What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?
Jesus is the most arresting figure in history. When you read the Gospel of Mark, you encounter a man who was performing incredible miracles and teaching magnificent things about the kingdom of God. He attracted a large following. The first disciples literally followed Jesus around. They walked with him through Galilee. They witnessed the healings and heard the parables. They gave up their homes and businesses. They left family behind. Now as we remember Palm Sunday today, they are about to take their most difficult journey with Jesus. They are going to follow him to the cross. They are going to follow him to Jerusalem.
Like any journey, they are going to be some pivotal stops along the way that confront the disciples with some intense questions. I want to give you a heads up. This sermon is going to challenge you because these questions confront us. They are supposed to. As we enter Holy Week, we should imagine ourselves among the disciples, among the crowds, following Jesus. How would we respond to the events and the questions they pose? Let’s Dive into the story.
Open your Bibles to Mark 10:17
Up until this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been traveling and teaching through Galilee. That’s the lower class, blue-collar, farmer, fisherman section of Israel. This is the area where Jesus gathered his ragtag band of disciples. At the beginning of Mark 10, it says Jesus crosses into Judea, the southern part of Israel. Now, Jesus is making his way towards the capital, Jerusalem. This is a hike. They are climbing 2,575 feet in elevation.
They are on their way up to Jerusalem for the final events of Jesus’ earthly life. On the way, there are several encounters, that prompt the disciples to consider serveral life-changing questions. These are questions we also need to ask ourselves today as we seek to follow Jesus to the cross.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
This first encounter confronts the disciples with a question:
Will you give up your possessions?
A man runs up to Jesus. Already he sounds more committed to Jesus than most. He ran to him. He kneeled before him. He called him good. He assumes that Jesus can teach him and show him how to inherit eternal life.
“What must I do?” the man asks.
Jesus gives the standard Jewish teacher. Keep the commandments and live. Perhaps Jesus is testing the man here. Does he recognize his need for God? Does he recognize Jesus is good? Who does he think Jesus truly is?
The man answers that he has kept these commands from his youth.
Now most Christians would never say anything like this. We have been schooled over and over again to know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that’s true. But in the Old Testament culture, God’s people didn’t have a problem testifying to their godly way of life. We often see expressions like, “Lord, I obey your commands.”
This is the heart of this rich man. He wants to obey God’s laws. Jesus sees his heart.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. That’s key. Jesus looks at us with compassion and love. All that he says and commands us to do is out of love and for our good.
Jesus tells this young man, “There is one you lack. Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor. Then come follow me.”
Jesus was heading towards the cross. He was literally inviting the man to come to Jerusalem with him. To begin a revolution that would change the world. To do so would require giving up his wealth in order to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t willing to pay the price.
Now we know that Jesus tailored his invitations to the individual. He didn’t tell everyone to sell everything they had. The early Christians owned homes the churches met in. We know. We all own stuff. You are probably thinking, “WHEW! That doesn’t apply to me at all!” We are tempted to think that this man was unique, that he was so entrapped by his possessions, that Jesus had to ask this of just him. As if none of us aren’t enamored with wealth and material possessions? As if that is never an idol in our lives?
Jesus warned all of his followers about the dangers of wealth. He told them to store treasure in Heaven not on Earth. There is an expectation that all disciples lay their possessions at the Lord’s feet for his use. In fact, Jesus taught in the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13) that some seed was sown among thorns, but was choked out. The passage tells us thorns represent, “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
The challenge is for us to imagine ourselves before Jesus, and see him on the way to the cross, turning to us, and saying “Will you give up all your possessions to follow me?” From now on, everything you have is mine. It is at my disposal. If I say give, you give. If I say sell, you sell. Will you crucify yourself to the things of this world and follow me?
So Jesus has this moment with the disciples. They have to come to grips with what following Jesus demands.
The second encounter along the hike leads to a second question for the disciples.
Will you give up your self-preservation?
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Jesus is leading the way. Typical for a Jewish rabbi. The disciples are amazed. Others following are afraid. The reason for these feelings is open to interpretation. Are they afraid because they are going to Jerusalem? Are they afraid because they know he and they are in danger? Are they simply afraid of this arresting man who is turning the whole world upside down?
Certainly what he tells the Twelve is scary. We are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be condemned to death. They will mock him, spit, and flog. 3 Days he will rise. This is the Jesus they are following. If that were you on the hike with Jesus what would you do? Maybe it’s time to turn around. Hiking down is easier anyhow. Yeah im tired, maybe I’ll go home. Following Jesus to the cross is a call to die to self-preservation. For the early disciples, it literally was going to put them in danger.
When we follow Jesus, we aren’t promised an easy, care-free, martini on the beach lifestyle. In fact, following Jesus Jesus may lead us to do things that are dangerous and risky. What kind of Jesus are we following? One you expect to just comfort you through life until you die? Or one who is calling us to follow him on a mission that requires incredibly deep self-sacrifice? Lucy asks this in CS Lewis’s book, “The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe”–
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Course he isn’t safe. Faith is following Jesus into the unknown and perhaps risky or dangerous situations. Will you give up your self-preservation? Will you trust in God’s purposes and protection?
Will you give up your pride?
On this hike, James and John, the fisherman who left their business to follow Jesus, come up to Jesus with a request. They asked, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” You don’t know what you are asking. They don’t understand the suffering-servant way of Jesus. Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Give up this desire for power, for position, for status, for authority. Give up the desire to move up the ladder. He tells them, the leaders in the world act like this. They lord their power over others. Not so with you. You want to be great? Be a servant. Do you want to be first? Be the slave of all. Is Jesus the one you claim to emulate your life after? He did not come to be served but to serve and give his life.
That’s a phrase, that’s a mantra I try to repeat myself at different times. I’m not here to be served, but to serve. I’m not here at church to be served but to serve. I’m not at work to be served but to serve. I’m not at home to be served but to serve. I’m not at school to be served but to serve. I’m not at Windsor to be served but to serve.
Can you see how this revolutionizes everything? We give up power, place, position, status.
Jesus asks us, “will you be servants of all?”
The third encounter brings up a third question for the disciples.
Will you give up your passivity?
Eventually, the crowd traveling together reaches Jericho and as they are walking along, a blind man named Baritmaeus, who is sitting by the side of the road, calls out to Jesus. He’s not part of the traveling entourage. Not yet anyway. If he had any passivity, he overcomes it to cry out to Jesus.
47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus realizes he has an opportunity to move into action. He began to shout, Son of David have mercy on me! This is a cry for help. Right away he meets resistance. 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet,
Can you imagine telling a blind man to be quiet? Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.
If you turn to Jesus as your savior, people may ridicule you, insult you, tell you to not talk about it, to keep it quiet. If people don’t, Satan will. Often when we pursue Jesus, we encounter resistance.
Often this may be enough to stifle our passion. To stay quiet. To stay on the sidelines.
Some of you are like Bartimaeus, you’ve cried out to Jesus to be your savior, but you’ve encountered some resistance. Resistance from your own sin, from Satan, from others, and that’s been enough to keep you passive. You’ve stayed by the roadside. You don’t look to share your faith anymore. You don’t look to serve. You’ve given up spiritual disciplines. You’ve stopped trying.
But following Jesus to the cross calls us to give up all passivity. What did Bartimaeus do after all the ridicule? He shouted all the more. Jesus responds. He calls him to himself. Jesus heals him. There is hope when we call out to Jesus. If you feel like it might all be hopeless, then you can’t follow him, cry out all the more.
Verse 52 tells us that Bartimaeus immediately received sight and followed Jesus along the road.
It seems the crowd didn’t want to be bothered with Bartimaeus. When an opportunity to help showed up on their doorstep, they were more than passive. They rejected it. But for Bartimaeus, everything has changed. When Jesus heals him, his life is forever changed. He too joins following Jesus all the way to the cross.
The last and fourth encounter along the road to the cross led the disciples to ponder this question–
Will you give him praise?
This is the part of the story that we especially highlight on Palm Sunday.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
Notice this is the same journey we’ve been on.
Verse 1 says, “As they approached”
Who are “they”? “They” are the 12 disciples and all those who have joined them along the way. Jews from Galilee who are enamored with Jesus. This is not the crowds of Jerusalem. Here we have a group of people who are really following Jesus.
He sends two of his disciples to get a colt on which no one has ridden. Jesus it is doing something intentional here. His custom was to walk everywhere. We don’t ever see Jesus riding any animals until now. He is preparing a colt. Interesting choice! Many were familiar with the Messianic prophecy of Zech 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey
Jesus is communicating that the king is coming to his capital. He specifies that he needs a donkey that “No one has ever ridden.” An animal devoted to a sacred purpose must be one that had not been put to ordinary use. Jesus is saying, this animal is carrying something holy. Something sacred. It can’t have been used for anything else. So this is a very intentional act on Jesus’ part with lots of Messianic prophecy involved. He sends two disciples to go get this donkey.
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
We are not sure whether this situation happened because of Jesus’ prophetic knowledge or whether he had simply pre-arranged this password with the owner of the donkey. But nevertheless, the disciples do something good. They obey Jesus directly. He has the obedience of his people.
7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
This is a sign of homage or respect.
“since a person is identified with his clothes, the disciples’ seating of Jesus on their garments is equivalent to prostrating themselves before him” Joel Marcus
Even though the disciples don’t understand fully at this time, they don’t understand a lot actually, but their journey with Jesus has brought them to a point where they are ready to give him praise.
Will I give up my possession for him? Will I give up self-preservation? Will I give up my pride? Will I give up all passivity? Gosh, if Jesus is worth giving all that up for, then certainly he is someone who is worthy of my praise.
8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
This is an ancient way of rolling out the carpet for royalty. The king has arrived!
9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna![a]” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]0 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The disciples and others with Jesus give him lavish praise. Our hope for salvation is in you. Now, this part of the story concludes with an interesting note. They are shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
All this fanfare from the pilgrims with him, but then Jesus finally gets to Jerusalem and just kind of looks around, he’s just walked 20 miles uphill, it’s late, guess I’ll go to Bethany and get some sleep. Jerusalem initially has no reaction to the king coming to the capital. No greeting by the priests. No praise. No worship. No branches. No Hosannas. No clothes spread out.
The story ends on an ominous note.
The coming events will reveal the attitude of Jerusalem at large to Jesus and this gives us a clue as to what is about to happen. This story ends on an ominous note. This where we leave today as we enter Holy Week.
As you follow Jesus to the cross this holy week: let’s reflect on the questions that confronted his disciples on the way.
Will I give up my possessions for him?
Will I give up my self-preservation?
Will I give up my pride and become a servant?
Will I give up my passivity and join the crowd following him?
Will I give him praise?
Jesus said earlier in the gospel of Mark:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
I look forward to our collective journey this week as we follow Jesus to the cross. Let’s pray the Holy Spirit works powerfully in our lives as we enter into this most holy of weeks.