Do Not Be Ashamed
A strange, but interesting, thing happened to Allie and I as we were driving to Florida this past January. Many of you are aware that our green Grand Am does not have a traditional Ontario license plate. On our license plate, to the left of the numbers and letters, is the logo of my favourite hockey team--the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The strange occurrence took place when we were stuck in a traffic jam in south Kentucky. We had been in the car for most of the day and so we found the traffic jam to be quite draining. Allie and I weren't saying much, but the silence was soon broken. Traffic was barely moving when we observed a young man hanging out of the passenger side of a van. Even more strange was that the man was screaming at us. The man was screaming, "Let's go Toronto Maple Leafs!"
The van drove ahead, and we could see that it, too, had an Ontario license plate. It was clear that this man was proud to be a Maple Leafs fan, for he was publicly expressing his delight for the Leafs in a place where the Leafs had no following.
The reason I think this story is relevant to today's text is because I'm not so sure that Christians are as eager to express their devotion to Jesus Christ--especially in a context where Christ has no following. No, I don't expect you to hang out your car window and yell, "I love Jesus!" at every car you pass, but at the same time we do need to be forthcoming and unashamed about our commitment to Christ.
Those of you who have your Bibles open can see that I am actually dealing with the last statement of Jesus in Mark, chapter 8, "38For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."
I find this verse to be quite convicting. In the same way we are unashamed about being Canadian, in the same way we are unashamed about being Maple Leaf fans, we should be unashamed about our devotion to Jesus Christ.
I read this verse and I see that it is inappropriate for me to be self-conscious about carrying my Bible in plain sight as I walk to the office. I read this verse and I see that it is inappropriate for me to not bow my head and silently give thanks for my food just because I am in a restaurant. I do not want Jesus to be ashamed of me and so I must not be ashamed of Him.
Why would any Christian be ashamed of their relationship with Jesus? While there is no good reason for this, allow me to suggest a common reason by way of an illustration. It is no secret that I love to play hockey. Anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, knows this. Now I wonder how many of you know I love to play golf just as much? Probably very few of you. The reason is, I am not a good golfer. I spend more time in the sand than a Florida life-guard. And because I am not a good golfer, I am reluctant to advertise my love for the game.
I wonder if the same can be said about our relationship with Jesus. We read about what is expected of a Christian disciple and we recognize how poorly we measure up. Today's text is an excellent example of this. Jesus gives some hard commands to His would-be followers--commands that will never be perfectly followed in this lifetime and so Jesus gives the command "(do not be) ashamed of Me and My words". What happens, however, is that in the face of inevitable failure, we are tempted to live out our Christian lives quietly rather than openly.
The trouble is, Jesus does not want you to live out your Christian life quietly. Jesus says, in His sermon on the mount, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven"(Mt.5:16).
How do we do this? How do we "let our light shine" in our darkened world? Jesus gives us some clear instruction on this in Mark 8:34-37 "34And (Jesus) 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. 35For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37"For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"".
Note, first of all, that Jesus summoned "the multitude"(v.34). The instructions Jesus gave were not to a select few but to "anyone" who would desire to follow Jesus. We infer, therefore, that what Jesus said to the crowd in 1st century Palestine, He also says to us in 21st century Beeton/Tottenham.
The first instruction Jesus gives is that, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself "(v.34). What, precisely, does it mean to deny oneself? Let me begin by telling you what denying oneself is not. Denying oneself is not the same as self-loathing. Jesus is not asking us to hate or to harm ourselves in any way.
Another way we tend to think of self-denial is in terms of giving up something. We often hear about people giving up things for Lent. Or, we may think of self-denial as giving up bad habits. But Jesus is not talking about this kind of self-denial.
The best explanation I read of what Jesus meant by denying oneself is that "we are to deny that we own ourselves." This cuts to the core of our existence. Our nature is to want to be in control. We want to have the final decision on what we are going to do or not going to do. We do not want to be told what to do or how to live our lives. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is saying, if you want to be My follower you must do as I say. To be a true disciple of Christ you must give Christ ultimate control of your life.
This is why we refer to Jesus as "Saviour AND Lord". This is why the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "You are not your own; you were bought with a price"(1Cor.6:19b, 20a). To deny oneself is to submit every aspect of your life to Jesus Christ. That means everything--your finances, your career, your family--everything! To deny oneself is to do nothing for your glory and everything for God's glory.
As if that wasn't enough, Jesus adds to His command for us to deny ourselves by instructing us to "take up (our) cross and follow (Him)". And what does Jesus mean by this?
Many people think that a cross is any trial or hardship you are going through, such as, a health problem, a bothersome relative, or an inconsiderate neighbor. "That's my cross," we say. But this is not what Jesus meant. The cross, at its core, represented 2 things: humiliation and death.
Jesus is stating that to be His disciple means making oneself vulnerable to humiliation and, potentially, to death. When we recognize that, we can begin to appreciate why Jesus would need to warn His disciples to not be ashamed. When we recall that 11 of the 12 disciples were executed for their allegiance to Jesus, the command to not be ashamed takes on a most profound meaning.
Admittedly, we have it easy in our culture. Sure, Christians may be scorned in the media and Christian values may be ignored in the education system, but the reality is that very few Christians in North America are persecuted for being followers of Christ.
I can't help but to notice the difference between my ministry and the ministry of the apostle Paul. Virtually wherever Paul went, he was beaten. By contrast, wherever I go, I get served tea and cookies.
There is no reason for us to be ashamed about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the most valuable thing we could ever possess. And this is precisely Jesus' point when He asks the question, "36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?".
Please note, that gaining wealth and power is not to be understood here as a bad thing. Jesus is not saying that to gain the whole world is a bad thing, He is saying that to gain the whole world at the expense of your soul is a bad thing! He is saying that if it were possible to possess everything under the sun, it would not equal the value of having your soul redeemed.
If we believe this, if we believe that the state of our soul is the most important thing in the world, there are some serious implications for how we live our lives. The implications are that spiritual matters should always take precedent over worldly matters.
Our problem is not that we have worldly possessions or that we engage in worldly affairs. Our problem is that we have become attached to these things. Our problem is that we have let worldly goods and affairs become our priority.
John Calvin, one who seldom minces words, comments on our priorities by saying, "What carelessness and what brutal stupidity is this, that men are so strongly attached to the world, and so much occupied with its affairs, as not to consider why they were born, and that God gave them an immortal soul, in order that, when the course of the earthly life was finished, they might live eternally in heaven!".
Contrary to the popular bumper sticker, "The one with the most toys" does not win. The one with Jesus wins. The one who denies himself, and shoulders his cross, wins. The one who is not ashamed of Christ and His words is the one who wins.
Friends, if you belong to Christ, you are not your own. Following Christ may mean carrying a cross, but the benefits to your soul are far greater than if you possessed the whole world.
Do not be ashamed of Christ. Rejoice in Him always, again I say, rejoice! Amen.