Service and Sacrifice
Read Mark 8:34-36 (ESV)
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 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?”
How is Jesus’ teaching about service and self-sacrifice counter-cultural?
We live in a culture that says “Live your best life,” “Follow your heart,” “Do you,” “Live your truth,” “Love yourself,” “Whatever makes you happy,” etc. Notice the focus? Self, self, self.
But in the Gospel of Mark, we see that isn’t at all what Jesus said and it certainly isn’t how Jesus lived. Mark’s Gospel is the second book in the New Testament but it is believed that Mark was the first Gospel account written down, probably around 55-65 A.D. It is the shortest of the four Gospels. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in action. Mark focused more on what Jesus did than on what Jesus said. When he described the teachings of Jesus, those teachings go hand in hand with Jesus’ works to show that He had the power and the authority to make the claims He made. He was King, yes, but He was a Servant King.
We learned yesterday that Matthew was directed to a Jewish audience. Mark, however, was written more with Gentiles in mind and was likely written in Rome. Mark didn’t include things like long genealogies or as many references to the Law and prophets. Those things wouldn’t have been as relevant and may not have even made sense to people who weren’t Jewish. Mark wanted to show his readers who Jesus was and why He came: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
We are introduced to Mark (often referred to as John Mark) in Acts 12:12. In Acts 12:25, we read that Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas (Mark’s cousin) on a missionary journey. But in Acts 13:13, he leaves them and goes back to Jerusalem. We don’t exactly know why he deserted the mission, but we do know from Acts 15:36-40 that this caused a rift and a split between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take Mark on the next leg of the mission but Paul likely felt that they could no longer trust him. Eventually, they all did reconcile. I find this detail about John Mark really encouraging. He wasn’t perfect, he made big mistakes, and yet the Lord used him to write an account that would still point people to the person and work of Christ thousands of years later!
Mark was not one of the twelve, but he was closely associated with them, especially with Peter. It was Peter who served as Mark’s primary source and eyewitness of all that Mark recorded. Mark demonstrated that Jesus, the Son of Man, came to serve and to sacrifice. Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing the way, Jesus’ baptism, His temptation by Satan, and His calling of the disciples. The first ten chapters of Mark record the works and teaching of Jesus in Galilee and Judea. These works demonstrated Jesus’ authority over everything from sickness, to demons, and the natural world. He healed those who were sick, lepers, disabled, and paralyzed. He calmed a storm. He raised a girl from the dead. He fed thousands of people with very little food. Jesus served.
In chapters 11-16, Mark switches the focus on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. He recorded how Jesus was rejected by those He came to save, was crucified, died, and was buried. Mark also recorded details that demonstrated Jesus’ humanity more than the other Gospel writers. He recorded Jesus’ emotions such as pity (1:41), grief and anger (3:5), compassion (8:4), and frustration (8:12, 10:14). He also highlighted Jesus’ human limitations. In Mark 4:38, Jesus was asleep. In Mark 11:12, He was hungry. Mark wanted the readers to understand that the Son of God was fully human. In great humility and at great personal cost, Jesus gave up heaven to come to earth to serve, sacrifice, and suffer in order to save us. But by the end of Mark’s account, Jesus was restored to glory in His resurrection and ascension.
In today’s verses, Jesus makes it clear that He expects His followers to do as He did. He came to serve and sacrifice. He denied Himself in order to offer salvation to all of mankind. He didn’t look to His own interests but to the interests of everyone else. If we are going to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses as well. As Christians, our lives shouldn’t be about ourselves. Like our Suffering Servant, we should be willing to sacrifice and lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel. Friends, it is worthless to gain the whole world only to lose your soul! Jesus said that if you want to save your life, lose it for His sake.
Lord, I confess that I often live my life as if the world revolves around me. Please forgive me. Help me to take up my cross, deny myself, and be willing to serve, suffer, and sacrifice for Your sake and the sake of the Gospel. I don’t want to gain the whole world but lose my soul. I know that one day, it will be more than worth it! Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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