Don’t be ashamed of Jesus.

Mark 8.34 – 9.1, Matthew 16.24-28, Luke 9.23-27.

Christianity embarrasses a lot of people.

Which I get. I have a coworker who’s one of those dark Christians who’s all about judging sinners, ’cause she thinks their sins are gonna trigger the End Times. She thinks she’s just keeping things real and telling the truth, but my other coworkers think she’s a loon. I think she’s a loon. I don’t wanna be associated with that.

Thankfully I know the difference between that particular brand of angry, blame-everybody-but-ourselves doctrine, and Christ Jesus and his gospel. So when people ask what I think, I can tell ’em I don’t believe as she does; I believe in grace. My Lord isn’t coming to earth to judge it—not for a mighty long time—but to save it. I proclaim good news, not bad.

Other Christians… well they don’t know there’s a difference between dark Christianity and Christ Jesus. Or they do, but don’t know how to articulate it. So they mute the fact they’re Christian, and hope they can pass by unnoticed.

And sometimes, just to make sure nobody guesses they’re Christian, they don’t act Christian. They’re as profane as any pagan, and get drunk or stoned and fornicate just as often. They don’t bother to produce fruit. And when Easter or Christmas rolls around, and they slip up and mention they’re going to church for the holidays, their friends and coworkers are startled: “Wait, are you a f--king Christian?” They had no idea, ’cause these folks are neither religious nor holy.

What’s Jesus think of these people? Well they embarrass him.

’Cause if we’re truly following him, if we want to follow him, we’re not gonna be like everyone else; we’re gonna stand out and be weird. Our lifestyle isn’t gonna be about what pleases us or gets us off; it’ll be about self-control and emotions under check and taking other people into consideration. It’s not gonna be about judging our neighbors, but loving them (and not in that angry way which dark Christians claim they’re actually doing). We’re gonna act like his followers, not pretend we don’t really know the guy.

And when he says stuff which rattles us, kinda like he did in the previous passage, we’re gonna deal with it, instead of pretending he never said any such thing. Everything he teaches, everything, is part of the package. Take it or leave it.

Mark 8.34-37 KWL
34 Summoning the crowd with his students, Jesus told them, “If anyone wants to follow me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.
35 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for my and the gospel’s sake: They’ll save it.
36 For what good is a person who wins the whole world and damages their soul?
37 For what might a person give in exchange for their soul?”
 
Matthew 16.24-26 KWL
24 Then Jesus told his students, “If anyone wants to come after me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.
25 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for my sake: They’ll find it.
26 For what will benefit a person when they win the whole world and destroy their soul?”
 
Luke 9.23-25 KWL
23 Jesus told everyone, “If anyone wants to come after me,
renounce yourself, pick up your cross each day, and follow me.
24 For whoever would only want to save their soul, will wreck it.
Whoever would wreck their soul for me: This person will save it.
25 For what good is a person who wins the whole world, and damages or ruins themselves?”

If the only thing you care about is your soul, by which I and Jesus mean your lifeforce, your public life, or your eternal life—if all you care about is how other people think of you, or the comforts of living an unchallenging daily existence—you’ve chosen a life without Jesus. You’re gonna get wrecked.

If all you care about is your immortal soul.

Connected to this idea, is of course those Christians who only care about escaping hell. The only reason they want Jesus is because they believe in hell… however they imagine hell to be. (Nonexistence, a pitch-black void, everlasting fire, ironic tortures, other people, whatever.) They figure it’s bad; they don’t wanna go there; they want God to rescue them and give them a mansion and golden crown and 72 virgins. Wait, that’s the Muslims… and certain Mormons. Well, whatever.

So for them, Christianity isn’t about following Jesus. It’s about the afterlife insurance. Following him is optional, so they do the bare minimum of “following,” however they care to interpret it. They’ll accept all the right doctrines, generally be “good” in that they won’t steal or adulter or murder, and maybe go to church on holidays. That, they figure, will keep them in good stead with Jesus, and when he returns he’ll rapture them along with the suckers people who did change their entire lives in obedience to their Lord.

For them, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.

And for Jesus, they’re not followers. They’re goats.

Matthew 25.41-46 KWL
41 “He’ll then say to those at his left, ‘You damned people, get away from me,
into the perpetual fire prepared for the devil and its angels.
42 For I hungered and you didn’t give me food. I thirsted and you didn’t give me drink.
43 I was foreign and you didn’t include me. Naked and you didn’t clothe me.
Sick and arrested and you didn’t go see me.’
44 Then they’ll also answer him, saying, ‘Sir, when’d we see you hungering, thirsting,
foreign, naked, sick, or arrested, and not serve you?’
45 Then he’ll answer them, saying, ‘Amen! I promise you
however often you didn’t do for one of these “little people,” you didn’t do for me.’
46 These will go away into perpetual torment.
The right-minded will go into perpetual life.”

Yeah, we’re saved by grace. But that presumes we have a give-and-take relationship with Jesus. Those who have no such relationship, who presume grace is gonna happen regardless of such a relationship, who take Jesus for granted, are ultimately gonna find they’re not saved. And in many ways are gonna be fine with that; God’s kingdom isn’t anything like they expected either. They presumed it was gonna be lounging on a big pile of wealth, like a dragon in a fantasy novel; not loving their neighbors. You know, like they currently don’t.

That’s what Jesus means about winning the whole world and wrecking your soul. Plenty of wealthy people have done all sorts of heinous things in order to amass their wealth. Plenty of powerful people have shafted all sorts of people in order to accumulate their power. What’s it gained them? Wealth and power, obviously… but now they’re corrupt to the core, and totally unfit for God’s kingdom. Not that they’ll even want God’s kingdom when presented with it: Their power and money will be no good there, and they can’t fathom such a world.

You wanna follow Jesus? Good. Then you gotta forego these earthly pursuits. You gotta renounce yourself. The kingdom isn’t about you and your wealth; it’s about Jesus. It isn’t about enriching your life; it’s about surrendering your life to pursue his will. It’s why Jesus talks about taking up a cross, and he doesn’t mean putting on Christian jewelry: First-century Romans picked up a crossbeam ’cause they were gonna be led out of town to be executed horribly. They were gonna suffer. We have to be willing to suffer for Jesus. Hopefully not a crucifixion… but yeah, if it comes to that, crucifixion too.

Jesus taught this right after he talked about his own crucifixion. He was willing to take up a cross, and use it to save the world. Shouldn’t we want the same thing as he? And yet he asks very few of us to go that far. For most of us, all he wants us to do is love our neighbors, in nations which protect free speech and free religion. He’s asking us for something easy—and we should be totally willing to do something hard. It’s kinda pathetic we can’t even do the easy thing.

Get over yourself.

Mark 8.38 KWL
“For whoever in this adulterous, sinful generation might be ashamed of me and my words,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of them at the age to come when he comes in his Father’s glory, with the angels.”
 
Matthew 16.27 KWL
“For the Son of Man is about to come in his Father’s glory with his angels,
then pay each person back according to their deeds.”
 
Luke 9.26 KWL
“For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of this person,
when he comes in the glory of himself, his Father, and the holy angels.”

Jesus was and is calling for radical followers. We can’t think about what other people might say about us for following Jesus. They only get in the way. What good is it to gain the whole world’s approval—yet when Jesus returns to set up his Kingdom, we don’t get in? This world is temporary. God’s kingdom is forever. It’s a sucky trade.

Yet that’s the bargain a lot of folks have made: Hide our Christianity, keep our religion “private”—by which we don’t mean it’s personal, but that it’s secret, because we’re ashamed of it. And in so doing we’ve alienated Jesus. Whoever’s ashamed of him and his words, the Son of Man is ashamed of them.

Lucky for these people, Jesus doesn’t straight-up say he won’t let them into his kingdom. But all his talk beforehand of wrecking one’s soul implies that yeah, this might very well be the case.

Jesus wants a real relationship with us Christians. Not a contractual obligation wherein he has to save us. Salvation doesn’t work this way, and I expect a lot of so-called Christians are gonna be horrified to find this out. They should know it’s coming: Their very lifestyles demonstrate they’re ashamed to live the way Jesus wants ’em to, and that they’ll be utterly unprepared to live in the kingdom when Jesus returns. He might let ’em in anyway; he’s forgiving like that. But we’ll see.

Lastly, Jesus made a comment which confuses some Christians nowadays:

Mark 9.1 KWL
Jesus told them, “Amen! I promise you some who stood here shouldn’t taste death
till they might see God’s kingdom has come in power.”
 
Matthew 16.28 KWL
“Amen! I promise you some who stood here shouldn’t taste death
till they might see the Son of Man come into his kingdom.”
 
Luke 9.27 KWL
“I truly tell you: Some of those standing here shouldn’t taste death
till they might see God’s kingdom.”

Skeptics claim this is a prediction of Jesus’s which didn’t come true: They claim he expected his second coming to take place within their lifetime, and since his second coming hasn’t taken place for the past 20 centuries, they’re pretty sure Jesus guessed wrong. But Jesus isn’t talking about his second coming. He’s talking about his transfiguration, which is the very next story in the gospels. And y’know, whenever we talk with Jesus in the present day, that’s the Jesus we interact with: The Son of Man in glory and power, bringing his kingdom into the world. Christians don’t have to wait till we die before we can experience some of that. We just have to follow Jesus.