The Radical Life
The Radical Life
When I was a kid in high school, I thought radical was about skipping school, smoking pot, chasing girls, and driving fast cars.
When I got married, I thought radical people were the ones who held up picket signs and protested at a courthouse or in front of our nation’s capital.
When we first had our kids, I thought radical was staying up after 9:00 at night.
You see, radical means different things to different people, and it even means different things at different stages in our lives.
So, who’s right? What standard do we use to determine what’s normal and what’s radical, what’s acceptable and what’s way over the top, even ludicrous?
Well, many of us in here claim to have a common faith. That is, we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and we call ourselves Christians. In fact, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, nearly 80% of all Americans claim to be Christian, and 94% claim to believe in God.
And here’s where it gets difficult. If I’m an atheist, I’m going to subscribe to a certain worldview that obviously doesn’t include God, and I’m going to determine what a radical life and what a normal life look like based on either (a) my own thinking; (b) the popular thinking of my culture; or (c) the thinking of my own particular sub-group. In other words, a redneck living in the swamps of Louisiana will have a different concept of radical and normal than, say, a liberal Democrat suburbanite from New Hampshire. You get my point.
If I’m a Buddhist, I’m going to have a different concept of radical and normal than that of a Muslim. And a Muslim is going to have a different concept of what’s radical and what’s normal than that depicted by Hollywood.
But if I claim to be a Christian, then my concept of radical and normal will be based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. You see, as a Christ follower, I don’t get to decide what the picture of normal and radical look like, because they’ve already been decided.
Now, here’s the interesting part—and then we’ll dive into the text and put this in a form for all of us to wrestle with and apply to our lives. Here’s the interesting part—when we’re inside the realm of Christ’s Kingdom, that becomes normal for us, but for others, it’s going to look like you’re as radical as they come. Some might even see you as weird, ridiculous, ignorant, and totally out of touch with what’s “normal” in the world’s eyes.
So here’s what we see in Mark 8, vv. 31ff. Jesus calls us to a life that is radical in the mind of the world but is normal in the mind of Jesus. In fact, Jesus makes it pretty clear, as we’ll see in a moment, that if we are going to follow Him, this IS what it will look like. This becomes normative. This is not optional. This is not smorgasbord spirituality. This is not an Americanized version of Christianity where being a Christian is really just to make you happy. No, in comparison to those concepts, what Jesus talks about is extremely radical. But for Him, this is the “normal” description of what it means to follow Him. So let’s take a look. Mark 8:31-9:1. And if you would, just to show honor to God’s Word, stand with me.
All right, let’s break this down and try to gain an understanding of what Mark is writing about. Jesus begins to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, die and rise again. Peter doesn’t like that kind of talk. Jesus speaks pretty sternly to Peter. And then He calls the crowd together (v. 34) and gives them this description about what it means to follow Him, and closes by saying something that seems a little strange about people not tasting death until they see the Kingdom of God coming with power (9:1). So what does all of this mean?
Well, here’s the key idea that I want us to see, and I encourage you to write this down:
To understand what we’re called to do, we need to understand what Jesus was called to do, and then embrace the power to do it.
What are we called to do? What does Jesus normalize that is considered radical in our world? That’s what Jesus talks about in vv. 34-38. And how on earth—literally—can we get the power to live that kind of life? That’s what Jesus talks about in Mark 9:1. But in order to understand all of that, we have to see what Jesus was called to do (vv. 31-33). Because, To understand what we’re called to do, we need to understand what Jesus was called to do, and then embrace the power to do it.
So, let’s take a look at it.
1. Jesus’ calling (Mark 8:31-33)
This is the first of three times that Jesus carefully explains to the twelve disciples the cost and meaning of the Messiah. If you’re taking notes, you can jot these other two down: Mark 9:31—“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” And Mark 10:33, with a little more detail, says the same thing. This is Jesus’ understanding of the call, the role of the Messiah—which cut against the grain of people’s understanding in the first century.
In Jesus’ day, the common understanding of the Messiah was not the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 but the Conquering King of Jeremiah 23.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).
So, which is right? They’re both right! But for many of the Jews, they thought of the Messiah only as the Conquering King—that was “normal.” The “radical” view was how Jesus understood the role of the Messiah—that He had to suffer and die in order that He might reign and execute justice and righteousness. You can’t have the crown without the cross!
It appears that Peter was so caught up in this Conquering King understanding of the Messiah, that he took Jesus aside, v. 32 says, and began to rebuke Him! But notice what Jesus says in v. 33,
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
Wow! Mike Berry hit on this in a sermon a few weeks ago, that Jesus can say some of the harshest things! And we live in this day and age of tolerance that has become to mean that I can’t disagree with your position without being seen as intolerant. Well, folks, to use a deep theological term, that’s hogwash! If this pseudo-tolerance becomes the high value of our culture, then we will allow whoever happens to be in power to define the “correct position,” and anyone who speaks out against it will no longer be tolerated. It’s amazing how intolerant this supposed tolerance truly is.
Well, Jesus never let that stop Him! He spoke out. He called a spade a spade. He didn’t back down. He would have been considered very intolerant by our culture’s standard. Oh, and by they way, it cost Him His life. Sure you want to follow Him?
So, here’s the point: Jesus understood His role. Jesus knew that the Messiah—which by the way the term “Son of Man” in v. 31 was a Messianic title from the Old Testament—Jesus knew that the Messiah had to suffer. He would be rejected, killed and in three days rise again.
And why is this important for us? Because when we clearly understand the role of the One we follow, then we begin to have some “aha” moments about what our role looks like. And that’s what takes us to vv. 34-38. Jesus turns to the crowds, and it’s almost like He’s saying, “OK—so I’m trying to get through the thick skulls of these guys to understand that the Messiah has to suffer, and if you’re going to follow Me, well then, guess what? That’s right, here’s what I’m called to do, and here’s what I’m calling you to do! Because, again, To understand what we’re called to do, we need to understand what Jesus was called to do, and then embrace the power to do it.
2. Our calling (Mark 8:34-38)
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (v. 34).
Can I just stop for a minute? Let’s just think about this for a little bit. What do you really want out of life? You know what I want…just at the basic human, earthly level? And I’ll be honest. I want my marriage to go well. I want my kids to survive high school and college, get married, have kids, live a “normal” life. I want to have enough money to retire comfortably. After being in FL a few weeks ago, I’d like to have a little place down there someday where I could walk out on the beach when I wanted to.
Is there anything wrong with those things? No. Those are “normal.” I just want to be happy, and I bet at the base human, earthly level, you probably do to. That’s “normal.” But you know what’s also normal when we make those things are ultimate goals in life? WE NEVER QUITE FIND WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR. Our marriages begin to lose their shine. Our kids wind up with their baggage and problems. We only wind up retiring with enough money to visit someone else’s condo instead of owning one ourselves. And we get to the end of our normal lives where we just wanted to find happiness, and we feel like we somehow missed it.
Do you know what Jesus says about this? Take a look at v. 35. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, when we make our life’s calling to find our happiness, we lose it. But when we make our life’s calling to live for Jesus and the gospel, we find it. What’s “normal” takes on new meaning. What’s “radical” in the eyes of our world—deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Jesus--becomes the new normal, and it becomes the path to finding new life.
And Jesus goes on to say what good will it do to gain the whole world and yet lose your soul, and what can you give in exchange for your own soul? When it all boils down to it, Jesus is saying, are we willing to lay it all down for Him? Are we more concerned about what people will think and say about us now, more than being concerned about what Jesus will say about us when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels?
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to live a life of surrender for the sake of Jesus Christ, where I deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him, then I need a power greater than myself to do that. Because, again, To understand what we’re called to do, we need to understand what Jesus was called to do, and then embrace the power to do it. Jesus understood the cross comes before the crown. The Suffering Servant will become the Conquering King. And Jesus calls us to follow HIM! It will not be easy. The “normal” life of a Christ-follower is seen as extremely radical by the world, because we deny ourselves, we take up our cross (which is a symbol of suffering and death), and we follow Jesus! This is not a popularity contest! This is not about making everybody happy! This is about following Jesus—even, and especially, when it’s hard! But to do that we need to embrace a power greater than ourselves.
3. Embrace the power to live it out (Mark 9:1)
Jesus said something that seems a little strange at this point. Right after Jesus talks about how hard it will be to follow Him, He says, “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” (Mark 9:1).
Now, there are all kinds of interpretations about this verse. Some see the kingdom of God coming with power as referring to Jesus’ second coming. And then they say, “See, Jesus was wrong. Because Jesus hasn’t come back yet, and all those people died!” Other people see this referring to Mark 9:2ff where Jesus’ identity was confirmed with power on the Mt. of Transfiguration.
But here’s something I’d like you to consider, and Jesus alluded to this Himself. In John 14, Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).
The Kingdom of God is present where Jesus resides. Thus, the power of the Kingdom is present where Jesus resides. And where does Jesus now reside? Jesus said, “I will come to you.” And from Acts 2 forward, the presence of Jesus, through His Spirit, has come for all believers, not just the twelve apostles, not just a select few, but all of us. The Kingdom of God came with power, the Spirit of God was unleashed, and we all live in the present reality of the power of that Spirit indwelling us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus—whatever might come our way!
Here’s the point—if you are going to live a life of following Jesus, you need the power of Jesus, which is the power of the Kingdom of God. When you face hardship, difficulty, trials, and, yes, even persecution, you know that you have the power of heaven behind you, and nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus Christ—nothing! Radical? In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of many of our friends and neighbors and work associates, yes. In the eyes of Jesus? No. Because this is the normal life of what it means to follow Jesus through the power of the Kingdom to face the cross in order to receive the crown and to hear the words of Jesus say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21). Let’s pray.