God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life: The Road Less Taken (Mark 8:31-38)
God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life:
“The Road Less Traveled”
In a poem titled “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Ellyana Grace Vincent has been in the hospital now for about ten months. There were times when her parents and grand-parents thought that Ellyana was going to be with God. There were times when every one thought that she was going to be with God. She is still in the hospital but she is getting stronger with each passing week. Just last week, she rolled over for the first time. It is in moments like that that you and I, if we are thinking clearly, realize how important life is and how hopeful it is to be God’s children and be moving toward heaven.
Our mission team members, Daren and Julie, had a baby born in late March of 2005, whom they named Andrew David. But when he was born, his intestines were outside the body. The doctors thought that they could do a couple of surgeries and put the intestines back inside the body. Little Andrew David hovered between life and death for a few days. I remember, from 16 years ago, that the dad, Daren, emailed me and said that he would be willing to spend every dime he had to save his little boy’s life. It is in moments like that that you and I realize how important life is and how hopeful it is to be God’s children and be moving toward heaven. Little Andrew David did pass away but by the grace of God, Daren and Julie will see their little boy again, as will Jonathan and Christina Vincent their other twin, who did go on to be with Jesus.
In this year, 2021, we are walking with Jesus through the Gospel of Mark as we contemplate the theme: God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life. In our lives, two roads diverge on a daily basis. Our society takes one road - it is the road most traveled. It is simultaneously the road of self-service, self-gratification, self-absorption, self-interest. But at the same time, it is the road that ends in hopelessness, helplessness, aloneness, and fear.
The other road is the road less traveled. It is simultaneously the road of humility, service, love, and selflessness. But at the same time, it is the road that ends in honor, immortality, acceptance, and eternal life.
Jesus talks about that “road less traveled” in the text we have chosen this morning for our study: Mark 8:31-38…
JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURRECTION - 8:31:
First, observe that the context of this paragraph follows Jesus asking His apostles who they think Jesus is, verse 27. Some people thought Jesus was John the baptist; others believed He was Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. These apostles, themselves, had come to the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ promised in the Old Testament, the Son of the Living God! That confidence was verbalized by the apostle Peter (ver. 29). At that point, Jesus asked them not to tell anyone that fact. It was not time for Jesus’ full identity to be known.
There are three times that Jesus predicts His death and resurrection. He does it here in 8:31 and again after the Transfiguration (9:31). He will do it again in 10:33-34. We don’t know when these conversations happened during Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth but when chapter 11 opens, Jesus is in His last week of life on earth.
So, Jesus tells His apostles, back in 8:31, that He was going to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes (the chief priests were mainly Sadducees and the scribes and elders were mainly Pharisees), and He would be killed but after three days, He would rise again. Verse 32 says that He was stating the matter plainly.
In the third prediction of His death, burial, and resurrection, 10:33-34, Jesus gives a little more information: He says this will happen once they get to Jerusalem and He says that the Jews will hand Him over to the Gentiles and they will mock Him and spit on Him and scourge Him and then kill Him. But three days later He will rise from the dead.
Jesus predicted His death, burial, and resurrection, for two reasons: 1) First, to prepare His apostles for that heart-breaking event. No, they did not understand the prediction about the resurrection but they did understand the part about the death! Jesus was preparing them. That is an event that can be hard to understand sometimes. 2) Secondly, His prediction helped prove He was Who He said He was - the Son of the Living God and our Savior.
Death comes to all of us. We don’t have to have a Bible verse to teach us that. All of our experiences teach us that death will eventually come to us all. One day our children will be selling our house, our estate, our belongings and they’ll be dividing up our stuff among themselves - who wants what? We don’t need Jesus to predict our deaths. He did: “It is appointed until man to die once; after this comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
If Jesus were here, He could tell me when, where, and how I would die. I don’t know if I want to know that - it depends on the details. But, He could tell me. What He has told me is that I will experience a resurrection! That’s far more important and exciting to know than the part about death. We know there’s going to be a resurrection because Jesus taught it (John 5:28-29) and His apostles taught it (1 Cor. 15).
If we want to have a “life well-lived,” we would do well to live life knowing that we will die one day but we want to experience the resurrection also! Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (7:2).
What does it mean to live life in the face of death?
PETER DID NOT WANT TO HEAR THE TRUTH! (8:32-33)
Are you one of those who do not want to talk about your own death? You don’t want to contemplate it? There are many, many people today who want to live life as if they will never die and they live their lives as if they will never face judgment.
In this context, Jesus’ prediction of His own death did not fit Peter’s expectations: Peter took Jesus aside a little privately and began to rebuke Him! Can you imagine having the audacity to rebuke Jesus Christ? Well, Peter’s knowledge of the nature of Jesus, at this point, was not as complete as ours is, although He had just confessed that Jesus was the Son of the Living God! Peter did not want to hear the truth! His Christ - His Messiah - at least his idea of what the Messiah was supposed to do did not fit the idea of “death”! Peter and the rest of the apostles were expecting a King, someone who would defeat the Roman Empire and lead Israel just like in the “Golden Days” of Israel under Kings David and Solomon! That’s what Peter was expecting! That’s why the death of Jesus did not fit with Peter’s view of the Messiah. “You can’t rule if you’re going to die!”
But notice Jesus’ rebuke of Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan (“Satan” means “adversary”); for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
There you go - do you want to have a life well-lived? Set your mind on God’s interests, not your own. That is a very powerful message for all of us, to live every day of our lives. Tomorrow when we go to work - are we setting our mind on God’s interests? When it comes to using our talents for the good of the church, are we setting our mind on God’s interests? Peter was not; not at this moment.
Peter did not want to hear the truth. What are your expectations of life? Are you setting your mind on God’s interests?
Years ago, relief pitcher Donny Moore could not resolve his anguish over losing an American League Championship series game. Donny Moore struck out 400 hitters and saved 85 games. In 1986, he was pitching for the Angels and he was one strike away from taking them to the World Series. It was Game 5. Moore gave up a home run to Dave Henderson and he never got over that failure. Moore could not get over that. In a moment of torment, he shot his wife and then himself. He was 35 years old.
But compare that with Dave Dravecky, who lost a grame, and a career, including his livelihood, his pitching arm, and his shoulder. But he energetically rebuilt his life, looking forward to whatever tomorrow might bring. Dravecky was diagnosed with cancer in the deltoid muscle of his pitching arm. He beat the cancer and went on to pitch again. He was pitching for the San Francisco Giants in Montreal when he threw a pitch and his arm split in two. Dave had to retire from baseball in 1989. Dave’s arm, shoulder blade, and collar bone had to be amputated to save his life.
Where are your interests?
THE “GOOD LIFE” BEARS THE CROSS - 8:34-38:
Notice in this text that, after Jesus has to rebuke Peter for having his priorities misplaced, Jesus summons the crowd with His disciples. Jesus has something to say to everybody - including you and me! Here’s the “good life,” the “life well-lived.” Listen to Jesus:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny Himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Don’t we want to follow Jesus? We want to go to heaven and the only one who has been to heaven, who knows how to get to heaven is Jesus. That’s why we want to follow Him. That’s why we have to follow Him. But, He says if we want to follow Him, we have to: 1) deny ourselves. That means my life is not mine to live. I live Christ’s life in me. My words are not mine to choose, but Christ’s words in me. My thoughts are not mine to think, but Christ’s thoughts in me. Deny ourselves.
2.) We have to take up our cross. Jesus has not yet told His disciples how He was going to be killed. He has not yet told them that He was going to be crucified. Verse 34 is the first time the word “cross” is used in Mark. But all those apostles knew what Jesus meant! They had seen crucifixions before! They knew the condemned criminal had to carry his own cross out to the site of death; they knew the criminals screamed in pain; they knew the criminals would hang on the cross for days until they died. They knew. Now, Jesus says, “You’ve got to be ready to go through the same thing if you will follow Me.”
Just what are we willing to endure in order to go to heaven? What are we willing to give up in order to go to heaven? What in our lifestyle, in our schedules are we willing to give up, in order to go to heaven? What is it worth to us?
Do you want to have the life well-lived? What is it worth to you to do what Jesus wants you to do, on a daily basis?
Jesus continues in verse 35: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life, for My sake and the gospels, will save it.” If Jesus were to look at your life, your speech, your thoughts, your behavior - would He see Himself living in you? Do our choices and our decisions reflect our desire to promote ourselves? Or to promote Christ and His Gospel? Are we trying to save our lives or lose our lives?
Jesus promises that if we lose our lives - not necessarily losing our lives in death, but losing our lives as they are absorbed into the teachings of Jesus Christ and practicing His gospel - if we lose our lives, for His sake, for the sake of His gospel message, we will save it. It is one of the paradoxes of Christianity. If you want to be great, you have to be the servant of all. If you want to save your life into eternity, you have to lose it here on earth. Allow your life to be lost into the glorious life of Christ whose teachings engulf you so that Christ’s attitude comes through you; Christ’s teachings come from your lips; Christ’s love comes through your heart.
Jesus continues (ver. 36): “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” There is a heaven. There is a hell. And our response to Jesus Christ is the sole determining factor whether we wake up in one or the other. Not a thing we have on this earth is going to determine where we spend eternity. All of the clients we have in our business will not impact our destination in one bit. The healthiest bank account and most enjoyable vacation will not impact our destination in any way. The best retirement plan in physical terms does not touch an eternal retirement plan at all.
A man as wealthy as Steve Jobs will spend an eternity in hell if he does not respond to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. A man as popular as Kevin Hart will spend an eternity in hell if he does not respond to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. What profit is it if we have the whole world as our oyster but we have forfeited our soul because, as Peter was doing at this very time, we have set our mind on our interests instead of God’s?
Jesus continues (ver. 37): “For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Is there something hindering you and your service to your Savior that you would exchange for a home in heaven? Think about all the drastic changes we have made and our country - the world - has made over the past 15 months because of Covid. We made those drastic changes to save either our own lives or the lives of people we love. What drastic changes should we make for the sake of our relationship with Jesus Christ? What drastic changes should we make for the sake of the gospel of Christ? To share the gospel message with others?
Finally, Jesus continues in verse 38: “For 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 His holy angels.”
Are you (or I) living in a way that makes Jesus ashamed of you? Are we ashamed of Him? Are we ashamed of His teachings? Do we hold back from sharing the truth from the gospel because we are embarrassed by the teachings of the Bible? We have finished Gay Pride month in our country. We don’t need to respond to gays with “gay bashing.” They are guilty of sin, just like you and I sometimes are guilty of sin, and we need to lovingly, gently, prayerfully, patiently, help them understand the truth of the gospel relative to homosexuality. But we do need to teach it; just like with anything else.
Don’t live your life in such a way that on the day of judgment, Jesus says to you: “You were ashamed to tell people about Me and My message. I’m ashamed to call you My follower.” If that were to happen, Jesus would also say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.”
Take home message: To live a life well-lived, God’s guide teaches us to set our minds on God’s interests. Carry our cross. Lose our life in His. Exchange the temporal for the eternal. Don’t be ashamed of Christ’s teachings.