The Hard Way

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”   “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

A classic parenting strategy for discipline and good decision-making

involves this question: ‘Do

you want to choose the easy way or the hard way?’

Usually, the easy way is the thing that you really want the child to do—maybe it’s to share

something with their sibling or eat their veggies. The hard way tends to be a punishment of some

kind, or is at least supposed to deter them enough that they choose the easy way and do what

you want them to do, and ultimately what is best for them.

I know a two-and-a-half year-old who has been asked this question a few times, but he’s the kind

of kid who doesn’t tend to stick with the conventional ways of doing things. His favourite answer

is to say, normally with a bit of enthusiasm, ‘Hard way!’ Maybe he’ll get it one day.

Today, Jesus presents us with a similar kind of question. First, he asks us to say who we really

think he is. If we join with Peter and confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Saviour of the world, that

leads to the second question: ‘Now, do you want to take the easy way, or the hard way?’ The easy

way is to live life on our own terms. The hard way is to pick up our cross and follow him.

Today we’re going to reflect on who we follow, how we follow, and why we follow.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Who we follow

Before we consider how to follow Jesus or even why we should, we need to first get straight who

we really believe him to be. He didn’t ask his disciples this question as a pass or fail exam. He

asked them to give them a chance to speak out loud what they believe. It’s one thing to think

about things in your own mind, but it’s another to try to articulate it.

Speaking our faith aloud is an incredibly important practice—that’s why we do it in worship. We

speak the common faith of Christians worldwide in the creeds, we sing our faith in song, we might

even speak our faith to God in prayer.

Why? Why do we need to repeatedly speak the same words in the creeds or sing the same things

to different tunes? Articulating our faith has four benefits to it:

  1. We remind ourselves what we believe and solidify it. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve heard

about the different ways that people learn and the connections our brains make when we

engage different senses in learning. Thinking about our faith is good, reading about what we

believe is good, even writing it down has benefits, too. When we speak it out loud, we make

that connection in our brains more solid and we understand it more deeply. So, it’s good for

our own understanding.

  1. We remind each other when we speak or sing our faith together, and we build each other
  2. Part of the reason we gather for worship at all is to encourage each other in our faith—I

think this is best shown when we speak or sing the same words in unison. There’s something

really special about being in a big group of people singing or speaking the same words

together. Speaking our faith is good for us as a community.

  1. The third and fourth benefits are less obvious and of a more spiritual nature. When we speak

our faith, we are telling God who we believe he is. We are answering Jesus’ question, ‘Who

do you say I am?’ We don’t do it because he needs our loyalty or anything we can offer, but so

that we return to him as our rock and Redeemer.

It’s like when you say to someone, ‘I love you.’ It’s good for them when they hear these words,

but it’s also good for us when we speak them. When we say to God, ‘I believe in you, and I

believe these things about you,’ our relationship with him is confirmed and strengthened.

  1. Finally, we speak our faith with Christians around the world to the world. This is especially

true for the creeds, which are ancient and common among Christians everywhere. How these

words come from us and go out into the world is a bit mysterious. A visitor could come in and

hear us speaking the creed, sure. But I think it’s a bit broader than that. Somehow, the faith we

confess overflows from this building and out into our community. In the action of speaking our

faith, we are strengthened in the Spirit to live as Christian people.

Speaking our faith is an effective way to be sure of who we follow. So, ’Who do you say I am?’

What’s your answer? Are you with Peter in saying, ‘You are the Christ’? Are you with Christians

everywhere in confessing the common, creedal faith? I think it would be unlikely for you to be here

if you weren’t.

So that’s who we follow. Let’s look at how we follow.

How we follow

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the

end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one

who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by

heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are

preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over

things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means

more work in the long run. —C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 197

When Jesus says,

‘Pick up your cross and follow me,’

He’s asking us to come with him on his death march. We tend to do everything we can to avoid that long, hard road. The crosses we bear

— our responsibilities and callings at work, in our families and in our community—become heavy.

It’s tempting to put them down and walk away.

Jesus is not asking us to follow him because it’s easy — it’s not. The life of a Christian is a life of

sacrifice, a life of putting others before you, a life of obedience and humility. None of these things

are characteristics of the life the world is calling us to live.

Jesus’ way is a hard way. But like the lazy boy in the classroom, we soon realise that the so-called

‘easy way’ is actually much harder than we thought. When we wander away from God, we curve

in on ourselves. Life becomes completely reliant on me and what I can do. We put pressure on

ourselves to perform, and it’s devastating when we can’t deliver.

So, what does Jesus want from us? When he says, ‘Follow me,’ what does he mean? Does he

want your time? Your money? Your service? He wants you. He wants your entire self. Following

Jesus isn’t just how we live—it is our life.

Put it this way: we are baptised children of God. Baptism is a moment in time. We were baptised.

But we continue to live in our baptism and return to it each day. We are baptised people. We

follow Jesus by our words and actions but by our baptism, we are his followers, his disciples, his

children. It’s who we are, who he has made us to be.

Why we follow

Why bother? Surely he asks too much. Can’t I just get on with my life on my own? Why do I need

anything else?

‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’ (Jn 6:68)

If we walk away from Jesus, we’ll soon find out that we’ve taken the much harder way. We’ll be

like a ship without an anchor—everything might look fine on the surface, but down below, we’re at

the mercy of the wind and waves. Jesus is our anchor, and he is also our destination. Maybe,

rather than a choice of a hard way or an easy way, it’s really a choice between life and death.

So, we are followers of Jesus, but why did Jesus walk there in the first place? Why did he carry

his cross to the place where he would die an innocent man? He did it for you. He did it so that you

don’t have to die the death your sin deserves. He went the way of death so that we could live.

Carrying our own cross is not easy, but we don’t walk it alone and we don’t walk it in vain. We

walk alongside our fellow travellers on the journey—the ones gathered in this building and the

ones we haven’t even met yet. And we follow the one who carried his cross all the way to

Golgotha so that we don’t have to. Our final destination is not death, but life.

Sometimes we can put a bit too much emphasis on follow, and not enough on Jesus. I want to

hear about what I can do. Yes, I know Jesus loves me, but I want to be told how to be a good

Christian. We forget that following Jesus isn’t about what we do at all—it’s all about what Jesus

has done for us. He suffered, he was rejected, and he was killed so that your sin could be forgiven

and welcome you into his heavenly kingdom.

Once he opens our eyes to his mercy and grace, our crosses become light and we gladly bear

them for him because we know that where we’re going, there won’t be any crosses, any suffering,

any sadness or any pain. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Co 9:15) Let’s pray.

You have the words of eternal life. We thank and praise you for

gathering us together as fellow people of faith. Make our faith in you stronger every day and give

us your hope and your peace which goes far beyond what we can imagine. We pray through

Christ, our Lord. Amen.





Sunday 8:45am
(1st + 3rd of Month)