–14 (ESV)
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Stop walking in defeat and start walking in obedience.
Jerry Bridges in his masterful work, “The Pursuit of Holiness” said,
“We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin's reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and rest in God's provision will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”
Or this from Charles Spurgeon.
“Salvation is, in short, deliverance from sin, deliverance from the guilt of it, from the punishment of it, from the power of it. If, then, any man is saved, he is delivered from the reigning power of sin. It is not possible, therefore, that any man should have salvation, and yet continue in the indulgence of sin. Jesus Christ came to open a hospital for sin-sick souls, not that they might remain sick in a hospital, but might go out of it healed.”
A true disciple of Jesus is going to, by the power of Christ pursue holiness and put anything to death that stands in the way.
And so, what is it in your life that needs to be cut off so that you might pursue holiness?
Lastly, number three.
Discipleship demands sacrifice
Discipleship demands sacrifice
Mark 9:49–50 (ESV)
For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Now, what’s Jesus saying? I think he’s coming back to the theme of suffering. Just as Jesus suffered, so will those who follow him. Following Jesus requires sacrifice. To stand upon the truth and light of God’s Word in the midst of darkness means that it will bring reproach from a hostile world. Everyone will be salted with fire, with trials. Be ready. Don’t look to escape that.
But what’s he saying in that final verse about salt?
There’s an old Jewish saying, “The world cannot survive without salt.” Salt was essential to Jewish life. It kept food from rotting. It was a preservative. And so, yes in this way, salt is good. But what’s he mean, if salt loses its saltiness?
Salt is stable. It doesn’t ever lose its salty property. So, in one way Jesus is saying, if you truly are a disciple, you will, by God’s grace remain so. And you will continue to be a preserving influence in a decaying world as we live as followers of a good and sovereign King. This is what the church is. We are outposts of the Kingdom. In the way that we live and love and serve and give we show the world a better way, a counter-cultural way of life which lines up with how our Creator has designed us to be which leads to human flourishing.
And so, in the way that we live, in how we suffer, in how we sacrifice, in how we love one another it shows the world the goodness of King Jesus and we then call others to come and live under his good reign and rule.
But Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness, it becomes worthless. You see salt, on its own was good and was a preservative. But if salt became mixed with another property, as would often happen in this time, it was worthless and would actually damage what it was meant to preserve.
And so Jesus is saying to his disciples, don’t become mixed up with the world. If you do, you’ll lose your effectiveness and persevering impact in the world. This is exactly what he’s saying because what’s he say next? Be at peace with one another.
What had just taken place back in verses 33-37? The disciples were arguing with one another about who would be the greatest among them. And Jesus says don’t get mixed up with the worlds view of greatness but instead be a servant. e at peace with one another. That’s where true greatness is found.
When the church looks more like the culture rather than Christ we lose our preserving impact in a decaying world.
When we refuse to suffer. When we refuse to sacrifice. When we fight and bicker amongst ourselves, when comfort and self is king all we end up doing is reflecting the world right back to itself. We no longer are a counter-cultural people, an outpost of the kingdom seeking to bring new life to a people dead in sin.
In this case, Jesus says I have no use for you.
I don’t think I need to convince anyone in here that we are living in a world wrought with decay.
That reality doesn’t anger me. It saddens me.
What angers me is that it doesn’t seem like the church is having a preserving impact in the culture but that the church tends to look more like the world rather than like Christ. And because of that the world continues to decay. And we’re good at pointing our fingers at the world and complaining about how messed up it is. But we really should be saying, “let’s get out there and be in the world but not of it.”
Let me bring it closer to home here. Has our surrounding community gotten better or worse in the 60 years that Calvary Baptist Church has been in existence? If we closed the doors today, would our neighborhood even notice? And what I mean by that is would it be affected by it? (Block Party)
What about your own neighborhood? How are you revealing the glory and goodness of King Jesus to your neighbors?
Parents, let me press you here. When your kids graduate and move out what will they say when they look back that had priority in your home? What was the one thing that mattered? What was the one thing that nothing interfered with?
Will they say Jesus was primary? Jesus was uppermost. The gathering of God’s people to make much of Jesus and live as citizens of the Kingdom is what reigned supreme. Will they see God’s church, His Bride as essential to their lives, as a necessary component in the pursuit of holiness? Or will Jesus and his church be seen as merely an add on to whenever it fits in their schedule?
Brothers and sisters, when we look back over our time as members of this local church what will we say was primary? Will it be the glory of Christ? Will it be our commitment to gathering with God’s people? The gospel to the unreached? To raise up leaders to go and plant churches? To multiply and further the Kingdom of God? To pursue holiness together and take great risks to further the name of Christ? These are the weighty demands of discipleship.
God help us to be the disciples Jesus has called us to be; to take seriously the call of Christ in our lives.