Cost of Discipleship

Icebreakers

Use one of the following questions to open up discussion.  (If you have first-time guests, be sure to have people give their names as they answer the icebreaker question.)
  1. What do you think makes people greedy?
  2. What inherent rights do you have?
  3. What would you die for?

Our Study:  Giving Our Best Away

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Mark 8:34

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

Objectives

Small group members and guests will:

  1. Answer Jesus’ call to Himself and to radical self-denial
  2. Understand the costs involved in following Jesus
  3. Experience the grace and freedom in giving God everything

Introduction:

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)  Even though in modern parlance we conflate “Jesus” and “Christ” without a second thought, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name – rather it is a title: Christ is the Greek word for Messiah which means “anointed one”.  This title had previously referred to those who held the office of priest (Lev. 4:3), prophet (Ps. 105:15), and king (1 Sam 2:35) and by the time of Jesus came to contain the total identity of the savior of the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus fulfills all of these through several means:

  • “Bookends” – Mark begins and ends Jesus’ earthly ministry with a number of common themes:
    • “Son of God” in 1:1 with the centurion’s confession, “Surely this was the Son of God” following Jesus’ death in 15:39
    • John the Baptist (who is identified as Elijah) in 1:4-8 and the mention of Elijah in 15:35
    • God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism in 1:11 and Jesus’ cry in 15:34
    • The heavens split and the Spirit descends like a dove in 1:10 and Jesus breathing his last (both Greek and Hebrew have the same word for “breath” and “spirit”) and the curtain (which have Cherubim on it (2 Chron 3:14)) was split
  • Thematic organization
    • Chapters 1 – 8 deal with the question “Who is Jesus?”
    • Chapters 9 and following deal with the coming of the Kingdom
  • Geographic organization
    • Mark 1:1 – 8:26 is in Galilee
    • Mark 8:27 – 9:1 is in Caesarea Philippi
    • Mark 9:2 and following is either toward or in Jerusalem

We will study the climactic part of Mark which takes place in Caesarea Philippi.

Study:  Mark 8:27 – 9:1

  1. Read the passage out loud.
  2. Do it again.  But this time, slower.
  3. “Who do people say I am?” (v. 27)  This is the central question of the preceding eight chapters.  The demons know (1:24, 3:11) while those who witness the miracles and hear the teachings are always led to this question (2:7, 2:19, 2:27, 3:21-22, 4:41, etc.).
  4. The immediate result of Peter’s confession is Jesus revealing that “the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things…” (v. 31).
  5. Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ proclamation of His coming suffering (“Never, Lord!” in Matt 16:22) is identified by Jesus as a satanic utterance (cf Matt 4 and the temptation of Christ).  Jesus’ rebuke points us to the necessity of suffering in fulfilling His mission.
  6. Jesus then explains that His suffering – the way of the cross – is paradigmatic for his disciples;  the defining mark of a disciple is that he or she “turns from their selfish ways, take up [their] cross, and follow[s] me.” (v. 34)We are familiar with the size and shape of the cross – we have gilded crosses hanging from our necks and a large wooden one in our sanctuary – but we are unfamiliar with its scandal.  In the first century, the cross is a tool of terror, torture, and execution.  The cross was specifically reserved for terrorists and traitors; no Roman citizen could be crucified without the express written consent of Caesar.  The Roman ethicists taught parents to never talk about crucifixion with their children; it was considered too grisly.  With every mention of crucifixion in Roman literature there is shame and ignominy; they (we!) took all of Jesus’ clothes – He hung naked (and not with a convenient loin cloth like the paintings from the Renaissance) on the top of a hill for all to see.The closest parallel that we are familiar with today might be the electric chair – can you imagine if we hung small electric chairs around our next? And yet this is the call that we must answer if we are to be Jesus’ disciples – it is radical both in the pedestrian sense of “mind-blowing” and in the etymological sense of “fundamental” or “to the root”: there are no half-measures here.  We must either accept the way of the cross and follow Jesus or simultaneously reject Jesus and His sufferings.
  7. What are we to do then?  Jesus ties our shame in Him with His reciprocal future shame (v.38) and even Paul introduces his “gospel” with, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” (Rom 1:16) Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb 12:2) . Joy?  Yes, while emphasizing the cost we can so easily neglect the joy (John 15:11), peace (John 14:27) and freedom (John 8:36) that God has promised;  let us never minimize that!  But these things do not come cheaply, and we were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).  This purchasing predates and permeates our joy;  while we may have moments of spiritual ecstasy, like Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, we stay there but a short while and head towards our Jerusalem. Again, our lives are marked not by a heightened emotional state but by a conscious and continual effort to die to our selves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

Application:  What does taking up our cross and following Jesus look like?

We may jokingly refer to “our cross” as our in-laws or poor work environment, and perhaps even for some this might be truthful.  And indeed each person has past history and present situations to deal with; we all need to pray to ask how we should follow Jesus.

While we are commanded to several spiritual activities individually and corporately, I believe forgiveness is where the rubber meets the road.  In forgiveness we must deal with the reality of other people’s sin, identify areas in which people have really wronged us (and really owe us) and then cancel that debt.  In short, we forgive because Jesus forgave;  to become Christ-like is to become forgiving.

Prayer time:

  1. Thank God for the opportunity to spend time in community, for sending His Son to die for us, for the Spirit that now indwells us, and for the future hope that all things will be made new (Rev 21:3ff).
  2. Ask God for forgiveness for sins – intentional and unintentional, known and unknown, both willful and of omission.  It may be more appropriate to take an extended moment of silence for this part.
  3. Ask God to open up the Scriptures that you might understand them.
  4. Ask God to show you ways in which you can follow Jesus by taking up your cross every day.
  5. Ask God to bring to mind people you need to forgive.  If that person is right there, why wait? (Matt 5:23-24)
  6. Ask God to help you lay your burden upon him and to experience the grace and freedom of Christ.
  7. Open up the prayer to both communal and individual concerns. Pray and minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the grace of Christ.

Further Reading:

John 15:13 + Romans 5:8 = ?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

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