If you know me, you know I have a great love.
It is not my husband. And it is not my children.
It’s superhero movies.
I love superhero movies. Specifically Marvel superhero movies. The writers weave themes with unity and continuity through their entire cinematic universe. And their themes are real, genuine, and there are times when their characters are like mirrors that help me understand my own motivations and responses to the world around me.
As I dissect and discuss these movies with my family, I often find the themes that resonate the most are themes of redemption, reversal, and sacrifice.
Don’t worry, I am not going to stand up here and give you the gospel illustrations found in Captain America (although, give me an hour and I could convince you it’s possible!).
The reason why these themes resonate and stand out so clearly, especially in superhero movies, is because they are the very themes woven into the fabric of history by the Ultimate Author.
One such theme of reversal and redemption happens in the movie, Dr. Strange. The hinge point of the movie, or the climax, in my opinion, happens on the balcony of a hospital as the Ancient One is dying.
She has been training Dr. Strange and seen him do intellectually very well, but he has resisted giving in fully to his training and apparent calling. He thinks that the pursuit of knowledge is enough, that knowing all you can know will enable you to achieve all you desire.
But when asked to lay his life on the line for the good of the people around him, he pulls back, insisting that is not why he came to train.
She then says something to him that has been resonating with me a lot over the past month as I have been preparing to teach today. She says to him,
“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all…It’s not about you.”
See, in our passage today, the disciples had the same problem. You and I have the same problem. Our pride and fear make us forget.
This is a big passage this week, and I hope you were able to get through it. It is large enough that I won’t be able to drill down into each one of these vignettes. But overarching them, we see there is a commonality, and it is our main point today.
Discipleship is not about you, but it is accomplished for you.
We will tackle that in two parts.
Discipleship is not about you.
That seems fairly obvious, right?
Or does it?
At the beginning of our section, Jesus tells his disciples again about his impending death and resurrection. For some reason, the disciples are not yet willing to engage him with questions about what he is saying, and they move on.
Jesus and the disciples return to Capernaum, and along the way the disciples have been arguing. Adrienne told us a few weeks ago why they probably were having this particular discussion. Jesus has been revealed as the Christ, and he has been talking about going to Jerusalem, this is it! This must be when Jesus is going to come in and take over, and they, as his closest followers, were going to be in positions of power, and maybe it has gone to their heads a little.
And Jesus knows this. He does not ask them what they were talking about because he is unaware. He is getting ready to reorient them. We see a shift from here on out to specific teaching about what it looks like to follow Jesus, and what his death and resurrection mean for those who would follow.
The have come back to the house, it is just them, and he lays it out for them. Look at verse 35. If you have been around church for any length of time, you have heard this verse repeated.
Look in the second part of the verse where Jesus says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And then he proceeds to take a child into his arms and teach them. Not only are his words counter-cultural, and counter-intuitive, but his actions are as well. He says that whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, …” This humility, true humility, is not about you, it is about Jesus. It is about recognizing who he is, who we are not, what he has done, and what we could not, and therefore not counting ourselves better than anyone – not even those society deems unworthy. He is aiming to turn their expectations on their heads, to reorient their hearts, to align them with his. Jesus cares for the least of them.
So should we.
This is not just about a change in actions. This is a fundamental shift in the way we view other people. Practically, this means not assuming the worst about the guy on the corner asking for change. It means welcoming the outsider who is visiting your church on a Sunday morning. It means listening to the struggles of minorities with open minds and compassion. It also means we stand up for those who are being oppressed. We defend the defenseless. It means we risk losing our standing in whatever community we are in to love the ones who are hard to love – the heartbroken, the hurting, the others.
And before we think this only applies on a big scale, this applies personally as well.
Moms, we have a responsibility to orient ourselves towards our children. I don’t say this like, “You gotta stay home, and do all the Susie Homemaker stuff.” What I mean is, we have a responsibility to actually listen to our kids when they are struggling to communicate their feelings, we need to love them enough to not be crafting our super-wise responses while they are still trying to figure out why they are overwhelmed to begin with.
It means acknowledging when we have failed to put them first.
I had to do that this week. In a moment of deep frustration, I was convicted by the words of one child that I had been celebrating the other child’s victories more than the one’s. It is a hard balance, but a necessary one. I needed to repent of marginalizing my own child.
What about you? Who in your life are you disregarding, or pushing to the side so you can be first? Where can you make room to set aside your own ambition to encourage the good of another person, not so that you look good or so that you gain something, but for the sake of Christ?
In the next section, they are talking about someone casting out demons in his name, but he was not one of them, so they tried to stop him. Again, we see the repetition of the idea of “in my name” or “because of me”. In verse 41, he says whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
In this example, the disciples are not given the cup of water because they are thirsty, or because they deserved it. It is given because of their ownership by Christ. Even the generosity of others within and without the body of believers because of our identities as Christians is not counted or attributed to our own loveliness, or our own abilities, but because of Christ’s loveliness and ability to save us. Our discipleship is not prideful, but humble.
Where are you tempted to think you are all that and a bag of chips? Where are you tempted to take credit for earning favor, or making a way for something to happen? Is it possible that the credit actually lies not in your effort, but in your identity as a servant of the King?
He goes on teaching them. He transitions to using some pretty strong and graphic language. The hyperbole of the commands to cut off body parts can be jarring. We all can agree, right, that Jesus is not really telling us to cut off our hands, our feet, or gauge out our eyes, yes? So what is the hyperbole meaning to communicate to us? What he is really talking about is sin. Cherished sin. Sin that makes us feel good, or can be seen to benefit us somehow, such as dishonest gain. Sin is selfish, and often – if we are honest – we would rather choose to keep sinning because we don’t want to give up what we see as a benefit.
But Jesus says it is better to give up the part of your body that is causing you to sin than to give up your citizenship in the kingdom. Especially then, but also now – our hands, our feet, and our eyes are pretty crucial to navigating and functioning in life and society. What would life be like for you without your hand? Without an eye? It would be more than routine tasks that would be difficult. We would have a different standing in society as a whole. Think of the people we have seen Jesus heal so far. Blind, can’t walk, withered hand. These are people who have been pushed aside because they are without the use of those specific body parts. But we are told here, that if these are causing us to sin, we are called to sacrifice them.
Again, I am not advocating, and I don’t think Jesus was either, mutilation or self-harm, but we are called to live lives of sacrificial discipleship. And I think the references to salt lead us to the Old Testament view of salted sacrifices, which means our sacrificial discipleship is not one and done, but an ongoing attitude of sacrifice. We sacrifice that which would keep us from Jesus, even it if hinders us from participating fully in the society around us, because sacrificial discipleship is not about us and our comfort.
Adrienne talked about the choice they made to keep an older car. That is a sacrifice. But here Jesus is talking specifically about sacrificing the things that lead us to sin. We don’t watch certain movies or TV shows, read certain books, have sex outside of marriage, because we are choosing to value our citizenship more.
What in your life are you valuing more than your citizenship in the kingdom? What are you exposing yourself to, or allowing in your sphere of influence that is leading you to sin? What do you need to sacrifice so that you can demonstrate your value of your kingdom citizenship?
We keep going into chapter 10, or rather they keep going. Jesus and the disciples head to Judea, and he continues to teach them. But the Pharisees come and ask a question. I don’t think they are sincere in their question – neither did Mark. He said it in the text that they did it only to test him. They asked about divorce. They didn’t really want to know about divorce, they just wanted to see if they could trip him up.
He answered them in verse 3 “What did Moses command you?” Which, let’s be honest, is kind of like asking “What did God command you?” since Moses was the mediator who brought God’s laws to the people. But anyway, they (the Pharisees) explained that Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife. Jesus then shows them that he knows this conversation is not about divorce, but really it is all about their hearts. He knows what’s up. And he calls them on it.
And he does it with Scripture! Look in verse 5: “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”
Like we saw in our study guides, Jesus’ intention here was less about a prescriptive teaching on divorce, but more to address the fact that it was their hardness of heart that led Moses to make the exception for divorce. And their continuing to allow the exception was more a sign of their willingness to cave to the wants and desires of society and culture rather than to adhere to the words and prescriptive teachings of God. Jesus demonstrates that God’s expectation for marriage has not changed. He has not changed, but the culture has. So here, we see that discipleship is counter-cultural, especially when the culture is counter to God.
There are many ways this plays out for us today. It could be that you don’t buy the bigger house so that you can have extra to give to the church. It could mean that you drive an extra 20 minutes to participate in a small group Bible study instead of saving gas and staying home. It means you don’t give in to what society says is okay regarding same-sex marriage, and easy divorce. For me it means holding fast to a complementarian theology in the face of a second-wave feminism upbringing. What are the ways you can be counter-cultural?
And one last instance, for today (because this is part 1 of 2), if you continue down to verses 17 -31, we meet the rich young ruler. He comes to Jesus, and asks him “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a really good question, and I wish more people would ask it! But here he is, and Jesus tells him: Follow the commandments. Notice the commandments he chose to list. They are all the ones that flesh out the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. These are the commandments that orient how we deal with others. Jesus is again, here, reorienting the disciples, and any who would have eternal life, away from themselves, and towards others. The young man says, “I’ve done that!” I love this next part. Verse 21: And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” We know this man was not perfect. Romans tells us that none of us is without sin. Even in this young man’s pride and arrogance, Jesus looked at him, and loved him.
Loved him enough to expose the truth.
He tells him to sell everything, give it to the poor, and come follow him. This young man was not prepared to sacrifice all he had to come follow Jesus. And he was sorrowful, I think because he knew he truly hadn’t kept all the commandments. Maybe those specific ones to the letter, but not the spirit of loving his neighbor as himself? Either way, he knew he couldn’t do what Jesus was asking.
And this greatly distressed the disciples! Because Jesus basically pronounces it is impossible to enter the kingdom! The society they lived in was surely as corrupt as today, and just like today, money opens doors. If the rich and powerful cannot enter the kingdom of God, what hope do the little people have? Jesus assures them that while yes, it is impossible for man, nothing is impossible for God. And those who are willing to lose everything for Jesus will gain much through the body of Christ. And ultimately, they gain eternal life. Because discipleship is not about how much money you have, but about what you are willing to give up for the gospel.
Some of you have given up family. You have moved far away in pursuit of education, or your husband’s education. Some of you may have given up independence so that you can be in relationship. Some of you have given up dreams, better careers, greater incomes. Some of you have given up your children, either because they are not believers, or they have been taken from you. What have you given up for the gospel?
But even that is not enough. No amount of us giving up anything will get us into the kingdom. We need help. We need Jesus.
He ends with a repetition. And because we are good students of our Bibles, we know that repetition is important. He says in verse 31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” That should ring a bell, right? Back to verse 35 in chapter 9. He is emphasizing this re-orientation, this others-orientation that characterizes true discipleship. True discipleship is not about you, or me.
Because our salvation is not even about us! Titus 2:11-15 shows us the purpose of our salvation:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify FOR HIMSELF a people FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION who are zealous for good works. (emphasis mine)
So, our salvation, and our discipleship are not about us, but about Jesus and his glory.
But it has been accomplished FOR you.
This is what Jesus was talking about back in verse 30 of chapter 9. He tells them again, for a second time that he was going to be killed, and after three days he would rise again. There are 2 things that stand out as interesting to me here. First, is that this is not the first time they have heard Jesus say this. But either because they couldn’t fathom such a contrary picture to their expectation, or because they were afraid of what it meant, they wouldn’t ask him to explain. I mean, I’m not sure what else he could have said to explain it – he was pretty clear. But still, if ever there was a time to ask the obvious question, maybe this would have been it?
Regardless, notice this other thing. Jesus never spoke of his death without also speaking of his resurrection! This should have alleviated any fear the disciples had at the thought. And it is this same resurrection that alleviates our fears today.
Sisters, we have the hope of eternal life precisely because Jesus was delivered into the hands of men, and they killed him. It was God himself who did the delivering! Jesus humbled himself, gave up everything, so that he could live a perfect life on our behalf. All for the purpose of atonement for our sins. We could not bear the penalty for our sins and still live, so Jesus bore it for us. And because it was enough, he was raised from the dead, and we can rest confidently in the assurance of Christ’s completed work on our behalf. Because of his work, we are able to enter the kingdom of God. And because of his grace, mercy, and perfect righteousness, we are given the Holy Spirit to help us transform into disciples who are oriented toward others, disciples whose hearts are aligned with our Savior, so that we may bring glory to his name.
So, sisters, come follow him humbly, sacrificially, and at any cost, with the faith of a child.
Because true discipleship is not about you, but it was accomplished for you.