(Matthew 16 & 24, Mark 8, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 9)
Introduction: I love to learn new things. Bet you do too. The great thing about the Bible is that it is a bottomless source of new insights. You can look at the same simple story dozens of times and still discover something new. Our lesson this week suggests the joy of Bible learning is not enough. We are supposed to actually put this learning into practical use. It needs to change the way we live. We might even have to refuse to do something we really want to do! Does this idea apply to all of us? Would it be okay if I just kept learning new Bible things and shared them with you? Can I leave this "experience" stuff to someone else? Let's jump into our study of the Bible and find out!
- Self Denial
- Read Matthew 16:15-19. What size is Peter's head at this moment? (Very large! Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus tells Peter that God gave him that revelation and "the gates of Hades will not overcome it." I'm sure Peter looked around triumphantly at the other disciples and started to strut a bit. Peter is a messenger from God!)
- Read Mark 8:31-33 to continue this story from another gospel. Can you hear the air rushing out of Peter's large head? He goes from being a messenger of God the Father to a messenger of Satan. What, specifically, is the problem? ( Mark 8:33 tells us that Peter has in mind "the things of men" rather than the "things of God.")
- How is Peter speaking of "man things" when he said Jesus would not be killed? (We all want to succeed. We want things to go well. Peter was looking forward to Jesus setting up a glorious kingdom on earth which (as he just heard) could resist even the gates of hell. Jesus now seems to say that hell is going to do some considerable damage. It will kill Jesus.)
- Read Mark 8:34-35. What is it they have to deny themselves? Money, earthly power, glory? (It turns out that when you compare what the disciples had in mind (see Acts 1:6 & Matthew 20:20-21), with what they got, they lost out on all of these things during their life on earth.)
- What about us? Do we have to reject money, pleasure and glory to follow Jesus? (I do not recall any story in which the disciples said, "Don't give me money, don't give me glory, give me pain." But, following the mission set out for them by Jesus ended up with that result. The contrast between what they expected and what they got was huge.)
- When Jesus calls us to "take up His cross" and follow Him, what is He asking you and me to do? (Read John 3:14-15 and Numbers 21:8-9. Jesus links His crucifixion to this odd story in Numbers 21. If you put those two texts together, looking at the snake means to face your sins. Jesus faced our sins and paid the penalty for them by dying on our behalf. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, I think He is telling us to face our sins. Admit them. Die to sin.)
- Do you feel the pain of self-denial in your life when it comes to sin? (Friend, there is no sin in my life that is hard to commit! (Compare Romans 7:14-25.) The sin may end up being a train-wreck. No doubt I will ultimately wish I never even heard of this sin, but even the Bible acknowledges the "pleasures of sin for a short time." Hebrews 11:25. I think this is where the great battle for self-denial takes place. This is where self-denial is difficult.)
- How does Jesus' command that we take up our cross and deny self fit with the idea of righteousness by faith? (This is where so many Christians miss the mark. I recall one Christian, when he was describing the joy of righteousness by faith, said "a great load lifted from my shoulder. I'm free now." I understood him to mean he was free from rules. It certainly is true that he was freed from the load of earning his own salvation. But following Christ means denying self. Thankfully, Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit aids us in this struggle. But it is not always easy. "Indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory." Romans 8:17.)
- Read Mark 8:35-37. What argument is Jesus making in favor of self-denial? (Look at the big picture. You may enjoy sin for a fleeting period of time, but you will lose eternity. That trade is not worthwhile. To deny self is to gain eternity.)
- When Jesus says in Mark 8:35 that self-denial will save our life, do you think He could also be referring to our life on earth? (That is my observation. Punch beneath the surface pleasure of sin and you see all sorts of heartache.)
- Critical Judgment
- Read Matthew 24:1-2. We have been talking about self-denial. Are these verses about self-denial? (The disciples are told that their world, as they know it, will completely change.)
- Read Matthew 24:3. Why would the disciples come to Jesus privately? (Jesus has just given them the most incredible, astonishing news. Between the explosive nature of the news and the "this is hard to believe" aspect, this is something to be worked out privately.)
- Read Matthew 24:4-5. Why would anyone even be tempted to follow some other Christ? (There must be something about them that makes you want to follow. )
- Read Matthew 24:6-8. Instead of getting something good, Jesus says that something bad is coming. Why does Jesus tell us not to be alarmed? (This is a parallel to Mark 8:35. Self-denial here gets you eternal life. Before Jesus comes and gives us eternal life, we are going to go through wars, famines, earthquakes and those who attract us with false claims. Jesus says be faithful and you will get your reward.)
- Read Matthew 24:9-11. How bad will it get? (Death, persecution, hate and betrayal. This is not self-denial in the usual sense. However, our decision to follow Jesus results in harm to self.)
- Let's skip down a few verses. Read Matthew 24:37-39. Is there anything wrong with eating, drinking and marrying? (No. The problem is that they "knew nothing." Noah was preaching to them. See 2 Peter 2:5. The problem was they were focused on the things of life rather than the things of God.)
- Read Matthew 24:40-41. What point about self-denial is being made in these verses? What point about critical thinking is made in these verses? Aren't these people doing exactly the same thing, yet one is saved and the other lost? (You can have the same kind of job as an unbeliever. The question is what is the course of your life? Are you denying self? Are you facing your sin? Are you trusting in Jesus? Are you paying attention to the gospel, rather than to television, so that you are not deceived?)
- The Attitude
- Read Matthew 24:42-43. We are told to watch. What are we to be watching? If someone sent me to be a look out on a boat, my first question would be "What am I watching for? Dolphins? Icebergs? Submarines? Fish jumping?
- If you say, "Watching for Jesus," why does Jesus compare His coming to a thief trying to steal our stuff?
- Jesus is coming to give us eternal life! Why throw in the idea of us losing something? (This is a powerful argument against the "once saved always saved" view. It is unlikely Jesus would compare Himself to a thief. Instead, the thief is Satan who wants to break into "your house" and steal your salvation. If you doubt this, read Matthew 24:50-51.)
- Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Paul compares the Christian life to a training for a race. I have a friend who, as far as I can tell, has no relationship with any group of believers. He attended a Christian college. His attitude is that all he needed to learn about God he learned when he was in college. Is my friend in constant training? Are you in constant training?
- Notice 1 Corinthians 9:27. What is the downside to not training? (Being disqualified for the prize of eternal life!)
- Friend, I confess I do not know where God draws the line when it comes to assurance of salvation. My belief is that salvation is not something you slide in or out of on a minute by minute, day by day or even week by week basis. On the other hand, I think the Bible is clear that it is not a "once for all times" thing either. Instead, the life of the disciple is a constant effort to understand and do the will of God. We are called to put our understanding of God into practical use. This means facing our sins. Denying self. Turning away from the pleasures of sin. As Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 9:27), we are to beat our body to make it our slave, and not the other way around. Will you commit to getting into spiritual training - starting today?
- Next week: Following the Master: Discipleship in Action.