“Jesus Doesn’t Want Us to Just See Him – He Wants Us to Follow Him!”

Posted: June 17, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
Good morning! I thought we’d start off this morning with a few statistics! Yay, right? Come on, now. Three out of five students surveyed on the internet claimed to love statistics. That’s like…80% of them. And since everything on the internet is true, that means that most of you must love statistics too, right? Hey- don’t knock my math skills. I  can math good!

You know who really does love statistics? The Barna Group. The Barna Group is a research and resource company widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. They like to take polls and crunch numbers. They’ll take a data set, run it through SPSS or some other sort of analytical software, and convert the research results into easy-to-digest statements like this:

According to Barna, 25% of American Christians have an unbiblical view of God, that He is “in everyone or everything,” or that God is the “realization of human potential.”

60% of surveyed Christians would argue that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”

Almost 60% of surveyed Christians agree that the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist as a person, but is simply “a symbol of God’s power or presence.”

40% of surveyed Christians believe that Jesus Christ sinned while on this earth.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

If you don’t recognize the quote or the person, see me after the Gathering and I’ll weep with you over your miserable upbringing.

As I was piecing together the various facets of my sermon preparation, I found myself wanting to inject a bit more humor than I normally do, but I think it was to compensate for a biblical text that isn’t very funny at all.

So let me set it up with a story of something that happened to me this week. I half-jokingly told my community group that I was going to find some way to incorporate this into a message- what I didn’t realize was that it fits beautifully with where we’re going to spend the next 30 minutes or so.

Ok, so I’m at my office one day this past week, which for those of you who don’t know, means I was at Mudhouse. Yeah- I let them use my office as a coffee house. But I’m headed to the restroom on my way out, and as I push the door open I hear a frantic manly voice saying “Hold-hold on!”

Well, I knew it was Keith, a pastor friend of mine in Charlottesville who I run into a bit at Mudhouse. So I decide to mess with him a bit for not locking the bathroom door. Only reason I chose that door was because the little sign above the handle was green and read “vacant,” rather than being red and reading “occupied.”

So I decide to teach him a lesson, and I quietly grabbed the door handle with both hands and pulled tight. Now, Keith exercises, so I knew I’d need to put all of my two-hundred pounds of chiseled steel into tugging on this door.

Sure enough, a few seconds later the door knob jiggled, but the door didn’t budge. And then I watched the little green “vacant” sign flash over to the red “occupied,” but of course it didn’t open then, Keith had just locked it. And then it switched back to green, then red, then green- all the while the handle was jiggling, and I could tell that he was starting to worry a bit about why he couldn’t get the blasted door open!

So finally I released the handle, crossed my arms in front of my chest, and stood there with an amused smirk on my face. With one final swap back over to the green “vacant,” the door was finally tugged open and some old guy I’ve never seen before in my life is standing there with a “what the heck?!” look on his face!

Of all the days to wear my Life Journey t-shirt! I tried to apologize profusely, but what I really wanted to do was invite him to our Gathering, where we promise not to let anyone leave no matter how much they want to!

I thought I’d seen Keith go down the hallway to the restroom. I was counting on it. Acting on it. Holding onto that door knob, I was fully convinced that I knew exactly what I was doing and where it would lead…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wasn’t seeing clearly, for sure.

It’s funny when it’s a humorous mixup in a coffee-house restroom, but sometimes having a poor view of reality can impact your health, your friends, your family. Your soul. What if your mixup leads you to Hell? What if your inability to clearly see God, to clearly see Jesus and what following Jesus looks like leads to your eternal separation from the one you claim to serve? What if our vision of Christianity isn’t Jesus’ vision?

Now I’d be the first to tell you that your salvation doesn’t ride on your ability to read, comprehend, and believe everything you read in Scripture. There’s a lot in there that is difficult for some of us to embrace. Now let me clear- I very firmly believe that the Bible, though written by the hands of ordinary men, was inspired by God and completely free of error.

But I also know that to rational minds, a lot of things don’t make a lot of sense. There’s a degree of faith required there. Accepting everything at face value is easier for some of us than others.

So please don’t hear me as saying that if you question any bit of the Bible you cannot be a Christian. But what I am saying is that people who deny the existence of Satan and the Holy Spirit are woefully lacking in their knowledge of God’s Word.

And I would say that anyone claiming to be a Christian while maintaining the sinfulness of Jesus probably does not understand what being a “Christian” really means. They certainly do not have a Biblical understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

Seems these days that anyone can call themselves a Christian and really define it how they want- they can see it as being whatever they want it to be. They can act on it, bank on it, live in total assurance that they’re a biblical Christian, but what if they’re wrong? Is there a such thing as someone who calls themselves a Christian being so blinded to reality that they can die and spend eternity suffering the wrath of the God whose name is on their lips?

Well, yes. And I don’t just say that because the statistics point to it. I say that because of what Jesus said.

One of the scariest passages in all of Scripture for me is found in Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Atheists do not emphatically declare Jesus as Lord. Muslims do not prophesy in the name of Jesus. Buddists, Daoists, Agnostics, and Wiccans do not cast out demons in the name of Jesus. No, the only people who do mighty works in the name of Jesus are those who claim to follow Jesus!

Jesus tells us in the context of Matthew 7 that the majority of professing Christ-followers are in actuality going to be rejected by Jesus. Why? Because He never knew them! The Jesus they perceive is not the Son of God. Their vision is so obscured, they have no clue that they’re not truly following Christ.

Same vocabulary, right? “Jesus is Lord.” Different dictionary. “You’re not seeing me right. I don’t even know you.”

We saw this last week with Peter, didn’t we? Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah, and yet the idea in his head of what the Messiah would do and be was a far cry from reality. Jesus had to set him straight.

But what about following Jesus? Do we clearly see what that means, or have we created for ourselves a religion built around a faulty vision of what it means to follow Christ? How do we know it won’t be us on the day of judgment that Jesus tells, “I never knew you”?

In our text today Jesus spells out for us what it means to be a Christ-follower. My prayer is that by the time we leave, we will leave with a heightened sense of assurance that we’re truly on the right track, or that perhaps God will open our eyes to the reality that we’ve been seeing things wrong the whole time.

Last week we found Jesus rebuking Peter for trying to steer Jesus away from His mission. Peter believed that the Messiah was going to usher in an era of of political, social, and economic prosperity. Rome would be defeated, the Messiah would rule from the throne of David, they would all live happily ever after.

But Jesus said no, that’s not the case. Instead, I’m going to suffer at the hands of the Pharisees and scribes. I’m going to be rejected. I’m going to die- but I will rise again. Jesus said, “Peter, you’re not seeing it because you’re setting your mind on the things of man- not the things of God. You see a bit- but not clearly enough.”

Now in verse 34 Jesus calls the crowd over and lays out His requirements to be a follower. Walt and I invite you every week to follow Christ if you’re not yet a believer. Pastors all across this country this very morning are calling people to follow Christ. But what if what we or they are calling to you isn’t what Jesus Himself calls people to?

Here’s what Jesus lays out, and it begins with an open invitation to anyone who’s willing. Jesus says, “if anyone would come after me,” if anyone would follow me, if anyone would claim to be a Christ-follower, if anyone would claim me as their Savior, their Messiah, their rescuer from sin…and then he lays out three requirements. Three action items. Three ingredients. Miss any one of these, and you’re not following Jesus. You’re following the Jesus of your own creation. And it will lead you to Hell with the name of Jesus on your lips. We’ve got to see this clearly.

Step one: Jesus says “if anyone would follow me, let him deny himself.” Let him deny himself. What’s this mean? Historically, some have interpreted this to mean a denial of one’s innate hedonism, our pursuit of pleasure. And certainly we’re all seeking happiness.

Many of you are familiar with the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, who said “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

There’s definitely an element of truth to that. We’re all seeking our own joy and happiness. We’re all acting in accordance to our will, which is about as biblical a concept of “free will” that you’ll ever find. But our wills aren’t free- they’re slaves to our desires! We can only do that which we most desire to do.

So many think that self-denial means asceticism of some sort. Perhaps abstaining from sex, good food, community, and other things that bring us joy. They think, “Ok, I can’t follow Jesus and have all this money, so I’ll give it away! Jesus lived in poverty, I will too! I don’t need a house, Jesus was homeless- I’ll be homeless too! And good food? Jesus was often hungry. If I want to follow Jesus, I’ll be hungry too!”

But I think this is all missing the point of Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say abstain, He says “deny.” The word means “to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone.” Want to see it in practice? Remember when Peter was hiding from the authorities the night that Jesus was arrested and tried? Multiple times when accused of being a Christ-follower, Peter vehemently rejected any association with Jesus. He said, “I swear I don’t know Him!”

That’s denial. And Jesus calls us to deny…ourselves.


The first step in pursuing Christ is disassociating ourselves from everything that is intrinsic to us. The things that make us tick. The things that bring us joy. And the reason for this is simple- our default tendency is to elevate ourselves as god over our universe, do whatever feels good to us, and go through life seeking the satisfaction and joy of numero uno.

Embracing ourselves means egotistically thinking that we’re good enough on our own to merit God’s favor. Of course I’m going to heaven. Haven’t killed anyone. Denying ourselves means saying “I’m not a sufficient savior. I’m not good enough to earn God’s favor. I have been worshipping myself instead of the One who made me.”

Our default setting is to deny God and embrace self. Are you willing to reverse that and humbly embrace the reality that you’re not god? Jesus says that’s step one. And as we’ve seen following the ministry of Jesus, it’s a step that few take.

What about you?

Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you dangle a big enough carrot, you can move anyone towards Christ. What do I mean? What I mean is this: if you can convince someone that denying themselves is a means of improving themselves, then yeah- you can make a convert out of anyone. Well- you can make a church goer out of anyone.

For some people it goes like this: Come to Jesus- we promise you health! Wealth! Prosperity! If you will deny yourself and embrace Jesus as your savior, and maybe “sow a little seed of faith,” then God will bless the fool out of you and make you all live happily ever after! Think it doesn’t happen? Watch TBN sometime. Bunch of gospel-pimping posers who seem to have passed over this part of the passage.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Deny yourself and climb into the lap of luxury.” He says “Deny yourself…and take up your cross.”

That’s another phrase largely misunderstood by the Church. Oftentimes people associate “bearing one’s cross” as being a ministerial or life hardship. “I never asked to work in JourneyKids…but it’s my cross to bear. We all got one, I guess.” It’s like a baptized version of Eeyore. Well, I guess I’m stuck serving God…I guess I’m stuck in a job I hate. I reckon I’ll just endure this bad relationship, this physical ailment. Just my cross to bear.

You know what the cross was in Jesus’ context? Here’s a hint- it wasn’t a piece of jewelry to wear on your neck. It wasn’t something cool to get tattooed on your body. It was an instrument of torture, a horrific, humiliating, excruciating death that Rome refused to render on its own citizens.

And Jesus knew He was going to carry one. He knew He was going to be nailed to one. And He knew He was going to die on one…and He calls us to do the same. Wanna follow me? Grab your cross. Let’s go.

Hey Richard- that kinda stuff doesn’t happen anymore! It doesn’t? Did you know that of the 70 million Christians who have lost their lives to the Kingdom (that we know of), 45.5 million of them were killed in the 20th century alone? That’s 65%. Almost two out of every three Christians murdered for following Jesus lost their lives in the last century alone. Currently the Vatican claims that over 100,000 Christians a year are being killed for their faith. This was in an article on Foxnews.com just this week. Followers of Jesus are holding onto their faith even when it leads to their death.

Are you willing to do the same? Pursuing Christ is an all-in move, and while you may be promised eternity, Jesus also promises you a cross. Is He worth it to you? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it costs you your friends, your popularity in school, your position at work, your family, even your life? Jesus demands no less from His followers. Grab your cross, let’s go.

Jesus ends His list of requirements with a self-evident reminder that if anyone is to follow Jesus…they’re to follow Jesus. They’re to go where He went, teach what He taught, do what He did, and love like He does. And sadly, there are multitudes of people out there calling themselves Christ-followers who show no resemblance to the person of Christ.

Don’t believe me? Google “Westboro Baptist Church” sometime. Look at the crusades. Look at the “Christian”/Muslim wars in Nigeria. So easy to talk the talk. Walking’s a bit harder.

Worst part is when the walk is walked, but there’s no underlying heart change. Remember, Jesus said that those He will deny spent their lives in what looks to some as spiritual service. Walking like Jesus did won’t guarantee you eternal life, but you won’t experience eternal life if you’re not following the way of the Master. “Faith without works is”….what? It’s dead. Following Christ means following Christ.

So here’s the irony. The mission that Peter rebukes Jesus for placing upon Himself is the exact same mission that Jesus is calling this entire crowd to. “Come. Lay aside your every ambition. Embrace me as your Savior. Follow me in my suffering. They’ll kill me- they’ll probably kill you. You’ve watched me at work- join me in my mission. Come on…let’s go.”

And to the rational thinkers in the crowd, those who are thinking, “Uh…this doesn’t sound like it ends well. Why would I join in?” Jesus says “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? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

I don’t have time this morning to unpack all of this for us, but Jesus is essentially throwing down the gauntlet. Reject me out of self-preservation- it will only lead to your death. Follow me- even if it kills you. There is life therein. What is your soul worth? Is it worth gaining everything, only to spend eternity in Hell separated from the love of God- the very God who calls us to come to Him?

Jesus continues, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Get this- Jesus is again referencing His return. He left after the resurrection- He’s promised to return. And when He comes back this time, He won’t be in a stable. He won’t be poor and rejected. He won’t be clothed in the frailty of human flesh.

When He comes back, He will come back in the full radiance of God. Our warrior King who subjected himself to mockery, pain, and death will return accompanied by the Holy Angels, and He’s coming for His bride.

This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day were anticipating- not the humble servant Jesus was. Jesus is saying, join me in my humility, or when I come back like you were expecting me all along, of you, I’ll be ashamed. I’ll want nothing to do with you. Grab your cross. Let’s go. Are you coming?

And then Jesus mysteriously adds this final thought: And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Theologians have wrestled with interpreting this for centuries. Who will see the Kingdom? What does that mean, “coming with power?” Well, when do we see the most radical change in Jesus’ followers? When do His disciples really begin to deny themselves? When do they follow Jesus to the death? When are their lives forever altered?

I would submit to you that all of these things occurred at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit of God came and made His temple within God’s people. You can almost feel Jesus bursting at the seams here: “I know it’s not what you were expecting. I know dying isn’t on your list of things for me to do, or for you to do. But you have no idea what’s coming. Ohhh, but you’ll see. You’ll see.”

So as our band comes to lead us in a closing worship song, my question for you is this: are you seeing it? Are you seeing what it means to be a Christian- no, a Christ-follower?  Are you at that place where all of your faith and trust in resting on Jesus? Or are you still trying to save yourself, to earn your own right standing with God?

Are you really committed to Jesus, or is He simply an accessory in your life? Are you following? I know you won’t follow perfectly. None of us will. But are you following? Are you willing to lose your life in order to find it?

If we had to wrap it all up into a JourneyMarker for us, it’d be this: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Us to Just See Him- He Wants Us to Follow Him.”

If God is speaking to your  heart this morning, how will you respond? Will you trust Jesus as your savior? If you have questions about all of this, Walt or I would love to speak with you. We’ll be in the back if you want to get it settled this morning.

Come on, church. Jesus is calling us to follow Him. Can you imagine what we could do in this town, in the surrounding towns, if we were intentionally pursuing a life like Jesus’? A life marked by love, by service, by sacrifice. I want that. I dream of that. And it begins with us telling God “Yes! I want to follow better. Help me follow better. And thank you for your perfect love even when I stumble.”


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